Because innovations are important to achieve sustainable development, substantial investments have been made in innovation research. Yet, innovations often prove insufficient for replacing established production and consumption practices. In ENDINGS, I argue that we need to overcome this innovation bias by studying how existing socio-technical systems and their respective knowledge bases end – or not. In fact, evidence suggests that it is more likely for existing systems to endure than to disappear. Still, we have a rather limited understanding of how decline and de-institutionalization unfold. This is an important research gap in several disciplines that needs to be addressed to tackle the transformations needed to achieve a more sustainable society. Combining theoretical insights from innovation and organization studies in a novel way, I will study the epistemic motors of industries by developing an analytical framework that 1) introduces a knowledge-based conceptualization of socio-technical systems; 2) differentiates between different kinds of knowledge and their prevalence in certain industries; 3) specifies the ways in which knowledge is maintained and reproduced; 4) identifies the mechanisms that lead to the erosion and extinction of knowledge; 5) substantiates endings as a precondition for innovation and systemic change. To apply this framework, I will re-formulate the method of ‘innovation biographies’ by adding the phases of erosion and extinction to the knowledge life cycle and pioneer its application in comparative cross-case analyses of three industries (energy, ICT, craft) in three geographical contexts (Germany, UK, Sweden). Based on the findings, I will formulate an original, interdisciplinary theory of endings that understands innovation as only one part of the knowledge life cycle. Such a novel perspective will open new research avenues for empirical analysis that will significantly advance research on innovation and sustainability transitions.
- HORIZON.1.1 - European Research Council (ERC) Main Programme