It was as far back as 2014, at an Institute of Science Technology conference, that Johan Schot first shared with a wider audience, his analysis of why the world ‘is so out of whack’. Further ‘Second Deep Transition’ keynotes followed at his Da Vinci medal acceptance speech in 2015 and at the opening of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) 50th anniversary conference in 2016.  Still in 2018, with global indicators persistently showing that ‘business-as-usual’ approaches are not progressing human and ecological well-being, the world needs big, bold, audacious and innovative thinking that can challenge incumbent rationales, to lead to fresh action, that give true transformations. We are a world in transition. A world in transformation. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals may have set the stage, yet states, policymakers and other key actors are struggling for a suitable narrative and plot to get there. They lack the script, let alone the props.

Professor Schot’s new paper, co-authored with Research Fellow Laur Kanger and published in Research Policy, delivers on a new meta-narrative for the Globe. It casts our viewpoint back across 250 years to the ‘First Deep Transition’. Fast-forward to the present day, and the prerequisites that created the first huge transition of provision for humanity, can also be seen today. We are not merely in Modernity, Act V – as proponents of such theories as the World Economic Forum’s 4th Industrial Revolution would argue. We are, in fact, in something much, much deeper. A transition all together more fundamental. Without altering our routines and our ‘meta-rules’ that orchestrate our behaviours across all the ways we stay alive, we will never reach a more equal, just and sustainable society. The symptoms of our current systems – poverty, social division, the appeal of authoritarian politics, New Wars, the inability to cope with mass migration and ecological destruction – will all continue to be products of the social, economic and technological thinking we court today. Keep on doing what we’ve always done, and we’ll keep on getting what we’ve always got. In a post post-modern era, history is poised, not for a re-casting of the Globe’s meta-narrative, but for a whole new story. A narrative with different actors playing diverse roles, using a new script, with fresh props, production and direction.

Professor Schot said: “This paper is my bold attempt to understand the current situation in the world from a sustainability transitions perspective. It is bold because we are pushing this field to look at a new agenda. From a single system to multi system, and from 10 to 50 years to 250 years, thus bringing a long-term historical perspective, and also because it develops a framework which captures all complexity in eight propositions.

The basis, is that the complexity of socio-technical systems needs a radical overhaul in order to respond to the challenges encapsulated in the Sustainable Development Goals. The Deep Transitions’ framework illuminates how this can happen, the mechanism for its pace and directionality.  I am happy to be in a position to test the framework , which is difficult and risky, as it requires a large investment. We are delighted that Baillie Gifford and James Anderson have made this possible with their financial support of the DT research programme at SPRU. This paper forms the foundation for our new three year research programme being run by our excellent interdisciplinary team.”

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