Industrial society has not only led to high levels of wealth and welfare in the Western world, but also to increasing global ecological degradation and social inequality. The socio-technical systems that underlay contemporary societies have substantially contributed to these outcomes. This paper proposes that these socio-technical systems are an expression of a limited number of meta-rules that, for the past 250 years, have driven innovation and hence system evolution in a particular direction, thereby constituting the First Deep Transition.

Meeting the cumulative social and ecological consequences of the overall direction of the First Deep Transition would require a radical change, not only in socio-technical systems but also in the meta-rules driving their evolution – the Second Deep Transition. This paper develops a new theoretical framework that aims to explain the emergence, acceleration, stabilization and directionality of Deep Transitions. It does so through the synthesis of two kinds of literature that have attempted to explain large-scale and long-term socio-technical change: the Multi-level Perspective (MLP) on socio-technical transitions, and the Techno-economic Paradigm (TEP) framework.

Keywords: Sustainability transitions, Socio-technical systems, Meta-rules, Great surges of development, Deep Transitions


  • Deep Transitions are  long-term, connected, radical system shifts in the same direction.
  • Development of a multi-level explanation of a Deep Transition.
  • Eight propositions on the patterns and mechanisms of Deep Transitions.
  • The directionality of socio-technical systems results from underlying meta-rules.
  • The crisis of the 1st Deep Transition has led to the option for a 2nd Deep Transition.

For more information, visit the Deep Transitions Research Project page.

This publication is cited as: Johan Schot and Laur Kanger, ‘Deep Transitions, Emergence, Acceleration, Stabilisation and Directionality’, Research Policy, 2018, 47, 1045-1059.

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