Abstract:

This paper addresses a major gap in sustainability transitions research: the role of shocks in shaping transition dynamics. The papers focuses on shocks with traumatic consequences, in particular World War I and II. The paper revisits discussions on the sociotechnical landscape in the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) and Deep Transition framework, offering refined versions of the concepts of systemic and landscape imprinting. It proceeds with a case-study analysis focusing on niche developments during WWI in relation to chemicals and the emergence of chemical warfare, and the lasting impact this shock had on interwar developments, WWII and the post-WWII context. The collective memories of the use of chemical weapons during war and expectations around future use of chemical weapons formed a new backdrop that influenced developments in the food system. Here, food became more tightly intertwined with military imperatives related to preparations regarding the use of chemical and biological weapons. This paper contributes to emerging understandings of how landscape shocks influence sociotechnical change, in particular how these shocks can lead to long lasting tight couplings between socio-technical systems. Two broader research recommendations follow from it. First, more work is needed on the neglected role of war and the military in sociotechnical transitions. Second, in terms of contemporary sustainability challenges, research could consider how landscape events – including the coronavirus pandemic, events related to dramatic biodiversity losses and the climate crisis as well as the traumatic experience of poverty traps and steep rising inequality – may produce trauma and new forms of shared meaning and expectations that impinge on sociotechnical change.

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