Governance, Innovation and Sustainability

Overall description

In recent decades, decision-makers and publics alike have realized that contemporary societies are confronted with a number of serious challenges such as climate change, food security, health, and social and environmental justice. While it is anything but certain what the future of humanity will look like, even whether it will survive and be able to find ways of long-term sustainable development, it is quite clear that governance and innovation will be at the core of how societies deal with the challenges they are facing. This ESST specialization will thus focus on interrelationships between science, technology and innovation, governance, and sustainability. It will combine STS with other social science perspectives and explore selected case-studies in-depth.









The notion of governance reflects a fundamental shift in how the power of national governments is perceived, i.e., that by and large decision-making capacities have been rearranged across levels (e.g. local, regional, national, supra- and international levels) and across domains of society (e.g., the state, industry and civil society). Rather than representing predetermined orders, governance arrangements are subject to more or less dynamic change.

As to science and technology (S&T), topics of particular interest concern the governance of new and emerging technologies (such as information and communication technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology): How are innovations generated, including the social conditions of innovativeness? How are health, environmental and other safety or security risks managed? How are intellectual property rights (in particular patents) awarded? How are ethical concerns accounted for? And how do controversies around S&T de-/legitimize particular innovations and/or institutions?

Another key topic relates to the sustainable transformation of infrastructures (such as for data exchange, energy production and distribution, building, urban development or transportation/mobility) which are already embedded in society and everyday life: How can infrastructures be changed effectively and efficiently, i.e., without disrupting their functions and while maintaining or improving their affordability and accessibility? How can sectoral infrastructures be transformed without negatively affecting other sectors? How can infrastructure innovations account for future social, environmental and economic needs/challenges (an issue that also applies to new and emerging fields of S&T)?

Cross-cutting topics refer to notions of anticipatory, reflexive and participatory governance, including notions of responsible research and innovation (RRI) which has gained major prominence through the European Union’s research framework programmes. Key elements of these approaches relate to foresight, interdisciplinary knowledge integration and transdisciplinary public engagement. Respective empirical cases can be found with regard to both emerging and infrastructure technologies.

Another cross-cutting topic concerns the science-policy nexus, i.e. the configuration of knowledge and decision-making in capitalist democracies (e.g., in risk management) and in international regimes (e.g., climate change policy). The role of emerging new technologies in dealing with climate change consequences, such as climate engineering, will also be addressed along with questions pertaining to who should decide about their potential development and use – and on what basis.

Finally, how can global challenges be taken as opportunities for new approaches to cross-sectoral innovations that are pursued together with sustainable developments goals (SDGs) (e.g., a post-fossil bioeconomy)?

Schedule of introductory course

The ESST specialization consists of the course “governance, innovation and sustainability” (8 ECTS). As in the previous year, it will be offered by Daniel Barben and Erik Aarden. The course introduces key concepts, explores exemplary case studies and covers some core literature (see below). It is taught using a combination of student presentations, plenary discussions and group work. While we offer a significant range of empirical cases, we are open to taking on board topics suggested by students.

The language of instruction is English. The classes are taught from the beginning of March to mid-April. During the rest of the time students work on their thesis, supervised by staff from Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt. During this time students may also attend a work-in-progress seminar that allows for exchange among students during thesis writing and offers additional support from faculty beyond the student-supervisor relationship (optional).

The core themes of the course are as follows:

  1. Introductions to theories of governance, innovation, and sustainability
  2. Innovation and (imagined) social futures
  3. Infrastructures and societal transformations
  4. Global environmental challenges at the science-policy nexus
  5. Governance of sustainability transformations
  6. Innovation governance and social justice
  7. Research agendas
  8. Conclusions and outlooks

Exemplary cases discussed in the course include climate change and climate engineering, energy transitions, life science innovation and bioeconomies, biodiversity, as well as themes addressed in students’ thesis work.

Core Literature (subject to change)

Barben, Daniel (2007): Changing regimes of science and politics: comparative and transnational perspectives for a world in transition. In: Science & Public Policy, 34 (1), pp. 55–69. DOI: 10.3152/030234207X193196

Beck, Silke; Forsyth, Tim; Kohler, Pia M.; Lahsen, Myanna; Mahony, Martin (2017): The Making of Global Environmental Science and Politics. In: Ulrike Felt, Rayvon Fouché, Clark A. Miller,  Laurel Smith-Doerr (Eds.): The handbook of science and technology studies. Fourth edition. Fourth edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press (The MIT Press Series), pp. 1059–1086

Chhotray, Vasudha; Stoker, Gerry (2014): Governance theory and practice. A cross-disciplinary approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; Ch. 1, Introduction: exploring governance, pp. 1-15

Fazey, Ioan; Moug, Peter; Allen, Simon; Beckmann, Kate; Blackwood, David; Bonaventura, Mike et al. (2018): Transformation in a changing climate: a research agenda. In: Climate and Development 10 (3), pp. 197–217. DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2017.1301864

Frank, Aliette K. (2017): What is the story with sustainability? A narrative analysis of diverse and contested understandings. In: J Environ Stud Sci 7 (2), pp. 310–323. DOI: 10.1007/s13412-016-0388-3

Linnér, Björn-Ola; Wibeck, Victoria (2020): Conceptualising variations in societal transformations towards sustainability. In: Environmental Science & Policy 106, pp. 221–227. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2020.01.007

Pandey, Poonam, Valkenburg, Govert, Mamidipudi, Annapurna & Bijker, Wiebe (2021). “All we want, is to get rid of the straw”. How biofuel policies need to be multiple. East Asian science, technology, and society: an international journal, 15(1): 4-23

Patterson, James; Schulz, Karsten; Vervoort, Joost; van der Hel, Sandra; Widerberg, Oscar; Adler, Carolina et al. (2017): Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. In: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 24, pp. 1–16. DOI: 10.1016/j.eist.2016.09.001

Pfotenhauer, Sebastian & Juhl, Joakim (2017). Innovation and the political state: Beyond the myth of technologies and markets. In Godin, Benoît & Vinck, Dominique (Eds.), Critical Studies of Innovation: Alternative Approaches to the pro-Innovation Bias. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 68–94

Stilgoe, Jack (2018): Seeing like a Tesla: How can we anticipate self-driving worlds? Glocalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation. 3, 1-20

Name and contact details of specialisation coordinator:

Prof. Daniel Barben

Tel: +43 463 2700 6141,