Lund University – ESST CIRCLE Specialization

Sustainability Transitions and The Geography of Innovation

Many of today’s ‘grand challenges’, such as climate change, resource scarcity or environmental degradation call for some sort of radical social and technological change. Especially infrastructure sectors like water, energy, food or transportation are increasingly pressured to transition to a more sustainable mode of operation, as for instance seen in the recent political efforts in many countries to introduce a transition in the energy sector from fossil and nuclear to renewable energy sources (energy transition). However, the transformation of existing, highly institutionalized social structures and technologies has proven to be a rather challenging societal undertaking. Infrastructures are particularly demanding, since they are comprised of technical as well as social elements that are highly intertwined and have co-evolved over a long period of time, which leads to a significant amount of path-dependency and inertia. Therefore, the questions of how socio-technical change unfolds and how a transition towards sustainability can be achieved, have become crucial in politics and academia alike.

A particularly interesting question in this regard concerns the geography of innovation, i.e. where and why innovations occur in one place and not another and why transitions unfold differently across the world. Economic geographers have proposed to specifically investigate the spatial characteristics of innovation and transition processes, since they often lead to place-dependent regional economic development. The emerging field of evolutionary economic geography advocates for this perspective with its theory on regional diversification processes, namely that regions diversify into new technologies based on related knowledge, competences and skills present in the region. Also the local reproduction of institutions and vested interests are key to understand the place–dependency of technological development and socio- technical change.

Aims of the Specialization

This specialization gives an overview of the most recent theoretical debates in the realm of ‘sustainability transitions’ and the ‘geography of innovation’. It will provide an opportunity to engage with theoretical approaches from different disciplines (e.g. science and technology studies, institutional theory, economic geography and evolutionary economics) that are addressing questions of socio-technical change and innovation. At the same time, the specialization also aims at improving empirical research skills, such as designing and executing an independent thesis project. To this end, we will review a variety of methods (e.g. interviews, analysis of documents and discourses, quantitative analysis based on patents or bibliometrics) for investigating research questions in the above mentioned areas.

Course Structure and Requirements

This specialization is divided into two modules that run for 6 weeks at Lund University, CIRCLE and consist of 1 lecture, 4 reflexive seminars, and thesis outline discussion seminar as well as individual work. In the beginning of the course, students are given an opening lecture that introduces specialization. In the remaining of the course students are expected to read core literature and meet with teachers in reflexive seminars where different topics related to the literature are discussed. 2 seminars on sustainability are organized the first week and 2 seminars on geography of innovation are organized the second week. In the rest of the course students write 10 pages essay on the topics addressed in the course as well as develop an outline of master thesis. In week 4 they come together to present the final draft for their essay and thesis outline on basis of peer-review (each student has a prepared discussion/ comment and suggestions for improvement for the other student’s project). Intended supervisors attend this meeting as well. In week 6 the students present their official thesis outline to their home universities.

In order to pass the course, the students have to read core literature, attend reflexive seminars, and write a critical essay related to the topics discussed in the course.

The course corresponds to 8 ECTS.

Module 1: Sustainability Transitions

This module will give an overview of the main theoretical concepts and research questions in the field of sustainability transitions. We will discuss prominent conceptual frameworks used to understand transition processes in sectors like energy, water or transport. These frameworks include the multi-level perspective (MLP), technological innovation systems (TIS) or transition management as well as their underlying theoretical concepts, e.g. path-dependency, routines, institutions or large technical systems. We will furthermore address the question of if and how transformative change can be governed and what actors and places are likely to be relevant.

Core Literature

BERGEK, A., JACOBSSON, S., CARLSSON, B., LINDMARK, S. AND RICKNE, A., 2008, ‘Analyzing the functional dynamics of technological innovation systems: A scheme of analysis’, Research Policy, 37(3), 407-429

GEELS, F.W., 2002. Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research Policy 31, 1257-1274.

GEELS, F.W., 2005b. The Dynamics of Transitions in Socio-technical Systems: A Multi-level Analysis of the Transition Pathway from Horse-drawn Carriages to Automobiles (1860–1930). Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 17 (4), 445–476.

HEKKERT, M.P., SUURS, R.A.A., NEGRO, S.O., KUHLMANN, S., AND SMITS, R.E.H.M., 2007, ‘Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 74(4), 413-432

LOORBACH, D. (2010), “Transition Management for Sustainable Development: A Prescriptive, Complexity-Based Governance Framework”, Governance, 23(1)161–183

MARKARD, J., 2011. Transformation of infrastructures: Sector characteristics and implications for fundamental change. Journal of Infrastructure Systems 17 (3), 107-117.

MARKARD, J., RAVEN, R., TRUFFER, B., 2012. Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects. Research Policy 41 (6), 955-967.

MEADOWCROFT, J., 2000. Sustainable Development: a New(ish) Idea for a New Century? Political Studies 48, 370-387.

PEREZ, C. (2004). Technological revolutions, paradigm shifts, and socio-institutional change. Published in: Reinert, Erik (ed) Globalization, Economic Development and Inequality: An alternative Perspective, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK • Northampton, MA, USA, pp. 217-242.

RIP, A., KEMP, R., 1998. Technological Change. In: Rayner, S., Malone, E.L. (Eds.), Human choice and climate change – Resources and technology. Battelle Press, Columbus, pp. 327-399.

SENGERS, F., & Raven, R. (2015). Toward a spatial perspective on niche development: The case of Bus Rapid Transit. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 17, 166-182.

UNRUH, G.C., 2000. Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy 28 (12), 817-830.

VAN DEN BERGH, J., TRUFFER, B., KALLIS, G., 2011. Environmental innovation and societal transitions: Introduction and overview. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 1 (1), 1-23.

Module 2: Geography of Innovation

This module provides an overview of the most popular and influential geographical approaches to innovation studies as well as methodological discussions specific to this field of research. The module covers three core topics that derives from systemic and evolutionary theories on innovation. First, the concept of (regional) innovation systems are discussed and analysed, as are the relationships between innovation and economic development at various spatial levels. Second, the spatial evolution of industries as a driver for regional structural change is discussed based on the field of evolutionary economic geography. Third, ongoing trends of the ways in which regions deal with problems and processes of innovation and structural change are addressed. The interrelationship between sustainability transitions and geography of innovations is discussed at the end of the module.

Core Literature

ASHEIM, B. & COENEN, L. 2006. Contextualising Regional Innovation Systems in a Globalising Learning

Economy: On Knowledge Bases and Institutional Frameworks. Journal of Technology Transfer, 31, 163-173.

ASHEIM, B. & GERTLER, M. S. 2005. The Geography of Innovation: Regional Innovation Systems. In: FAGERBERG, J., MOWERY, D. S. & NELSON, R. R. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Innovation Oxford New York: Oxford University Press.
ASHEIM, B., MOODYSSON, J. & TÖDTLING, F. 2011a. Constructing Regional Advantage: Towards State-of- the-Art Regional Innovation System Policies in Europe? European Planning Studies, 19, 1133-1139. ASHEIM, B., SMITH, H. L. & OUGHTON, C. 2011b. Regional Innovation Systems: Theory, Empirics and Policy. Regional Studies, 45, 875-891.

BATHELT, H., MALMBERG, A. & MASKELL, P. 2004. Clusters and knowledge: local buzz, global pipelines and the process of knowledge creation. Progress in Human Geography, 28, 31-56
BOSCHMA, R., COENEN, L., FRENKEN, K., TRUFFER, B., 2016. Towards a theory of regional diversification (No. 17), Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography. Utrecht.

BOSCHMA, R. & MARTIN, R. 2010. The aims and scope of evolutionary economic geography. In: BOSCHMA, R. & MARTIN, R. (eds.) The Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography. Cheltenham, Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
CASTALDI, C., FRENKEN, K., LOS, B., 2014. Related Variety, Unrelated Variety and Technological Breakthroughs: An analysis of US State-Level Patenting. Regional Studies 1–15. doi:10.1080/00343404.2014.940305

GERTLER, M. S. 2010. Rules of the Game: The place of Institutions in Regional Economic Change. Regional Studies, 44, 1-15.
ISAKSEN, A. & TRIPPL, M. (2014) Regional industrial path development in different regional innovation systems: A conceptual analysis, Papers in Innovation Studies, CIRCLE 2014/17

MARTIN, R., SUNLEY, P., 2006. Path dependence and regional economic evolution. Journal of Economic Geography 6, 395–437. doi:10.1093/jeg/lbl012
SCHOENBERGER, E. 1991. The Corporate Interview as a Research Method in Economic Geography. The Professional Geographer, 43, 180-189.

TANNER, A.N., 2014. Regional Branching Reconsidered: Emergence of the Fuel Cell Industry in European Regions. Economic Geography 90, 403–427.
TRUFFER, B., COENEN, L., 2012. Environmental Innovation and Sustainability Transitions in Regional Studies. Regional Studies 46, 1–21. doi:10.1080/00343404.2012.646164

TÖDTLING, F. & TRIPPL, M. 2005. One size fits all? Towards a differentiated regional innovation policy approach. Research Policy, 34, 1203-1219.
UYARRA, E. 2010. What Is Evolutionary about ‘Regional Systems of Innovation’? Implications for Regional

Policy. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 20, 115-137. 4

YEUNG, H. W.-C. 1997. Critical realism and realistic research in human geography: a method or a philosophy in search of a method? Progress in Human Geography, 21, 51-74.

Examples of the thesis topics

When deciding on the topic for master thesis, the students can choose if they want to go in depth in the areas addressed in each of the modules or focus on the relation between the two. Thesis topics could address theoretical and empirical questions within the following areas:

  • The role of experiments, specifically urban living labs (ULLs), for the governance of sustainability transitions
  • Cities as change agents – the role of urban environments in fostering sustainability transitions
  • Cities as global niches – how innovations emerge and diffuse across various cities across theworld
  • Institutional plurality and contradiction as a source of socio-technical change and innovation
  • The role of demand in the transformation of regional innovation systems
  • Crisis as an opportunity for new path development in the region
  • Related or unrelated regional diversification as driver for sustainability transitions
  • How can we conceptualize the geography of the emerging bioeconomy?
  • How can regional innovation systems support the emergence of new niches?
General information

The specialization is offered by CIRCLE, Lund University.

Postal address:
P.O. Box 118 22100 Lund Sweden

Visiting address:
Sölvegatan 16
221 00 Lund Sweden

Dr. Elena Zukauskaite (
Dr. Lea Fuenfschilling (
Dr. Anne Tanner (