Explaining Sociotechnical Transitions: A Critical Realist Perspective
Social Science Research Network
A B S T R A C T This paper identifies and evaluates the explicit and implicit philosophical assumptions underlying the so-called multilevel perspective on sociotechnical transitions (MLP). These include assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology), the status of claims about that reality (epistemology) and the appropriate choice of research methods The paper assesses the consistency of these assumptions with the philosophical tradition of critical realism and uses this tradition to
... tradition to highlight a number of potential weaknesses of the MLP. These include: the problematic conception of social structure and the misleading priority given to intangible rules; the tendency to use theory as a heuristic device rather than causal explanation; the ambition to develop an extremely versatile framework rather than testing competing explanations; the relative neglect of the necessity or contingency of particular causal mechanisms; and the reliance upon single, historical case studies with insufficient use of comparative methods. However, the paper also concludes that the flexibility of the MLP allows room for reconciliation, and provides some suggestions on how that could be achievedincluding proposing an alternative, critical realist interpretation of sociotechnical systems.