Large technological systems are characterized by their fixity, obduracy, lock-in, and relative inability to change. The path dependence of technology makes its history relevant for thinking about transitions. This is the thinking I am using to discuss energy transitions and politics in my work. At an upcoming conference, the Annual meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science I am giving a little talk about this topic. Here’s a snippet of some of the important points that are better said by these authors than I:
Existing systems are characterized by path dependencies with deep historical roots. This means that research on future transitions should not simply take the present situation as a starting point and extrapolate promising innovations (for example, learning curves), but should take into account the path dependencies in the existing regime. Historical research is necessary to say something sensible about future transitions. (Verbong, G. & Geels, F. pg 178 in Managing the Transition to Renewable Energy: Theory and Practice from Local, Regional and Macro Perspectives, 2008, edited by Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh, Frank Reinier Bruinsma)
This seems like a rather obvious and simple idea, but it is quite important. So often we miss the errors of the past and repeat them in the future. How can we deal with the social, political, and technical histories of a technological system if we only take the present moment? A smooth transition is unlikely, and even more unlikely without understanding the contingencies of systems’ histories.