Politics of Transitions

There is an urgent need to foster sustainability transitions in a wide variety of societal systems, such as food, water, energy and mobility. Transitions are long-term processes of structural change, and require reconfiguration of systems’ material, economic and social dimensions. Societal systems can be seen as complex adaptive systems as they exhibit non-linear self-organizing dynamics. That makes them difficult to govern, as interventions can lead to intended or unforeseen side-effects.

In my work I am interested in understanding the politics of sustainability transitions. That includes for instance better understanding the role of nonhumans (such as ecology & technology) and relationality in the politics of complex systems, and the implications they bring along for how we can understand agency, power and processes of powering in transitional dynamics [1]. This also challenges different interpretations of structure in the politics of transitions [2].

Another topic I am eager to explore is the role of democracy in transitions toward sustainability. It is often argued that we need more deliberative, participatory methods to engage citizens and other societal stakeholders in transition governance. However, ‘doing inclusion’ of stakeholders in transformation efforts is a deeply political practice and brings along many challenges for those involved. Better understanding the inherent political nature of these efforts might lead to more effective and democratic engagement in transition governance [3].

At the same time, it is argued that different dimensions of social justice (distributive, procedural, recognition, restorative) are deserving of pivotal attention. Further understanding the relation between justice and democracy in governance efforts might help to realize more just transitions. This is another aspect of the politics of transitions that I am currently exploring [4].

Selected publications:

[1] Kok, K.P.W., Loeber, A.M.C., & Grin, J. (2021). Politics of Complexity: Conceptualizing Agency, Power and Powering in the Transitional Dynamics of Complex Adaptive Systems. Research Policy, 50(3), 104183. LINK

[2] Kok, K.P.W. (2023). Politics beyond agency? Pluralizing structure(s) in sustainability transitions. Energy Research and Social Science, 100, 103120. LINK

[2] Kok, K.P.W., Gjefsen, M.D., Regeer, B.J. & Broerse, J.E.W. (2021). Unraveling the Politics of Doing Inclusion in Transdisciplinarity for Transformation. Sustainability Science, 16, 1811-1826. LINK

[3] Tschersich, J. & Kok, K.P.W. (2022). Deepening democracy for the governance toward just transitions in agri-food systems. Environmental Innovation & Societal Transitions, 43, 358-374. LINK