Politicizing Energy Transitions – Transformative Politics and the Popularization of Social Innovations

Registration deadline

Session: Politicizing Energy Transitions – Transformative Politics and the Popularization of Social Innovations

Conference: The Leibniz Research Alliance is hosting an international conference entitled "Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations" that will take place on June 14th - 15th, 2018, at WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
The conference invites international scholars to discuss social innovations in the context of energy transitions, and to spark a debate about their meaning for theories of social innovation, for questions of energy governance, for the evolution of energy innovations, and how they challenge existing power structures in the energy sector. For a detailed overview of conference themes and sessions please click here.

Call for abstracts (deadline: 01.03.2018): Politicizing Energy Transitions – Transformative Politics and the Popularization of Social Innovations

The growth-oriented development model causes socio-ecological crises (economic crises, increasing inequalities, climate change, loss of biodiversity and so forth). Thus, the development model itself is in crisis – i.e. more and more actors assume that the current institutions are not able to solve the socio-ecological problems. Against this background, it is obvious that an energy transition can only be sustainable (understood here as strong sustainability) if it is embedded in a comprehensive transformation of society through social innovations. However, a comprehensive transformation of society is in conflict with supposed constraints deriving from the imperative of economic growth and the normalization of an imperial mode of living (for the concept 'imperial mode of living' cf. Brand/ Wissen 2013). Accordingly, energy transitions are to a great extent technocratic projects, in which prevailing power relations and hegemonic structures remain unchallenged. Social criticism and claims for fundamental alternatives – that are discussed under the headings buen vivir, climate justice, degrowth or energy democracy etc. – remain marginalized.

Nevertheless, in the course of politicizing processes counter-hegemonic alternativessocial innovations can become more important. The quest for such opportunities and potentials of politicizing energy transitions is the focus of this session, which is based on a broad understanding of energy transitions (including politics of sufficiency as well as changes of cultural norms and institutional arrangements). Politicizing processes are driven by transformative politics. The term 'transformative politics' comprises very different networks, initiatives and social movements that work on popularizing social innovations. Their actions are transformative insofar as they don’t ensconce themselves in a small niche, but aim at changing social values, norms and institutions (Calvário/ Kallis 2017: 599ff). Such transformative politics from below thrive to a large extent on locally embedded social innovations. In general, the localization or regionalization of economic cycles plays an important role in the debates about degrowth, energy democracy, sufficiency etc. At the same time, locally embedded innovations very often are integrated into global networks. Manzini (2013) calls this phenomenon “cosmopolitan localism”.

Submissions for presentations on the following issues are welcomed:

How can one grasp, conceptionalize and operationalize transformative sociopolitical innovations from below?
Which insights – regarding potentials and obstacles for politicizing energy transitions – can be gained from empirical studies on transformative sociopolitical innovations from below?
What is the significance of re-localization processes for the aspired politicization of energy transitions?
Is the concept 'cosmopolitan localism' suitable for grasping re-localization processes?

Session convenor: Timmo Krüger, timmo.krueger(at)leibniz-irs.de

Abstracts should not exceed 500 words, and must be submitted in English language to Leslie Quitzow (CC the session convenor) by March 1st, 2018 to the following email: leslie.quitzow(at)wzb.eu. Please be sure to include your name, institution, and the name of the conference session that you are applying for. Please direct all questions regarding the session design, presentation format, expected content etc. to Timmo Krüger (timmo.krueger(at)leibniz-irs.de). All questions regarding overall conference organization may be directed to Leslie Quitzow.

Successful applicants will be notified by March 15th, 2018. Presenters will also be invited to submit their full papers after the conference for possible publication in a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal (the journal will be announced in March). Those interested in participating in this process are asked to submit their full papers by July 15th, 2018 for review (one month after the conference). The special issue will be published in mid-2019.


Brand, Ulrich/ Markus Wissen (2013): Crisis and continuity of capitalist society-nature relationships: The imperial mode of living and the limits to environmental governance. In: Review of International Political Economy, 20 (4): 687-711.
Calvário, Rita/ Kallis, Giorgos (2017): Alternative Food Economies and Transformative Politics in Times of Crisis: Insights from the Basque Country and Greece. In: Antipode, 49 (3): 597-616.
Manzini, Ezio (2013): Resilient systems and cosmopolitan localism – The emerging scenario of the small, local, open and connected space. In: Schneidewind, Uwe/ Santarius, Tilman/ Humburg, Anja (Ed.): Economy of Sufficiency. Essays on wealth in diversity, enjoyable limits and creating commons. Wuppertal Special 48, Wuppertal: 70-81.

Leibniz Research Alliance