Transition theory

Over the first few weeks of this experiment, the mess in my head slowly became clearer. What is the combining factor? Idealism? Sustainability? At this moment, I think that it is ‘change’ in a broad sense. Change is a hot topic nowadays, of course. We ‘need’ change, we are changing. We ‘need’ innovation, change has never been faster than now.

It made me look for backgrounds and ideas about change. We are obviously not the first generation to deal with change and think about it. I was forced to consider ‘transition theory’ often during the conversations that I had with people about this project. This theory entails a number of ideas about how our current world/society is transforming.

I especially like the idea called ‘Multi-Level Perspective’ in the book Food Practices in Transition*. It basically means the following:

There are 3 levels:
1) Landscape level: big trends in society (such as sustainability, rising populism, globalization)
2) Socio-technical regime: the pillars of society (market, industry, policy, technology, culture, science)
3) Niche level: small initiatives that start new ideas, different from the current system.

All levels influence each other. The landscape level works as ‘background radiation’, the regime level represents current practices that keep things the way they are. And the third level, niches, can break the system. They can disrupt the system by slowly bringing in new ideas. Slowly, more niches (new ideas/innovations) focus in the same direction and influence the system more and more. At some point, they become mainstream and the system is organized differently than before. Examples include sustainable practices, organic food, but also telephones, cars, the wheel. All of them are things that were once considered weird, new and scary, and that are now normal.

I noticed that multi-level perspective theory has influenced my thinking about change a lot. And when I told people about this way of seeing change, it was often new and inspiring to them.

Having sent him a draft of what I wrote above, Sven reacted with a video:

His thinking resembles a lecture I once attended, held by ecologist and philosopher of nature, Matthijs Schouten. He also stated that you only need a certain percentage of a society (he talked about 30%) to believe in something. At that point the rest of society will follow. I guess that this relates to the above in the following way: by having enough support for one niche, it will become powerful enough to break through to the mainstream.

So, some food for thought about transforming current society.


By the way: Matthijs Schouten has very interesting ideas about human-nature relations, on which I will write another article. Matthijs is definitely on my list of those to talk to.

*Source: Food Practices in Transition by Spaargaren, Oosterveer & Loeber, 2013