STS - conferences, IST2012

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Dynamics of Socio-Technical Transition – Constructing the Chinese Wind Power Sector
Julia Kirch Hollitsch

Last modified: 2012-03-22


This article offers a case-study of the emergence of a socio-technical system for wind power in China. During less than a decade, the Chinese Government has introduced an impressive number of policies supporting the adoption of renewable energy sources in the Chinese electricity system, potentially constituting a major socio-technical sustainability transition. Based on primary and secondary data collected in China and Denmark with Chinese and European actors in China’s wind power sector, focus in the article is on the interplay between government agencies, research institutes, and firms – both foreign and domestic wind turbine manufacturers and component suppliers – providing an explorative analysis of the dynamics of the seemingly evolving sustainability transition in China.

Theoretically, set into a developmental context of an emerging economy as the Chinese, the paper combines the lenses of socio-technical systems, sustainability transitions, and actor-network-theory (ANT) with the notion of global innovation networks (GINs), the latter primarily based on global production networks theory within economic geography and innovation systems theory. This allows for a dynamic perspective on how the emergence of the Chinese wind power sector is coupled to the Chinese strategy of accessing GINs by linking up with foreign companies and research institutes (and their technologies) to develop capabilities of indigenous innovation and, ultimately, industrial upgrading.

Combining the different theoretical lenses allows for a developmental perspective and the inclusion of material actors such as e.g. particular technologies, licenses, patents, and policies. The article concludes that China’s emerging socio-technical system of wind power is not automatic. Rather, it involves intense socio-material work, issues of governance and power in an intricate interplay between path creation and path dependence, with implications for the translation of the Chinese wind power sector, and pointing to the methodological issue of agency versus structure.