STS - conferences, IST2012

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The concept of regime and ‘flat ontologies’ – empirical potential and methodological implications
Benjamin Best, Karoline Augenstein, Magdolna Prantner

Last modified: 2012-07-30


The concept of “regime” is central to the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) on Transitions. A major
strength of the MLP is its heuristic character, which allows for addressing complex, multi-dimensional
and dynamic phenomena. At the same time, this leads to difficulties regarding the operationalization
in concrete empirical studies. On the basis of a literature review of research articles and case studies
in the field of transition studies, we find ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ regime concepts. ‘Broad’ regimes
comprise actors, infrastructure, technology and institutions while ‘narrow’ regimes are limited to
explaining different types of rule sets. The regime concept is not applied coherently across the field
of transition studies and often there is a lack of clarification regarding the way it is used in individual
Transition Research projects.
Based on this, the Constellation Analysis (CA) is presented as a tool for inter- and transdisciplinary
research projects. CA is a tool used in interdisciplinary research contexts for analyses of complex
problem areas with a large number of heterogeneous elements and relations. Integrating the MLP as
a heuristic framework and CA as an analytical tool seems promising and common ground between
the two approaches can be found, in so far as both draw on elements from Actor-Network Theory
(ANT). Transition literature dealt with ANT under the heading of ‘flat ontologies’. We critically reflect
the assumptions of a ‘flat’ ANT and a ‘hierarchical’ MLP. Hence, CA is discussed as possible solution
to this problem. This method is based on assumptions of ANT but allows transition scholars to study
different phases of transitions and, above all, it offers a crosscut of niches, regimes and landscapes. It
is argued that integrating CA in the framework of Transition Research allows for more profound
theory building and potentially fosters real-world transition processes.