School of Human and Social Sciences

Policy field analysis, in particular transformation research and sustainability

The socio-political goal of sustainable development (at various political levels from global UN Sustainable Development Goals to national and municipal sustainability goals) leads to particular challenges for the scientific treatment of the associated cross-policy and complex transformation challenges. In contrast to ex-post observations of transformation processes that have already taken place, the central research question is whether and how political control or governance of planned or ongoing social change processes is possible, especially under conditions of complexity and uncertainty.

A particular focus of research in the department is on the approaches and mechanisms that contribute to the dissemination or establishment of social and technological innovations, social practices, policies or policy instruments. At the center of the analysis is the interplay of (institutional) structure and actor action for the analysis of social change processes at different levels. Modernization and progress-oriented control approaches are critically questioned and, in particular, conditions for overcoming unsustainable structures in socio-technical systems are examined.

A further research focus in the department deals with the role of narratives in social change processes towards sustainability. In order to shed light on the relationship between actors, their power to act and their scope for action on the one hand, and institutional (power) structures on the other, we draw on the analysis of narratives. Narratives are understood as a unit of analysis that takes up overarching discourses or frames and translates them into concrete political and social narrative contexts. Narrative is understood as an actor's action that refers to structural discursive elements, interprets and actively (re-)produces reality - and thus also enables criticism and change. The extent to which narratives are powerful in that they enable contextual understanding and create plausibility, but can also trigger irritation, is examined in more detail. The extent to which narratives create communicative foundations for (political) legitimation and the actions of actors will be examined.

Another research focus is transdisciplinary real-world laboratory research, particularly in the context of sustainable urban development. More information on this focus can be found on the transzent.



Affordable housing, clean air, the reduction of social inequalities and mobility - cities around the world are facing major challenges to sustainable development. To meet these challenges, so-called "sharing cities" are emerging around the world, in which new forms of production and consumption, sustainable lifestyles and new forms of political, social and economic participation are being tested. Sharing is understood as a multi-layered transformation process in which sustainable development is shaped cooperatively and co-productively by all relevant stakeholders. The concept of sharing therefore includes both sharing and participation as central basic principles for sustainable development. [Read more]

Paula Maria Bögel, Karoline Augenstein, Meike Levin-Keitel, Paul Upham (2022) An interdisciplinary perspective on scaling in transitions: Connecting actors and space, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany.

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