The most prominent framework for studying socio-technical transitions to date is the multi-level perspective (MLP). While appreciated for its flexibility and usefulness for studying socio-technical transitions it has not been without its critics. In this paper we focus on the ontological foundations of the MLP and its (in)ability to explain transitions and how they come about. The purpose is to initiate development of an explanatory theory for socio-technical transitions, by carrying out an immanent critique of the ontological foundations of the MLP together with a methodological critique. We show that the ontological foundations of the MLP to a large extent inhibits explanatory capacity. The argument is fourfold: since structure and agency are understood as inseparable, (i) the causal influence of material properties are undervalued, and (ii) different degrees of structural constraint and freedom of actors are ignored. As a consequence (iii) transitions are reduced to shifts in the maturity and spread of socio-cognitive rules, without analysis of systemic change. Moreover, (iv) mechanisms are reduced to recurring patterns of events which cannot explain why some transitions fail while others succeed. To remedy these limitations we outline alternative critical realist foundations for transitions theory.
- Tvärvetenskapliga studier