A new special issue of the journal “Innovation” guest-edited by Timmo Krüger (IRS) and Victoria Pellicer-Sifres (Universitat Politècnica de València) addresses power and conflict in societal responses to ecologic crises, particularly in efforts to transform energy systems, as well as approaches to study said responses. Ironically, given the remit of their publication outlet, the editors make clear from the outset that they do not believe that the focus on innovations, including the focus on social innovations that have become very popular in recent years, helps in understanding or advancing the necessary social and ecological transformations. Instead they point at alternative economic logics, such as degrowth, which do not promise alternative development paths, but rather alternatives to (the fixation on) development and modernisation. This collection of eight articles reflects the growing interest of transformation research, carried out at the IRS and elsewhere, in the idea of degrowth or postgrowth economies.
The idea for the special issue on “Analysing the Ecological Crisis: Conflicts, (De-)Politicization, and Power Relations” was born at the international conference entitled “Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations” that took place in Berlin (Germany) in June 2018, hosted by the Leibniz Research Alliance on Energy Transitions. During two days of theorising about social energy innovations, presenting real life experiences from different parts of the world, and engaging in thought-provoking debates, a group of papers crystallised that shared an interest in the nexus between the ecological crisis - climate change, natural resource degradation as well as the loss of biodiversity and human habitat - and questions of conflict, (de-)politicisation, and power.
In their editorial, Krüger and Pellicer-Sifres explain the rationale behind the, perhaps surprising, absence of the concept of "social innovation", which is usually commonplace in debates of social transformation, in this special issue. While the term was effective in drawing attention to social niches and experimentation in dealing with crises, they argue, social innovation is not what brings about the socio-ecologic transformations needed today. Understanding transformation from the perspective of social innovation implies that transformation can take place in a non-conflictual way, that it is driven by the utilisation of hitherto unrealised potentials (a key premise of the concept of innovation) and that novel recombinations of practices and resources are the preeminent form of change in social transformation. These premises the editors deem untrue.
Instead, they emphasise the formulation of alternative ideas of wealth, self-empowerment and self-efficacy, power struggles, conflicts and politicisation as the essential dynamics in socio-ecologic transformations. In addition, from a postgrowth perspective, "exnovations" (i.e. the removal of detrimental practices such as the extraction and utilisation of coal) take precedence over innovations, reflecting that so far even the widespread use of (innovative) regenerative energy technologies has not led to a phase-out of fossil fuels. Thus, the assembled contributions focus on analyses of power relations, conflict, hegemony as well as processes of politicisation and depoliticisation.
Some contributions focus on bottom-up initiatives, such as Victoria Pellicer-Sifres’s exploration of the role of active citizenship within the Spanish energy transition, and Philipp Altmann’s analysis of the changing ecologic discourse of the indigenous movement in Ecuador from the 1920s to today. Other contributions focus top-down dynamics, as does Cristián Flores Fernández’s study of the depoliticised energy transition advanced by the Chilean government, which has perpetuated uneven power-relations in the renewable energy system rather than changing them. Two articles address the ambiguous effects of external interventions, notably by development aid and humanitarian organisations, on matters of energy and environmental justice in countries of the Global South. The issue closes with two methodological articles presenting approaches to study both the inertia of hegemonic formations and potential openings.