The Emerging Research Field of Sustainability Transitions: An Evolutionist Perspective on Scientific Advance

Victo José da Silva Neto


The main goal of this article is to understand the process of formation of the sustainability transitions (ST) research field. The working hypothesis of this article states that the field arises through a process of speciation: gradual differentiation, from an older and already established research field (innovation studies). This exercise is useful both as a first approximation into the history of ST thought and as a means to assess the explanatory potential of different approaches towards scientific advance (epistemological discussion). Our proxy to investigate the evolution of the field is the ST language or scientific lexicus (concepts, terms and vocabulary) and how it came to be. The methodology to assess the evolution of this object is threefold: documental analysis (epistemic communities’ newsletters); critical review of the literature (retrofitted concepts and proto-ideas) and bibliometric analysis (Scopus/Vantage Point). The documental analysis provides evidence that ST is, indeed, an emergent scientific field. A critical review of the literature points to connections and redetermination of pre-existent concepts and terms from the innovation studies area; bibliometric evidence points to a movement of distancing: after building its own lexicon coherent to its problem framing, ST research area is gradually leaving innovation studies terms and concepts behind. General results point to a process of speciation, reinforcing the explanatory potential of epistemological evolutionism.


Language and Science; Epistemology; Epistemic Community; Sustainability; transitions

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Copyright (c) 2020 Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science

ISSN: 2526-2270

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