The Structuration of Social-Technical Regimes

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SusValueWaste seminar at NIFU 16.02.2016.

Post-Doctoral Fellow Lea Fünfschilling at CIRCLE, Lund University presented her research about institutional logics of the urban water sector in Australia. The base for her research was the multi-level perspective of transformation processes which is criticized for not considering tensions, conflicts and confusions within systems. Her presented paper offers a conceptual foundation for measuring structures and degrees of structuration within socio-technological systems by combining these perspectives with concepts of institutional theory.

Institutionalization is a process of increasing structuralisation, and Tolbert and Zucker (1999) have proposed three institutionalization stages namely habititualisation, objectification and sedimentation. The power of structures varies depending on their degree of institutionalization. Fünfschilling found the institutional logics perspective a suitable framework to analyze institutional structures and relevant when addressing sustainability transitions. Institutional logics show how actors are influenced by their institutional context which can be different sets of rationalities made up of different beliefs, norms, values and practices. Scholars have recognized seven different main logics that affect actors in the Western world in particular ways (See fig 1).

Figure 1 - The seven institutional logics (from Fünfschilling's presentation)

Figure 1 – The seven institutional logics (from Fünfschilling’s presentation)

Fünfschilling conducted a qualitative analysis of the transformation of the Australian water sector from the 1970. The specific sector was selected since it has experienced extreme weather challenges such as droughts and floods, and is considered one of the world’s most innovative within its sector. The study was both a document analysis (e.g. sector reports) and a discourse analysis of a public inquiry of the future Australian water sector.

Her findings reveal that this particular sector is influenced by three types of institutional logics called the Hydraulic, the Water Sensitive and Water Market logic. The first logic was challenged by the two others. The study concludes that institutional theory helps describe and assess the structures of a system and their degree of institutionalization. It also identifies a socio-technical regime that is heterogeneous and semi-coherent.

The seminar was a forum for open dialog and participants were continuously giving feedback and comments. Fünfschilling proposed adding sustainability as an institutional logic to the prior seven logics since it encompass distinct features. One participant suggested that sustainability might be an element in all the logics, while another introduced environmental sustainability as a precondition for all the institutions. Overall, sustainability was found to be a “fussy” concept. Another topic that was highlighted was related to the deregulation of the Australian water sector which did not necessarily solve the Australian water crisis. The privatization was based on the assumption that government regulation is linked to inefficiency. The study revealed that with a Water market logic the water prices increased, resulting with people cutting back the water usage – which could be thought of as a positive outcome considering the scarcity of water. However, the pipelines were originally constructed for larger volumes and the decreased water usage ended in corroded pipelines.


See Fünfschillings presentation from the seminar for more details:

Lea Funschilling_Structuralisation of socio technical regimes



Tolbert, P.S., Zucker, L.G., 1999. The institutionalization of institutional theory. In:Clegg, S., Hardy, C. (Eds.), Studying Organization. Theory and Method. Sage, London, pp. 169–184.

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