University of Sussex
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Transformation beyond experimentation: sustainability transitions in megacities

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posted on 2023-06-09, 17:15 authored by Bipashyee GhoshBipashyee Ghosh
World’s megacities are facing acute sustainability challenges. Persistent problems such as urban pollution, resource depletion, climate change, poverty and social inequalities are shaping unsustainable futures for some of the world’s most populated regions. How can these challenges be tackled? Focusing on the urban mobility regimes that contribute to the acute challenges, this thesis investigates if they can transition toward sustainability. According to sustainability transitions studies, experimentation is vital for making such a transition, through replacing existing unsustainable socio-technical regimes such as fossil fuel-based automobility. Besides niche experimentation, existing regimes can also undergo transformation towards sustainability, being enabled by regime actors. Both experimentation and regime transformation are explored in five studies covering cities like Kolkata, New Delhi and Ahmedabad in India and Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand. However, the majority of the thesis has a strong focus on Kolkata. Following an introduction, the thesis begins with a study exploring diversity in the meaning of sustainability of experiments in different social, spatial and systemic contexts. Focussing on niche experiments, the second study is an analysis of niche actors’ strategies to ‘empower’ sustainable innovations, negotiating with incumbent regime actors in legal and policy spaces. Looking beyond experimentation, a third study focuses on different transition pathways in megacity Kolkata’s public transport regimes. It proposes a new ‘mapping tool’ to identify changes in regime rules, trajectories and selection pressures. In the penultimate paper, a ‘Wheel of Logics’ framework is proposed to develop an understanding of the nature of dynamic stability of regimes in the Global South. Finally, a critical discourse analysis examines whether a smart city imaginary in Kolkata was politically transformative, by analysing the projected distribution of benefits among its citizens, the mechanisms used to democratize the process of constructing the imaginary, and the ways in which citizens’ voices were articulated into the official imaginary. These five studies, tied together, offer a critical understanding of sociotechnical transitions in megacities, by carrying out sustainability appraisals of experiments and developing theoretical frameworks and practical tools for understanding regime dynamics. This way, the thesis offers new conceptual and methodological insights for sustainability transitions, by emphasizing transformations beyond experimentation. These new insights are intended as contribution to shaping sustainable futures in megacities.


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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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