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Strategies of Secession and Counter-Secession

A Conceptual Framework for Elucidating How Agency Shapes Discontinuation Policies

Political Economy
Political Sociology
Energy Policy
Mert Duygan
University of Basel
Mert Duygan
University of Basel
Adrian Rinscheid
Universität St Gallen
Aya Kachi
University of Basel

A low-carbon transition of the energy system is crucial in combating climate change and thus reducing the environmental and health impacts of human activities. While innovation policies have gained wide acclaim for driving technological change, the importance of discontinuation policies for disrupting incumbent technologies such as fossil fuel based electricity systems were largely overlooked until recently (Kivimaa & Kern, 2016). As transitions require destabilization or reconfiguration of socio-technical regimes, discontinuation policies can be elemental in breaking away from technological and institutional lock-in. These policies consist of measures that target socio-technical regimes through inducing changes in rules, technologies, and actor-networks. Phase-out policies which include banning the use of a certain technology, product or energy sources (e.g. coal-fired electricity) are the most direct and stringent form of a destabilization measure. In fact, phase-out policies can be more effective than R&D support schemes in the expansion of renewable energies (Rogge & Johnstone, 2017).

Despite their supposed effectiveness, enactment of discontinuation policies is challenging as it is contingent upon the politics and power relations among the stakeholders. Against this background, we contend it to be imperative to unravel the interests and agency of key actors of discontinuation policy processes in a given institutional setting. This enables a better understanding why some jurisdictions are able to implement policies to phase out incumbent technologies while others end up in policy layering. As a theory for the adoption of discontinuation policies is still lacking, tackling this question conceptually is very important to enable fruitful empirical investigation.

Our work draws from Institutional Theory and research on Socio-Technical Transitions. Discontinuation and particularly phase-out policies can be considered as an act of disrupting institutions or deinstitutionalization that results from the delegitimization of a given technology or practice. The concepts of institutional work address how the agency of actors is involved in creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions and what distinct sets of practices actors engage for this pursuit (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). However, this strand of literature has not examined what resources are required to perform different forms of institutional work practices and how institutional settings might condition the relevance of these practices. On the contrary, Political Economy and Public Administration literatures provide some insights into the link between stakeholder characteristics and policy output albeit the question of why some actors are more successful than others being not thoroughly examined (Kuzemko, Lockwood, Mitchell, & Hoggett, 2016). Drawing on the complementary insights from Political Science, Institutional Sociology and Organizational Studies, our study presents a framework that conceptualizes embedded agency in relation to the transformation of institutions (e.g. adoption of phase-out policies). The objective of this framework is to enable conduct of systematic analyses that uncover the causal effects and mechanisms pertinent for adoption of discontinuation policies and their variation across different institutional settings. Thereby, it also serves for developing theories on political determinants and the role of agency in destabilization of socio-technical regimes.
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