Reconfiguration, contestation, and decline: conceptualizing mature large technical systems

Sovacool, Benjamin K, Lovell, Katherine and Ting, Marie Blanche (2018) Reconfiguration, contestation, and decline: conceptualizing mature large technical systems. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 43 (6). pp. 1066-1097. ISSN 0162-2439

[img] PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (361kB)


Large technical systems (LTS) are integral to modern lifestyles but arduous to analyze. In this paper, we advance a conceptualization of LTS using the notion of mature “phases,” drawing from insights into innovation studies, science and technology studies, political science, the sociology of infra- structure, history of technology, and governance. We begin by defining LTS as a unit of analysis and explaining its conceptual utility and novelty, situating it among other prominent sociotechnical theories. Next, we argue that after LTS have moved through the (overlapping) phases proposed by Thomas Hughes of invention, expansion, growth, momentum, and style,mature LTS undergo the additional (overlapping) phases of reconfiguration, contestation (subject to pressures such as drift and crisis), and eventually stagnation and decline. We illustrate these analytical phases with historical case studies and the conceptual literature, and close by suggesting future research to refine and develop the LTS framework, particularly related to more refined typologies, temporal dimensions, and a broadening of system users. We aim to contribute to theoretical debates about the coevolution of LTS as well as empirical discussions about system-related use, socio- technical change, and policy-making.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Depositing User: Ellie Leftley
Date Deposited: 03 May 2018 09:42
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 14:16

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update