On the importance of power struggles in the diffusion of social innovations

Rick Hölsgens


Diffusion of social innovations has become a key theme in social innovation research. In this paper I argue that the importance of power relations and opposition against social innovations should receive a more central position in this line of research. Using detours to the related fields of Science and Technology Studies and Transition Studies, the significance of (shifting) power relations in the diffusion of innovations is underlined. Through a historical case study on the institutionalisation/diffusion of women’s suffrage in the Netherlands (1883-1919) it is shown that power struggles and shifting power relations are also key for the successful diffusion of a social innovation. With this paper I aim to bring power and empowerment to the agenda of social innovation researchers.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31637/epsir.16-2.1

Full Text:



Avelino, F. (2011). Power in transition: Empowering discourses on sustainability transitions. Rotterdam: Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Avelino, F. & Wittmayer, J. M. (2015). Shifting Power Relations in Sustainability Transitions: A Multi-actor Perspective. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 1–22. doi:10.1080/1523908X.2015.1112259

Bijker, W. E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bijker, W.E., Hughes, Thomas P., & Pinch, T. J. (Eds.). (1987). The social construction of technological systems: new direction in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Clayton, S., Devine-Wright, P., Swim, J., Bonnes, M., Steg, L., Whitmarsh, L., & Carrico, A. (2016). Expanding the role for psychology in addressing environmental challenges. The American psychologist, 71(3), 199–215. doi:10.1037/a0039482

De Wilde, I. (2007). Jacobs, Aletta Henriëtte. (Original work published in BWSA 1988).

Dogan, E., Bolderdijk, J. W., & Steg, L. (2014). Making Small Numbers Count: Environmental and Financial Feedback in Promoting Eco-driving Behaviours. Journal of Consumer Policy, 37(3), 413–422. doi:10.1007/s10603-014-9259-z

Freeman, C. (1995). The 'National System of Innovation' in historical perspective. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 19.

Geels, F. W. (2002). Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case study. Research Policy, 31, 1257–1274.

― (2004). From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems. Research Policy, 33(6-7), 897–920. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2004.01.015

― (2005). Technological transitions and system innovations: A co-evolutionary and socio-technical analysis. Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

― (2011). The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Responses to seven criticisms. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), 24–40. doi:10.1016/j.eist.2011.02.002

― (2014). Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework. Research Policy, 43(2), 261–277. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2013.10.006

Grin, J. (2010). Understanding transitions from a governance perspective. In J. Grin, J. Rotmans, & J. W. Schot (Eds.), Routledge studies in sustainability transitions. Transitions to sustainable development. New directions in the study of long term transformative change (pp. 221–319). New York: Routledge.

Hargreaves, T. (2011). Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. Journal of Consumer Culture, 11(1), 79–99.

Hoffman, J. (2013). Theorizing power in transition studies: The role of creativity and novel practices in structural change. Policy Sciences, 46(3), 257–275. doi:10.1007/s11077-013-9173-2

Hölsgens, R., Lübke, S., & Hasselkuß, M. (2016, September). The MLP applied to social innovation? IST2016 Conference, Wuppertal, DE.

Howaldt, J., Kopp, R., & Schwarz, M. (2015). On the theory of social innovations: Tarde's neglected contribution to the development of a sociological innovation theory. Weinheim, DE: Beltz Juventa.

Howaldt, J., Schröder, A., Kaletka, C., Rehfeld, D., & Terstriep, J. (2016). Comparative analysis (mapping 1): Mapping the world of social innovation: A global comparative analysis across sectors and wolrd regions (SI-DRIVE No. D1.4).

Hughes, T. P. (1979). The electrification of America: The system builders. Technology and Culture, 20(1), 124–161.

Jacobs, A. H. (1924). Herinneringen van Dr. Aletta H. Jacobs. Amsterdam, NL: Van Holkema & Warendorf.

Karnowski, V., Von Pape, T., & Wirth, W. (2011). Overcoming the binary logic of adoption: On the integration of diffusion of innovations theory and the concept of appropriation. In A. Vishwanath & G. Barnett (Eds.), The Diffusion of Innovations. A Communication Science Perspective (pp. 57–76). New York: Peter Lang.

Leydesdorff, L. (2006). The knowledge-based economy: Modeled, measured, simulated. Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers.

Meadowcroft, J. (2011). Engaging with the politics of sustainability transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), 70–75. doi:10.1016/j.eist.2011.02.003

Mill, J. S. (1869). The subjection of women.

Mulder, W., & Jong, E. de. (2002). Vrouwen in de heelkunde: Een cultuurhistorische beschouwing. Overveen, NL: Uitgeverij Belvédere/Medidact.

Oud, P. J., & Bosmans, J. (1997). Staatkundige vormgeving in Nederland (11., herziene dr). Assen: Van Gorcum.

Pelka, B., & Terstriep, J. (2016). Mapping social innovation maps: The state of research practice across Europe. European Public & Social Innovation Review, 1(1).

Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The social construction of facts and artefacts: or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social Studies of Science, 14, 399–441.

Raven, R. (2012). Analyzing emerging sustainable energy niches in Europe: A strategic niche management perspective. In G. Verbong & D. Loorbach (Eds.), Governing the energy transition: Reality, illusion or necessity? (pp. 125–151). New York: Routledge.

Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations. (3rd ed). New York: The Free Press (Original work published 1962).

Rüede, D., & Lurtz, K. (2012). Mapping the various meanings of social innovation: Towards a differentiated understanding of an emerging concept (EBS Business School Research Paper Series No. 12-03).

Santos, F., Salvado, J. C., Lopo de Carvalho, I., & Schulte, U. G. (2013). The life cycle of social innovations. In T. Osburg & R. Schmidpeter (Eds.), Social innovation: Solutions for a sustainable future (pp. 183–195). Heidelberg, DE: Springer.

Schot, J. W., & Geels, F. W. (2008). Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: Theory, findings, research agenda, and policy. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20(5), 537–554.

Schumpeter, J. A. (1994). Capitalism, socialism and democracy. London: Routledge (Original work published 1943).

Turnheim, B., & Geels, F. W. (2012). Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: Lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913–1997). Energy Policy, 50, 35–49. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2012.04.060

Van der Horst, H. (2013). Nederland: De vaderlandse geschiedenis van de prehistorie tot nu (11de druk). Amsterdam, NL: Prometheus - Bert Bakker.

Wirth, W., Von Pape, T., & Karnowski, V. (2008). An Integrative Model of Mobile Phone Appropriation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(3), 593–617. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2008.00412.x


  • There are currently no refbacks.


This work is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0. International. Editorial Sinnergiak