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Professor Frank Geels

Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability

Frank Geels is Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, which is an inter-departmental institute at The University of Manchester. Geels is chairman of the international Sustainability Transitions Research Network (www.transitionsnetwork.org), and one of the world-leading scholars on socio-technical transitions, which entail co-evolutionary interactions between technology, consumer practices, firms, markets, policy, cultural meaning, and infrastructure.

Working in the field of innovation studies, Geels practices an inter-disciplinary style, which makes crossovers between evolutionary economics, Science and Technology Studies, neo-institutional theory, sociology, history of technology, and cultural studies. Geels is particularly well-known for this conceptual work on the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) and Strategic Niche Management (SNM), which respectively address socio-technical transitions and radical innovations.

He is also well-known for historical and contemporary case studies in various empirical domains: sea transport, urban land transport, transport, sewer systems, water supply, music, psychotropic drugs, pig farming, horticulture, coal industry, biogas, renewable energy technologies, enerrgy transitions, and automobility. His work combines theoretical sensitivity with in-depth longitudinal case studies, aiming at pattern-recognition and causal process analysis. Geels also developed a socio-technical scenario methodology, which provides a novel way of exploring how future transitions can unfold through interactions between social, technical, political, cultural and economic developments.

His work on transitions is shaping international debates about sustainable development, because shifts to new transport/energy/agri-food systems are necessary to achieve large sustainability gains such as 80% CO2 reduction or factor-10 improvements in environmental performance. The UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has embraced transition thinking in Defra’s Evidence and Investment Strategy 2010-2013 and Beyond. And the World Wildlife Fund explicitly uses the MLP to structure their strategies in the ‘Great Transition’ project, which led to the establishment of a Smart CSO intitiative that includes 70 civil society organization across Europe (http://www.smart-csos.org/).

Geels has extensive experience in research management, acting as PI and Co-I in research proposals funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, European Research Council, Dutch Research Council. He was also involved in consultancy projects for the Dutch Ministry of Environmental Affairs, DEFRA, and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Geels has published six books and more than forty peer-reviewed articles, some of which are highly cited. He regularly gives keynote lectures at international conferences for academics and policymakers.

Selected documents

Geels, F.W. & Penna, C.C.R. (2015) Societal problems and industry reorientation: Elaborating the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model and a case study of car safety in the USA (1900-1995), Research Policy, 44(1), pp. 67-82.

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Geels, F. (2014) 'Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework', Research Policy, 43(2), pp. 261-277

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Turnheim, B. & Geels, F. W. (2013) 'The destabilisation of existing regimes: Confronting a multi-dimensional framework with a case study of the British coal industry (1913–1967)', Research Policy, 42(10), pp. 1749-1767

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Geels, F. (2013) 'The impact of the financial–economic crisis on sustainability transitions: Financial investment, governance and public discourse', Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 6, pp. 67-95

The paper distinguishes four views on the impact of the financial–economic crisis on sustainability transitions (operationalized as diffusion of green niche-innovations). The first three views highlight the possibility of positive impacts of the financial–economic crisis on sustainability transitions and joint solutions: (a) a comprehensive transformation of the capitalist system, (b) a green Industrial Revolution, linked to a sixth green Kondratieff wave, and (c) green growth.

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