Overline: Workshop
Headline: Transformations towards sustainability at the regional level


This workshop aims to broaden the understanding of regional sustainability transformations (RST) by discussing respective theories, methodologies, categories, and processes. We like to learn from a variety of cases and approaches to better understand the drivers and barriers to RST. Further, we are interested in the ways in which research (including inter- and/or transdisciplinary) can increase the potential for successful knowledge integration in policy-making and society. This workshop is open for social scientists from different disciplines.


Regions are political or geographic areas that encompass more than one local unit, but not an entire state. They often represent a combination of physical or environmental (human-nature-interaction) characteristics, cultural traditions, or functional connections such as a common labor markets or lead industries. Regions are shaped through processes of construction, negotiation and conflict (Raven/Schot/Berkhout, 2012). Following van Houtum/Lagendijk (2001), strategic, functional and cultural dimensions together form the identity of a region. An important factor is how and where agonistic struggles are negotiated (Varró /Lagendijk, 2013). Regions have been strengthened to increase competitiveness (Paasi, 2009). But regionalism is also called for as a protection against processes of capitalist globalization. Both processes have implications for sustainability which have not been studied extensively.

The workshop will focus on peripheral regions with an emphasis on old industrial areas. Different patterns of dealing with transformation challenges can be observed here, in contrast to urban and metropolitan areas. Several factors could affect how rural regions encounter transformations differently, among them infrastructural patterns, the dependence on single branches of industry or agriculture, the degree of innovativeness, or the availability of space and the proximity to nature. It is our motivation to better understand what unites and distinguishes regions on their path towards sustainability.

Studying RST is complex. Many decisions impacting regional sustainability are taken at national or international levels. Much depends on how processes and actors on different levels interact. A substantial amount of research has focused on cities, individual industries or sectors, e.g. energy, asking how certain technologies or resources can be phased out or in (more quickly). These studies often lack an adequate picture of regional processes.

Also, steering away from one polluting activity does not automatically mean that the activity is replaced by a sustainable one. Uncertainties dealing with the sustainability concept as well as alleged conflicts between sustainability goals complicate the process of steering regional change processes towards sustainability. Some scholars with an explicitly regional perspective have used and adapted approaches from the socio-technical transitions literature such as the multi-level perspective or transition management.

We like to address the following question:

  • How can we conceptualize regional sustainability transformations (RST)?
  • Do established methodologies in transformation/transition studies (e.g. multi-level perspective, transition management, strategic niche management, technological innovation systems) grasp the specificities of RST? How can these methodologies be adapted to study RST?
  • Which understandings of sustainability shape regional decarbonization strategies?
  • Which drivers and barriers for regional sustainability transformations can be identified, including actors, structures, dynamics, and contexts?
  • How are transformations and the role that sustainability plays in it perceived in peripheral, old-industrial regions?


Venue: IASS Potsdam, Ballroom/Salon South         
Date: Friday, 25th November
Contact: Dr. David Löw Beer, Konrad Gürtler
E-Mail Contact: David.loewbeer@iass-potsdam.de; Konrad.guertler@iass-potsdam.de

Preliminary schedule

  • 09:00 – 09:30    Arrival
  • 09:30 – 09:45    Introduction and setting the stage
  • 09:45 – 10:30    Lars Coenen (Mohn Centre for Innovation and Regional Development, Bergen, Norway, virtual)
  • 10:30 – 11:00    David Löw-Beer, Konrad Gürtler and Johannes Staemmler (IASS Potsdam): Phasing out coal, but evading the sustainability transition? Exploring stances towards sustainability in coal-dependent region
  • 11:00 – 11:30    Gesa Pflitsch (Mohn Centre): Mapping institutional and organizational dynamics with the transition topology
  • 11:30 – 12:00    Benjamin Nölting (Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (HNEE)): Governance for regional sustainability transformation – developing and embedding design perspectives spatially/regionally
  • 12:00 – 13:00    Lunch Break
  • 13:00 – 13:30    Franziska Goermar (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, IFL Leipzig): The role of narratives and imaginaries in regional transformation
  • 13:30 – 14:00    Peter Eckersley (Nottingham Trent University and Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Erkner): Lokale Bedingungen für eine ambitionierte Klimapolitik und die Rolle verschiedener Politikinstrumente
  • 14:00 – 14:30    Johannes Venjakob (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy): Stärkung ökologischer Ziele im kommunalen und regionalen Strukturwandel
  • 14:30 – 15:00    Coffee Break
  • 15:00 – 16:00    Wrap Up, next steps