International Institute for Innovation in Governance



The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in

Over the last 15 years, research on carbon lock‐in has investigated why decarbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock‐in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock‐in mechanisms and, using the concept of discursive turning points, important factors in explaining change. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviors of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock‐in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long‐standing lock‐in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. Over time the energy transition discourse became de‐radicalized. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock‐in. We conclude that discursive lock‐in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock‐ins and other types of lock‐in should be investigated.

Buschmann, P., & Oels, A. (2019). The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock‐in: The case of the German energy transitionWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, e574.


Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional Change

Colin Hay’s and Vivien Schmidt’s responses to my previous critical engagement with their respective versions of neo-institutionalism raise the issue of how scholars may account for the ideational power of political processes and how ideas may generate both stability and change. Even though Hay, Schmidt, and I share a common philosophical ground in many respects, we nevertheless diverge in our views about how to account for ideational power and for actors’ ability to navigate a social reality that is saturated with structures and meaning. There continues to be a need for an analytical framework that incorporates discourse and a constitutive logic based upon the power in ideas. Post-structural institutionalism (PSI) analyzes discourse as knowledge claims by means of the concept of a constitutive causality, analytically identified in respect to institutions, such that the substantive content of ideas/discourse provides ideational power and generates immanent change.

Larsson, O. (2019). Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional ChangeCritical Review, 1-22.

Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance

In this paper, we present a conceptual framework extending Foucaultian insights on the relations between power and knowledge to link up with current insights into studies of natural resource management (NRM) and more broadly environmental studies. We classify discourses in NRM according to understandings of social–ecological systems and argue that grasping those larger contexts can push NRM in a different direction, forming a base for more informed and inclusive decision-making. We then reconstruct the importance of materiality, the physical world, for the functioning of NRM within social–ecological systems. The concept of livelihoods is added to our developing Foucaultian frame, as material/discursive entwinements which structure responses of many stakeholders in NRM. Finally, we present an expansion of Foucaultian NRM into adaptive governance thinking as a logical outcome of basic insights into power/knowledge, developed and contextualized in current NRM and its critical analyses. Download: here

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