Accepted Paper:

Cities as arenas of low-carbon transitions: Friction zones in the negotiation of low-carbon futures  


Harald Rohracher (Linköping University)
Philipp Späth (Freiburg University)

Paper long abstract:

So far, most analyses of low-carbon transitions have either focused on particular governance levels (e.g. national energy policy), particular functions (e.g. the electricity system) or particular actor perspectives (e.g. supply vs. demand side perspectives). Cities are an arena where the above-mentioned levels (e.g. urban-global), functional subsystems (e.g. transport-energy) and actor constituencies (e.g. suppliers-users) meet and intersect. Measures to making energy or transport systems more sustainable create new zones of friction and inconsistency within existing socio-technical regimes and between different sectors. Moreover, different groups of (urban) actors frame the problem of low-carbon transitions quite differently and embed it into different types of socio-political discourse which in turn may also result in conflicts and 'trials of force' between different actor perspectives. Recent actor-network-theory-inspired approaches such as 'navigational governance' (Jorgensen 2012), 'transition mediators' (Jensen 2013) or 'urban green assemblages' (Blok 2013) adopt this more conflict-oriented and actor-based view. In our contribution we will apply such a perspective to two exemplary case studies in the cities of Graz, Austria (construction of a new hydropower station), and Freiburg, Germany (heat supply of a low-energy-building district). In both cases socio-technical reconfigurations aiming at greater sustainability create new zones of friction, pitch different actor worlds against each other and reframe visions of more sustainable cities which to some extent become an emergent property of situated socio-technical constellations and actor configurations.

Panel L4
Energy controversies and technology conflicts