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Empowerment and Transition Management
Flor Avelino1

Paper to be presented at the International Workshop “Politics and Governance in Sustainable
Socio-technical Transitions”, 20-21 September 2007, Berlin

So far, the conceptualisation of power is one of the missing links in the theory development
within transition studies. There is an implicit understanding of power in the transition frameworks
but it is not theorised. This paper proposes how concepts of power, empowerment and
leadership can be incorporated in the transition management model as presented in the current
literature. Within transition studies we can observe a certain schism between the developing
theory of transition dynamics (TD) on the one hand and the further development of transition
management (TM) theory on the other hand. One could argue that when discussing power and
empowerment, no fundamental distinction should be made between transition dynamics theory
and transition management theory. For as soon one considers issues of power, “how it works”
and “how it can be influenced” essentially seem to be one and the same issue. However, there
is much to be gained from the conceptual distinction between dynamics and management.
These two conceptual poles of transition studies differ in the same way that the concept of
‘power’ holds an different meaning from the concept of ‘empowerment’ and ‘leadership. As such
we aim to understand how power works and what it consists of in the context of transition
dynamics, while adressing the transition management framework in terms of empowerment and
leadership, i.e. the extent to which actors can influence existing relations of power.
The paper faces this challenge as follows. Power is broadly defined as the capacity of actors to
mobilise resources, empowerment as the transmission between actors of the resources,
methods and comptentences necessary to exercise power and leadership as the capacity to
influence other actors in terms of 1) increasing their willingness (or unwillingness) to exercise (a
certain type of) power and 2) doing that to reach a specific goal. Understandings of power as
offered by Parsons, Luhmann, Foucault, Giddens and Arendt are used not only to develop a
definition of power but also to make a distinction between different types of resources and
different forms of power: systemic, structural, innovative, destructive and transformative. Each
form of power comes with its own methods, competences, empowerment techniques and
leadership styles. Subsequently, these concepts of power, empowerment and leadership are
integrated with the analytical frameworks used in transitions studies: ´multi-level´, ´multi-phase´,
´multi-pattern´ and ´transition management´, including also ´multi-actor´ and ´multi-domain´. The
purpose is to make implicit assumptions in the transition management model into explicit
premises by reformulating them in terms of power.
Moreover, the paper uses the Dutch mobility sector as an empirical basis. In 2004 / 2005 the
Dutch ministries of Economic Affairs, Housing, Land-use Planning and Environmental
Management and Transport & Water in collaboration developed the latest Mobility policy plan, in
which ´Transition Management` was presented as an innovation strategy for the long term,
explaining further that the cabinet will choose this strategy in order to “achieve sustainable
mobility (…) with a long-term time horizon and – related to that – innovation programs (…) for
the short-term”.2 In those same years various programmes and platforms have been founded in
the name of this ´transition to sustainable mobility´. One of them concerns the Platform for
Sustainable Mobility
3, another one the foundation called TRANSUMO, which is an abbreviation
of TRANsition to SUstainable MObility.4 Observed ´practices of transition management´ as
applied in various programmes and projects in the Dutch mobility sector will serve to test the
applicability of the power, empowerment and leadership concepts as presented in this paper.
Thereby the purpose is not only to explain and describe observed phenomena, but also to
reformulate and question implicit assumptions currently underlying the transition management
model. While doing so, the paper also critically reflects on methodological questions on how to
research issues of power, empowerment and leadership within transition studies.
1 Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, Erasmus University Rotterdam, [email protected] 2 Nota Mobiliteit, Uitvoeringsagenda; van Nota naar Mobiliteit, September 2005, V&W en VROM, p. 65 3


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