Collective action lessons for the energy transition: learning from social movements of the past

B.J. Pearce, Vanja Djinlev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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To accelerate the energy transition and achieve the needed large-scale transformation to address climate change, different barriers including lock-ins and path dependencies, incumbent power structures and changing individual and collective norms, values, and behaviors around energy need to be addressed. In the face of these challenges, citizens are beginning to play a bigger role in the transformation of the energy system. For example, they are becoming prosumers (energy consumers who also produce energy) and are increasingly engaging in collective energy actions, including taking part in energy communities. In the latter instance, collective investment and consumption decisions are made together, and norms, understanding and behavior towards energy are shaped collectively. To better understand the roles that individuals and groups can play in confronting the challenges of the energy transition, we make use of and adapt Ostrom’s socio-ecological systems (SES) framework to analyze past examples of collective actions and to delve deeper into the causes and catalysts of collective actions. We show how this framework can be used to analyze collective actions across time and contexts, focusing on connecting individual and group behavior with changing societal norms and the corresponding barriers to change. By applying the adapted SES framework as a lens to analyze historical examples of collective actions that have resulted in a widespread transformation in social norms and structures, we identify similarities and differences between these case studies and the current energy transition. Confronting incumbents and the challenge of changing social norms and behaviors are among the similarities, but the specific tactics used to limit incumbents’ powers and the actions taken to influence the norms and behaviors differ. Lastly, we determine the key actors that influenced social and behavioral change, as one of the main outcomes of the analysis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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