Deep Transitions: Towards a comprehensive framework for mapping major continuities and ruptures in industrial modernity

Laur Kanger*, Peeter Tinits, Anna Kati Pahker, Kati Orru, Amaresh Kumar Tiwari, Silver Sillak, Artjoms Šeļa, Kristiina Vaik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The world is confronted by a socio-ecological emergency, requiring rapid and deep decarbonization of a broad range of socio-technical systems. A recent Deep Transitions framework argues that this fundamentally unsustainable trajectory has been generated by the co-evolutionary dynamics of multiple systems during the last 250 years. Altering this direction requires transformation in industrial modernity – a set of most fundamental ideas, institutions, and practices characterizing every industrial society to date. Although the proponents of the framework suggest that this shift has been unfolding since the 1960s, no attempts have been made to operationalize the concept of industrial modernity and to assess this claim. This paper develops a comprehensive multi-dimensional and multi-domain approach for the measurement of industrial modernity. As such it seeks to provide empirical evidence of long-term continuities and emerging ruptures in the dominant ideas, institutions, and practices of industrial societies along the domains of environment and technology. Using a methodologically novel approach where the text mining of newspapers is combined with data from various databases the paper provides results from three countries – Australia, Germany, Soviet Union/Russia – between 1900 and 2020. Despite considerable country-level differences the results show shifts in public environmental discourse from the 1960s, followed by institutional changes from the 1980s but with only a modest change in practices. We also observe some change in the direction of innovative activities and their regulation coupled with a resurgent optimism in technology-environment discourse. The findings tentatively suggest that industrial modernity might be in the process of hollowing out along ideational and institutional dimensions in the environmental domain but less so in the domain of technology and innovation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102447
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Building blocks of this article have been discussed with various colleagues at the Deep Transitions workshop in Utrecht, Netherlands (2020), International Sustainability Transitions Conference (2020) and various internal meetings with the entire project team. We would especially like to thank Olaf Mertelsmann, Erki Tammiksaar and Aro Velmet for their help throughout the research process, including the identification of existing historical literature, source selection, keyword specification and interpretation of results; Rutger Hoekstra, Johan Schot and Ed Steinmueller for perceptive comments on the earlier versions of this work; Simon Hengchen, Stefan Hartmann and Ruben Ros for consultation on text mining workflow; ProQuest and The Shift Project for enabling access to their databases, and two anonymous reviewers for critical yet always constructive remarks. Funding This work was supported by the Estonian Research Council grant PRG346 “Reshaping Estonian energy, mobility and telecommunications systems on the verge of the Second Deep Transition”

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Deep Transitions
  • Ideas
  • Industrial modernity
  • Institutions
  • Practices


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