School of Natural and Built Environment

Small State Transitions: Scale, Nation-State and Energy Futures

Research Theme: Place, Well-being and Healthy Environment
Supervisors: Prof. Geraint Ellis ( and Prof John Barry ( School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

This project builds on the Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) funded project Characterising and Catalysing Transitions (CCTransitions, see ) and recognises the potential of transition theory to provide new insights into conceptualising and operationalising long-term, society-wide change, such as those related to the low carbon economy. The multi-level perspective (MLP) of transition theory (Geels, 2002) has suggested that we can use three key levels in which to frame complex systems including: niches (such as innovative local practices, local actors and technologies); regimes (such as dominant practices, policies/rules, shared assumptions etc.); and landscapes (such as ‘external’ factors such as demography, international markets, prevailing consumer culture etc.).  Although MLP has attracted critiques in terms of how it relates to power disparities or spatiality of transitions, it remains a dominant mode of analysis for understanding the opportunities and constraints of large-scale system transition. Particular questions arise about how the role of regimes at the sub-national (Cowell et al 2014) or small state level which may be vulnerable to external (landscape) factors.  This project will take these questions and use them to explore the constraints and potential opportunities of transition for small states. It is anticipated that the project will focus on comparative case studies of a number of European small states (including the Republic of Ireland) and examine the conditions (to include ‘internal’ political and economic ones) these offer for system-wide energy transitions. It is anticipated that the project will be advanced by a period of overseas study facilitated by the School’s Erasmus exchange programme. The anticipated contributions of the research are an increased understanding of the complex relationship/s between the politics and political economy dynamics of the nation-state and energy transition, and a refined conceptualisation of the interaction of regime and landscape in transition theory.

How to Apply