Revitalizing varieties of capitalism for sustainability transitions research: Review, critique and way forward
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Despite recent calls for more critical views of capitalism in sustainability transitions research, a starting point for transitions researchers is lacking. Recognizing the potential of the varieties of capitalism (VoC) approach to bring capitalism deeper into transitions research, this paper constitutes a review of VoC in the sustainability transitions literature, returning to its theoretical foundations in coordination and strategic interactions and their relations to innovation and socio-technical system transformation. The review finds the most common application of VoC to be in the energy dimension of transition, nevertheless revealing a shallow engagement with the approach that reinforces the need for conceptual development for sustainability transitions purposes. Potential areas for development relate to the enrichment of core VoC concepts – coordination, strategic interaction and comparative institutional advantage – and to competing growth and sustainability objectives of existing (and beyond) capitalist systems. There is a further need to expand the scope of VoC application beyond ideal-form national archetypes to infiltrate across scales and levels, as well as to go beyond the traditional range of sectors to shed light on understudied actors, roles and power relations for transitions. Despite typical delegation to political economy, VoC is highly interdisciplinary, applicable to common frameworks used in transition studies and amenable to social scientists interested in power and agency in transitions. As a strategy for moving VoC forward in transitions research, it is recommended to place it at the core of studies taking institutions, stakeholder interactions and sector coordination in their contextual situations seriously.