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Socio-technological change in modern agriculture through the commercialisation of radical technological innovations in urban agriculture

Author: Torsten Schulz

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Helmut Breitmeier


The graduation thesis deals with the change of socio-technological regimes through innovations and their commercialization, especially through niche innovations. The area of investigation will be the field of urban agriculture in Germany and Europe. The approach to the problem is based on two parts: First, the analysis of theoretical foundations of socio-technological transformation with the aim of commercializing more sustainable technologies and practices, and second the analysis of case studies. In the case study analysis, the actions of all stakeholders involved will be traced in the case of successful and failed attempts.

Agriculture is a sector that is constantly changing due to its importance for the human nutrition and the associated public interest. Additionally, innovations and cost pressure can initiate change. Currently surface pressure on arable land, nature conservation and climate change lead to a growing interest in urban agriculture and vertical farming. These technologies open up for agricultural production out of rural areas and lead to increasing yields. Considering that cities have disconnected from their natural supply structures, making this area interesting for the analysis of socio-technological change. The transition of socio-technological regimes is connected with institutional change. When considering socio-technological change two things are important; first a pure technological analysis might overestimate the potential of an innovation, when ignoring the connection of it to social structures, organisation and human agency. On the other side the change of the prevailing regime is connected with institutional work.

In agriculture it is noticeable that change which is induced by a top-down process is rarely successful. Successful transition of institutions mostly happens from a niche-perspective. Therefore, particular attention must be paid to the actors involved and their agency in driving change. Governments have the opportunity to promote change by e.g. strategic niche management or demonstration projects, thus reducing transaction costs (moral hazard, adverse selection) for consumers and the cost competition to which innovations are exposed. Furthermore, states can oppose change through regulation. However, the successful commercialization of innovations is linked to a change in the perception of technology by different actor groups and the relationship between technology and social structures.

The planned PhD takes place in cooperation with the doctoral college of the University of Applied Science Osnabrück. It is heavily connected to the work of the Growing Knowledge Group at the University of Applied Science Osnabrück, especially the project “Productive. Sustainable. Vivid. Grüne Finger for a climate resilient city.” The supervisors are besides Prof Dr Breitmeier, Prof Dr Andreas Ulbrich (Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences) and Dr Sandra Schwindenhammer (Justus Liebig University Giessen).