Technology phase-out as unravelling of socio-technical configurations
Cloud seeding case (10/2020)
Z. Koretsky and H. van Lente
Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 37: 302-317
Deliberate technology phase-out is being recognised as a viable policy option to weaken incumbent socio-technical configurations. At the same time, phase-out as a phenomenon has not been the focus of much attention in innovation studies and science and technology studies, where interest in emergence of technologies dominates. This is puzzling because phase-outs of socio-technical configurations are real-world phenomena. We propose a conceptual framework to study the dynamics of phase-outs of socio-technical configurations drawing from social practice theory which offers specific, nuanced, yet simple heuristics to trace the multifaceted character of socio-technical configurations. We explore an historical case of an incomplete phase-out by revisiting cloud seeding technology in the US. We show how the incomplete phase-out of cloud seeding was reflected in incomplete disruption of linkages between the material, cognitive and symbolic elements of the configuration. This case shows how a technology once considered problematic can resurface and regain legitimacy.