This paper investigates a neglected aspect of the transitions literature: the destabilisation of existing regimes and industries. It presents an analytical perspective that integrates four existing views on destabilisation and conceptualizes the process as a multi-dimensional and enacted phenomenon involving technical, economic, political, and cultural processes. This perspective is illustrated with two historical cases of the British coal industry (1913-1967, 1967-1997). These cases are also used to articulate five lessons regarding the overall destabilisation process and five lessons regarding the economic and socio-political environments of industries. The conclusion section translates the historical lessons into insights with relevance for the contemporary challenge of climate change and transitions to low-carbon energy systems. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.