Towards a modular and temporal understanding of system diffusion: Adoption models and socio-technical theories applied to Austrian biomass district-heating (1979-2013)

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The diffusion of socio-technical systems is more complex than that of discrete products and cannot be understood solely with adoption models that have come to dominate the diffusion literature. The paper makes two contributions. First, it aims to broaden the conceptual repertoire by distinguishing two analytical families: adoption models and socio-technical theories of diffusion. We distinguish four adoption models (epidemic, rational choice, socio-psychological, increasing-returns-to-adoption) and three socio-technical models (system building, circulation/replication, societal embedding), and discuss their phenomenological characteristics and causal mechanisms. Second, the paper shows that system diffusion is a multi-dimensional process that is best understood with a modular approach that combines insights from different conceptual models. To demonstrate this second contribution and explore the temporal salience of different models, we apply them to the diffusion of Austrian biomass district heating (BMDH) systems (1979-2013). The paper ends with integrative suggestions by temporally positioning different diffusion models in a broader framework.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-153
Number of pages15
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

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