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Global Socio-technical Regimes in the Water Sector (GLORIWA)

English title Global Socio-technical Regimes in the Water Sector (GLORIWA)
Applicant Binz Christian
Number 179219
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution ESS - Environmental Social Sciences Eawag
Institution of higher education Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology - EAWAG
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.09.2018 - 31.05.2023
Approved amount 329'767.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Social geography and ecology

Keywords (5)

infrstructure; sustainability transition; urban water management; socio-technical regime; globalization

Lay Summary (German)

Die Transformation urbaner Infrastruktur in Richtung erhöhter Nachhaltigkeit ist ein Kernproblem unserer Zeit. Obschon ressourcenschonende Lösungen für Energie, Wasser oder Transport zunehmend verfügbar sind, ist deren Verbreitung mit erheblichen Hindernissen konfrontiert. Insbesondere international gültige Modelle von ‘moderner’ Infrastruktur behindern eine schnelle Nachhaltigkeits-Transition. Die Untersuchung dieser Modelle (oder ‘sozio-technischen Regime’) ist das Kernanliegen des GLORIWA Projektes.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojektes

Der urbane Wassersektor exemplifiziert die Relevanz von internationalisierten Regimen: Die technische Aufbereitung von Wasser und Abwasser erfolgt in verschiedensten Teilen der Welt anhand desselben Modells, welches auf expansiven Kanalnetzen, sowie zentralisierter Aufbereitung und Management der Stoffströme beruht. Verschiedenste international tätige Akteure (Wasserkonzerne, Investoren, Technologieexperten, etc.) stützen dieses Modell mit entsprechende Normen und Technologienstandards. GLORIWA untersucht anhand von globalen Datenbanken und basierend auf Experteninterviews, wie sich ein dominantes Regime in der urbanen Wasserbewirtschaftung ausgebildet hat, wie es global diffundiert, und wie seine Dominanz reduziert werden könnte, um Experimente mit lokal angepassten und potentiell nachhaltigeren Systemalternativen zu ermöglichen.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Die Untersuchung von Pfadabhängigkeiten in globalen sozio-technischen Systemen stellt eine Neuheit im Feld der Nachhaltigkeitsforschung dar. Aufschlüsse über die Dynamik in globalen Systemstrukturen können dabei helfen, urbane Transformationsprozesse zu unterstützen und die Erreichung von zentralen Zielen der nachhaltigen Entwicklung zu beschleunigen.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 06.08.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
155474 Globalization of cleantech industries - Reconstructing China's integration into the global innovation networks of wind power and solar photovoltaics 01.07.2015 Early Postdoc.Mobility


The GLORIWA project aims at analyzing the global actor structure and institutional rationalities that stabilize dominant designs in urban infrastructure. The project starts from the observation that infrastructure solutions in energy, water or transportation use the same design principles all over the world, even though the material and cultural preconditions vary greatly between places. Change toward locally adapted (and potentially more sustainable) solutions is hindered by dominant designs that are hard to change even by the most visionary entrepreneurs. In GLORIWA, this lock-in is attributed to internationalized actor structures and institutional rationalities that stabilize and diffuse a dominant model of ‘modern’ infrastructure in space (i.e. global socio-technical regimes).Conceptualizing socio-technical regimes as ‘global’ is a radically novel idea at the intersection of transition studies, innovation studies and economic geography. Transition literature to date almost exclusively drew national or regional spatial boundaries, assuming that infrastructure transformation (e.g. the transition from fossil to renewable energy) plays out predominantly at urban, regional or national scales (Coenen et al., 2012). Whether and how transformation dynamics are influenced by international interdependencies in today’s quickly globalizing knowledge economy has been largely ignored (Fuenfschilling and Binz, 2017). The GLORIWA project aims at filling this gap by 1) further specifying and operationalizing transition studies’ socio-technical regime concept, 2) analyzing how certain design principles gain dominance in international arenas, and 3) assessing global regime rationalities diffuse in space. By visualizing and analyzing the global actor structure in urban water management, GLORIWA will unpack in detail the mechanisms through which a regime rationality stabilizes and influences infrastructure design decisions in various places around the world. The global socio-technical regime in urban water management will be reconstructed based on a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods and data sources. Secondary databases will be revised to qualitatively map the global actor structure in urban water management. Social Network Analysis and Discourse Network Analysis will then be used to examine which firms, consultants or NGOs occupy the most central network position in this actor structure and thus enjoy definitional authority in framing certain technologies as global model solution. This quantitative analysis will then be combined with qualitative expert interviews in order to reconstruct in detail the process through which dominant regime solutions are diffused beyond their place of origin. The results from the water sector will be cross-compared with a parallel research initiative at Lund University, Sweden, conducting regime analyses in the chemical and paper and pulp sectors. By systematically mapping and analyzing these global structures, GLORIWA and its partner activities will contribute novel ideas on how infrastructure transformation may be understood and governed not only at a national, but increasingly at an international level.