Imagining sustainable energy and mobility transitions: Valence, temporality, and radicalism in 38 visions of a low-carbon future

Soc Stud Sci. 2020 Aug;50(4):642-679. doi: 10.1177/0306312720915283. Epub 2020 May 6.


Based on an extensive synthesis of semi-structured interviews, media content analysis, and reviews, this article conducts a qualitative meta-analysis of more than 560 sources of evidence to identify 38 visions associated with seven different low-carbon innovations - automated mobility, electric vehicles, smart meters, nuclear power, shale gas, hydrogen, and the fossil fuel divestment movement - playing a key role in current deliberations about mobility or low-carbon energy supply and use. From this material, it analyzes such visions based on rhetorical features such as common problems and functions, storylines, discursive struggles, and rhetorical effectiveness. It also analyzes visions based on typologies or degrees of valence (utopian vs. dystopian), temporality (proximal vs. distant), and radicalism (incremental vs. transformative). The article is motivated by the premise that tackling climate change via low-carbon energy systems (and practices) is one of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century, and that effective decarbonization will require not only new energy technologies, but also new ways of understanding language, visions, and discursive politics surrounding emerging innovations and transitions.

Keywords: energy discourse; futures; imaginaries; sociotechnical transitions; visions.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon*
  • Climate Change
  • Energy-Generating Resources
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Renewable Energy*


  • Fossil Fuels
  • Carbon