Sociotechnical Knowledge. An Operationalised Approach to Localised Infrastructure Planning and Sustainable Urban Development
Doctoral thesis, 2003

In processes of urban infrastructural reconfiguration, there is a counterproductive tension between tendencies of de-monopolisation and market liberalisation, on the one hand, and ambitions for sustainable urban development, drawing on Keynesian reformism and ecological modernisation, on the other. In this thesis, the aim is to overcome this tension and to facilitate a concrete operationalisation of the notion &'sustainable urban development' within concrete and localised processes of planning, design, decision-making and implementation. The operationalisation of sustainable urban development is addressed through an elaborate sociotechnical approach to infrastructural reconfiguration, resulting in the construction of a sociotechnical toolbox, SoTeK (draft). The main objective of SoTeK (draft) is to facilitate the use of multiple and complementary approaches to infrastructural understanding, i.e. the emphasis is on the 'box' rather than on the 'tools'. SoTeK (draft) is put to use in an action-oriented case study elaborating on a pilot study around a locally organised city district waste management system, i.e. a situation characterised by a complexity of multiple physical and institutional sub-systems, as well as by manifold worldviews regarding the purpose of these systems. In the case study analysis, SoTeK (draft) is found to function satisfactorily but some remaining weaknesses are identified and, consequently, a complementary review of the literature is carried out. Based on this review, and drawing on the experience of the case study, a conceptual model is constructed - the MAINtetra - in the ambition to strengthen the working of the sociotechnical toolbox. This thought-model draws on the social construction of technology (SCOT) approach; so-called 'hard' and 'soft' systems theory; the strategic choice approach (SCA); different understandings of the notion 'capital'; actor network theory (ANT); and critical realism. The final version of SoTeK (revisited) is deemed a working prototype, but is in need of further trial in real life processes of infrastructural change. In addition, in parallel to the concreteness of the practice-oriented sociotechnical toolbox, a critical realist interpretation of such processes is presented, responding to the more philosophical question of: How do we make sense of reality?


critical realism


strategic choice approach

sustainable development



social construction






actor network theory


systems theory





Jaan-Henrik Kain

Chalmers, Department of Built Environment and Sustainable Development

Subject Categories

Building Technologies



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 1986

Publikation - Chalmers tekniska högskola, Sektionen för arkitektur: 2003:7

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