Deep Transitions

A joint SPRU-Utrecht University project, involving HSP, to improve our understanding of how societies change over time and what compels these changes.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has experienced various surges of economic and social development. This has led to modern societies as we know them today. In the Deep Transition project, we explore underlying drivers for the establishment of these modern societies, but from an unusual angle. We explore how shared values and rules are adopted by many people and organisations.

The First Deep Transition embraced values and rules associated with fossil fuels, linear wasteful production, centralised globalised mass production and consumption. This led to a number of ‘socio-technical systems’ or infrastructures for the provision of food, health, mobility, energy, communication, education and finance. At the end of the twentieth century, the characteristics of these systems have become the root cause of both the climate and inequality crises.

The Deep Transition research project looks at how these rules, values and systems were made, and can be unmade and asks how can we work towards a Second Deep Transition?

As part of this project, the role of war is being examined by HSP researcher Caitriona McLeish and her SPRU colleague Phil Johnstone. Their work so far has opened up a hitherto neglected area to explore and analyse the ways in which the two World Wars have influenced transitions in the ‘socio-technical systems’ of energy, food and transport and, importantly, explored the ways in which these systems have influenced the war.

Project Funder

This project is being funded by James Anderson from the investment bank Baillie Gifford.

People involved in the project

There are sixteen people, located mainly at Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges and SPRU working on Deep Transitions project.

Johan Schot is the Principal Investigator with Ed Steinmueller acting as lead investigator in SPRU.

The sub project on The Impact of War involves Caitriona McLeish and Phil Johnstone, both of whom are at SPRU.

To find out more about the project, please visit

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