Professor & Principal Investigator

Derk Loorbach

About me

I am professor of socio-economic transitions and director of DRIFT, a social-science research enterprise at Erasmus University Rotterdam. We are an academic collective set out to explore sustainability transitions and help achieve transformative change in society. We do that by developing and testing new knowledge and ideas in and with people in government, business or communities. Since I was a kid, I am fascinated by renewable energy and environmental sustainability, but also concerned about inequality and injustice. I turned that into activism in my student years and an interest in the dynamics and philosophies of structural societal change. I graduated with a thesis on the transformative potential of the network society and ‘multi-level governance’ for regions in 2000 and have been applying this background since then on developing the idea of sustainability transitions and how research can help guide and accelerate these.

Personal Motivation

I am fascinated by the interplay between technology and society and how one shapes the other. It is obvious that technological innovation plays a critical part in accelerating and achieving a nature positive future. But it might as well lead to a future in which we are stuck in an EV traffic jam still hardly using our individual cars and consuming completely ridiculous amounts of resources and energy. To realize the potential of transitions towards truly minimized ecological footprints and maximizing benefits for people and consumers, we need to rethink how innovation works and how we produce it. The NEON consortium is a fascinating attempt to create a context in which we can produce innovation in context. But to make this work in itself requires a transition in research: exploring transition in context outside in and through backcasting. If we want a future energy/mobility that is not only renewables based, minimizing resource consumption and circular, we need to identify the future (economic, institutional, behavioral) conditions and then explore how identified solutions could fit or develop within these.

Transformative research and governance of sustainability transitions

DRIFT is combining interdisciplinary analysis of path-dependencies, lock-in and institutional inertia (regimes) with identifying the patterns and mechanisms that drive destabilization and transformative change away from equilibrium. This provides the basis for identifying sources of agency and external factors that(might) contribute to desired transitions to sustainable futures.

We combine this with applied explorative research working within the city of Rotterdam with communities, new business and other actors to develop and empower transformative change: cooperative shared electric mobility, changing regulations and infrastructure, diffusion a transformative discourse, and putting phase out strategies on the agenda. The PhDs will work in and with this context to bring in technological insights and innovations, modelling support and transition ideas to contribute to this urban sustainability transition in the making

Link to other neon research