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Abstract: Many participants in the German political discourse have emphasized the need for a comprehensive transformation of the political system, the economy and society to meet the challenges of sustainable development. However, the scope, the speed and the means that are necessary to initiate and to advance such processes, is subject to controversial debate. Against this background, this paper will first of all, identify existing definitions of (societal) transformations and their theoretical assumptions in the scientific literature.
Transformation is often understood as a comprehensive process of change that affects many subsystems of society as a whole. The change processes in these subsystems are interdependent, meaning they mutually influence each other – changes in one subsystems will affect the other subsystem and vice versa. They can either both strengthen or weaken the others impact depending on their direction. The sum of such change processes will give a direction to societal development. Transformations designate the process of changing from one equilibrium state to another.
There is a multitude of competing visions for the future with different conceptions how this future will look like – ranging from the transformation to a sustainable society, to low carbon economies to forms of societal development that are decloupled from the “need” for economic growth. In order to classify and order the various contributions to this debate, to structure their assumptions about causalities and the need for governance, this paper uses three guiding questions: What are the objects of transformations? What are their driving forces? Can societal transformations be governed at all – and if so, how?
These questions have been answered based on a review of literature on the subject. The analysis was conducted in 2012 so that later publications on the subject have not been considered in this paper.