Feelings of Discontent and the Promise of Middle Range Theory for STS | Geels

Frank W. Geels; Feelings of Discontent and the Promise of Middle Range Theory for Science & Technology Studies (STS); In Science, Technology & Human Values, Volume 32, Issue 6; 2007-11-01; DOI:10.1177/016224390303597; 25 pages; paywall
Teaser: Examples from Technology Dynamics


This article critically discusses the state of STS, expressing feelings of discontent regarding four aspects: policy relevance, conceptual language, too much focus on complexity, theoretical styles. Middle range theory is proposed as an alternative, promising avenue. Middle range theories focus on delimited topics, make explicit efforts to combine concepts, and search for abstracted patterns and explanatory mechanisms. The article presents achievements in that direction for technology dynamics, particularly with regard to the role of expectations, niche theory and radical innovation, and the multi-level perspective on sociotechnical transitions.


  • Middle Range Theory (MRT)
  • Science & Techology Studies (STS)
  • Merton introduced the notion of MRT in sociology in the three editions
    of Social Theory and Social Structure (1949, 1957, 1968).
    Merton, R.K. 1948. Discussion of Parsons’ `The position of sociological theory ‘. American Sociological Review 13(2): 164-168. Google Scholar


At the paywall, it is unclear who wrote the article.  The paywall declares that it was Frank W. Geels, but provides an “author biography” for Casper Bruun Jensen.

Yup, it is Frank W. Geels. Yet…

Casper Bruun Jensen is
  • Associate professor at the Technologies in Practice group, IT University of Copenhagen.
  • Casper Bruun Jensen, Ontologies for Developing Things (Sense, 2010)
  • Casper Bruun Jensen, Brit Ross Winthereik, Monitoring Movements in Development (MIT, 2013).


  1. Bijker, W.E. 1993. Do not despair: There is life after constructivism. Science, Technology, & Human Values 18(1): 113-138. Google Scholar
  2. Bijker, W.E. 1995. Of bicycles, bakelites and bulbs: Towards a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Google Scholar
  3. Boudon, R. 1991. What middle-range theories are. Contemporary Sociology 20(4): 519-522. Google Scholar
  4. Brown, N., and M. Michael. 2003. The sociology of expectations: Retrospecting prospects and prospecting retrospects. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 15(1): 3-18. Google Scholar
  5. Callon, M. 1986. The sociology of an actor-network: The case of the electric vehicle. In Mapping the dynamics of science and technology , edited by M. Callon, J. Law and A. Rip, 19—34. London: MacMillan Google Scholar
  6. Callon, M., and B. Latour. 1992. Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath school: A reply to Collins and Yearley. In Science as practice and culture, edited by A. Pickering, 343-368. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar
  7. Collins, H.M., and S. Yearley. 1992. Journey into space. In Science as practice and culture, edited by A. Pickering, 369-389. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar
  8. Collins, H.M., and R. Evans. 2002. The third wave of science studies: Studies of expertise and experience. Social Studies of Science 32(2): 235-296. Google Scholar
  9. Davis, J.A. 1994. What’s wrong with sociology? Sociological Forum 9(2): 179-197. Google Scholar
  10. Deuten, J.J. 2003. Cosmopolitanising technology: A study of four emerging technological regimes. Enschede: Twente University Press. Google Scholar
  11. DiMaggio, P.J. 1995. Comments on “What theory is not”. Administrative Science Quarterly 40(3): 391-397. Google Scholar
  12. Edge, D. 2003. Celebration and strategy: The 4S after 25 years, and STS after 9-11. Social Studies of Science 33(2): 161-169. Google Scholar
  13. Flen, J., and A. Linden. 2005. Gartner’s hype cycle special report for 2005. August 5, 2005. Gartner Research . Available from http://www.gartner.com/resources/130100/130115/gartners_hype_c.pdf (accessed June 1, 2007). Google Scholar
  14. Freeman, C., and F. Louç. 2001. As time goes by: From the industrial revolutions to the information revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  15. Garud, R., and P. Karnøe. 2003. Bricolage versus breakthrough: Distributed and embedded agency in technological entrepreneurship. Research Policy 32(2): 277-300. Google Scholar
  16. Geels, F.W. 2002. Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: A multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research Policy 31(8/9): 1257-1274. Google Scholar
  17. Geels, F.W. 2005a. The dynamics of transitions in socio-technical systems: A multi-level analysis of the transition pathway from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles (1860—1930). Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 17(4): 445-476. Google Scholar
  18. Geels, F.W. 2005b. Co-evolution of technology and society: The transition in water supply and personal hygiene in the Netherlands (1850—1930)—a case study in multi-level perspective. Technology in Society 27(3): 363-397. Google Scholar
  19. Geels, F.W. 2005c. Technological transitions and system innovations: A co-evolutionary and socio-technical analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Google Scholar
  20. Geels, F.W., and W.A. Smit. 2000. Failed technology futures: Pitfalls and lessons from a historical survey. Futures 32(9/10): 867-885. Google Scholar
  21. Geels, F.W., and R.P.J.M. Raven. 2006. Non-linearity and expectations in niche-development trajectories: Ups and downs in Dutch biogas development (1973-2003). Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 18(3/4): 375-392. Google Scholar
  22. Geels, F.W., and J.J. Deuten. 2006. Local and global dynamics in technological development: A socio-cognitive perspective on knowledge flows and lessons from reinforced concrete. Science and Public Policy 33(4): 265-275. Google Scholar
  23. Geels, F.W., and J.W. Schot. 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways: Refinements and elaborations of the multi-level perspective. Research Policy 36(3): 399-417. Google Scholar
  24. Guggenheim, M., and H. Nowotny. 2003. Joy in repetition makes the future disappear: A critical assessment of the present state in STS. In Social studies of science & technology: Looking back, ahead, edited by B. Joerges and H. Nowotny , 229-260. Dordrecht: Kluwer. Google Scholar
  25. Hård, M. 1993. Beyond harmony and consensus: A social conflict approach to technology. Science, Technology, & Human Values 18(4): 408-432. Google Scholar
  26. Hård, M. 1994. Technology as practice: Local and global closure processes in diesel-engine design. Social Studies of Science 24(3): 549-585. Google Scholar
  27. Hedström, P., and R. Swedberg , eds. 1998. Social mechanisms: An analytical approach to social theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef
  28. Kemp, R., J. Schot, and R. Hoogma. 1998. Regime shifts to sustainability through processes of niche formation: The approach of strategic niche management. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 10(2): 175-196. Google Scholar
  29. Latour, B. 1999. On recalling ANT. In Actor network theory and after, edited by J. Law and J. Hassard, 15-25. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Google Scholar
  30. Law, J. 1992. Notes on the theory of the actor network: Ordering, strategy and heterogeneity. Systems Practice 5(4): 379-393. Google Scholar
  31. Law, J., and M. Callon. 1992. The life and death of an aircraft: A network analysis of technical change. In Shaping technology/building society: Studies in sociotechnical change, edited by W.E. Bijker and J. Law, 21-52. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Google Scholar
  32. Law, J. 1996. Traduction/trahison: Notes on ANT. Online paper from Actor-Network Theory Resource (Available from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/centres/css/ant/index.htm) (accessed January 8, 2007). Google Scholar
  33. Law, J. 1999. After ANT: Complexity, naming and topology. In Actor network theory and after, edited by J. Law and J. Hassard, 1-14. Oxford , UK: Blackwell. Google Scholar
  34. Merton, R.K. 1948. Discussion of Parsons’ `The position of sociological theory ‘. American Sociological Review 13(2): 164-168. Google Scholar
  35. Merton, R.K. 1968. Social theory and social structure. Third edition (previous editions in 1949 and 1957), Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Google Scholar
  36. Mills, C.W. 1959. The sociological imagination. London , Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  37. Misa, T.J. 1994. Retrieving sociotechnical change from technological determinism . In Does technology drive history? The dilemma of technological determinism, edited by M.R. Smith and L. Marx, 115—141. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Google Scholar
  38. Mokyr, J. 1990. The lever of riches: Technological creativity and economic progress. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  39. Molina, A. 1995. Sociotechnical constituencies as processes of alignment: The rise of a large-scale European information technology initiative. Technology in Society 17(4): 385-412. Google Scholar
  40. Nelson, R.R., and S.G. Winter. 1982. An evolutionary theory of economic change . Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Google Scholar
  41. Perez, C. 2002. Technological revolutions and financial capital: The dynamics of bubbles and golden ages. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Google Scholar
  42. Pestre, D. 2004. Thirty years of science studies: Knowledge, society and the political. History and Technology 20(4): 351-369. Google Scholar
  43. Pinder, C.C., and L.F. Moore , eds. 1980. Middle range theory and the study of organizations. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff. Google Scholar
  44. Poole, M.S., and A.H. Van de Ven . 1989. Towards a general theory of innovation processes. In Research on the management of innovation: The Minnesota studies, edited by A.H. Van de Ven, H.L. Angle, and M.S. Poole, 637-662. New York: Harper & Row Publishers. Google Scholar
  45. Rip, A., and R. Kemp. 1998. Technological change. In Human choice and climate change, Volume 2, edited by S. Rayner and E.L. Malone, 327-399. Columbus, OH: Battelle Press. Google Scholar
  46. Russell, S. 1986. The social construction of artifacts: A response to Pinch and Bijker. Social Studies of Science 16(2): 331-346. Google Scholar
  47. Schot, J.W. 1998. The usefulness of evolutionary models for explaining innovation. The case of the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. History of Technology 14: 173-200. Google Scholar
  48. Van Driel, H., and J. Schot. 2005. Radical innovation as a multi-level process: Introducing floating grain elevators in the port of Rotterdam. Technology and Culture 46(1): 51-76. Google Scholar
  49. Van Lente, H., and A. Rip. 1998. Expectations in technological developments: An example of prospective structures to be filled in by agency. In: Getting new technologies together, edited by C. Disco and B.J.R. van der Meulen, 195-220. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  50. Weick, K.E. 1999. Theory construction as disciplined reflexivity: Tradeoff in the 90s. Academy of Management Review 24(4): 797-806. Google Scholar
  51. Williams, R., and D. Edge. 1996. The social shaping of technology. Research Policy 25(6): 865-899. Google Scholar
  52. Woolgar, S. 2004. What happened to provocation in science and technology studies? History and Technology 20(4): 339-349. Google Scholar

Expectations in Technological Developments: An Example of Prospective Structures to be Filled in by Agency | van Lente, Rip

Harro van Lente, Arie Rip; Expectations in Technological Developments: An Example of Prospective Structures to be Filled in by Agency; 28 pages; ; OAI:oai:doc.utwente.nl:34732; landing, (a photocopy of a paper article) academia.edu, landing as Chapter 7; In Cornelis Disco, Barend vander Meulen, Getting New Technologies Together: Studies in Making Sociotechnical Order; Walter de Gruyter; 1998.

An earlier version of this paper was prepared, submitted, presented at the XXIth (21st?) World Congress of Sociology, ISA, Bielefield, DE, 1994-07-18.


  • Agenda Theory (van Lente 1993)
  • <quote>The study of texts <snip/> in this sense, one can think of technology as a generalized text This is important <snip/> because texts are nothing if not internally coordinated, among other things because of their story-line.</quote>
  • Prospective Structure
  • Structure versus Agency
  • the “script”
  • Expectation (theory)
    <quote>expectations structure activity differently than structures normally do</quote>
  • <quote capitalization=”herein”>Prospective Structure hence has the same power as Forceful Fiction in opening up space for action.</quote>
Branded Theories
  • Functionalism
  • Interactionism
  • van Lente → Agenda Theory (his, theirs)
  • Mead → role-taking
  • Goffman → dramaturgical presentation of self
  • Berger & Luckman → social construction of reality
  • Giddens → structuration theory
  • Burns & Flam → social rule system theory
  • Shibutani → social processes
  • Strauss → social world
  • Boudon → transformation processes


  • Introduction
  • Technology and the Problem of Structure-Agency in Sociology
  • Some Examples of Emerging Patterns in Technology
    • Example 1: Moore’s Law as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
    • Example 2: The Emerging World of Membrane Technology in The Netherlands.
    • Example 3: HDTV, a Self-Justifying Technology.
  • From Promise to Requirement
  • Mechanisms: Mutual Positioning and Agenda-Building
  • In Conclusion