Work Time Reduction for a Sustainable Society: A
Transition Management approach to socio-institutional change in the Netherlands
Tim Pendry 13835254
Word Limit: 24,000 + 10%, Word Count: 26,381 Pages: 91
Universiteit van Amsterdam / University of Amsterdam (UvA) MSc Thesis - Political Science: Public Policy and Governance Power and Ideology in Global Environmental Decision Making
To my mother, thank you for endless love and support. Without your influence I would be far from where I am today.
To Dr. Robin Pistorius, thank you for the time and effort you spent guiding this thesis, as well as for your kind and engaging nature that was present throughout the year. You made my time studying environmental politics at the UvA a joy.
I’d also like to thank Dr. John Grin, Dr. Paul de Beer, Gillain Robles, Jose Kager, and Leon de Jong for participating in my research and sharing with me their thoughts.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction ... 4
1.1 Working Time Reduction ... 5
1.2 Research Questions ... 8
2. The Politics and Governance of Sustainability Transitions ... 9
2.1 Sustainable Development ... 10
2.1.1 The Political Implications of Conceptual Ambiguity ... 10
2.1.2 Sustainability in Transition Management ... 12
2.2 Transitions Research ... 14
2.2.1 Transition Management ... 18
2.2.2 Transition Management Cycle ... 19
2.2.3 Power in Transition ... 23
2.2.4 Multi-Actor Perspective ... 25
2.3 Transition Management for Work Time Reduction ... 26
3. Methodology ... 29
3.1 Systematic Review ... 29
3.2 Case Study ... 30
3.2.1 Case Selection ... 30
3.2.2 Units of Analysis ... 31
3.2.3 Data Sampling and Data Collection ... 32
3.2.4 Data Analysis ... 33
4. Working Time Reduction for Sustainable Development ... 35
4.1 Introduction ... 35
4.2 Operationalizing Sustainable Development ... 35
4.3 Systematized Review ... 37
4.3.1 Inclusion Criteria ... 37
4.3.2 Search Strategy ... 37
4.4 Results ... 38
4.4.1 Social Sustainability ... 38
4.4.2 Economic Sustainability ... 41
4.4.3 Environmental Sustainability ... 45
4.5 Discussion & Conclusions ... 47
5. Assessing the Scope for Advancing WTR Initiatives in the Netherlands ... 50
5.1 Historical Perspective of Working Time in the Netherlands ... 50
5.2 Actor’s Perspectives: ... 53
5.2.1 Third Sector: Trade Unions ... 53
5.2.2 Market Actors ... 55
5.2.3 Third Sector: Academics & Research Institutes ... 57
5.2.4 State Actors ... 59
5.3 Discussion ... 59
5.4 Conclusion ... 62
6. Applying Transition Management Theory to Work-Time-Reduction ... 63
6.1 Introduction ... 63
6.2 A Multi-Level-Perspective on Work Time ... 63
6.2.1 The Current Regime of Unsustainable Working Hours ... 64
6.2.2 Persistent Problem of the Work-Time Regime ... 66
6.2.3 Landscape Trends: Digitalization & Covid-19 ... 69
6.2.4 WTR as a Radical Niche in the Work-Time Regime ... 70
6.3 The Prospects for Governing a Radical WTR Niche ... 73
6.3.1 Strategic: The Transition Arena and Vision Development ... 73
6.3.2 Tactical: Transition Agenda ... 74
6.3.3 Operational: The Design of WTR Experiments ... 75
6.3.4 Reflexive: Learning-By-Doing ... 75
6.4 Conclusion ... 75
7. Conclusion ... 77
8. Bibliography ... 80
In recent years, global environmental and sustainability issues have been identified as the most pressing challenges that humanity must meet for the future (World Economic Forum, 2022).
Recognition of this fact is found in the 2014 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and the 2015 Paris Agreement, which state the need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to prevent
warming above 2 °C of pre-industrial levels. There is increasing consensus that failing to prevent this warming will result in climate change moving beyond human control and causing disastrous effects for contemporary society (Paterson, 2021).
The understanding that failure to take meaningful climate action will result in
catastrophic consequences for society at large has led to ‘collapse or transformation’ analyses that recognize the need for large scale transformations to address sustainability challenges (Paterson, 2021, Mulligan, 2010). From this perspective, society must radically change to avoid collapsing under the pressure of ecological decline. Transforming towards a sustainable society involves confronting a number of structural problems, including crises in food, water, health, and energy, to name just a few (Grin et al, 2010). Therefore, the question of how societal systems can transition towards achieving greater levels of sustainability has become increasingly relevant.
Since 1990, the field of transitions research has emerged to study the dynamics and governance of sustainability transitions (Loorbach et al, 2017:602). Transition research
conceptualizes of sustainability transitions as a ‘nonlinear shift from one dynamic equilibrium to another’ that results from interactions between three levels: the niche (micro-level), the regime (meso-level) and the landscape (macro-level) (Geels, 2002; Grin et al, 2010). Transitions emerge gradually over a long timescale but can produce transformative change as a result of mutually coherent shifts across multiple dimensions within a regime, including science, technology, culture, politics, and policy (Loorbach et al :600).
Transition management exists within the field of transitions research and combines knowledge of technological transitions with insights from complex systems theory and governance studies (Markard et al, 2012:94). Importantly, transition management seeks to understand both the dynamics of transformative change as well as how to shape and guide these transitions towards the normative goal of sustainability (Grin et al, 2010:3). To do so, the dynamics of structural transformative change are identified through historical case analysis and
operated into a prescriptive and reflexive model of governance aimed at achieving long term sustainable development (Loorbach, 2010:163).
Existing work from the field of transition management has focused heavily on socio- technical transitions involving the Dutch water and energy sectors (Kemp et al, 2001; van der Brugge, 2009). A sociotechnical approach to transition management takes the regimes that have emerged around dominant technologies as the primary focus of transitions (Loorbach et al, 2017:609). From this perspective, sustainability transitions involve the uptake of new,
environmentally friendly technologies that can destabilize existing (unsustainable) technological regimes, such as those in the fossil fuel industry.
However, achieving sustainable development at the scale deemed necessary by the IPCC will require far more than just transitions in socio-technical systems. While socio-technical systems are undoubtedly a key component, transformation is necessary across all domains of society. Therefore, Grin et al (2010:2) definition of sustainability transitions as also a ‘quest for new value systems’ is especially relevant for research that does not deal with socio-technical systems.
One approach that does not deal primarily with technical systems is the socio-institutional approach. Compared to the technical analyses which are prevalent in transition management, less work in the field has taken this perspective, which examines “institutionalized cultures,
structures, and practices as regimes in which transitional change takes place” (Loorbach et al, 2017:610). Thus, rather than focusing on technological innovations, a socio-institutional perspective focuses on how innovative social niches may contribute to achieving greater levels of sustainability by altering existing (unsustainable) cultures, practices, norms, and values. In doing so this approach contains a focus on questions of power, agency, and normativity by exploring how “incumbent routines, powers, interests, discourses, and regulations create path dependencies” that are challenged by transformative social innovations (Ibid.)
1.1 Working Time Reduction
Within the realm of social innovations that may contribute to a sustainable future, the issue of working time reduction (WTR) is an interesting case for several reasons. To begin, one can perceive various issues related to the structure of working hours in contemporary society.
The current model of working hours translates productivity into income which is then used for
ever greater levels of consumption. This has resulted in individuals ‘becoming locked into a trajectory of fixed hours and rising consumption’ which is fundamentally unsustainable (Knight et al, 2013:5-6). Furthermore, longer work hours are associated with various social and
environmental ills, including negative health outcomes (Cheng et al, 2014), increased energy usage (Rosnick and Weisbrot, 2007), and gender inequality (Stronge and Harper, 2019:53).
Consequently, examining the norms and institutions which surround working hours as a potential unsustainable societal regime suffering from lock in and path dependency appears warranted.
From this perspective, working time reduction (WTR) is a promising social innovation, or niche, which may contribute to achieving greater levels of sustainability by confronting the assorted social and environmental problems associated with normal working hours. The issue is especially relevant at this moment because interest in WTR initiatives has risen in recent years and experiments have proliferated in numerous countries; yet WTR is also pertinent due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant changes to everyday work routines (Walker and Fontinha, 2022). In response, many businesses have experimented with forms of WTR like a four-day work week as a flexible response to the pandemic that comes with a range of other benefits, including improved health and wellbeing, higher productivity, and even environmental benefits (Ibid).
Figure 1: “Historic trend in annual working hours in selected countries”. Source: De Spiegelaere and Piasna, 2017:12.
However, the issue of reducing working hours is hardly novel, working hours have been a political issue since the proliferation of industrialized labour in the late 18th century. Bauman (2005) has shown that the implementation of industrial working hours and the production of a normative ‘work ethic’ in society were intensely moral and political issues which have since shaped society’s approach to labour and work, as well as the environment. Besides resulting in the types of alienation described by Marx (2007) in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the creation and implementation of the work ethic “separated productive effort from human needs” for the first time in history, enabling the paradox of ‘growth for growths sake’ and the later formation of modern consumer society and its associated environmental ills (Bauman, 2005:8; Cohen et al, 2017). Therefore, the link between working hours, labour, and the
environment has deep theoretical roots.
And since the days of early industrialization, working hours have rarely been off the political agenda. In 1930, John Meynard Keynes famously forecasted that increases in efficiency granted by technological progress would free men from the necessity to work long hours to meet their material needs, resulting in a fifteen-hour work week (Keynes, 1930). While this did not come to pass, working hours have declined throughout the 20th century (Giattino et al, 2020), in no small part due to the political victories won by workers in the in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Stronge & Lewis, 2021:1).
Yet while debates on working hours have traditionally been the issue of trade unions and labour theorists, in recent years WTR has received renewed attention and become the subject of a growing discussion in the realm of global environmental politics (Schor, 2005; Devetter and Rousseau, 2011; Pullinger, 2014). The revival of interest in WTR stems from its perceived potential to serve as a ‘multi-dividend’ policy capable of simultaneously achieving sustainability goals in the social, economic, and environmental spheres. Specifically, longer working hours have been linked to negative health outcomes (Devetter and Rousseau, 2011:349; Cheng et al., 2014), higher levels of GHG emissions (Rosnick and Weisbrot, 2007; Knight et al, 2013), and lower economic productivity (Pencavel, 2014; Stronge and Harper, 2019:27). Therefore, scholars are enthusiastic about the ability of reducing or altering work hours to enhance sustainability by reducing environmental impacts and improving quality of life while maintaining economic prosperity. (Frey, 2019; Ashford and Kallis, 2014; Nässén and Larsson, 2015; Schor, 2005).
Scholars are aware that the potential for WTR to achieve social, economic, and
environmental goals depends greatly on how initiatives are designed and put into practice (De Spiegelaere and Piasna, 2017). Yet while the literature on WTR has experienced a recent revival, conceptual approaches to designing and implementing effective WTR policies are still
underdeveloped (Pullinger, 2014). Furthermore, there is a lack of studies which approach the subject from a governance perspective, and no research thus far has taken a transition
management approach to WTR. Given that transition management is a governance approach explicitly concerned with guiding societal transitions to sustainability by overcoming entrenched interests and path dependency, examining the governance of WTR from this perspective appears promising for its potential to contribute to the diffusion of WTR initiatives. As such, it seems appropriate that an analysis of WTR using transition management take place.
1.2 Research Questions
Exploring working time reduction through the lens of transition management, this thesis asks:
What is the contribution of transition management to contemporary working time reduction initiatives in the Netherlands?
Answering the question guides this research to be structured around three lines of inquiry. First, given transition management’s normative orientation towards producing a sustainable society, the question of whether WTR is a sustainable equilibrium to transition towards must be asked.
Therefore, the first sub question asks: (1) To what extent does WTR contribute to achieving sustainability goals? Second, understanding precisely how transition management may
contribute to WTR initiatives in the Netherlands requires knowledge of the political barriers and opportunities that exist in the Dutch case. Sub question two asks: (2) What are the positions of relevant stakeholders towards WTR initiatives in the Netherlands? And how do they exert power in addressing barriers and opportunities to WTR? Third, after identifying the barriers and opportunities to WTR, as well as how stakeholders exert power in these situations, the final sub question asks: (3) To what extent can transition management theory address the barriers and opportunities to WTR in the Netherlands?
This thesis contains seven chapters. Chapter two provides the theoretical framework for the thesis. This begins by discussing the normative orientation of transition management:
sustainable development. Sustainable development is a highly contested concept in the literature (Bakari, 2014). This has significant implications for transition management, given that the desired end state of all transitions is greater levels of sustainability. Therefore, elucidating what
‘sustainable development’ means in the context of transition management and WTR is crucial for this research. This is followed by an introduction to transitions research and transition
management. The methodology is presented in Chapter 3 and consists of a systematic review and case study. This includes a stakeholder analysis of the Dutch case and the use of semi-structured interviews with the identified actors. Chapter four contains a systematized review of WTR literature, which is aimed at answering the question of how WTR contributes to achieving sustainability goals. Chapter five delves into the empirics of the Dutch case through semi- structured interviews and aims to elucidate the perceived barriers and opportunities to WTR in the Netherlands, as well as how actors exercise power in relation to WTR. Chapter six relies on the results of the interviews to draw conclusions about how transition management theory may be applied to proliferate Dutch WTR initiatives. The project concludes in chapter seven.
2. The Politics and Governance of Sustainability Transitions
The focus of this research contains a dual emphasis on environmental governance and politics. While governance and politics can rarely be neatly separated, both concepts are central to the notion of sustainability transitions. Environmental politics can be conceived of as the social conflict that arises when groups with differing values attempt to influence public policy in relation to the environment (Pistorius, 2022:11-12). Governance refers to the patterns and mechanisms through which society defines and handles political problems to shape its own transformation (Voss et al, 2006:8). Put differently, it is “the purposeful effort to steer, control or manage sectors or facets of society” (Kooiman1993: 2, cited in Evans, 2012). Therefore,
environmental governance is concerned with “steering the actions of humans, both individually and collectively, that involve uses of natural resources or impacts on the ecosystems” to promote sustainability and prevent environmental degradation (Young, 2016:10).
Transitions towards sustainability inherently involve both environmental governance and politics (Patterson et al., 2017; Meadowcroft, 2011). Firstly, this is because answers to the question of how society should change to protect the environment have deeply political
consequences that cannot be avoided. These consequences touch on issues of North-South and intergenerational justice, anthropocentrism versus eco-centrism, and human development.
Secondly, because governance is the de facto method to shape transitions toward sustainability (Ibid). The climate crisis has been conceptualized as a crisis of governance, not a crisis of the environment or a failure of the market (Evans, 2012:2). This perspective posits that the climate crisis does not persist due to a lack of information or green technology, but rather because entrenched political interests and societal path dependency hinder meaningful attempts at change. What this suggests is that the processes and mechanisms through which we pursue sustainability have as much significance for achieving environmental goals as the substantive content of various policies. Governance is of prime importance to solving the environmental crisis. As such, this thesis looks to engage with the political conflict surrounding working time and sustainability transitions while also investigating how transition management as a form of governance can contribute to its resolution.
To enable this approach, the theoretical framework begins by assessing the concept of sustainable development. Exploring how transition management understands sustainable development has significant implications for the politics surrounding sustainability transitions.
Put simply, it is conceivable that a transition management which aims at achieving a radical conception of sustainable development may face different political barriers and opportunities than a transition management which takes a reformist perspective to sustainable development.
Furthermore, the model of sustainable development pursued by transition management could substantively affect the characteristics of a particular policy, such as WTR. Therefore,
investigating the concept of sustainability allows us to understand what political implications are associated with transitions. After this, the thesis moves on to exploring the governance of
sustainability transitions by discussing transition management.
2.1 Sustainable Development
2.1.1 The Political Implications of Conceptual Ambiguity
The concept of sustainable development has roots in radical Third World and
environmentalist discourse, but the dominant contemporary usage of sustainable development draws on the findings of the Brundtland Commission in 1987 (Dryzek, 2013:147-8). The Brundtland report was a response to global problems of environmental degradation and human
development that marked the first systematic integration of issues which had hitherto been treated in isolation – issue like the environment, economic development, social justice, and intergenerational justice (Ibid:150). The report forwarded the concept of sustainable
development, which integrates economic and environmental goals into a single framework that pursues social, economic, and environmental development in a mutually reinforcing manner (Ibid:151).
Yet while sustainable development has dominated the realm of environmental politics since the end of the last millennium, widespread celebration of the concept has done little to resolve the fundamental ambiguity that exists when considering what sustainable development means and how it should be implemented (Bakari, 2014). To Bakari (2014) the fundamental divide over conceptions of sustainable development stems from conflict over the role of economic growth, and differing approaches to this question have brought about different versions of sustainable development: a ‘radical’ eco-centric version and a ‘reformist’
anthropocentric version (Ibid:9).
Reformist approaches to sustainable development perceive no inherent conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Therefore, environmental protection and social development are pursued simultaneously through the promotion of economic growth and the attaching of monetary value to environmental goods, thus allowing market mechanisms like green taxes, cap and trade policies, and voluntary sustainability standards to protect the environment while still pursuing growth (Bakari, 2014:11; D’Alessandro et al., 2020:329;
Connelly, 2012:178-94; Dauvergne & Lister, 2012:38-9).
Conversely, a ‘radical’ approach to sustainable development questions whether economic growth and environmental protection can be reconciled. They argue that even in the face of efficiency gains, overall resource use continues to rise, harming the environment (Kallis, 2017:3). As such, a radical approach to sustainable development challenges the prevailing logic of neoliberal capitalism and “pose[s] an ideological challenge to the predominant socio-
economic paradigm of development” (Bakari, 2014:9) by questioning “the possibility that economic growth can be decoupled from material and energy flows” (Asara et al, 2015:376).
Conflicting understandings of what ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ mean can lead to very different political implications for transition management processes aimed at achieving sustainability. Simply put, niches or transitions that seek to achieve a ‘reformist’ view
of sustainable development can work comfortably within the boundaries of the current
developmental paradigm, whereas ‘radical’ transitions that that imply a new vision for societal development can be expected to meet greater resistance.
The political implications of different definitions of sustainability have specific
consequences for the issue of WTR. WTR has received attention from scholars on either side of the radical/reformist divide in sustainable development, though for different reasons. For reformists, WTR appears attractive due to its association with a range of desirable social and environmental outcomes that are achieved while leaving economic productivity untouched, or at higher levels than before (Haraldsson and Kellam, 2021:41-2; De Spiegelaere and Piasna
2017:39). ‘Radical’ proponents of WTR take a slightly different stance. While they are enthused by the positive effects of WTR on the environment and worker’s physical and mental health, WTR is appreciated more due to its position as one of several key policies for initiating a transformation towards a post-growth society (Demaria et al, 2013: 201-3). From this
perspective, WTR has the potential to “elaborate a transition… path in rich societies from actual crisis of economic growth to socially accepted degrowth” (Ibid:207). In short, radicals view WTR as a “tool for the construction of radically different environmental futures”, while reformists tend to see it as an “anthropocentric management tool… to help capitalism to find a way out of its environmental crisis” (Bakari, 2014:12).
These contrasting theoretical motivations for WTR should not be ignored, especially in the context of transition management. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to WTR. Processes of design and implementation are likely to affect the extent to which WTR is successful at achieving positive social, economic, and environmental effects. And it may be the case that WTR initiatives which improve health and wellness indicators are less effective at reducing environmental burdens, and vice versa. Consequently, the version of sustainable development pursued by a transition management process will influence the form and nature of WTR initiatives in the Netherlands, as well as the political support it receives. Therefore, clarity of how transition management understands sustainability must be reached.
2.1.2 Sustainability in Transition Management
The field of transition management is not unaware of the fundamental ambiguity
surrounding sustainable development, nor of the political implications associated with pursuing a
politics are an inherent aspect of sustainability transitions. This is precisely because transition management aims at affecting profound change in society to achieve sustainable development, which is an essentially contested concept. So, with this awareness, how does transition
management operationalize sustainable development?
Transition management takes a ‘multi-dimensional’ and ‘dynamic’ approach to sustainability (Voss et al, 2006:3). Rather than worrying about the various ways sustainable development can be interpreted as sometimes challenging and sometimes validating the current socio-economic developmental paradigm, scholars involved with transition management view its flexibility as a strength. Grin et al (2010:235) argue that “while it is generally possible to say what courses of development are not sustainable, it is not possible to privilege any of the many ideas of what sustainable development is”. Therefore, rather than viewing sustainable
development as an objective end state which can be reached by following certain criteria, “it should be understood as a specific kind of problem framing that emphasizes the
interconnectedness of different problems and scales” as well as the long term and unintended consequences that result from this framing (Voss et al, 2006:4).
The view of sustainable development as a particular type of problem framing offers several key insights. First, it acknowledges that sustainable development is an ‘intractable’
(Schon and Rein, 1994), ‘wicked’, or ‘unstructured’ problem (Loeber, 2004:6). Unlike ‘well defined’ or ‘structured’ policy problems, ‘wicked’ or unstructured problems are somewhat unique, lack the possibility of a clear and objective solution, are interrelated, and have many possible explanations for it (Bevir, 2011:10-11). Consequently, awareness is given to how problem framings privilege particular courses of action, as well as how these definitions arise as a matter of political choice (Loeber, 2004:6; Cobb and Rochefort, 1995). Therefore, because problem framings inherently suggest a potential solution, “structuring a policy problem and formulating a solution strategy… are two sides of the same coin.” (Loeber, 2004:7).
The difficulty in framing the problem of sustainable development to Loeber (2004:7) is that solutions to sustainable development require insight into a form of development and organization of society that does not yet exist. Depending on how the issue is defined, reaching sustainable development may be achieved by replacing unsustainable technologies, changing production and consumption patterns, closing resource loops, or some other type of action.
Therefore, defining sustainable development requires knowledge of the particular context in which it will be applied.
For transition management, this opens many opportunities. Defining sustainable
development becomes a matter of ‘contextual political judgement’, meaning it is formulated in relation to the specific policy area being investigated (Loeber, 2004:6-22; Grin, et al, 2010:235).
For example, in the Danish and Californian energy sectors sustainable development may be formulated as a technical problem. And from this perspective, the solution to unsustainability includes the creation of new energy regimes that rely on environmentally friendly wind energy.
(Kemp et al., 2001). A social practices approach may understand the issue of unsustainability in such a way that the solution includes bathing less frequently, or disincentivizing personal car use in the city center (Shove and Walker, 2010). These definitions are not mutually exclusive, but simply operate in different contexts.
Consequently, any study of transitions toward sustainability must be able to articulate how a particular transition achieves sustainable development within the parameters of a contextual issue area. Importantly, this means that transition management addresses the
Radical/Reformist divide in sustainable development on an issue specific basis. For this thesis, the issue area is work hours and sustainability. As such, it becomes the research’s own task to define sustainable development in the context of WTR and navigate the contrasting theoretical justifications that are brought by radical and reformist approaches to sustainable development.
The task of defining sustainable development and elucidating how WTR contributes to this policy goal is undertaken in Chapter one. Until then, transition research and transition management are introduced.
2.2 Transitions Research
The field of transitions research originated in the 1990’s to study the dynamics, politics, and governance of sustainability transitions. Central to this approach is the concept of a
transition, which refers to processes of nonlinear change in a societal system from one dynamic equilibrium to another. (Loorbach et al, 2017:603-5). Transitions are processes of fundamental change that affect culture, structure, and practices within a societal system (Frantzeskaki et al, 2012:23). They emerge gradually over a long timescale but can produce transformative change
as a result of mutually coherent shifts across multiple dimensions within a societal regime, including science, technology, culture, politics, and policy (Loorbach et al, 2017:600).
Transitions research perceives contemporary society as beset by a number of systemic
‘persistent problems’, including unsustainability in energy, agriculture, water management, health care, and climate crisis, among others (Grin et al, 2010). Persistent problems are a key concept in transitions research, serving as both the point of departure, as well as the justification for why transitions and system innovation are needed (Schuitmaker, 2012). Persistent problems build on prior definitions of systemic problems, including ‘wicked’ (Rittel & Webber, 1973)
‘unstructured’(Hisschemöller & Hoppe, 1995) and ‘intractable’ (Schon & Rein, 1994) problems.
In a similar manner, persistent problems are complex, involving a variety of actors with different beliefs and values, they lack the possibility of a clear and objective solution, involve interrelated societal domains, and have many possible explanations for cause and effect (Schuitmaker, 2012:
Yet persistent problems are notable for the persistence, which arises due to their
structurally embedded nature. Persistent problems “are rooted in the deep structure of the societal system and are manifestations of the system’s unsustainability” (Frantzeskaki et al, 2012:21).
This means that persistent problems are systemically reproduced by the current system and are themselves the unintended consequences of earlier socio-economic development patterns (Voss et al, 2006:4-7; Grin et al, 2010:3). For example, historical transitions to industrialization have resulted in cheap energy, but now the energy system is a prime contributor to unsustainability and environmental degradation (Frantzeskaki, et al, 2012:24). This conceptualization is key for transitions research. Because persistent problems are understood as systemic, they can only be solved through fundamental systemic change in societal regimes (Loorbach et al, 2017:602; Grin et al, 2010: 1-3). Therefore, transitions are needed to address persistent problems.
The multi-level perspective (MLP) is the main framework to conceptualize transitions within the field of sustainability transitions research. The MLP sees transitions occurring as the result of interactions between three functional scale levels: the niche (micro), regime (meso), and landscape (macro) (Geels, 2002). At the landscape level are ‘deep structural trends’ that
influence society such as globalization, individualization, normative values, economic growth, or environmental problems. The regime operates on the meso level and consists of semi dominant structures, cultures, practices, and rules that account for the stability of societal systems. (Geels,
2002; Grin et al, 2010:131). The regime level experiences high levels of inertia, often blocking change and contributing to path dependency (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006). While regimes move slowly and incrementally, radical innovation is generated at the niche level. Niches are small spaces containing individual actors and unusual practices alternative to those in the dominant regime. Niches are ‘protected’ from normal market rules, meaning that radical innovation which might fail under normal conditions can develop and potentially grow large enough to challenge the dominant regime. (Geels, 2002; Kemp and Loorbach, 2006).
Figure 2: The Multi-Level Perspective. Source: Morrissey, Mirosa and Abbott, 2014:283.
A transition results from the interactions between the different scales in the MLP.
Exogenous trends at the landscape level like globalization, a global pandemic, or new political thought may create pressure or opportunity for change in regimes that can be exploited by innovative niches. The reverse can also be true. Kemp and Loorbach (2006:108) put it as such:
“Transitions are the result of endogenous and exogenous developments: autonomous trends and changes influence transitions as well as innovations and changes that emerge from within the systems. Technical change interacts with other changes, social change
and economic change, which means that one should look for process explanations (multiple causalities rather than individual causal patterns)”
Yet while the concept of transition is central, there has been debate over what exactly is being transitioned. Early work in transitions research drew heavily from science and technology studies and therefore focused heavily on socio-technical systems in society. This approach takes the regimes that have emerged around dominant technologies as the subject of transitions and gives a prominent role to technological innovation for understanding transitions. However, other approaches in transitions research study the concept from other perspectives. These other
approaches are the socio-ecological approach, which draws on theories from ecology, biology, and adaptive governance to focus on transitions in ecosystems and the socio-institutional approach. (Loorbach et al, 2017:609-11)
This research takes a socio-institutional approach to transitions research, meaning it focuses on the “institutionalized cultures, structures, and practices [surrounding work time] as regimes in which transitional change takes place” (Ibid:610). This research follows Scott (2014:56) in understanding institutions to comprise “regulative, normative, and cultural- cognitive elements that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life.” Regulative institutions include formals rules and laws, normative institutions are less formal and consist of norms and expectations of what is legitimate or appropriate behavior, while cultural institutions are constitutive frameworks or common beliefs that impact how actors understand and make meaning of the world (Ibid: 55-70).
Figure 3: “Three Pillars of Institutions”. Source: Scott, 2014:60.
Thus, rather than focusing on technological innovations, this research focuses on how a social innovation in the form of WTR may contribute to achieving greater levels of sustainability by altering existing (unsustainable) cultures, practices, norms, and values associated with current normal working hours. In doing so this approach contains an explicit focus on questions of power, agency, and normativity by exploring how “incumbent routines, powers, interests,
discourses, and regulations create path dependencies” in the Netherlands that are challenged by a particular social innovation (Loorbach et al, 2017:610.) As such, certain modes of societal organization are conceived of as dominant locked in regimes that may be susceptible to transitions. (Ibid:610-11).
In sum, transitions research identifies persistent problems that result from current societal regimes. This research perceives the societal regime around contemporary work culture to be associated with several persistent problems, including worker stress and burnout, low
productivity, unsustainable consumption, and gender inequality. Transitions are posited as the solution to such systemic problems; therefore, this research examines how a transition to reduced working hours may resolve these persistent problems. As such, this research takes a socio-
intuitional approach and examines the potential of a niche social innovation (WTR) to alter the unsustainable institutions of the contemporary work regime. To further examine the governance of such a transition, this thesis turns now to transition management.
2.2.1 Transition Management
Transition management is a governance approach aimed at dealing with persistent problems. In the last two decades there has been consensus that hierarchical government steering, and the liberal free market approach are outmoded and ineffective mechanisms to generate positive social and environmental outcomes. Consequently, a shift ‘from government to governance’ (Klijn, 2008) has ensued, entailing a search for new modes of governance that can achieve sustainability goals. (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006; Loorbach, 2010: 162).
However, the available theories of governance are largely descriptive and analytical and do not provide a basis for how to deal with the many complex and unstructured problems that
problems are conceptualized in transitions research as ‘persistent problems’. Dealing with these problems require societal planning and the development of long-term strategies that incorporate reflexivity in the process (Schuitmaker, 2012; Voss et al, 2006:6-7). Transition management aims to meet these goals.
Transition management seeks to understand the dynamics of transitions, as well as to gain understanding of how to shape and guide transitions towards greater sustainability (Grin et al, 2010). To achieve this aim, transition management identifies the dynamics of structural transformative change through historical case analysis and operates this knowledge into a prescriptive and reflexive model of governance aimed at achieving long term sustainable development (Loorbach, 2010:163).
The governance approach of transition management attempts to strategically exploit ongoing dynamics in an effort to achieve dynamic sustainability goals (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006:109). Broader goals are set by society and policy is designed in relation to two sets of criteria: 1) the immediate contribution to sustainability policy goals, and 2) the policy’s overall contribution to the transition (Ibid:110). Thus, transition management is
“bifocal and based on a two-pronged strategy of simultaneously stimulating system improvement and system innovation. No choice is made between system improvement and system innovation, but special attention is given to system innovation (representing a new trajectory of development or transformation), given the many barriers to this type of change.” (Ibid:110)
This approach to transition management governance has been developed the ‘transition management cycle’, a cyclical, process-oriented framework for actively guiding societal transitions.
2.2.2 Transition Management Cycle
The transition management cycle focuses on frontrunners in society and attempts to coordinate networks of actors that are able to influence regular policy over time. The cycle consists of four main components: (1) Problem structuring, the development of a long-term sustainability vision, and organization of actors in the transition arena; (2) developing a transition agenda and elucidating necessary transition paths; (3) design and begin transition experiments;
and (4) reflexively monitor the transition experiments to engage ongoing learning, resulting in vision, goal, and agenda adjustments. (Loorbach, 2010:172).
The components of the transition management cycle relate to four spheres of governance activities, identified by Loorbach (2010) as the strategic, tactical, operational, and reflexive spheres.
Figure 4: “Transition Management Types and Their Focus”. Source: Loorbach, 2010:171.
Activities on the strategic level relate to broad vision development, long term and collective goal formulation, and norm setting. Essentially, these activities relate to the culture of a societal sub system, including “debates on norms and values, identity, ethics, sustainability, and functional and relative importance for society” (Ibid:169). The transition management cycle attempts to institutionalize these longer-term perspectives into the policy process through the creation of a transition arena. A transition arena is a small group of innovative individuals who come together to engage in problem definition from multiple perspectives and together create a long-term sustainability vision for a transition issue. Based on this vision, transition paths and a common transition agenda can be sketched out. At this stage, long term visions are important, while disagreement over short and midterm goal and strategies are to be expected. (Ibid:173-5).
Activities on the tactical level relate to the dominant structures (the regime) of a societal system. These activities focus on “all established patterns and structures, such as rules and regulations, institutions, organizations and networks, infrastructure, and routines” while also engaging directly with actors who represent specific interests within the regime (Ibid:169). These actors may be able to contribute to innovation within a regime but are often unaware of their own potential to do so. To engage with the actors and structures of the dominant regime, a transition
The transition agenda seeks to translate and operationalize the sustainability visions developed by the arena within the structures of the dominant regime. Attention is paid to the main barriers to a transition, be they economic, social, or other, and multiple transition scenarios (Sondeijker et al., 2006) may be developed to explore them. The transition agenda expands the network of actors from the arena and (given the focus on the regime) explicitly takes the desires, motives, and policy of regime actors into account. Key to the transition agenda is that the regime actors involved have power within their own institution or organization because they will be involved in negotiations about the particularities of transitions paths. Additionally, the regime actors must be able to operationalize the transition agenda in the context of their organization.
Activities at the operational level of governance are concerned with the design and implementation of short-term innovative experiments. Innovation in this context includes “all societal, technological, institutional, and behavioral practices that introduce or operationalize new structures, culture, routines, or actors.” (Ibid:170). Thus, innovative experiments that fit within the sustainability vision and transition agenda are designed to broaden the chances of uptake within a regime. These transition experiments are often high risk yet have potential to contribute to the transition process. Thus, “Transition management at this level focuses on creating a portfolio of related transition experiments that complement and strengthen each other, have a contribution to the sustainability objective, can be scaled up, and are significant and measurable.” (Ibid:176).
Finally, there is the reflexive level. Reflexivity in the transition management cycle involves monitoring and evaluating ongoing experiments and processes of societal change. This is done in order to continue learning and adapting over a long timescale. These activities prevent lock in and foster continuous experimentation. Unlike other governance practices, transition management incorporates reflexivity into the governance process, thereby ensuring that collective reflection and social learning take place.
Figure 5: The Transition Management Cycle. Source: Loorbach, 2010:173.
In summary, transition management is a prescriptive and reflexive mode of governance for dealing with persistent problems. The transition management cycle is framework for implementing strategies that may guide and accelerate transitions and is based around
systematically organizing networks of influential actors to develop innovative new visions for sustainable policy (Ibid:177-8). One important question that has yet to be addressed is how power relates to transitions. Given this research’s focus on the politics of sustainability transitions and the power of actors in the Dutch case, conceptualizing power in transitions is necessary. To do this, the power in transition framework developed by Avelino and Rotmans (2009;2011) and Avelino (2017) is introduced.
2.2.3 Power in Transition
The field of sustainability transitions has been critiqued for failing to adequately account for power in transition processes (Avelino et al., 2016). Given this research’s focus on the power of actors in the Dutch case, clearer conceptualization of power is required. This is achieved using the power in transition framework, which distinguishes different types of power, different power dynamics, and reconceptualizes the MLP in terms of power (Avelino and Rotmans, 2009;
Avelino and Rotmans, 2011; Avelino, 2017).
The POINT framework conceptualizes of power as the “(in)capacity of actors to mobilize resources and institutions to achieve a goal” (Avelino, 2017:507). Resources are understood broadly as “persons, assets, materials or capital, including human, mental, monetary, artefactual and natural resources” (Avelino and Rotmans, 2009:551). From these definitions, three distinct types of power are distinguished based on “the nature of the power exercise in relation to
stability and change” (Avelino, 2017:508). In short, these types of power differ over how and for what purpose resources are being mobilized.
The three types of power are reinforcive, innovative, and transformative power.
Reinforcive power is “the capacity of actors to reinforce and reproduce existing structures and institutions” (Ibid:509). Innovative power is “the capacity of actors to create new resources”.
This view sees the creation of new resources as an explicit exercise of power due to how the creation of new resources can “make actors less dependent on existing resources… and thereby less dependent on existing physical structures and dominant actors that control those existing resources” (Ibid).
The final type of power is transformative power, or “the capacity of actors to develop new structures and institutions” including laws, infrastructure, economic policy, or other ideological paradigms (Ibid). Using these analytical distinctions, actors in the case study can be analyzed for their capacity to exercise the different forms of power.
The POINT framework also reconceptualizes the MLP in terms of power. It attempts to define the levels of the MLP – niche, regime, and landscape – in terms of the power exercised by actors within them. From this perspective, niches and regimes are spaces which include actors, resources, and institutions and are distinguished by the exercise of different forms of power.
Regimes can be seen as the “collective exercise of reinforcive power”, whereas niches are characterized by the exercise of innovative power (Ibid:509). Regarding the landscape, POINT
distinguishes between truly exogenous trends like climate change and trends that are endogenous to human action, yet outside the societal subsystem being studied. Within the realm of
endogenous macro trends, POINT identifies ‘dominant’ and ‘counter’ macro trends. Avelino (2017:510) argues “In terms of power, dominant macro‐trends refer to the collection of regimes across various societal systems, i.e. the global exercise of reinforcive power. Counter‐macro‐
trends can be understood as the collection of niche‐regimes across systems, i.e. the global exercise of transformative power”. Therefore, niches can be divided into ‘radical’ niches which challenge the dominant macro-trends and ‘moderate’ niches, synergize with dominant macro trends. (Avelino, 2017:509-11).
Next, POINT identifies the power dynamics between the different levels and types of power. The idea of power dynamics in POINT is that different types of power may help or hinder one another. When different types of power strengthen one another, this is referred to as a
synergetic power dynamic. Conversely, when different power types resist or oppose one another, this is an antagonistic power dynamic. (Ibid:510-11). A key conclusion for transition studies is that antagonistic power dynamics which result in political conflict, debates, and resistance are necessary for transitions to occur (Avelino and Rotmans, 2011:800). Therefore, enabling innovative actors to exercise power is a method to stimulate transitions.
Ultimately, the POINT framework reconceptualizes transition management in terms of empowerment and leadership. To POINT, transition management is a governance approach which aims to do two things: 1) empower actors within a subsystem by enabling the attainment of resources, strategies, and skills, and 2) stimulate leadership and influence actor’s willingness to exert power to achieve a more sustainable societal system. (Avelino and Rotmans, 2009:562).
Avelino and Rotmans (2009:562) put it thusly:
“Transition management especially focuses on the empowerment of niche-actors: (1) creating ‘space’ for innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs by enabling them to attain the necessary resources, strategies, skills and willingness to exercise innovative power; and (2) linking niche-actors to each other so that they can form a broader and stronger network, a ‘niche-regime’ that can exercise transformative power. In addition, niche- actors are linked to regime-actors that can exercise constitutive [reinforcive] power to establish a new distribution of resources at a structural level.”
As such, this research looks to incorporate Avelino (2017) and Avelino and Rotmans (2009) understanding of power in transitions with the already prevalent understanding of transition
management (Loorbach, 2010; Kemp and Loorbach, 2006) as a mode of reflexive governance aimed at solving persistent problems to achieve sustainability. In doing so, only one theoretical distinction requires further elaboration: the actors in transition management.
2.2.4 Multi-Actor Perspective
Both the transition management cycle and the POINT framework contain a focus on the actors involved in transition management, yet neither model offers conceptual clarity of who these different actors are. The multi-actor perspective (Map) developed by Avelino and Wittmayer (2015) offers some resolution and provides a tool to identify actors that can be analyzed during the case study.
The MaP distinguishes four sectors of actors: the State, Market, Community, and the Third sector. These sectors operate along three axes: the formal-informal axis, the for profit – non-profit axis, and the public-private axis. The state is formal, non-profit, and public; the market is formal, for profit, and private; community is informal, non-profit, and private; while the Third sector is viewed as an intermediary category between the other three that includes voluntary associations, non-profit organizations, research institutes, and the academy. (Ibid:633- 5).
Ultimately, the MaP is a heuristic tool for explicating the socio-political dynamics between actors involved in transition processes. The MaP explores 1) how actors (individuals, groups, or organizations) function within the logics of different sectors; 2) which ‘sector logics’
are dominant in the actions of which actors; and 3) how the power relations between and within sectors, organizations, and individuals shift over time (Ibid:637-8). To Avelino and Wittemayer (2015:645) the MaP is useful not just as a tool for providing conceptual clarity to the actors involved in transition management. The MaP “can be used as a mapping tool for identifying actor constellations in specific societal systems, and as a management tool to select and involve stakeholders in the formation of temporary transition networks” (Ibid). As such, the MaP is instrumental for the practical insights it generates to applying transition management. In the context of this research, the MaP is used to identify and analyze actors in the Dutch case with the potential to affect the diffusion of an innovative social niche: WTR.
2.3 Transition Management for Work Time Reduction
Following the prior sections, the only task left to the theoretical framework is to justify analyzing the issue of work time from the perspective of transitions research.
The issue of working hours has remained a point of political contention throughout modern history, and while annual working hours have steadily declined since 1870 (Giattino et al, 2020), the rate of decline in hours is far below what scholars believed would be possible considering massive increases in technological efficiency (Stronge and Harper, 2019:29-30).
Overall, the trend downwards in working hours has slowed, and in some cases even reversed (De Spiegelaere and Piasna, 2017:12). This is puzzling for many scholars because it appears that in most developed countries there is the technological and productive capacity to move towards a shorter working week (Stronge and Harper, 2019:29-30). Despite this, radically shortened working hours have not come to pass.
Scholars offer many arguments as to why working hours have remained as high as they have (Huberman and Minns, 2007:539). For some (Stronge and Harper, 2021:83-99; de Beer, 2020:93; Skidelsky, 2019) the key factor to reducing work hours lies in the power and
preferences of societal actors, including employers, employees, policymakers, and trade unions.
With recognition of this fact, it seems that contemporary efforts at reducing work hours result from three divergent processes. First, some efforts at WTR stem from processes of political contestation in which workers, trade unions, and progressive politicians’ bargain with employers for better working conditions, as was the case with the 1982 Wassenaar Agreement in the Netherlands (de Beer, 2020:92). These efforts follow the historically traditional pathway that has used for centuries to lower working hours and guarantee better conditions for workers (Stronge and Harper, 2021:1).
A second pathway for WTR comes in the context of flexible labour and part time work.
From this perspective, a reduction in formal work hours can be sought and achieved as an employer driven solution, as well as sometimes as a work life balance option for workers.
However, scholars argue that rather than promoting equity or sustainability, this type of work reduction is laissez-faire and results in greater social inequity. (De Spiegelaere and Piasna, 2017:80).
The third observable pathway for WTR comes as a result of trials and experiments that are specific to a small domain, a such as in the Svartedalen experiment in Sweden (Ibid:71-3).
What the existing approaches to securing WTR have in common is that they neglect the governance aspect of WTR and do not contain the long term, goal-oriented perspective to achieving shorter hours which may be necessary to meet sustainability challenges in the 21st century.
Adopting a transition management approach to the study of WTR offers several advantages to the conventional approach. To begin, it recognizes issues associated with long work hours – stress, burnout, gendered inequality, and environmental unsustainability – not as isolated issues but as persistent problems in need of structural transformation. Therefore, WTR is pursued as a long term, goal-oriented transition which seeks to address persistent problems and achieve sustainability goals rather than as a fringe solution to a variety of seemingly isolated work issues. Additionally, understanding WTR in terms of the MLP - as a niche embedded in a socio-institutional regime and landscape - provides a useful tool for linking relevant
developments at multiple scales. For example, global trends like automation and digitization are understood to affect work and labour (Ford, 2015), yet no approach to designing WTR has sought to strategically exploit these ongoing dynamics to achieve WTR as a transition management approach would (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006:109). Furthermore, taking a socio- institutional approach to transition management and WTR draws attention to the variety of institutions – i.e., regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive institutions – which are involved in a WTR transition. This aligns with what De Spiegelaere and Piasna (2017:64) note, hat
“reducing the number of hours worked without reducing the culture of long working hours in some parts of society might therefore be a rather non-effective measure. Together with a change in the structure of working hours, an adaptation of the culture is required.” Transition
management can pursue both goals simultaneously over a long timescale.
Another benefit is transition management’s conceptualization of the power and actors involved in sustainability transitions. These conceptualizations, elaborated in the POINT
framework and MaP, appear promising for their potential to expand analysis beyond the standard approach taken when researching WTR. Most of the literature on actually bringing about WTR is vague concerning which actors are involved and how they exert power. For example, in De Spiegelaere and Piasna (2017) analysis, the question of how to organize WTR focuses almost
entirely on different policy configurations of WTR, and not on the actors and types of power which would be involved in a WTR transition. Therefore, a transition management approach which focuses specifically on creating and empowering networks of actors may move beyond the search for an ideal form of WTR which enjoys high levels of support and turn attention to the governance of WTR, which is an aspect that appears neglected in the literature.
A final benefit of a taking a transition management approach to WTR involves the metrics by which WTR is measured. Unsurprisingly, the conventional approach to evaluating WTR hinges heavily on its economic viability. From this perspective, WTR can be considered successful if its social benefits are accompanied by enhanced productivity, or untouched levels of growth. However, adopting a transitions perspective requires questioning the supremacy of economic indicators when evaluating WTR. Taking Grin et al’s (2010:2) definition of transitions as ‘a search for new value systems’, a transition management approach to WTR may be able to move past analyses of WTR that evaluate its success in relation to conventional indicators of economic performance and instead evaluate WTR primarily on its ability to enhance social equity and environmental sustainability.
To answer the question of how transition management may contribute to Dutch WTR initiatives, this thesis uses a qualitative methodology which employs a systematic review in Chapter 4 and a case study in Chapter 5.
The first task of the research is answering sub-question (1): To what extent does WTR contribute to achieving sustainability goals? Because the end state of any goal-oriented
transition is a higher level of sustainability, employing transition theory requires that subject of the potential transition (WTR) can be shown, or at least theorized to positively affect
sustainability indicators. To understand if and how WTR can enhance sustainability, a systematic review in line with the standards of deductive theory is conducted. Taking a deductive approach entails that the researcher, on the basis of what is already known about the domain area and existing theory, develops a hypothesis which is then subjected to empirical scrutiny (Bryman, 2001:24. Therefore, the hypothesis that WTR positively affects indicators related to social, economic, and environmental sustainability is developed and tested using a systematic review.
3.1 Systematic Review
The analysis in Chapter 4 attempts to test the hypothesis that WTR improves indicators related to social, economic, and environmental sustainability using a systematic review. A systematic review is “a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review” (Cochrane Collab, 2003 cited in Siddaway, et al, 2019:751). Systematic reviews are often used in fields like public and social policy to allow policy makers to reliably evaluate the efficacy of various interventions (Bryman, 2016:102) yet the nature of a systematic review also makes them well suited to achieve the following outcomes while maximizing validity and reliability: (1) ‘draw robust and broad conclusions by producing an unbiased summary the cumulative evidence on a particular topic’; (2) ‘critique and synthesize one or more literatures by identifying relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies and exploring the reasons for these’; (3) ‘develop a new theory or evaluate an existing theory to explain how and why individual studies fit together’; (4) provide implications for practice and policy; and (5) outline directions for future research’ (Siddaway et al, 2019:751-2). For this reason, a systematic review was chosen over other forms of literature reviews. However, in recognition of the time and resource limitations of this project the output is considered a
systematized review, meaning that while as many elements of a systematic review are included as possible, the full process (for example using two reviewers) is not exactly that of a systematic review (Grant and Booth, 2009)
For this research, the aim of the review is to (1) establish to what extent WTR contributes to achieving sustainability goals; (2) critically evaluate the literature on WTR and sustainability;
and (3) develop theory or lines of inquiry which can be explored in the case study. Conducting a systematic review involves an extensive process, including the development of research
questions, search criteria, the use of multiple databases, and development of in and exclusion criteria for studies (Siddaway et al, 2019). After conducting a review, the results are synthesized and presented with the aim of offering a new, improved understanding of the phenomena. Given the in depth nature of a review, this section has only offered a preliminary discussion of the method and what it seeks to achieve, however, the full process of review is discussed in its entirety in Chapter 4.
3.2 Case Study
After addressing the overarching question of how WTR relates to sustainability, the research turns to sub-question (2): What are the positions of relevant stakeholders towards WTR initiatives in the Netherlands? And how do they exert power in addressing barriers and
opportunities to WTR? As well as sub-question (3): To what extent can transition management address the barriers and opportunities to WTR in the Netherlands?
Given the nature of the question, a case study is chosen as the methodological approach to guide Chapters 5 and 6. A case study is an appropriate design when the research is concerned with the complexity and particular nature of a single case (Bryman, 2001:66).
3.2.1 Case Selection
The Netherlands is selected for the case study based on several criteria. First, the Netherlands is the site of much of the scholarship and practice of transition management. Loorbach et al (2017:604) locate the field as originating in the 1990’s and quickly being taken up by the Dutch government in their National Environmental Policy Plan, as well as in research grants which led to the formation of the international Sustainability Transitions Research Network. Since then, much of the theory and practice of transition management has been conducted in relation to transitions in the Netherlands, particularly about the Dutch energy transition. Therefore, the
Netherlands provides possibly the best case in which to analyze the contribution of transition management to government policy.
A second reason for selecting the Netherlands comes from their well-recognized position as a global leader in sustainability. The Dutch government has been vocal about reducing
greenhouse gas emissions, relying on sustainable energy, and along with the rest of Europe is working towards carbon neutrality in 2050 (Mulhern, 2020). Based on the importance of sustainable development in the Netherlands, as well as their history with the field of
sustainability transitions, the Dutch case appears interesting for exploring potential transition policies for sustainability.
In addition to the Dutch commitment to sustainability, the Netherlands is known to have one of the best work life balances in the world (OECD, 2020). While some may argue this makes the Netherlands a poor choice to explore reducing work hours, scholars argue that working hours may need to be reduced far below current levels in order to achieve future sustainability goals (Frey, 2019). As such, it may be the case that a national context which already prioritizes a healthy work life balance would be fruitful ground to explore further WTR’s. Anecdotally this appears correct, as many of the countries with healthy work life balances are also the sites of WTR experiments (De Spiegelaere and Piasna 2017), and in the Netherlands a major Trade union recently called for WTR in the form of a 30-hour workweek (ANP, 2021).
3.2.2 Units of Analysis
This main units of analysis for the Dutch case are actors who can affect WTR initiatives or transition management processes about WTR. Actors were considered relevant in relation to their ability to exercise power over or towards Dutch WTR initiatives. This analysis identifies four key groups of actors: (1) Government actors, including politicians, policy makers, and bureaucrats; (2) academics, including both scholars involved in transition management research in the Netherlands as well as scholars focused on labour studies and sustainability; (3) trade unions, which have historically played a large role in negotiating working conditions; and (4) private sector actors with firsthand experience of WTR initiatives.
Using the MaP, this thesis categorizes these actors into state, market, and Third sector.
Actors from the community are not included in this analysis. This is because no community actors that operate at the sectoral or organizational level were able to be identified that had both interest in and power towards WTR initiatives.
In the Dutch case, state actors are analyzed primarily at the organizational level. At this level, state actors include the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Climate and Economics, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. Actors in the Third sector are analyzed primarily at the individual and organizational level. These consist of actors from academic and research institutes, including Professor John Grin, an expert in transition management and co-author of
‘Transitions to Sustainable Development: New Directions in the Study of Long Term Transformative Change’ (Grin et al, 2010), and Professor Paul de Beer, a researcher for the Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Labour Studies and member of the board of the Dutch Association for Industrial Relations.
Other Third sector actors are major Dutch trade unions, including the Federatie
Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV), the Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond (CNV), and De Unie.
Finally, market actors contain two businesses involved with WTR initiatives in the Netherlands.
An interview was conducted with one company that implemented a WTR trial. As per the request of the interviewee, the company is not named.
3.2.3 Data Sampling and Data Collection
Data were collected using semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews are useful for research that aims to learn about a set of specific topics yet still prioritizes the views and opinions of the interviewee (Bryman, 2016:471). In this case, the aim of the interviews was to collect data on actors’ positions and power towards WTR initiatives and transition
Interview questions were developed with the aim of learning actor’s positions toward WTR initiatives, though the theoretical insights gained from the systematic review influenced the content and focus of the follow up and probing questions. The interviews were structured around two lines of inquiry: The first (1) concerned the actor’s perceptions of the barriers and
opportunities, as well as the costs and benefits to changing work hours. Questions were open ended, allowing the interviewee to offer detailed responses. Follow up and probing questions were used to investigate specific concepts that were theoretically relevant, such as the role of regulative, normative, and cultural institutions or perhaps social, economic, and environmental factors that enable of constrain prospects for WTR.
The second line of inquiry (2) concerned power. Actors were asked about their own and other actors’ capacity to affect WTR initiatives and transition management processes. These