On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, Mohammad Zolfagharian will defend his PhD thesis “How to study transition problems? Theories, methods and models”. This thesis has been supervised by prof. dr. A.G.L. Romme, prof. dr. ir. R. Raven (Monash University) and dr.ir. B. Walrave. The ceremony will take place in the Collegezaal 4 of the Auditorium Building at the Eindhoven University of Technology at 11:00 hrs.
Persistent problems in current ‘transitional times’ have been paving the way for a broad discourse, among social scientists and policy makers, on fundamental shifts in the associated socio-technical systems. In this regard, ‘transition studies’ has been emerging as a field focused on how to promote and govern (desired) transition processes. Recently, the field has been drawing more and more scholarly attention and, as a result, its body of knowledge is rapidly growing. This raises new challenges as well as opportunities, not the least regarding various methodological issues. In this respect, research methodologies are central prerequisites to produce a sound knowledge base in any research project. However, transition research has been little concerned with methodological investigation of the field. In this thesis, we concentrate on the pivotal question of how to study transition problems? To tackle this research question, three studies serve to reflect on various methodological issues in transition research. In the first study, patterns and trends in transition research methods are examined by means of a systematic literature review, and subsequently a research agenda has been proposed to guide the research on transition processes. In the second study, in line with the proposed guidelines on improving methodological toolkit of transition research, an evidence-based framework is developed with regard to why, when, and how system dynamics modeling is combined with other methods. Finally, building upon the insights arising from the first and the second study, a multi-theory and multi-method approach is adopted to exemplify the potential insights of mixed research for the field, notably in the context of e-mobility transition. Overall, this doctoral dissertation contains various methodological reflections regarding transition studies and system dynamics methodology as well as potential implications for policy regarding diffusion and uptake of electric vehicles. We hope this thesis helps to improve the depth and breadth of methodological dialogue and exploration in the field which, in turn, can also lead to a more impactful and well-founded body of knowledge in the area of transition studies.