Historicizing transitions: The value of historical theory to energy transition research

Can history and historical thinking help us to strategize key transition challenges ahead? Most transition thinkers make use of historical perspectives, sometimes obliquely, to frame their energy and society research. Yet, specific socio-historical forces driving accelerated energy use, climate warming, biodiversity loss and systemic inequities are often left to speak for themselves; summoned, there they hover, ghost-like and haunting this transition thinker. In particular, we give wide berth to questions of historiography; that is, different theories and disputes over the interpretation of historical change. In this discussion piece, I introduce four perspectives on the history and theory of long-term structural social change and argue how they could advance our transition work: environmental history, historicizing the Anthropocene, history from below, and plural time. My intent is to encourage greater engagement with historical thinking as a form of knowledge about transitions, as we work towards accelerating alternative, low carbon and just futures.