Victor Tiberius (2011): Path Dependence, Path Breaking, and Path Creation: A Theoretical Scaffolding for Futures Studies?
In many academic disciplines, descriptive, theoretical/explanatory, practical, and sometimes self-reflective objectives can usually be distinguished. Futures studies aim at exploring and explaining possible, probable, preferable and preventable futures, as well as shaping a desirable future. Futures research methods lead to one or alternate futures which can be described. But a description of a future state depends on a notion of how it evolves. This directly corresponds to the theoretical objective. It certainly is not only important to present alternate images of the future, but also to deliver an explanation of the path that leads to specific futures.
We need theories of future genesis to achieve this objective. In the futures studies literature, many prolific attempts for a theoretical scaffolding of future genesis can be found. Furthermore, there is quite a variety of theories of social and organizational change that could potentially be expanded upon for the purpose of explaining future developments. From this variety of theories, path dependence, path breaking, and path creation are evaluated, if these could be used as theories of future genesis.
In this JFS special edition, the authors try to connect path theories to futures studies in different ways.
Victor Tiberius discusses path dependence theory, path breaking, and path creation from the point of view of futures studies. He distinguishes the both contingent and deterministic view of path dependence theory from the voluntaristic perspective taken by path breaking and path creation. By contrasting these theories, and based on the idea of restrictive indeterminism, a midway approach called planned path emergence is suggested as a realistic view.
Marc R. H. Roedenbeck begins with the argument that many contributions to path dependence research at the social level are interwoven with individual behavior, but researchers seldom provide a detailed understanding of the individual and interdependency with the social domain. In reference to this deficit and based on methodological individualism, the author aims at developing a model that describes individual path dependency and shows how individual path dependent behavior leads to social processes and lock-ins. The author argues that the analysis of path dependence at the social level needs to be based on an understanding of individual path dependent behavior.
Udo Staber adopts an interesting and innovative combination of path dependence, cognitive-evolution, and narrative perspective on organizational culture. As the author shows, the evolution of cultures is not only path dependent, but also includes the possibility of creating new cultures. The author illustrates his findings with a case study.
Gerd Schienstock concentrates on the transformation of paths at the national level. Path dependency theory explains organizational, institutional, and political change processes mainly from a techno-economic view. The main argument here is that historic events in the past determine future paths. However, these developments are often inefficient. On this basis, it is hard to explain how completely new paths actually evolve. His article therefore focuses on the creation of new and more preferable paths in the future. It adds the key role of agency to the concept of path dependency to enhance the understanding of path creation.
Nina Kolleck, Gerhard de Haan, and Robert Fischbach apply the path creation view on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). ESD tries to improve sustainable behavior through educational means. Current generations have faced ecological problems, but have not essentially learned how to act in a sustainable manner. Thus, ESD is an important attempt to change this for young and future generations. The authors discuss how to improve ESD itself with social networks. Implementing sustainable development and ESD in society is seen as a process of path creation.
Finally, Tamás Gáspár views path dependency and path creation in a strategic perspective in which both concepts are interpreted as dialectically intertwined. He especially focuses on different time frames and transfers his findings to national and regional planning activities.
I would like to thank Sohail Inayatullah and Jose Ramos for making this special issue possible. I also sincerely thank (in alphabetical order) Christoph Rasche, Gerd Schienstock, and Georg Schreyögg for their commitment as guest peer reviewers for the submitted papers.
Victor Tiberius (2011): Path Dependence, Path Breaking, and Path Creation: A Theoretical Scaffolding for Futures Studies?, in: Journal of Futures Studies, 15. Jg., Nr. 4, S. 1-8.