Pursuing legitimacy for solar energy: essays on temporality and collective spaces in nascent fields

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School of Science | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2020-03-11
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58 + app. 113
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 40/2020
Solar technology has emerged as a significant option in energy provision in a rather short time globally. It is also often considered a spreadhead technology in the transition of the energy domain towards an increased use of new renewable energy sources and one key solution in tackling grand challenges like climate change and resource depletion. In Finland there have been several waves of local initiatives aimed at legitimating the technology and mobilizing actors behind shared courses of action. However, legitimation has stalled time and again, with persistent difficulty in forming a 'coalition of believers' for the new technology. Solar energy has also remained strikingly illegitimate in political terms, also compared to other northern contexts with similar conditions. In this research I explore, how legitimation has unfolded between different communities in the field. The research is a longitudinal and in part real-time study that covers four decades of initiatives in 1973-2015, based on a comprehensive qualitative dataset of 51 interviews, 200 hours of observations at industry events and other collaborative settings, 3400 news stories and 3000 pages of archival material. I focus on two distinct topics. First, I study the role of temporality in legitimation processes, pointing to "time" as a socially constructed, negotiated and changing construct. Second, I explore how engaged actors have capitalized on collective spaces in the nascent field to attach the new innovation to changing policy concerns. The term collective space refers to transitory settings that forge uncommon interactions between disparate actors, such as field-configuring events and technology experiments. The findings of this study point to legitimation as a continuous negotiation of temporal experience among key communities. The research shows how shared time constructs have brought disparate actors together and created momentum in the face of scattered perceptions and interests. Yet overall such constructs have been fragile and lost their significance – due to challenges in managing temporal complexity in the nascent field. In particular, asynchronicity between the engaged communities and asynchronicity between the rhythm of innovation development when compared to the rhythm of acute and changing policy concerns have hampered legitimation. Further on, the research illuminates the role of collective spaces as sites of political entrainment, i.e. settings where initial actors urge timings and rhythms of developing the new innovation that would relate meaningfully to changing policy concerns. The study shows how spaces have contributed to recurring hype and disappointment in the field, related to their appearance as fleeting and sporadic windows of opportunity for issue construction. The research contributes to scholarly understanding on temporality in organizations and management by a focus on a complex multi-actor setting and generates dialogue between different literature streams that study spaces in fields.
Due to coronavirus pandemic this defence was postponed to be held on 2nd April 2020 at 13:00.
Supervising professor
Schildt, Henri, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Finland
Thesis advisor
Granqvist, Nina, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
Lovio, Raimo, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
Kivimaa, Paula, Dr., Finnish Environment Institute, Finland
legitimation, nascent fields, temporality, collective spaces
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Nissilä, Heli; Granqvist, Nina; Holopainen, Mari; Rajala, Risto. When the time never comes: temporality and legitimacy in nascent fields. Presented at the Academy of Management Conference, Boston Massachusetts, USA, August 2019. A shortened version of the included paper.
  • [Publication 2]: Nissilä, Heli; Lempiälä, Tea; Lovio, Raimo. Constructing Expectations for Solar Technology over Multiple Field-Configuring Events: a Narrative Perspective. Science and Technology Studies, 2014, 27(1).
  • [Publication 3]: Nissilä, Heli. Conferences as Sequential Arenas for Creating New Sustainable Fields. Industry and Innovation, 2015, 22(1):209-228.
    DOI: 10.1080/13662716.2015.1033840 View at publisher
  • [Publication 4]: Heiskanen, Eva; Nissilä, Heli; Lovio, Raimo. Building Demonstration Projects as Sustainable Niches for New Technology: Solar-Building Integration in Finland. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2015, 109, 347-356.