Bio-fuelling the Hummer? Transdisciplinary Thoughts on Techno-Optimism and Innovation in the Transition from Unsustainability

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


An overarching aim of this chapter is to offer an informed and critical analysis of ‘techno-optimism’, informed by an explicitly transdisciplinary approach. A transdisciplinary perspective is one in which knowledge production goes beyond the academy to include end non-academic stakeholders and users. In effect it seeks to ‘upstream’ the involvement of non-academic interests in research design and knowledge production, as opposed to limiting those non-academic interests to the dissemination end point stage of research, which is the dominant research model. Techno-optimism is understood as an exaggerated and unwarranted belief in human technological abilities to solve problems of unsustainability while minimising or denying the need for large-scale social, economic and political transformation. More specifically, techno-optimism is the belief that the negative environmental and social costs of high-consumption, affluent, consumer societies and associated ways of life within capitalist orthodox economic growth orientated socio-economic systems, can be solved or eradicated through technological innovation and breakthroughs. Business as usual can be ‘greened’; a capitalist, growth-based economy can be made more ‘resource efficient’, consumerism less ‘resource intensive’ (and maybe a little bit more ethical). Techno-optimism, to be deliberately provocative for a moment, can therefore be described as a ‘biofuel the hummer’ response to the challenges (and opportunities) of the crisis of unsustainability. What I mean by that analogy is the seductive promise and premise of techno-optimism of not questioning or doubting the status quo (the hummer), hence it’s putative (but entirely false) non-political character. The capitalist, consumerist, growth-based socio-economic system is thus removed from critical analysis (usually on the implicit or explicit assumption of either the normative rightness of this system, or on strategic political grounds that it is naive or utopian to envisage widespread support for a non or post-capitalist consumer system). Techno-optimism simply enables a different means (biofuel) to the same ends.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransdisciplinary Perspectives on Transitions to Sustainability
EditorsEdmond Byrne, Ger Mullally, Colin Sage
Place of PublicationManchester
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781472462954
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2016


  • technological innovation
  • Sustainability
  • sustainable development
  • green politics
  • anthropocene
  • economic growth


Dive into the research topics of 'Bio-fuelling the Hummer? Transdisciplinary Thoughts on Techno-Optimism and Innovation in the Transition from Unsustainability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this