The notion of “sociotechnical systems” is an important concept for analyzing interdisciplinary research on the transformation of energy supply. Different branches of research agree that the provision, transmission, and distribution of energy are not simply a matter of physics. The energy transformation is significantly influenced by social factors. However, the correlation between technical operations and social processes within the unit (system) is often not explicitly explored in these analyses, even though this correlation is the decisive descriptor that distinguishes sociotechnical systems from its environment and from other kind of systems. Likewise, the differences between the basic elements of technical and social realities are downplayed or else not discussed. In this chapter, we examine how the unity that sociotechnical systems embody is conceptualized in various directions of social science research. Additionally, we will highlight the nature of the prototypical scientific problems of the different concepts, based on the most prominent approaches such as large technical systems, transition research, and social systems theory. In the end, we argue that for interdisciplinary research it is best to abandon attempts to define sociotechnical systems across disciplines and, instead, opt for exposing their shared research problems.
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