Households in sustainability transitions: a systematic review and new research avenues

Rob Raven, David Reynolds, Ruth Lane, Jo Lindsay, Annica Kronsell, Dharma Arunachalam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores conceptualisations of households in sustainability transitions. Existing literature in the field has only engaged with households in a limited and fragmented way, despite the role of households in resource use, shaping social innovation and as a target of environmental policies. The paper asks: how are households conceptualised in sustainability transitions and how could this be further developed in future research? The paper uses systematic review to explore how the literature currently engages with households. We find two overarching approaches to households: a closed-box approach and an open-box approach. The closed-box approach engages households as a fixed unit of analysis, without attention to internal dynamics and how these may interact with system-level changes, whereas the open-box approach unpacks the household as a dynamic social unit and material setting in the context of multiple scales and other social units. Both approaches are further discussed in terms of how they engage with households as users, sites and sources. Based on the analysis, the paper proposes a comprehensive definition of households in transition studies, and identifies four areas for future research in sustainability transitions: households' and householders’ agency; unpacking household dynamics; household innovation across scales and socio-technical systems; and households in policy and governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-107
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • agency
  • consumption
  • governance
  • Household
  • systematic review
  • transition

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