How Does Socio-Technical Lock-In Cause Unsustainable Consumption in Cities? A Framework and Case Study on Mobility in Bangkok

Nhi Truong, Gregory Trencher, Kazuyo Matsubae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Consumption of raw materials, energy, manufactured goods, and services is increasingly concentrated in cities, as urbanization accelerates globally. Such consumption is influenced by complex interactions arising between the various socio-technical and natural systems that make up cities. To improve understanding of the interlinked factors that can perpetuate—or “lock-in”—unsustainable consumption, we build an explanatory framework that conceptually joins the literature on socio-technical systems and on urban consumption. Two questions guide our study: (1) What are the principal socio-technical systems in cities that influence consumption behavior? (2) How do these systems interact to lock urban dwellers into unsustainable consumption behavior? The resulting framework incorporates theories of socio-technical lock-in with factors relating to both “structure” and “agency” in consumption literature. Specifically, it describes the influence and interactions of physical, non-physical, and human systems on two interlinked scales: macro-scale (structure and collectively shared conditions) and micro-scale (agency and individually shaped conditions). To demonstrate the practical value of this framework, we apply it to a case study on mobility in Bangkok, Thailand. This allows us to systematically identify the interlinked mechanisms contributing to the growing dependence on and lock-in to individually owned passenger vehicles. Our study thus provides a comprehensive understanding of the multiplex drivers of consumption behavior, taking into account both structure and agency. The framework also provides a tool for other scholars to empirically identify lock-in mechanisms that hamper the adoption of more sustainable consumption behavior in other sectors and geographies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number770984
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Cities
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Feb 8


  • Thailand
  • consumption
  • lock-in
  • mobility
  • socio-technical system
  • urban


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