Document Type


Publication Date



Transition Design offers a framework and employs an array of tools to engage with complexity. “Cancel culture” is a complex phenomenon that presents an opportunity for administrators in higher education to draw from the Transition Design approach in framing and responding to this trend. Faculty accused of or caught using racist, sexist, or homophobic speech are increasingly met with calls to lose their positions, titles, or other professional opportunities. Such calls for cancellation arise from discreet social networks organized around an identified lack of accountability for social transgressions carried out in the professional school environment. Much of the existing discourse on cancel culture involves whether the phenomenon represents a net positive or negative. This narrow, for-or-against cancel culture frame is reductive, preempting inquiry into where the phenomenon is situated in the dynamics that facilitate and inhibit change. Exploring cancel culture from a Transition Design perspective broadens the range of potential administrative responses from either resistance or acquiescence to experimentation and co-creation. This paper uses a multi-level perspective (MLP), one of the tools of Transition Design, to define call-outs and cancellations of faculty as niche-level innovations in access to institutional accountability and collective empowerment. From this perspective, the rise of cancel calls signals: (1) deficits in the regime-level norm of academic freedom; and (2) shifts involving identity politics at the landscape level. Recasting these calls as “innovations” creates an opportunity for higher education administrators to experiment by proactively piloting structural, co-created changes to accountability systems. Embracing the MLP framework centers the context from which cancel calls emerge, orients solutions toward concerns at the root of these calls, and contributes to the recognition of Transition Design as a practical field of study.