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Über dieses Buch

Beyond Innovation counter weighs the present innovation monomania by broadening our thinking about technological and institutional change. It is done by a multidisciplinary review of the most common ideas about the dynamics between technology and institutions.



1. Innovation Monomania

Innovation has become the buzzword in a number of policy areas including research policy, economic policy and environmental policy. In the struggle against economic stagnation, innovation policies, sometimes in alliance with the academic field of innovation studies, promote dreams about institutions and technologies in which change can never be turned into nightmares. The ambition of this book is, however, to point to a number of alternative models and theories within the social sciences that describe or explain dynamics between institutions and technologies. The purpose is to demonstrate the rich multitude of ideas about technology, institution and change beyond innovation in the context of liberal markets.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

2. Technology, Institution and Change

In this chapter the key concepts of technology, institution and change are discussed and defined. The intimate relations between technology and institution are also described with the conclusion that technological and institutional change cannot be discussed in isolation from each other. Instead, they are different sides of the same coin, a coin with a value for an understanding of civilizations, global growth and cultural exchange as well as environmental sustainability, health and wealth distribution. Some concepts to be reviewed have been developed to frame the convergence of technology and institution in the sense that material expressions and social order are co-constructed or co-produced.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

3. Market Institutions

Different aspects of market institutions are reviewed. The idea of the unregulated market is an ideal construction and all real markets are regulated in some way or another. Indicative of markets is the exchange between a supplier, which is supposed to make a profit by supplying a product or a service to a consumer who is to compensate the supplier for this service. To that end, discussions on which forms of markets are suitable for the promotion of innovations are reviewed. A conclusion is that complicated institutional conditions influence the mechanics of markets. Another is that different recently developed concepts in general point towards a trend of closer and closer ties between producers, suppliers, consumers and users.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

4. Evolutionary Economics

This chapter deals with the family of theories that use the metaphor of natural selection for free-market economy stipulated by neo-classic theory. Here, the inherent logic of technological change is illustrated by genetic variation whereas the mechanisms of decision made on a market as well as the institutions surrounding it correspond to the selection pressure exercised by the environment in natural selection. Change is thus generated by endogenous factors, and the evolutionary process takes place due to learning and imitation rather than replication. Another important consequence is that the focus of analyses is set on processes and institutions on the supply side rather than on the demand side, which is often the case in analyses of market dynamics.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

5. Performativity

Different perspectives on the intervention of social sciences in general and economic theories in particular as well as expertise in the formation of institutions, so called performativity, are discussed. In the field of institutional and technological change, the issue of scholarly work as opposed to activism has been discussed at length. The question is reflexive: whether different notions of technological and institutional change may contribute to a change of existing relations between technologies and institutions. There are of course important examples of this; one needs only to mention Marxism as both a theory and a political practice. The conclusion is nevertheless that technological and institutional change influences the forming of theories more than theories influencing policymaking and practices.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

6. Knowledge

From the 1950s, precursors to innovation theory developed tools to take into account factors such as research and the learning of new practices in order to understand technological change as a factor behind economic growth. Another theme in this chapter is the different views on how to combine knowledge in order to achieve institutional and technological change. Traditionally, knowledge has been viewed as an individual capacity or even trait. During more recent decades, however, this idea has given way to notions of the importance of knowledge organizations and knowledge institutions implying that favourable conditions can be arranged by mixing different competencies and organizing collaborative efforts.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

7. Agency

Actors such as individuals or organizations are extremely important for our understanding of how knowledge and skills are converted into institutional and technological change. In some theoretical frameworks, agency is stressed as an important feature while others highlight structures of knowledge rather than individuals. Innovation studies contain both perspectives, but have traditionally cherished the will of the entrepreneur as one of the cornerstones for the understanding of change. The concepts reviewed here supply some alternative understanding of agency in the context of institution, technology and change. They range from constructivist perspectives to actor-network theory.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

8. Clusters, Systems and Blocks

An early attempt to analyse processes emanating from combinations and integration of knowledge together with its carriers stemmed from the observation that industrial branches and sectors seemed to agglomerate geographically, creating local or regional clusters. Other concepts mirror sectorial complexes or the importance of systems. In common, they all have the assumption that technology and institutions are systemic in the sense that their parts cannot be understood or analysed in isolation, but need to be understood as connected entities. Conclusions in this chapter include the developing uniformity of systems and organizations despite the original institutional differences of distinctive geographical locations and regions. Another insight is that change in one part of the complex is very likely to have repercussions throughout the whole system.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

9. Resistance to Change

An important perspective on institutions and technology is how they resist change, isolated or in tandem. Categories of institutional change are reviewed together with concepts such as path dependency, technological momentum and increasingly costly reversibility, all capture processes in which material and institutional practices and norms are stable. Resistance to change seems to rely on two fundamental characteristics. In some cases, it can be derived from the costs involved when changing practices or concretely substituting old technologies for new. In others, individual behavior may conserve existing practices, for instance, through conscious reluctance to change or through the force of routine. Most often, however, a combination of the two is the most important prerequisite for resistance to change.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

10. Commons

A specific theoretical framework in which a technological component has added value and increases precision of the analyses is that of common property resource management, commons for short. Two general problems have been identified with common-pool resources, overuse and free riders that may benefit from the resource without having to share the costs for its use. In general, commons lead to complex governance structures where the understanding of change in both commons and technologies is improved when the two entities are brought together.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

11. Technological Determinism

Innovation studies usually shun the idea that technology influences institutional settings in a more or less predetermined way, a notion mirrored in the concept technological determinism, which in turn exists in many different versions. One important set of deterministic theories is of course different forms and shades of Marxism. Others are materialistic theories with notions of predetermined developments although not necessarily in a revolutionary form. Today, determinism is seldom encountered in scholarly literature as a main road to exciting analyses of relations between technological and institutional change. Exceptions may, however, be found in visions of technological developments following certain quantitative regularities such as Moore’s law. But these are more speculative predictions than theoretical frameworks for improved understanding of technological and institutional change.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

12. Modernity and Its Critics

The nebulous concept of modernism has often been connected to notions of determinism in the sense that modernity follows a perceived trajectory of technological progress towards greater measures of artificiality and control, urbanity and rationality. In this complex, transformed notions of speed and space as well as possibilities and threats have often been highlighted. Modernity is thus a double-edged sword. Strive for control of nature, as well as the understanding of humanity’s role as part of nature, has been the centre of the problem. Although modernity has underscored the emancipative force of what seems to have been institutionally distributed growth due to technical change, modern thinkers have to an increasing extent stressed how complexes of institutions and technologies limit individual and institutional freedom.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

13. Postmodernity

Postmodern thinking may be derived from cybernetics and systems theory, where ideas of hybridity between technological and social thinking are common. Views on the merging of technologies and institutions thus to some extent rely on reflexivity. One consequence has been hopes for emancipation through new technologies such as computers for communication and information management leading to visions of closer links between technologies, institutions and individuals. These visions have resulted in postmodern experiences of increased heterogeneity as well as a reaction to modernity, for instance, in terms of social acceleration and fractalization.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

14. Hybridity and Technology Transfer

Defining the concept of hybridization as ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombined with new forms in new practices highlight the problematic division between natural and artificial. When further analysing our technological contexts, a conclusion is that relations between institutions and technologies should be characterized more by technological stability than institutional. Moreover, technology transfer from one institutional context to another and the subsequent adjustments of both technologies and institutions is a common feature of today as well as the specific case ofgeneric technologies. Analyses of the past two decades stress the mixing of technologies and institutions over cultures and geographical distances when highlighting what are judged to be important components of present changes.

Thomas Kaiserfeld

15. Conclusions

A general conclusion of this book is that existing relations between technology and institution to a large extent determine the theories that are developed in order to describe and understand them. Consequentially, key features identified as necessary to adjust in order to influence and even change the dynamics of institutions and technologies are specific to a certain context set in time and place. Thus there seems to be an ever more positive feedback loop between existing relations, the study of relations, the forming of relations and back to the existing relations again. It is this observation together with today’s heterogeneous relations between technology, institution and change that give a review of the present multitude of theories beyond innovation its greatest value.

Thomas Kaiserfeld


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