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2018–05–22

Call for papers

When responsible innovation meets economic crisis: considering the possibilities of ‘responsible stagnation’

[Location] Room 16

[Date and Start Time] 27 Jul, 2018 at 16:30

[Sessions] 1

Convenors

Short abstract

This panel asks how STS can combine with heterodox economics to provide new directions for Responsible Innovation. It uses Responsible Stagnation as a lens through which to consider questions relative to the governance of ‘innovation’ in a world of finite resources and fragile ecosystems.

Long abstract

Responsible Innovation (RI) was originally conceived as a way of mediating the crisis-driven demand for economic growth by shaping high-tech innovation towards filling social needs rather than merely generating profit. However, as RI has become embedded in science, technology and innovation (STI) policies, it has become subsumed into the same growth-driven paradigms it was originally meant to challenge. Accepting that productivity in advanced economies has reached that steady state in which returns from increased input are diminishing, we therefore suggest an exploration of Responsible Stagnation (RS) as an integral and neglected part of the discussion of RI. This panel seeks papers which explore the idea that to be responsible to the future, innovation must take place in an enabling economic framework that respects planetary limitations and sustains social progress. What kinds of ‘innovation’ should be encouraged in advanced economies which are effectively stagnant in terms of wages and social improvement, and how may ‘filling social needs’ be better measured than mere increase in GDP? Under what conditions can innovation which leads to stagnation in consumption of non-renewable resources become a desirable economic goal? Heterodox economists have asked similar questions but have not engaged with STS as a means of understanding the co-production of technology and social relations to further their aims. We hence invite papers that explore how heterodox economics can combine with STS to provide fruitful new directions for RI. We welcome both theoretical and empirical contributions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in turbulent times: how the British broader political context is shaping the RRI practices of the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC)

Authors: Mario Pansera (University of Bristol) 

Short abstract

This paper focuses on the evolution of the EPSRC’s engagement with Responsible Innovation (RI). The work shows that the changing political environment for research and higher education in the UK, including Brexit, are seen as significant factors that could influence the future of RI in the UK

Long abstract

This paper focuses on the evolution of the EPSRC’s engagement with Responsible Innovation (RI). Based on 20 interviews and document analysis, we describe how the EPSRC moved from an approach to research funding based on Public Engagement initiatives to the purposeful embedding of RI within some its directed programmes. Despite the formal commitment to RI, however, significant institutional and cultural barriers remain. Disciplinary norms, approaches to epistemology, institutional expectations, incentives and research evaluation criteria are hindering uptake and practice of RI. Without changes to these, proper resourcing and committed leadership, RI as an inter and transdisciplinary endeavour faces major challenges. Our findings suggest that the rising impact agenda in the UK presents an ongoing vehicle for continued engagement with RI. However, overall it was felt that while the UK academic and research council communities have played a major contributing role in the development of RI in concept and practice, it was acknowledged that it is a fragile discourse encountering significant institutional barriers and uncertain political times. The changing political environment for research and higher education in the UK, including Brexit and the forthcoming transition of the UK Research Councils transition into a new body (UK Research and Innovation) are seen as significant factors that could influence the future of RI in the UK. This is set in the context of an overwhelming political imperative for economic growth at a government policy level, for example within its Industrial Strategy.

Pushing ‘responsible stagnation’: can scientists be agents of change?

Author: Gisle Solbu (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) [email]{.paper-author-email}
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Short abstract

In this talk my objective is to address the challenge of carving out a space to engage with alternative economic frameworks within current research and innovation practices, and ask the question of whether scientists can serve as agents of change.

Long abstract

The rise of RRI in European science policy can offer a unique moment to actively engage with the underlying rationales of R&D. What does it mean to produce social goods? Who makes the decisions of what the public needs? Such questions can challenge existing innovation narratives, and elicit potential tensions between growth-driven paradigms and ideas about sustainability and democratization. This kind of engagement presupposes that we identify the sites and actors where disruptions can be made meaningful. One such site that has been at focus for RRI initiatives is the practices of scientists and their research projects.

This talk draws on three years of empirical research on bio- and nanotechnology science practices, as well as analyses of RRI policy discourses. Based on this empirical work my objective is to address the challenge of carving out a space to actively engage with alternative economic rationalities within the current framework of research and innovation practices.

A key finding of this research points to the apparent incommensurability of the interviewed scientists experiencing their daily research work as mundane and far removed from bigger socio-political questions, while mission-oriented research policies ascribe them a key role in solving the economic and environmental challenges of our time. Thus, if an objective of RRI is to challenge the rationales pushing R&D, offering alternative enabling economic frameworks such as ‘responsible stagnation’, our attention as STS scholars also needs to be on the coupling of such counter-narratives and the ‘mundanity’ of daily scientific practices.

Protecting and perfecting nature: performing responsibility in academic-industry collaboration

Authors: Sally Atkinson (University of Exeter) [email]{.paper-author-email}
Susan Molyneux-Hodgson (University of Exeter) [email]{.paper-author-email}
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Short abstract

We analyse a multidisciplinary synthetic biology project and examine how notions of environment and sustainability are mobilised by participants to perform responsible innovation in the context of this industry-academic collaboration.

Long abstract

This paper presents analysis from a qualitative study of the field of synthetic biology. Our study addresses how concepts of responsibility are imagined and used by scientists working in an industry - academic collaboration that is using synthetic biology approaches to address industrial biotechnology challenges. The collaboration is motivated by stated desires to shift from a petro-based to bio-based economy yet wider questions on the relations of innovation and economy are not raised.

Our analysis traces how ideas about futures, sustainability and environments are mobilised by technical researchers to make sense of their collaborative work; to provide a rationale for that work; and, to distribute the responsibilities involved in the development of bio-based industrial production strategies. We pay particular attention to the role of such ideas in the practice and negotiation of the academic-industry boundary. This site questions the relevance of academic, experimental laboratory-based knowledge to the structures and drivers of large-scale industrial bio-production and the political imperative of a bio-based economy.

The study contributes to an examination of how ideas of responsible research and innovation are experienced and framed in everyday scientific practice.

Conceptualising the individual in the innovation discourse: implications for development

Author: Andrea Jimenez (University of Sheffield) [email]{.paper-author-email}
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Short abstract

This work-in-progress research is exploring what happens when the individual in the innovation discourse is framed from a specific perspective of economic growth, and whether a broader perspective is needed to expand our understanding of the impact of innovation in the discourse around development.

Long abstract

This work-in-progress research is exploring what happens when the individual in the innovation discourse is framed from a specific perspective of economic growth, and whether a broader perspective is needed to expand our understanding of the impact of innovation in development. It explores how, under a neoliberal paradigm, the individual is conceptualized as a homo Ňďconomicus, that is, rational, risk-taking individuals seeking profit maximization, leaving little considerations to social, cultural and institutional contexts of entrepreneurship. This has implications in the conceptualisation of the individual. For instance, in the development context, entrepreneurs are believed to not only seek to maximize their own wealth, but also empowerment and agency. This form of empowerment has an emphasis on individual rationalities and self-sufficiency (Altan-Olcay, 2014) Individuals therefore are expected to bear the responsibility to get themselves out of poverty, notwithstanding broader structural and institutional constraints. They are therefore either absent or treated as self-interested economic rational being, a “one-dimensional” view of the individual grounded in neoliberalism. We argue that a different conception of individual agency is needed to understand innovation. The theoretical framework is based in the Capability Approach, developed by Amartya Sen.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.