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Innovation processes in the dynamics of social change

Josef Hochgerner ZSI – Centre for Social Innovation, Vienna

The dominance of economic viewpoints and considerations

Any kind of innovation is embedded in larger systems: Broad concepts of culture (the ”Western”, “African”, or “Asian culture”, etc.) and societies, in particular world regions, dominated by cultural styles and ways of living, create specific “cultures of innovation” and “innovation cultures” at the same time1. Existing socio-economic structures provide the background to innovation cultures, encompassing “innovation regimes” significant in certain regional or national “innovation systems”2 which in turn produce certain “innovation patterns”. Innovation patterns represent in different density and combination various types of innovation that may be distinguished e.g. as innovations in technology, organisations, and in the social sphere.

Specific types and patterns emerge when comparing the occurrence of innovations among regions and over time. At present innovations in technology (increasingly deriving from scientific research) attract more attention, receive more funding, and are preferably welcomed compared to innovations in society at large. Furthermore, many improvements in social relations or enhanced social cohesion do not yet receive common acknowledgement as “innovations”. Obviously we live in a society favouring technological innovations, which play the first role in innovation patters, getting hold of most support by appropriate innovation regimes established in the frameworks of more or less effective innovation systems. This is the case because of the persistent dominance of the economy
compared to other components in most contemporary societies. Thus we may say that current western societies are signified by an innovation culture under economic dominance.

However, is there a single economic command? And if so, where did it come from? More than 200 years of industrial development and expansion of what was labelled “The great transformation” by Karl Polanyi (1944)3 led to the current debates concerning globalisation and the accelerated demand for innovation in an ever growing economy.

This article was published by the Center for Social Innovation (ZSI), Vienna.