6 December

Of Bits and Pretzels and Resourceful Bureaucracies:  Regional Innovation Cultures and “Conservative Innovation” in Bavaria

Date: 6 December 2017
Time: 12.30 - 14.00 hrs
Venue: Ravelijn, RA 1315
Speakers: Prof.dr. Sebastian Pfotenhauer, Technische Universität München


Innovation has become a global economic imperative, with many regions trying to establish themselves as innovation hubs according to international “best practices.” Yet, many of these regions are struggling how to reconcile the innovation imperative and its traveling organizational models with local socio-economic traditions, unique political cultures, and regional identity.

In this presentation, I explore how regions navigate this tension and express unique innovation cultures. Using the German state of Bavaria as an in-depth case study, and drawing on previous work that explores the global circulation of innovation models, I show how Bavaria enacts a particular imaginary of “conservative innovation” in keeping with existing sources of identity and social cohesion. This imaginary is characterized by a tendency to preserve traditional socio-economic orders rather than disrupt them; to favor and safeguard political and economic incumbents rather than enable new entrants; and to act from a perceived position of strength or even saturation rather than decline or emergency. Viewed through this lens of regional cultures, innovation in Bavaria ceases to be a source of disruption and social change and rather becomes a mechanism of socio-cultural reproduction that extends existing identities and frames of reference into the future. This explicit construction of innovation as a source of continuity allows Bavaria to straddle a range of persistent tensions, including traditionalism vs. technological optimism (“with laptop and lederhosen”), cosmopolitan vs. rural lifestyle, and agricultural vs. high-tech state. The imaginary of conservative innovation draws its strength from, and reinforces, a relatively stable political and economic landscape that has enacted regional development through a corporatist “small-state” model since WWII.

My research provides research provides new support for a social-constructivist foundation of innovation theory, highlighting the unique local situatedness and inter-regional differences in the rationalization and practice of innovation policy. It provides a counterpoint to the persistent universalist tendencies in innovation theory around models, systems, and “best practices.”

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Pfotenhauer - Head - Innovation, Society & Public Policy Group
Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) and TUM School of Management
Technical University Munich

Short Bio:
Sebastian Pfotenhauer is Assistant Professor of Innovation Research and head of the Innovation, Society and Public Policy Research Group at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) and the TUM School of Management, both at Technical University of Munich. His research interests include regional innovation cultures; the global circulation of innovation models; institutional and national innovation strategies; science and innovation in international settings; scientific and technological capacity-building; complex socio-technical transformations; and responsible innovation. Before joining TU Munich, Sebastian was a research scientist and lecturer with the MIT Technology & Policy Program and the MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center, as well as a research fellow at the Harvard Program on Science, Technology and Society. He has served as consultant on innovation policy to various regional and national governments, as well as internal consultant for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, France. His work has appeared, among other outlets, in Social Studies of Science, Research Policy, Nature, and Issues in Science and Technology. He holds an S.M. in Technology Policy from MIT and a PhD in Physics from the University of Jena, Germany, and has received post-doctoral training at MIT and Harvard.