Vienna STS Talk: Sebastian Pfotenhauer

15.03.2017 18:00

Of Bits and Pretzels and Resourceful Bureaucracies: Imaginaries of “Conservative Innovation” in Bavaria

In recent years, many regions around the globe have been subject to a flurry of innovationinitiatives, trying to establish themselves as innovation hubs. Many of these regions are struggling how to reconcile this global imperative of innovation with traditional socio-economic structures and cultural identity. In this presentation, I explore how regions navigate this tension and build unique innovation cultures in keeping with existing sources of identity and social cohesion. Using the German state of Bavaria as an in-depth case study, and drawing further on previous work that explores the global circulation of innovation models, I demonstrate that Bavaria enacts a particular imaginary of “conservative innovation.” 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. Viewed through this lens of local culture, innovation 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 new support for a social-constructivist foundation of innovation theory, highlighting the unique local situatedness and importance of inter-regional differences in the rationalization and practice of innovation. It provides a counterpoint to the prevalent universalist tendencies in innovation theory around systems and models.


Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung


Seminarraum STS, NIG, 1010 Wien, Universitätsstraße 7/II/6. Stock