The concept of innovation has entered a turbulent age. On the one hand, it is uncritically understood as ‘technological innovation’ and ‘commercialized innovation.’ On the other hand, ongoing research under the heading responsible research and innovation (RRI) suggests that current global issues require innovation to go beyond its usual intent of generating commercial value. However, little thought goes into what innovation means conceptually. Although there is a focus on enabling outcomes of innovation processes to become more responsible and desirable, the technological and commercial nature of these processes is rarely questioned. For these reasons, this paper poses the following research question: what concept of innovation is implicitly taken up by the RRI discourse and what implications does this concept have for the societal purpose of RRI? As a first step, we analyze the extent to which the concept of innovation in the RRI literature is uncritically presupposed to be technological. Subsequently, we examine the diverse meanings innovation has had over time and argue that while innovation originally had a political connotation it is only recently restricted to the meaning of technological innovation. We go on to show that even though the concept of technological innovation can contribute to the societal purpose of RRI, this requires certain conditions that are difficult to guarantee. Consequentially, we argue that future research should explore alternative understandings of innovation that better enable the overall feasibility of the emerging frameworks of RRI.
- Commercialized innovation
- History of innovation
- Philosophy of innovation
- Responsible research and innovation
- Technological innovation