It takes two to tango: Towards a political concept of innovation

Lucien von Schomberg (Greenwich Business School)

To counter a techno-economic conceptualization of innovation, the discourse on Responsible Innovation (RI) calls for the democratization of innovation processes. Even so, questions about the politics in and of innovation are often left unaccounted for. To this end, this paper poses the following research question: What does a political concept of innovation consist of and how does it contribute to the RI discourse?

We consult the work of Hannah Arendt, one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. In The Human Condition she refines the division between the public and private sphere through articulating the vita activa, a tripartite distinction between the activities of labor, work, and action. Our hypothesis is that while a techno-economic concept of innovation is oriented around the mass consumption and production of respectively labor and work, we can find inspiration for a political concept of innovation in the initiative power of action. We distinguish between weak RI, which fights the demands of labor and seeks to govern a techno-economic concept of innovation; and strong RI, which is driven by action and may substantiate a political concept of innovation. The former denotes an application of ethical dimensions to the techno-economic concept of innovation. In contrast, we conceptualize strong RI as a transformative view of the concept of innovation itself; it conveys a fundamentally political concept of innovation that exceeds techno-economic ideologies and practices.