Economic underpinnings of social innovation and addressing marginalized groups in society from a CA perspective in times of European crisis

Ziegler, Rafael; Lodemann, Justus; Chiappero, Enrica; Houghton-Budd, Christopher; von Jacobi, Nadia; Nicholls, Alex (2014). 'Economic underpinnings of social innovation and addressing marginalized groups in society from a CA perspective in times of European crisis' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Title of Panel: Economic underpinnings of social innovation and addressing marginalized groups in society from a CA perspective in times of European crisis
Panel coordinator: Rafael Ziegler (

Description: This panel discusses the conceptual foundations of economic underpinnings of social innovation with a specific focus on innovation addressing and including marginalized and disempowered groups. The European economic and political crisis has further increased the risk for societal groups to be marginalized, and even threatens to undermine the overall stability of the European Union as a transnational, integrative peace-building project. Does social innovation on regional, national and transnational levels provide opportunities to overcome challenges with marginalization as well as address structural transformation issues across Europe (Heiskala 2007)?

Social Innovation roughly speaking concerns a) intentionally carrying out a new idea - not just inventing but innovating, which can take place at various levels, b) changing social relations, configurations and processes, and c) contributing towards reaching social ends, in particular human capabilities. Accordingly social innovation here is defined as 'carrying out new ideas (products, services, models, markets, processes) that intentionally seek to improve human capabilities, social relations and the process in which these solutions are carried out' (CRESSI working definition).  

As this definition indicates, the capabilities approach can play a descriptive and normative role in the investigation of social innovations both as far as a rich evaluative language for the discussion of ends of social innovations is concerned but also for the study of innovation processes and the role of agency in these processes. To this end, the CA needs to draw on further ideas from sociology and economics. Access to resources has been identified by classic innovation studies as a key issue for innovation processes (Schumpeter 1942/75). However, economic sociology also stresses the need to analyze innovation in terms of the formal and informal rules and institutional structures governing the access to, and the use of scarce resources, as well as the networks within which innovators are located and the cognitive frames that define the nature of innovation in a social context. For the analysis of social change dynamics in markets, Jürgen Beckert has proposed the conceptual schema of a 'social grid' consisting of three social forces: institutions, networks, and cognitive frameworks (Beckert 2010). On this account, the social forces are irreducible components co-shaping agency and with it the dynamics of social change (Beckert 2010, see figure 1). In turn, agency is a product of the social forces and ties that enable actors to reproduce, modify or transform the social grid.

The panel will discuss how social innovation can be conceptualized in terms of this social grid schema, and with a specific focus on how the capabilities approach can inform the descriptive and normative analysis of marginalization and inclusion processes that social innovations seek to address. Central questions to be discussed include: What is the role of financial capital – and possibly also other 'capitals' for enabling agency in the social grid? How to theorize marginalization from a CA perspective, and how to think about the respective role of cognitive frames, institutions, and actor networks in processes of marginalization and disempowerment (see figure 2)? How to analyze capabilities in relation to individual and collective power within the social grid (Heiskala 2007)? Does the social grid analysis have to be expanded to also include the physical environment (see figure 2, left top), and what could such an extended analyze learn from socio-ecological approaches such as the resilience approach (Gunderson and Holling 2002)? Finally, what are lessons and questions from the CA for the discussion of a fair space for innovation beyond innovation policy for the technical-economic innovation?

A note on the format: the panel is designed as a discussion panel that will promote the conceptual discussion of social innovation and the capabilities approach in the context of the EU-project CRESSI, and at the same time seeks to introduce the topic of social innovation to the HDCA-community. Therefore we would like to invite further conference participants as discussants as soon as the panel and conference participation of potential discussants is confirmed. Discussants we would like to invite include Sabina Alkire (member of the CRESSI advisory board) and Ilse Oosterlaken (who played an important role in developing CRESSI). The panel would be moderated by Professor Alex Nicholls (Oxford University).  

Figure 1 Social Grid (Beckert 2010)  

Figure 2: CA and the social grid (Robyens 2005, modified 2013)

Beckert, Jens (2010): How Do Fields Change? The Interrelations of Institutions, Networks, and Cognition in the Dynamics of Markets. In: Organization Studies 31 (5), 605–627

Gunderson, Lance H.; Holling, C. S. (2002): Panarchy. Understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Heiskala, Risto (2007): Social innovation: structural and power perspectives. In: Timo J. Hämäläinen und Risto Heiskala (Hg.): Social innovations, institutional change, and economic performance. Making sense of structural adjustment processes in industrial sectors, regions, and societies. Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar,  11–51.

Schumpeter, Joseph (1942/1975): Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

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