Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Social factors matter in technological innovation

30.11.2006
Action groups like Greenpeace influenced the adoption of a chlorine bleaching process in paper making that was inferior to the alternative elemental chlorine free paper making process.

The adoption of the QWERTY-keyboard was not just a productivity enhancing invention, but was also introduced to increase control over the workers and lower wages.Those two examples show that innovation is a process in which political and social factors matter.

These are among many technological innovations analysed by Andreas Reinstaller, a PhD candidate at UNU-MERIT -- a joint research and training centre of United Nations University, and Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Reinstaller's research examined the role played by status groups, political groups and power relations in technology choices. Reinstaller will defend his thesis at Maastricht University on 14 December 2006.

A detailed re-examination of the famous case study on the introduction of the QWERTY-keyboard for typewriters shows that it was not introduced purely to increase productivity. The new keyboard simplified administrative work so that it could be divided up differently. Part of the work could now be done by less trained personnel, which put downward pressure on wages for administrative workers.

Reinstaller also analyses how status groups influence consumer patterns. Industrialization in the 18th and 19th century led to a larger upper class with more disposable income. This in turn contributed to an upsurge in consumption and the birth of consumerism as we know it, as the lower classes tried to emulate the consumption patterns of the well to do.

In recent times, special interest groups have successfully adopted public campaigns to disseminate their ideas and visions to the greater public. In some cases, this has led to significant behavioural changes among consumers, who through their demands and choices have managed to affect downstream decisions about which technologies should be adopted, even when these are economically (and technically) inferior to alternatives. Reinstaller cites the case of Greenpeace, which was able to create such a frenzy among Swedish and German consumers that a third of all Swedish and even some Finnish pulp mills switched to totally chlorine free (tcf) bleaching. This despite the fact that it was less developed technologically and therefore more expensive than the alternative elemental chlorine free process, which was cheaper, more technically advanced, and from an environmental point of view almost identical to tcf. Reinstaller argues that Greenpeace ultimately succeeded in influencing producers to opt for the less economically viable choice. The situation in the US, where the lobby group had less influence, was quite different.

Through these and other examples Reinstaller demonstrates that the adoption of new products and new technologies is not always a matter of better technological performance, but one where social competition and power relations clearly play a role.

Andreas Reinstaller will defend his PhD thesis titled "Social structures and the innovation process: Their role in the demand of firms and consumers" on Thursday 14 December 2006 14.00 hrs at the Aula, Minderbroedersberg 4-6, Maastricht.

Wangu Mwangi | alfa
Further information:
http://www.merit.unu.edu
http://www.merit.unu.edu/seminars/docs/20061214_reinstaller.pdf

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Sibling differences: Later-borns choose less prestigious programs at university
14.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung

nachricht Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ
09.11.2017 | Vanderbilt University

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>