Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Of Bits and Pretzels and Bureaucracies: Regional Innovation Cultures and “Conservative Innovation” in Bavaria

Fri, August 31, 11:00am to 12:30pm, ICC, E5.1


Innovation has become a global economic imperative, with many regions trying to establish themselves as innovation hubs according to international “best practices.” Yet, many of these regions are struggling how to reconcile the innovation imperative and its traveling organizational models with local socio-economic traditions, unique political cultures, and regional identity.

In this paper, we explore how regions navigate this tension and resist the adoption of traveling models through unique innovation cultures. Using the German state of Bavaria as an in-depth case study, and drawing on previous work that explores the global circulation of innovation models, I show how Bavaria enacts a particular imaginary of “conservative innovation” in keeping with existing sources of identity and social cohesion. 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; to act from a perceived position of strength or even saturation rather than decline or emergency; and to rearticulate globalized models in local terms. Viewed through this lens of regional cultures, innovation in Bavaria 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.

Our research provides research provides new support for a social-constructivist foundation of innovation theory, highlighting the unique local situatedness and inter-regional differences in the rationalization and practice of innovation policy. It provides a counterpoint to the persistent universalist tendencies in innovation theory around models, systems, and “best practices.”