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Knowledge Ecologies and Ecosystems? An Empirically Grounded Reflection on Recent Developments in Innovation Systems Theory (49)

Papaioannou, T   Wield, D   Chataway, J

January 2007

Since the development of the national systems of innovation theory in the early 1990's there has been a succession of attempts to research the systemic dimension of innovation at many different levels of economy and society. More recently, however, there has been some shift in the academic and policy debate on innovation from a more traditional systems approach to ecologies and/or ecosystems. The latter are concepts transferred from the world of biology to the social world in order to explain the evolutionary nature of interrelations between different individuals, their innovative activities and their environment. This paper evaluates the concept of knowledge ecology and the related implications for innovation systems theory on two fundamental grounds: firstly, on the grounds of theoretical plausibility and conceptual consistency; secondly, on empirical grounds of the case of public-private interrelations of biotech innovation in Cambridge . The paper argues that the concept of knowledge ecology and the associated version of innovation systems theory can lead to problems of reductionism and functionalism. This is due to its development in abstraction from more grounded analysis of historical processes of capitalism. Knowledge and innovation need to be looked at in the context of historically founded processes of economic and social development.

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