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In Search of a Network Theory of Innovations

As a complement to Nelson & Winter’s (1977) article entitled “In Search of a
Useful Theory of Innovation,” we argue that a sociological perspective on
innovation networks can be elaborated using Luhmann’s social-systems theory,
on the one hand, and Latour’s “sociology of translations,” on the other. The
sociology of translations specifies a mechanism for generating variation in
relations (“associations”), whereas the systems perspective enables the
specification of (functionally different) selection environments such as
markets, professional organizations, and political control. Selection
environments can also be considered as mechanisms of social coordination
that can “self-organize” – the control of human agency – into a regime in
terms of interacting codes of communication. Unlike relatively globalized
regimes, technological trajectories are organized locally in “landscapes,”
and can be purposefully influenced by organizations. A resulting “duality of
structure” (Giddens, 1979) between the historical organization of
trajectories and evolutionary self-organization at the regime level can be
expected to drive innovation cycles. Reflexive translations add a third
layer of multiple perspectives to (i) the relational analysis of observable
links that shape trajectories, and (ii) the positional analysis of networks
in terms of latent dimensions. These three operations can be studied using
different methodologies. Latour’s first-order “associations” are thus
analytically distinguished from second-order “translations.” However, the
resulting operations remain “infra-reflexively” nested, and can therefore
lead to innovative reconstructions of previously constructed boundaries.

Preprint available at  
>> apologies for cross-postings 

Loet Leydesdorff* & Petra Ahrweiler**

*University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of Communications Research
** Europäische Akademie zur Erforschung von Folgen
wissenschaftlich-technischer Entwicklungen Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler GmbH

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