Science, technology and innovation studies at a crossroad: SPRU as case study
The setting up of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at Sussex University 50 years ago represented a “transformative change” in the research on science policy and the understanding of the nature and origin of technological change and innovation studies. It influenced policymakers across the world in both the mature Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and the developing world. It made the topic of science, technology and innovation (STI) familiar to business studies scholars. Today though, the analysis of STI appears to be somewhat in crisis. On the one hand, there is growing evidence that the growth and welfare gains of new technologies and innovation are no longer forthcoming in an automatic “trickle-down” fashion. The knowledge and technology diffusion “machine” appears broken. On the other hand, there are growing environmental concerns about the negative externalities of unsustainable fossil-fuel-based growth as industrialization spreads across the globe. STI policy appears somehow stuck in an industrial efficiency and consumerism mode that is unable to address in a satisfactory way the impact of such negative externalities. Can the broader historical approach as popularized within the so-called Science and Technology Studies (STS) tradition provide additional, complementary insights? Yes, if STI and STS scholars are prepared to leave their respective conceptual comfort zones and address in complementary fashion some of the major societal policy challenges confronting science, technology and innovation policy today.