9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN29 Social Theory

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Philisophy of Social Science: Unintended Consequences, Emergence and Evolution Building AA, AA.328

From Innovation to Evolution: The Sources of Institutional Change

When biologists talk about evolution, they typically refer to two mechanisms of change: genetic mutation and environmental selection. In the field of social sciences, the func-tion of genetic mutation is usually ascribed to individual and collective actors who con-stantly attempt to innovate and establish new institutional solutions from which they believe that they will help to settle specific social problems. In the next step, the sur-vival of this innovation largely depends on its "fitness" with the cultural and institu-tional environment. Over the past decades, the literature on new institutionalism consid-erably contributed to our understanding of the evolutionary dynamics which accompany this selection process. However, a review of the literature also indicates that ? beyond the field of sociological technology studies ? only little attention has been paid to the process of innovation that precedes selection and significantly contributes to evolution-ary change.

Drawing on examples from the field of social movement research, this presentation aims at developing a theoretical framework for the analysis of the innovation process. In the first step, an outline of a pragmatist theory of action will be developed. Mead, Dewey, and Joas consider the actors' ability to reflect and reassess a situation when rou-tines fail and expectations are disappointed as the primary source of human creativity. In the second step, it will be shown that the creation of innovative solutions is not an individual project. It is embedded in a social context of collaborative efforts. Recent accounts of social network theory stress that the probability for the emergence of new ideas and practices increases when previously separate groups begin to exchange infor-mation. In the third step, the attention moves to the normativity of innovative solutions. In particular, radical innovations always include value judgments that challenge the ex-isting social order. These judgements are connected to alternative "visions" or "con-cepts" of society which exert a great influence on the innovation process by giving ori-entation to individual and collective actors. However, during the selection process, these sets of cultural orientation may considerably change.