Post-Growth Innovation Lab Science Technology and Innovation in a post-growth society


The Post-Growth Innovation Lab is an international, transdisciplinary research group which, broadly speaking, conducts research on the ways in which notions of science, technology and innovation can support the transition towards a post-growth society. Our work seeks to elucidate new narratives, practices and organisations that widen the scope of the concept of innovation, expanding it beyond a narrow focus on green and smart technologies, to initiate a socially sustainable and equitable downscaling of society’s throughput, which would enable communities to enhance their wellbeing while remaining within planetary boundaries.

Funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant, alongside the financial support of the Galician Innovation Agency, the Post-Growth Innovation Lab was established in February 2021 at the University of Vigo in Galicia, a region in the North-West of Spain. The Post-Growth Innovation Lab has achieved recognition as a “formal research group” -an institutional status which has been granted by the autonomous regional government, the Xunta de Galicia. Currently, the Lab is home to a number of scholars from a diverse range of disciplines, including Critical Management Studies, STS, Political Ecology, Ecological Economics, and Geography. Its members include a European Research Council grantee, two associate professors, six postdocs, and three PhD students. The lab regularly hosts visiting scholars and researchers, from PhD students to world-leading experts in their fields, from around the world. While the group’s main activities are research-based, some members are involved in teaching at postgraduate levels, especially in areas concerning STS, political ecology and ecological economics. The group is part of a large international network with reputed STS, degrowth and organisation scholars throughout the world. 

Notions of post-growth and degrowth have been gaining traction in the social sciences, spanning across a variety of disciplines. To date, however, engagements between post-growth and STS literatures have been rather limited (Vandeventer and Lloveras, 2021). All work at the Post-Growth Innovation Lab starts from the premise that notions of science, technology and innovation are being unreflectively put at the service of economic growth. With this growth-mania, innovations may serve to reassert the expansive logic of capitalism, which is a major driving force of climate change, environmental degradation and social unrest. A critical and reflexive engagement with science and technology is thus necessary to illuminate new post-growth innovation pathways, in which the capitalist imperative of economic growth is be replaced by a new set of values, such as cooperation, sharing, social justice and ecological stewardship. Following from this fundamental premise, the Post-Growth Innovation Lab has developed four broad research areas, which are mutually supportive:

  1. The Politics of Innovation. Our research is geared to democratizing the institutions of science, technology and innovation. This aim requires asking questions such as: What is innovation for? Who’s innovation for? Who wins and who loses from any given innovation process?
  2. Responsible Innovation. The lab is interested in developing models of responsible innovation to ensure that governability and ethical considerations are built into high-risk socio-technical interventions – e.g., those associated with highly disruptive and uncertain outcomes, such as geoengineering and autonomous vehicles. 
  3. Grassroots Innovation. Through our work, we aim to broaden the range of what and who is considered a meaningful a source of innovation, going beyond institutional actors and formal domains. More specifically, we are interested in the potential of grassroot innovations as enablers of transformative socio-ecological changes. This requires engaging with bottom-up innovation processes emerging from the practices of grassroots activists, social movements, and users.
  4. Post-growth & Degrowth. The previous research areas constitute the basis from which we interrogate the role of technology, science and innovation in a post-growth world. In other words, what would innovation look like in a post-growth economy? What type of organisations and institutions would be consistent with and supportive of the aims of post-growth innovation? How can one imagine and practice innovation in ways that dislocate the traditional focus on exchange value, productivity, and efficiency? What are the limits of science, technology and innovation in the Anthropocene?

Working from these research themes, the Post-Growth Innovation Lab is involved in a number of national and international projects. The core project is an ERC Starting Grant project entitled “Prospering without growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in a post-growth era” (PROSPERA), running from February 2021 until February 2026, hosted by the University of Vigo and the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN). The project posits that disentangling notions of innovation from the pursuit of economic growth is key to imagining a post-growth era (Pansera & Fressoli 2021, De Saille et al. 2020). This project addresses a series of questions that are crucial for both STS and post-growth scholarship: What might organisations look like in a system that is not based on endless growth? Under what conditions would science, technology and innovation without growth be able to flourish? What levels of technological complexity can be achieved in a post-growth economy? What policies, infrastructures and organisational forms can help to facilitate this new paradigm of science, technology and innovation? 

Besides PROSPERA, the Post-Growth Innovation Lab is also involved in the coordination of the H2020 project JUST2CE “A Just Transition to Circular Economy”. JUST2CE aims at understanding, in a critical and thoughtful way, under which conditions a responsible, inclusive and socially just transition to a circular economy is possible and desirable. The project also explores what technical, geopolitical and social factors can enable or hamper such transformation, and how these aspects can contribute to the development of policies to foster a just ecological transition (Pansera et al, 2021). The results of this analysis will be used to develop a decision support system and macroeconomic analytical tools to design new Circular Economy practices and improve existing ones (101003491 Grant Agreement. Budget 3,620,040.96€.) Finally, the Post-Growth Innovation Lab is involved in the Marie-Sloboska Curie network ReTrace on Circular Economy, an UK Economic and Social Research Council grant on Citizen Participation in Smart City project and a Spanish national project focused on barriers and enablers to the implementation of anticipatory governance of technology in Spain. 

We are mindful that additional STS contributions and engagements are much needed in the context of post-growth debates. We are thus open to collaborations, cross-fertilisation, exchanges, or simply expressions of intellectual curiosity that can advance this research agenda. Please, do contact us if you would like to explore possibilities to collaborate with us.

 

References 

Pansera, M., & Fressoli, M. (2021). Innovation without growth: Frameworks for understanding technological change in a post-growth era. Organization, 28(3), 380–404. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508420973631

Pansera, M., Genovese, A., & Ripa, M. (2021). Politicising Circular Economy: what can we learn from Responsible Innovation? Journal of Responsible Innovation. https://doi.org/10.1080/23299460.2021.1923315

de Saille, S., Medvecky, F., Oudheusden, M. van, Albertson, K., Effie Amanatidou, T. B., & Pansera, M. (2020). Responsibility Beyond Growth A Case for Responsible Stagnation. Bristol University Press.

Vandeventer, J. S., & Lloveras, J. (2021). Organizing degrowth: The ontological politics of enacting degrowth in OMS: Https://Doi.Org/10.1177/1350508420975662, 28(3), 358–379.  

 

Dr Mario Pansera is currently employed as a Distinguished Researcher by the UVIGO. He’s also an affiliated Researcher at the Autonoma University of Barcelona. He is the PI of ERC Starting Grant for the project PROSPERA (947713) and Coordinator of the H2020 project JUST2CE. He gained a PhD in Management at the University of Exeter Business School in 2014. After his Marie-Curie post-doctoral fellowship in Brussels, he worked as a research fellow at the University of Bristol from 2017 to 2020.

Sonia Pascual holds a degree in Business Studies and a master’s in Environmental Studies from a Legal, Economic and Social point of view (perspective). In 2015, Sonia joined the University of Vigo as an R&D Technician, being involved in promoting international and national R&D projects and in knowledge transfer activities. In April 2021, she joined our team as project manager for PROSPERA.

Dr María José Cabaleiro is associate professor in the Department of Finance Economics and Accounting of the University of Vigo. She studied at the University of Vigo and got her PhD in 2000. Her research focuses on Cooperatives and Social Economy. She iscurrently involved in a project to make economic and financial information of coops in Galicia (Spain) accessible to the public. The first results are already available in https://saves.uvigo.gal.

Dr Carlos Iglesias Malvido is associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics of the UVIGO. He studied at the University of Santiago de Compostela and got his PhD at the University of Vigo in 2000. His research focuses on Cooperatives and Social Economy. He is also involved with Maria Jose in the project to make economic and financial information of coops in Galicia (Spain) accessible to the public.

Dr. Javier Lloveras joined the team from Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, where he was a Senior Lecturer in Marketing. Javier draws upon critical marketing studies and STS to elucidate non-capitalist processes of market-making and consumer activism which can be aligned with post-growth transitions. His work has been published in leading journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research, Marketing Theory, Ecological Economics, Organization, or the Journal of Macromarketing. 

Dr Sofia Greaves joined the lab following her recent completion of a PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. Her work focuses on the centrality of urban spaces and cities in the reproduction of the ideology of economic growth. 

Elisa Schraam joined the lab from the University of Oxford, UK. Her research is concerned with how post-capitalist world-building is made actionable in practice in eco-communities, where she has conducted extensive ethnographic research. Elisa’s research draws on more-than-human, non-representational theories as well as economic geography and sociology.

Dr Ben Robra is a postdoctoral researcher for the project PROSPERA. He is also an affiliate at the P2P Lab. Ben holds a BA in Business Administration from the Hamburg School of Business Administration as well as an MSc in Ecological Economics and a PhD in Sustainability from the University of Leeds. His work focuses on economic organisations and degrowth. He engages with a number of critical theories such as Eco-Marxism, Gramsci’s work, and Luhmann’s social systems theory.

Dr Brais Suarez is currently a postdoctoral researcher under the H2020 project JUST2CE. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a PhD in Ecological Economics. His current research is focused on exploring innovative and transformative paths to build a fairer social system that, at the same time, preserves the environment. This includes rethinking how the circular economy can be framed under the logics of a post-growth era. 

Dr David Soto-Oñate is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vigo. He holds a BSc in Business Management and a MSc in Economic Research. He was a Fulbright visiting researcher at the Ostrom Workshop from 2018 to 2021. He has published on a variety of topics, such as the importance of the coherence between cultural systems and formal economic institutions, the requirements of circular economy principles for environmental sustainability, the foundations of the international liability, and compensation regime for oil spill pollution.

Noortje Keurhorst is a PhD student in PROSPERA. She holds a BSc in International Business from Rotterdam University and an MSc in Environmental Sciences from Wageningen University. In Wageningen she studied environmental economics complimented by perspectives from political ecology, feminist economics, and African philosophy. She worked in the field of environmental economics using life-cycle analyses, true cost accounting, and modelling techniques to calculate socio-environmental value. 

Josephine Becker is a PhD student funded by PROSPERA. She holds a BSc in Environmental Science (University of Dundee, UK) and a MSc in Sustainability and Behaviour Change (Centre for Alternative Technology and Liverpool John Moores University, UK). Her master’s thesis was on the Imaginaries of Degrowth scholars beyond economics, in the pursuit of environmental-just futures. Overall, her research has largely been interdisciplinary, with a strong interest in political ecology, feminist and environmental justice and de/post-growth. 

Alejandro Fortuny Sicart is a PhD student funded by PROSPERA. He studied business management at the University of Salamanca and holds an MBA from the IGR-IAE in Rennes in France. His background includes experiences in the car industry and in cooperative organic food shops in France. He is interested in climate change, social justice and alternative ways of living, consuming, thinking and organising. 

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