Assistant Professorship for Innovation Research

Innovation, Society & Public Policy

Innovation has become a leitmotif of policy-making and institution-building around the globe. Hardly a week passes without a government announcing an innovation strategy for a region or country, a company announcing a major technological breakthrough, or an organization branding itself a driver of innovation. Innovation has become a go-to answer – a panacea – that carries the promise of solving socioeconomic problems almost irrespective of what and where precisely these problems are – from economic growth and competitiveness to sustainability, transportation, energy transitions, urban sprawl, the future of manufacturing and communication, all the way to inequality, social cohesions, and democratic deficits. As a result, innovation agendas are setting the tone in domains as diverse as research, education, development, immigration, environment, humanitarian aid, employment, taxation, security, and risk governance, reshaping societies and public policy in fundamental ways. Indeed, it has become virtually impossible to talk about economic development and social progress in terms that do not invoke, explicitly or implicitly, the need for innovation. The all-pervasive imperative to innovate together with the ever-growing infusion of human life with science and technology are the cornerstones of contemporary “innovation societies.”

The MCTS research group Innovation, Society and Public Policy (ISPP) investigates the practices, knowledge structures, and political and economic processes underwriting today’s innovation-driven societies, both at the level public policy (e.g. national and regional innovation strategies, research infrastructures, sustainability transitions) and concrete technologies (e.g. electric mobility, satellites, or robotics). Across a range of domains and projects, we are committed to a strong co-productionist approach that treats technoscientific and societal changes as essentially interrelated and co-evolving. Our research group brings together perspectives from science and technology studies (STS), public policy, management, anthropology, and engineering to study cultural, political, and economic dynamics that shape, and are being shaped by, innovation in the making.

Among the questions that drive research in our group are:

  • What is innovation? How do the notions and practices of innovation differ across regions, political and organizational cultures?
  • How do governments and institutions go about building scientific, technological or innovation capacity?
  • How do societies envision their future and express social values through projects of science, technology, and innovation?
  • How do science, technology, and innovation play out in inter- and transnational settings?
  • How can we govern science, technology innovation responsibly, sustainably, deliberatively, and inclusively?

Master´s Theses

The research group accepts requests for the supervision of Master’s theses in any of the above projects, as well as on topics in the intersection of innovation, society, and politics. For more information, please click here.

Media, Consulting, and Speaking Requests

Prof. Pfotenhauer and his group welcome media, consulting, and speaking inquiries on the following topics:

  • Regional Innovation Strategies
  • Ethics / Responsible Research and Innovation
  • Politics and Regulation
  • Internationalisation
  • Energy Transitions
  • Future of Mobility
  • Technology & Security
  • Innovation & Education 


Traveling Imaginaries of Innovation

This project traces the circulation of organizational “best practice” models of innovation – such as the MIT model or the Silicon Valley model – around the globe. By studying how different regions envision, mobilize, and implement these models in unique ways, we explore the sociocultural contingency of innovation practice and ways in which innovation initiatives depend on culturally specific diagnoses of deficiency. The project addresses the tension between universality and cultural specificity in innovation models. (Pfotenhauer, Wentland, Ruge)

Complex International Science, Technology, and Innovation Partnerships (CISTIPs)

Complex international partnerships have emerged as a policy instrument of choice for many governments to build domestic capacity in science, technology and innovation with the help of foreign expert partners. In this project, analyze CISTIPs across a variety of sectors and institutional configurations, including university partnerships and satellite initiatives. Combining approaches from systems architecture, STS, technology policy, and network analysis, we map how in each country distinct capacity-building goals, activities, and political and institutional contexts translate into different partnership policy and institutional architectures. (Pfotenhauer, Hird, Wood, Newman)

Making Europe Through and For its Laboratories (METALABS)

This project aims to explore how transnational European research infrastructures have been both a vehicle for, and the beneficiaries of, European integration project. By studying how different generations of European research infrastructures embody different visions and models for European integration, we demonstrate how trans-national science and trans-national European sociopolitical orders have been co-produced with one another. (Pfotenhauer, Witjes)

Technopolitics of Future Mobility

This project explores potentially disruptive changes in the field of transportation, focusing on salient topics such as the electrification of transportation, autonomous vehicles, the car/ride sharing economy, and visions of a post-car society. Our conceptual and empirical work tackles these phenomena not as isolated cases but as a constitutive part of modern technologized societies. In order to understand current developments and visions around mobility, this project engages with the history of transportation as well as past and present imaginaries of the future. (Wentland, Pfotenhauer)

Energy Infrastructures and Sociotechnical Vulnerability

The modernization of infrastructures such as the electrical power grid has become a large-scale transformation. Many experts consider a decentralized, ICT-based “smart” grid to be key to decarbonizing energy production and consumption. In contrast to the prevalent techno-optimism, this project deals with the dark underbelly of interconnected infrastructures. Malicious attacks on cyber-physical systems have recently shown the vulnerability of modern grid architectures. Our efforts aim at developing a framework that theorizes the repercussions of modernization not in terms of risk but as sociotechnical vulnerability. (Wentland)

Experiments, Test-beds, and Public Enactments of Energy Transitions

Technology is no longer expected to follow the linear model of innovation. In particular, quasi-experimental situations where scientists and engineers work across disciplines and social settings and test new sociotechnical configurations at small scale in “living labs” are becoming the norm. This project looks at how test-beds, living labs, public demonstration projects and other forms of collective open innovation are changing the repertoire of researchers, policy makers, and companies. In particular, it studies the range of new hybrid configurations found in sustainable energy systems and associated transition processes. (Engels, Wentland, Pfotenhauer)

Innovation, National Security, International Relations

Combining approaches from STS and Critical Security Studies, we explore the role of technological innovation and knowledge practices in securitization processes. Current security policies are promoting technology-based anticipation, preparedness, prevention and protection to address potential future threats and catastrophes resulting from terrorism or natural disaster. By tracing the entanglements between industries, political institutions, and users, we explore how visions about control, safety and vulnerability are co-produced with security devices and policy, and how new security technologies interact with issues of privacy and democracy. (Witjes)

Reconsidering Education: in Indigenous Sovereignty, Food Activism, and Agricultural Biotechnology

Based on ethnographic research on Kauaʻi (Hawaiʻi), anthropologist Mascha Gugganig investigates the different forms that education and expertise take on in Hawaiian cultural education, land and food sovereignty, and agricultural biotechnology. At MCTS, Mascha will continue her project to analyze how innovation gets mobilized in scientific claims to advance food resilience (e.g. via biotechnology), and how experimental systems and innovation emerge in revived Indigenous (land) epistemologies and practices.

Robotics Innovation Cultures

Robotics research and innovation play a central role in the innovation strategy pursued by the European Commission within the 7th Framework Programme. This project takes a closer look at the implementation and governance of such research projects, focusing on how visions for the social transformation and potential social conflicts arising from robotics innovation are reflected by the structure of existing projects. These questions are further addressed through the comparative perspective on different innovation and robotics cultures through an analysis of similar initiatives in different regions – Europe, the US, Korea – which negotiate the intersection between different notions of robotics innovation and their societal context in unique ways. (Pepponi, Pfotenhauer)

Responsible Innovation in Transnational Governance-Settings

Concepts and instruments geared towards responsibility in science, technology and innovation are increasingly being picked up by governments and organizations around the world (e.g. Responsible Research and Innovation, Open Innovation, Inclusive Innovation). Transnational policy organizations such as the EU and the OECD are key drivers of the circulation of these frameworks and practices, and of efforts to mainstream and scale-up local experiences and situated trajectories of dealing responsibly with science, technology and innovation. This project aims to understand the tensions, potentials and limits of generalizing responsible innovation frameworks and practices across heterogeneous national and political cultures and diverse techno-economic domains through a case study of the OECD. (Frahm, Pfotenhauer)