Understanding Regional Innovation Cultures

A comparison of five German urban regions and their adoption of best practice models of innovation


What is the study about?

The project aims to place questions of local cultures, identities, and social needs at the center of innovation theory. A three-year comparative analysis of five different German urban regions – Berlin, Dortmund, Dresden, Karlsruhe and Munich, – explores how these regions navigate the tensions between abstract models of innovation and local socio-cultural embeddedness. This study aims to understand how each region demonstrates the purpose, mechanics, and limits of innovation differently.

All five city-regions stand out for their strong technical universities and recent initiatives to promote science and technology. Yet, beyond the usual indicators of innovativeness, we seek to understand sociologically how each city-region takes a distinct path to situate itself, along with its changing economy, history, and cultural diversity, in the “innovation society.”

As a result of the project, the concept of regional cultures of innovation will be developed, allowing local differences to be better reflected and accounted for in both innovation theory and public policy.

Why is this topic important?

It is virtually impossible to talk about economic development or societal progress without explicitly or implicitly addressing the need for innovation. Innovation is presented as an important driver of competitiveness and long-term prosperity. It is seen as an essential prerequisite for a better future and a solution to new and persistent challenges – whether in health, demographic change, sustainability, food, poverty, inequality, education, or transportation – almost regardless of where or what the specific challenges are.

Yet more than ever, rifts are also opening up when it comes to shaping innovation and the distribution of its benefits. Although innovation policy has become increasingly scientified and institutionalized, promises by science and technology initiatives to actually boost regions and cities nevertheless regularly fail. The geography of Germany’s declared high-tech hubs remains uneven, dominated by a select few research-rich and affluent urban region.

Popular models of successful innovation, such as the formation of clusters in the sense of Silicon Valley or the coupling of technical universities with the start-up scene, analogous to the U.S. MIT model, and the plans to reproduce this in new places, are reaching their limits in many places.

In connection with this, the innovation research itself also faces many unresolved questions: how can local, social, and cultural factors be seriously incorporated into theory building? How can social science research on innovation help policymakers as well as the public shape innovation initiatives in culturally appropriate and socially robust ways?

Project team:

Prof. Sebastian Pfotenhauer
Dr. Alexander Wentland
Luise Ruge, M.A.

Augustenstraße 44-46
80333 München


Project leader(s):
Prof. Dr. S. Pfotenhauer, Dr. A. Wentland

04.2018 – 04.2021

Project type:
["Drittmittelprojekt \/ Third-party funded Project"]

Funding institution: