Discourses of Innovation and Development: Insights from Ethnographic Case Studies in Bangladesh and India
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In the 1990s, the topics of development and poverty, once dominated by development economists, appeared on the radar of management, organizational studies and innovation scholars. A huge variety of terms, some historical like ‘appropriate technology’ and some others totally new like ‘frugal innovation’, ‘Jugaad innovation’ and ‘inclusive innovation’ began to populate the business and management literature. Concurrently, the field of development studies became progressively hybridised with elements from business and innovation studies. This thesis contributes to the analysis of this ‘cross-pollination’ between the discourses of development and the discourses of Innovation. The research discusses how the meaning of innovation, an interpretively flexible and contested ‘buzzword’ with the capacity to shelter multiple political agendas, is constructed within the discourses and practices of development to support and further the values and interests of those actors who employ it. By telling the stories of four different communities of practitioners in Bangladesh and India, this thesis validates, on one hand, some of the conclusions of the extant literature concerning innovation in resource-constrained environments. On the other hand, it provides original insights about the construction of the discourse of innovation and technical change in situated practices. The cases confirm that innovation can and does spring from resource-constrained conditions, where it is often driven and shaped not only by malfunctioning formal and informal institutions, market mechanisms and a weak private sector, but also by traditional knowledge, empathy and cultural motives. At the same time, the findings reveal that technological innovation is neither necessary nor sufficient to reverse the causes of poverty and exclusion, historically major targets for development. In certain circumstances, innovation can even reinforce unequal power relationships by favouring those who already enjoy privileged positions in the community. In three of the four cases analysed, the discourse of innovation attempt to transform the social practices of ‘the beneficiaries’, promoting all the features typical of neoliberal agenda such as competitiveness, ownership, productivity, efficiency and market-oriented production, while at the same time dismissing pre-existing or alternative subsistence patterns of life and nonmarketable solutions. These dynamics present within an emergent, hegemonic discourse of ‘Inclusive business’, which is inspired by the desire to include people within the framework of the market economy, fighting the informal economy and, ultimately, erasing subsistence. What emerges from the research is that discourses of social justice and political transformation have been marginalised, if not completely neglected, in discourses of innovation and development. The thesis, however, describes that the meaning of innovation in the context of development remains contested. There exist countervailing voices that, despite being a minority, have and continue to open up the debate about the value of innovation and technological change as an instrument for social transformation.
PhD in Management Studies