Imaginaries of innovation

Harro Van Lente*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


This chapter review how recent theories of innovation have highlighted and analysed the status and the role of imaginaries. For this purpose, imaginaries are defined as collectively available symbolic meanings and values. The chapter introduces a typology of imaginaries, distinguishing between narratives, graphs, icons and artefacts, and reviews how these figure in innovation studies. Also the notion of ‘innovation’ itself appears to be an imaginary, as a shorthand for progress, superiority and even modernity itself. Likewise, also theories of innovation may become imaginaries, and, in this way, direct firms, governments and public involvement in innovation. The chapter concludes with a reflection on the ambiguous role of imaginaries in innovation: how they may help but also frustrate the search for improvement. The message is that imaginaries are not innocent side-effects, but vital ingredients, moulding the meaning, use and direction of innovations. Without imaginaries, no innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Alternative Theories of Innovation
EditorsBenoit Godin, Gerald Gaglio, Dominique Vinck
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781789902303
ISBN (Print)9781789902297
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

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