Encountering Innovation, Countering Innovation

  • Lilly Irani


What could be gained by putting science and technology studies (STS) in conversation with innovation studies (IS)? These distinct fields have shared people over decades, as they build concepts, careers, institutions, and even nations. I review how this collection offers accounts of how STS and IS have been practiced in different times and locations: resisting underdevelopment, Western and middle-class assumptions about progress, or technology-centric policy. I argue, however, that it is critical to clarify the difference between innovation as an analytic and as an emic and ideological category. Neither STS nor IS should take for granted the ways political economy, class relations, racialization and gendering, and even national(ist) ideologies shape what counts as desirable forms of newness, what newness ought to be contained or criminalized, and the hierarchies of socio-technical transformation that emerge out of that. I offer three examples: San Diego’s “smart streetlights” program where “innovation” as an ideology devalues or erases the creativity and knowledge already manifest among residents; Amazon® Mechanical Turk worker advocacy and the limits of doing scholarship with policy relevance when workers do not have organized power; and mid-twentieth-century Iran, where I show what IBM® throwing computers into the ocean can tell us about innovation as a form of enclosure, repression, empire, and waste of collective resources and knowledge.


Becerra, Lucas, and Hernán Thomas. 2023. “Innovation Doesn’t Work: The Explanatory Power of a Socio-Technical Approach.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 66–74.


Brandão, Tiago, and Carolina, Bagattolli. 2023. “Bringing Fences Down: The Role of Critical Innovation Studies in Engaging STS with Innovation and the Contribution of Benoît Godin.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2):57–65.


Cortada, James W. 2012 .“6 Limits of Diffusion: Computing in the Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic and Eastern Europe.” In The Digital Flood: The Diffusion of Information Technology Across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, edited by James W. Cortada, 238–306. Oxford University Press.


Costanza-Chock, Sasha. 2020. Design Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Da Costa Marques, Ivan. 2005. “Cloning Computers: From Rights of Possession to Rights of Creation.” Science as Culture 14(2): 139–160.


Crooks, Roderic. 2022. Toward People’s Community Control of Technology: Race, Access, and Education.


Davis, Kristina. 2018. “Rapper ‘Tiny Doo’ and College Student Arrested under Controversial Gang Law Get Day in Court Against Police.” San Diego Union-Tribune. Accessed August 1, 2023.


Duarte, Marisa Elena. 2017. Network Sovereignty: Building the Internet Across Indian Country. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Fouché, Rayvon. 2006. “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud: African Americans, American Artifactual Culture, and Black Vernacular Technological Creativity.” American Quarterly 58(3): 639–61.


Godin, Benoît. 2016. “Technological Innovation: On the Origins and Development of an Inclusive Concept.” Technology and Culture 57(3): 527–56.


Goldenfein, Jake, Lilly Irani, J. Khadijah Abdurahman, and Alex Hanna. 2022. “‘Dropouts’: An Interview.” In Economies of Virtue: The Circulation of “Ethics” in AI, edited by Thao Phan, Jake Goldenfein, Declan Kuch, and Monique Mann, 160–74. Amsterdam: Institute for Network Cultures. Accessed August 1, 2023.


Gray, Mary L., and Siddharth Suri. 2019. Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 575–99.

Heidari, Arash, Nima Jafari Navimipour, and Mehmet Unal. 2022. “The History of Computing in Iran (Persia)—Since the Achaemenid Empire.” Technologies 10(4): 94.


Horst, Maja. 2023. “Dissolving Boundaries in the Policy System.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 112–117.


Irani, Lilly. 2015a. “The Cultural Work of Microwork.” New Media & Society 17(5): 720–39.


⸻. 2015b. “Justice for ‘Data Janitors.’” Blog. Public Books.


⸻. 2019. Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Irani, Lilly, and Khalid Alexander. 2022. “The Oversight Bloc.” Logic(s) 15.


Irwin, Alan. 2023. “STS and Innovation: Borderlands, Regenerations and Critical Engagements.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 41–56.


Johnson, Cedric. 2021. “Huey P. Newton and the Last Days of the Black Colony.” Dissent 68(3): 173–86.


Kogut, Bruce. 1985. “Designing Global Strategies: Comparative and Competitive Value-Added Chains.” MIT Sloan Management Review 26(4): 15–28.

Koran, Mario. 2017. “Sheriff’s Department: Yes, We Called Border Patrol on Undocumented Couple; No, We Didn’t Violate Policy.” Voice of San Diego.


Mavhunga, Clapperton. 2017. What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


McGee, Ebony Omotola. 2020. “Interrogating Structural Racism in STEM Higher Education.” Educational Researcher 49(9): 633–44.


Menon, Nikhil. 2018. “‘Fancy Calculating Machine’: Computers and Planning in Independent India.” Modern Asian Studies 52(2): 421–57.


Morozov, Evgeny. 2013. To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, Hatchett Press.

Narayan, John. 2020. “Survival Pending Revolution: Self-Determination in the Age of Proto-Neo-Liberal Globalization.” Current Sociology 68(2): 187–203.


Newton, Huey. 2002. “The Technology Question: 1972.” In The Huey P. Newton Reader, edited by David Hilliard and Donald Weise, 256–66. Seven Stories Press.

Nguyen, Lilly U. 2016. “Infrastructural action in Vietnam: Inverting the techno-politics of hacking in the global South.” New Media & Society 18( 4): 637-652.

Oldenziel, Ruth. 1999. Making Technology Masculine: Men, Women and Modern Machines in America, 1870–1945. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Parthasarathy, Shobita. 2023. “A Tale of Two Perspectives on Innovation and Global Equity.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 97–106.


Partnership for the Advancement of New Amercians (PANA). n.d. Countering Violent Extremism: Surveillance of San Diego’s Muslim Refugee Communities. San Diego, CA: Majdal Center.


Perold, Colette. 2020. “The Empire of Informatics: IBM in Brazil Before Modern Computing.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Pierre, Jennifer, Roderic Crooks, Morgan Currie, Britt Paris, et al. 2021. “Getting Ourselves Together: Data-Centered Participatory Design Research and Epistemic Burden.” In Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–11. New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery.


Pfotenhauer, Sebastian, Brice Laurent, Kyriaki Papageorgiou, and and Jack Stilgoe. 2021. “The Politics of Scaling.” Social Studies of Science 52(1): 3–34.


Philip, Kavita. 2005. “What Is a Technological Author? The Pirate Function and Intellectual Property.” Postcolonial Studies 8(2): 199–218.


Philip, Kavita, Lilly Irani, and Paul Dourish. 2012. “Postcolonial Computing A Tactical Survey.” Science, Technology & Human Values 37(1): 3–29.

Prashad, Vijay. 2012. The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. London; New York: Verso.

Prieto Ñañez, Fabian. 2022. “Assembling a Colombian-Cloned Computer: National Development and the Transnational Trade of Electronics Parts in the 1980s.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 44(2): 55–64.


Rai, Amit. 2019. Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Reuter, Elise. 2019. “Hackathon Enlists San Diego Developers to Find Smart Solutions for City Problems.” Blog. San Diego Business Journal. Accessed August 1, 2023.


Sandvig, Christian. 2012. “Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain.” In Race After the Internet, edited by Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow White, 168-200. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sadowski, Jathan, and Roy Bendor. 2019. “Selling Smartness: Corporate Narratives and the Smart City as a Sociotechnical Imaginary.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 44(3): 540–63.


Sekhsaria, Pankaj. 2023. “What is Innovation in the Non-English Languages?” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 75–81.


Sojoyner, Damien M. 2022. Joy and Pain: A Story of Black Life and Liberation in Five Albums. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520390430.

Sutz, Judith. 2023. “Frugal Ground for STS and IS: Problems of Innovation and their Commonalities.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 82–86


TallBear, Kim. 2014. “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry.” Journal of Research Practice 10(2): 1–7.

Tandon, Udayan, Vera Khovanskaya, Enrique Arcilla, Mikaiil Haji Hussein, et al. 2022. “Hostile Ecologies: Navigating the Barriers to Community-Led Innovation.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction (CSCW2). 6(443):1–26.


Tyabji, Nasir. 2004. “Gaining Technical Know-How in an Unequal World: Penicillin Manufacture in Nehru’s India.” Technology and Culture 45(2): 331–49.


Walia, Harsha. 2012. “Decolonizing Together.” In Organize! Building from the Local for Global Justice, Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley & Eric Shragge, 240–53. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Wyatt, Sally. 2023. “A Journey through STS and Innovation Studies.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 9(2): 112–117.


Zukin, Sharon, ed. 2020. “Imagining Innovation.” In The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


31 Dec 2023
Thematic Collections