The Relational Sociology of Technological Survival: The Exemplifying Case of Eco-Innovation

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Martin DAVID, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Henriette RUTJES, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ, Germany
Alena BLEICHER, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany
While sociology often adopts a capacity-oriented perspective when looking at innovation, our paper intends to provide a relational perspective on innovation relying on the figurational process sociology of Norbert Elias. Taking the example of a German scrap metal recycling network which promotes recycling technologies as eco-innovations, our paper strives to conceptually re-embed phenomena of change in their socio-historical contexts. We will show that relational sociology is a good theoretical conception for aiding the understanding of complex societal phenomena of change as presented by our case study on an emerging eco-innovation. We notably focus on what Norbert Elias called “survival units”. These can be regarded an important momentum of society persisting in the course of time and potential cause for radical societal change. We will show that the innovation looked at in our case study is constructed by what we call a technological survival unit. The technological survival unit reacts with the promotion of progressive technological novelty when it is faced with discontinuities of its existential bases which in our case is mineral mining in the oldest mining area of Germany. In our view, relational sociology re-links the local view on technology development and innovation with its embedding social context and by so doing overcomes the classical structure-agency dilemma.