Accepted paper:

Turning Wallonia into a lab: when economic strategies meet creativity and experimentation dynamics


Hadrien Macq (University of Li├Ęge)

Paper short abstract:

This communication will analyse the political legitimacy of emerging forms of public participation in innovation-making processes (e.g. Living and Fab Labs). It will highlight the potential tension between an appeal to creativity and experimentation and the rigidity of controlled economic strategies

Paper long abstract:

Over the last four decades, modes of governance of science, technology and innovation (STI) gradually shifted in new directions. First, STI governance has known a so-called 'participatory turn', influenced by a deliberative ideal and supposed to enrich democratic orders by including publics in STI decision-making processes. This participatory turn was extensively analysed in the STS literature, as it opened up new ways of governing STI through an array of democratic experimentations. More recently, other practices of experimentation with publics emerged, differing from deliberative ones as they seek to include publics directly in innovation-making processes. Especially in the European Union, multiple public authorities started to promote and enact concepts and practices such as 'citizen-science' and 'open-innovation'. Wallonia (Belgium) has been at the forefront of this shift. In 2010, public authorities launched a political strategy emphasizing the rhetoric of 'experimentation' and a vision of 'society-as-a-lab'. Striving for economic redeployment, they called for the establishment of new 'open' spaces, including Living- and Fab-Labs, portrayed as 'creative' and 'innovative'. Whereas STS scholarship has started to pay attention to the innovation potential of these emerging spaces, little has been done to analyse them as democratic practices directly participating to the governance of STI. This communication, informed by interviews and documents analysis, scrutinizes such practices and the political discourses that underpin them to understand the political legitimacy that these forms of public participation enjoy. The communication highlights the potential tension between an appeal to bottom-up creativity and experimentation, and the rigidity of top-down controlled economic strategies.

panel F09
Democracies of controlled experimentation? The emerging landscape of social laboratories