vendredi 18 octobre 2013

Work & Network.

Tobias Revell, 88.7; Stories from the First Transnational Traders, 2012

Collaborative arrangements between different institutions (firm-firm, firm-public sector, government-academic, etc.) have been widely studied in the 1980s and 1990s from the disciplinary perspectives of economics, sociology, public policy, marketing and geography as well as by interdisciplinary groups. While it might be argued that linkages between institutions are always parts of networks (since very institution has many linkages), these agreements have not necessarily been studied in the context of networks. The type of linkages also varies. Some studies focus on collaborations between business firms, where there is usually a formal contract of some kind in order to establish intellectual property rights and avoid opportunist behavior on the part of the partners. Others are concerned with informal as well as formal linkages, between individuals and between organizations, and involving both the public and private sectors. An overview is given in Coombs et al. (1996).

The actor-network perspective of Callon, Latour and others at the Ecole des Mines de Paris differs from other network analyses in a number of ways. The idea of the actor-network (with a hyphen) suggests a combination of agency and structure or context, neither of which exists independently of the other. Networks cannot exist without the actors which make them up, but neither do actors exist independently of their linkages with a variety of other humans and nonhumans - the networks they create in the course of their social existence (including innovation processes), which define who they are and how they function. Emphasis is often placed on the "works" in the word "networks", suggesting the work of constructing the network that takes place when new actors are enlisted. This may be likened to a spiralling process, which widens out as the network of interests expands, like ripples on a pond. Each participant is drawn in by one or more of the others, and the commitment of one is built on that of each of the others. A variety of individuals with different interests are thus all able to realize their separate aims by the achievement of a common goal, with which all their interests become bound up. This enlistment process is called intéressement in actor-network wrtitings.

The concept of translation is particularly important in this approach. It defines the relationship between two actors or intermediaries; that is, one defines the other, thus, imputing it/him/her with certain interests, plans, desires, strategies, reflexes or afterthoughts. These are then inscribed in intermediaries. For example, if one actor is the author of a scientific paper and the other is its audience, the first actor will have defined the target audience and in writing the paper in such a way as to appeal to that audience, will have inscribed that definition on the paper, the intermediary.

A TEN is a term developed by proponents of the actor-network approach to describe the kind of organisational form resulting from links between a variety of heterogeneous actors such as university laboratories, technical research centres, financial organizations, users, public authorities and so on. The definition of Callon (1992) (p.73) is as follows.

"A techno-economic network is a coordinated set of heterogeneous actors... who participate collectively in the conception, development, production and distribution or diffusion of procedures for producing goods and services, some of which give rise to market transactions. In certain cases... the actors behave predictably, and the technology and its products evolve along lines that are relatively easy to characterize... In other cases, the actors composing TENs... develop complicated strategies, there may be a number of innovations, and these provoke unexpected rearrangements. They can seperate into smaller networks, or they can join other TENs to form more or less extensive ones".

Such organisational forms are developed to carry out cooperative research, such as that conducted within the framework of European programmes, and to gain maximum benefit from the output, though they also exist outside the framework of formal agreements or technological co-operation programs. These organised relations mobilise various types of intermediaries and coordination mechanisms embracing all elements and actors in the innovation process, not just research. Larédo and Mustar (1996) argue that the TEN is a new form of economic actor, which creates collective knowledge and skills. They call the research carried out "basic technological research". It is "basic" because a large majority of the research teams, not just academics, place a great deal of emphasis on outputs normally regarded as "academic" such as PhD theses and publications in refereed journals. It is "technological" because a majority of the teams, and not just those from industry, take part on the assumption that a new commercial product or process will (eventually) result from work. It is generally argued that TENs are organised around three "poles", though de Laat (1996) has produced a model with a fourth pole, one around government agencies and other public authorities. The three poles (Callon, 1992; OECD, 1992) are the scientific, the technical and the market poles.

As Callon sees it, in economics, it is things - intermediaries - which bring actors in relationships with each other. The intermediary passes between them and constitutes the form and substance of the relationship between them (e.g., a product passing from producer to customer). In sociology, the behaviour of actors can only be understood in the context within which they are being analysed and actors cannot be dissociated from the relationships into which they enter. Callon suggests that the viewpoints of sociologists and economists can be brought together by focusing on actors who recognise themselves in interaction, and interaction embodied in intermediaries that they themselves put into circulation.

Ken Green, Richard Hull, Andrew McMeekin & Vivien Walsh, The Construction of the Techno-economic: Networks vs. Paradigms in Research Policy, 28, 1999, p.778-779.

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