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Session Overview
PS-2.03: Indigenous knowledge, informal sector, innovation and development 2
Thursday, 13/Oct/2016:
8:30am - 10:00am

Session Chair: Deepa V K, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Discussant: Judith Sutz, Universidad de la República
Location: Savoy Room-3 (Homann)

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Informal Sector Innovations in the Annals of the History: Exploring its Contributions and the Politics of Undervaluation

Fayaz Ahmad Sheikh


Informal economy is ubiquitous. It is idiosyncratically pervasive both in developed and developing economies. It is estimated that half the workers of the world –close to 1.8 billion people are working in this sector. Considering the enormous size of informal sector and its contributions to the various GDP’s, it has rightly become an increasingly popular subject of study in social science. Policy makers and academicians alike are widely attracted to this field of research. Yet, from the beginning the concept of the ‘informal economy,’ and its myriad of related activities captured by various terms have been the subject of much controversy. Notwithstanding the conceptual vagueness, many studies have attempted delineate on its several components like labour conditions and nature of the work. Regrettably, very few studies have explicitly explored the knowledge component of this sector which lie at the core of its competitive advantage. Very little is known about how knowledge is generated, diffused, monetized and protected in this sector. This paper towards this direction is an attempt to conceptualize informal sector innovations and explore the contributions if any this sector has made in the past. An attempt is made to explore the political, philosophical and social reasons which has led to the undervaluation of the informal sector innovations.

What can ethnography contribute to innovation studies in the global South?

Marcela Suárez Estrada

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Innovation studies research is at the forefront of recent theoretical and interdisciplinary debates. However, it also faces at least three methodological challenges, namely: the need for empirical strategies to analyse inclusive innovations, the need to conduct symmetrical cutting-edge research in both theory and methods rather than giving lopsided emphasis to one or the other, and the need to adequately grasp the multiple, multi-sited and mobile character of social phenomena as well as the diverse impacts of digital culture in our lives stemming from globalisation. This article aims to analyse the potentialities that ethnographical approaches have in facing these challenges, and multi-sited and digital ethnographical approaches in particular. Ethnography will be explored here as a flexible research strategy to grasp phenomena but also to develop theories closer to local actors and their different types of knowledge in the global South. These reflections about methods in innovation studies are also an opportunity to take part in a renewed discussion about how to conduct research in a more collaborative and inclusive way.

Adjusting Qualitative Research Methods for Innovation Studies

Nadja Nordling1, Rhiannon Pugh2

1University of Tampere, Finland; 2Uppsala University, Sweden

This paper draws attention on how in innovation studies, from the qualitative perspective, there is a stark mismatch between the wealth of qualitative methods available, and the narrow selection most commonly employed. The ordinary methodology is a case study approach that is usually drawing on the same accustomed range of qualitative methods, and it seems that as these methods have been widely used and thus many more, alternative, methods have not. Also, the methods used usually support doing research rather top down than bottom up leaving the voices of many groups unheard.

Why are a wider range of qualitative methods not employed by the innovation policy studies community? What can different qualitative methods bring to innovation policy research?

We find case studies more appropriate to study activities in the formal sector but in order to understand activities in the informal sector, we suggest that adjusted – more participative and inclusive methods – qualitative research methods are in order. In addition, we believe that by using adjusted methods a deeper understanding of the formulation and development of innovation policies is possible. We do not argue that the old methods should be put aside entirely, but rather suggest that a wider range of methods should be composed to capture the essence of policy formulation.

Based on past studies, we have identified some methodologies from the suite of qualitative research that are repeated and seem to be the most favored approaches for conducting research in innovation studies. In this paper, we review these common approaches, describe how they work and give examples of how they have been used by scholars in the past. We also introduce adjusted qualitative methods that emphasize more participative and inclusive approaches to conduct research. These approaches are well established in other fields of the social sciences, but have yet to create a big impact in innovation studies. From our own experiences of using some more participative methods in our research, especially in innovation policy, we reflect on some of the opportunities these other methods provide to enhance research in innovation studies, but also some of the pitfalls encountered and thoughts on how these can be avoided. Rather than presenting “new” methods or approaches, this paper suggests some incremental steps that could be taken to build upon the existing strengths in the innovation studies discipline, and re-orient ourselves to a more inclusive mode of practice.

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