Theme: Innovation, artificial, intelligence and digitalisation: Technology

Convenors: Francesco Gerli, Tiresia Research Center- Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering – Politecnico of Milan; Benedetta De Pieri, Tiresia Research Center- Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering – Politecnico of Milan

Objectives: The agglomeration of technology-related competences and innovation knowledge in urban areas has led in the last decades to growing regional inequalities (Rosés and Wolf 2018; Rodrìguez Pose, 2018). At the same time, the emergence in rural areas of social entrepreneurial activities has been recognised as an important driver to address social needs, reduce inequalities and strengthen local communities (Steiner & Teasdale, 2018). This working group aims at stimulating a debate around the role of “social tech” firms in rural areas, regarded as an advanced form of social innovation where advanced technology is ‘redistributed’ in marginalised areas through social business models.

The primary goal of this working group is to open a discussion about the role and potential of existing social tech firms in rural areas and to collect theoretical contributions among the academic community. The working group adopts a multidisciplinary approach and expect contributions from different disciplines, such as Sociology, Management, Engineering, Economics, Urban Studies.

Topic: This working group sets out to stimulate the debate about the transformative potential of technological social business in rural areas. The topic is at the crossroads of various streams of literature and opens up to multifaceted interdisciplinary connections. Technological social business in rural areas can be framed into a socially inclusive approach to knowledge economy which is coherent with the perspective of “inclusive vanguardism” as theoretically outlined by Unger (2017). The theme is also related to recent works by Regional Economists, such as Rodrìguez Pose (2018) and Rosés and Wolf (2018), who investigate the relation between the rise of regional and territorial inequalities and the growth of technology intensive “knowledge economy”. A deeper understanding of the current and prospective role of technological social businesses in rural areas is also related, from the perspective of Rural Sociology, to the capacity of social innovations in marginalised communities to foster local development (Bock, 2016; Neumeier, 2017).

A local development model fostered through technological social entrepreneurship and social tech may actually overcome the dualism between exogenous or endogenous development strategies. The potential of socially inclusive technological firms appears in line with a “nexogenonous” mixed model of development (Bock, 2016), which stresses the role of “socio-political reconnection as an engine of revitalisation”, embedding innovation with the development of local social capital (Murphy et al, 2017). Finally, this theme is directly linked to the rich literature exploring the geography of innovation (Baptista 2001, Hagerstrand, 1968; Geng and Huang, 2016) as well as its scalability, replicability and transferability in different geographic contexts. The working group could also allow to deepen the understanding of the scalability and transferability of social innovations compared to “non-social” and “traditional” ones.

Format: Given the novelty of the social tech phenomenon in rural areas and the need to identify and share cases, the working group will be conducted with a highly participatory approach. After a brief introduction the lightning talk model will allow participants to give short presentations (5-8 minutes) followed by an open discussion.


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