The hidden side of innovation: why tinkerers matter
Theories of innovation have drawn on the dominant form that the process took in the 1960s and 1970s: one characterized by high-tech endeavors, usually based on formal research and scientific investigations, involving patenting and corporations' research laboratories. Those specific assumptions and conceptions of the innovation process overshadowed the role of material action and of materiality in creating new knowledge. The paper points out how materiality Ðin particular the physical creation of artifacts out of available resourcesÐ is a fundamental element in innovation, in particular in generating novel knowledge. We advance an analytical and theoretical framework to think about the role of ÒmakingÓ things Ð defined as ÒtinkeringÓ Ð in innovation processes. We identify three functions to tinkering. First, tinkering is conceived as a form of epistemic action that generates abstract knowledge in and of itself. Second, tinkering orients the emergence of filieres and artifacts towards contributions to specialized innovative labor. Finally, we posit that tinkering is a way of framing innovation and of mobilizing resources and attention to obtain legitimation in industries and in markets. In order to ground our definition and conceptual framing of tinkering, we illustrate the case of the airplane and of the historical development of the aircraft industry as an example to clarify our propositions. The paper closes by proffering avenues for further investigations.
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