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The politics of scaling

Abstract : A fixation on ‘scaling up’ has captured current innovation discourses and, with it, political and economic life at large. Perhaps most visible in the rise of platform technologies, big data and concerns about a new era of monopolies, scalability thinking has also permeated public policy in the search for solutions to ‘grand societal challenges’, ‘mission-oriented innovation’ or transformations through experimental ‘living labs’. In this paper, we explore this scalability zeitgeist as a key ordering logic of current initiatives in innovation and public policy. We are interested in how the explicit preoccupation with scalability reconfigures political and economic power by invading problem diagnoses and normative understandings of how society and social change function. The paper explores three empirical sites – platform technologies, living labs and experimental development economics – to analyze how scalability thinking is rationalized and operationalized. We suggest that social analysis of science and technology needs to come to terms with the ‘politics of scaling’ as a powerful corollary of the ‘politics of technology’, lest we accept the permanent absence from key sites where decisions about the future are made. We focus in on three constitutive elements of the politics of scaling: solutionism, experimentalism and future-oriented valuation. Our analysis seeks to expand our vocabulary for understanding and questioning current modes of innovation that increasingly value scaling as an end in itself, and to open up new spaces for alternative trajectories of social transformation.
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Submitted on : Monday, October 11, 2021 - 5:17:44 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 3:07:44 AM

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Sebastian Pfotenhauer, Brice Laurent, Kyriaki Papageorgiou, And Jack Stilgoe. The politics of scaling. Social Studies of Science, SAGE Publications, 2021, pp.1-32. ⟨10.1177/03063127211048945⟩. ⟨hal-03373913⟩

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