CfP RGS-IBG 2022: New and critical geographies of innovation

3S members Helen Pallett and Martin Mahony have put out a call for papers for the forthcoming RGS-IBG conference in Newcastle 30th August-2nd September.

These sessions aim to establish and explore an incipient research agenda around new and critical geographies of innovation, bringing together diverse geographical research and practice which challenges conventional narratives of and approaches to innovation. We plan to run a split session around this agenda with an initial papers session (which can be either in-person or online depending on the availability of presenters) followed by a participant-led roundtable discussion supported by facilitators to flesh out this new research agenda. 

It is increasingly being recognised that the “move fast and break things” innovation model which characterises Silicon Valley and innovation more broadly has had damaging social and environmental consequences. This model reflects entrenched assumptions and dynamics in innovation processes and narratives which have long been criticised in geography and cognate disciplines. Such features include a predisposition towards favouring problem-oriented technofixes and novelty, often at the expense of addressing root causes, systemic injustices or recognising the complexity of the matter at hand (see issues of food security or low carbon energy). It has been shown that dominant models of state-, STEM- and entrepreneur-led innovation lack robust processes for foresight and anticipation of the potential consequences of innovations, often resulting in unexpected environmental damage or negative social impacts (see the internal combustion engine or the smart phone). Innovations produced through such processes are normally intended to be marketable products, often aimed at individuals rather than broader communities (see electric cars and pregnancy apps). A lack of deliberate inclusion of citizens and broader civil society in innovation processes has limited their scope and ambition – often reflecting business-as-usual imaginaries of the future being prepared for – and is cited as one of the reasons why new innovations so frequently reinscribe power relations of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and more (see smart cities and smart home technologies). 

Emerging research in human geography challenges this failed and damaging approach to innovation, pointing to ways that we might rehabilitate innovation to more genuinely address societal problems and needs, or to how we might find workable alternatives. This work addresses but is not limited to:

  • Distributed, democratic and open innovation (e.g. Howells, 2012)
  • Frugal and low-tech innovations (e.g. Yu & Gibbs, 2018)
  • Social innovations (e.g. Wittmayer, 2022)
  • Disruptive innovations (e.g. Wilson, 2018)
  • Anti-innovation (e.g. Datta, 2020)
  • Responsible innovation (Macnaghten et al., 2014)

In response, scholars in critical geography and cognate fields have explored new ways to study and enact innovations, including engaged and participatory research (e.g. CLEAR lab, 2022; Chilvers et al., 2021; Schmidt, 2019), and a focus on failed innovations or forms of luddism (e.g. Mahony, 2019). 

If you would like to take part in the papers session please submit an abstract and title of up to 250 words to Helen Pallett (h[.]pallett[at]ea[.]ac[.]uk) by Tuesday 21st March. Please take inspiration from but do not be limited by the themes mentioned above. Please also get in touch with Helen and Martin Mahony (m[.]mahony[at]uea[.]ac[.]uk) if you have an interest in the session theme and are interested in helping to run the roundtable session or have suggestions for an alternative format. 


Chilvers, J., Bellamy, R., Pallett, H., & Hargreaves, T. (2021). A systemic approach to mapping participation with low-carbon energy transitions. Nature Energy, 6(3), 250–259. 

CLEAR lab (2022) CLEAR Lab Book. Accessed February 2022:

Datta, A. (2020) The “Smart Safe City”: Gendered Time, Speed, and Violence in the Margins of India’s Urban Age, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 110:5, 1318-1334.

Howells, J. (2012) The geography of knowledge: never so close but never so far apart, Journal of Economic Geography, 12(5): 1003–1020,

Mahony, M. (2019) Historical Geographies of the Future: Airships and the Making of Imperial Atmospheres, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109:4, 1279-1299.

Macnaghten, P., Owen, R., Stilgoe, J., Wynne, B., Azevedo, A., de Campos, A., Chilvers, J., Dagnino, R., Di Giulio, G., Frow, E. and Garvey, B., 2014. Responsible innovation across borders: tensions, paradoxes and possibilities. Journal of Responsible Innovation, 1(2), pp.191-199.

Schmidt, S. (2019) In the making: Open Creative Labs as an emerging topic in economic geography? Geography Compass. 13(9): e12463

Wilson, C. (2018) Disruptive low-carbon innovations. Energy Research & Social Science. 37 (March 2018): 216-223.

Wittmayer, J., Hielscher, S., Fraaije, M., Avelino, F., & Rogge, K. (2022) A typology for unpacking the diversity of social innovation in energy transitions. Energy Research & Social Science. 88, June 2022, 102513.

Yu, Z. & Gibbs, D. (2018) Social ties, homophily and heterophily in urban sustainability transitions: User practices and solar water heater diffusion in China. Energy Research & Social Science. 46 (December 2018): 236-244.