A founding role in the constitution and development of Science and Technology Studies
The Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI), founded in 1967, became one of the world’s leading research centres in the field of Science and Technology Studies in the 1980s, when Michel Callon and Bruno Latour among others developed a new approach known as the «sociology of translation» or Actor-Network Theory (ANT).
Actor-Network Theory proposed an alternative to the debate between realism – knowledge as a reflection of an outside reality – and constructivism – knowledge as the product of human activities -, a debate in which the latter was accused by the former of relativism (knowledge being seen as nothing more than the expression of a certain state of society at a certain point in time). By examining the actual production of reality and knowledge from a resolutely pragmatist point of view, this new approach made it possible to revive the debate on new terms.
Actor-Network Theory focuses on analysing the practices of actors, and has developed several concepts – translation, socio-technical network, mediation – for the understanding of the way in which knowledge or innovations are progressively constituted and in turn transform our societies.
For more details, see: Akrich, M., Callon, M. and Latour, B. (2006), Sociologie de la traduction. Textes fondateurs, Paris : Presses des Mines.
An approach at the crossroads between STS, sociology, economics and political science
The CSI was originally primarily concentrated on the study of research and innovation as such, with a specific focus on three complementary themes: the anthropology of science and technology, which proposed a new description and understanding of scientific, technical and cultural innovation; research and innovation policies revisited in terms of this new conceptualization of the development of science and techniques; and the construction of markets and uses, a theme which has made it possible to show the active role of market intermediaries and users in the transformation of socio-technical networks, and thus their participation to the innovation process.
The CSI extended its practical and theoretical research work into new territory: the environment, transportation, security, services, health, communication, tastes, etc. After defining the terms of an innovation-centred sociology, the CSI aimed to show how taking objects into account – a crucial ANT standpoint – makes it possible to address a number of classical issues from a new angle. In political science: how can the production of a common will be reconceptualised and decision making in situations of extreme uncertainty be facilitated? But also in economics: how can the analysis of markets be revisited when the role played by technical and calculating devices is taken into account? And in sociology: how can one analyse the construction of people, subjects, collectives, tastes, competencies, etc., when one no longer relies on a sharp divide between individuals or defined groups, on the one hand, and devices or products, on the other?
In recent years, its work has been extended to research issues that overlap in a variety of areas: the formats of technical democracy (social experimentation, public debate and the creation of collectives); the economy in the making (socio-technical devices, economics, management science and performativity) or the constitution of individuals and collectives (mediation, attachments and forms of experience).
The CSI’s current research develops this approach around four major themes:
- experimentation as a modality of collective action
- the place of markets within society
- knowledge policies
- maintenance and sustainability
From the outset, research at the CSI has always been carried out in partnership, in the broad sense of the word, encompassing both its financial and scientific dimensions.
The research contracts primarily involve partnerships with the public sector. The ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) as well as various French agencies (HAS, AFSSET, INCA, INHES, etc.), as well as the European Commission, are major funders.
Over the years, the experimentation of new collaborative research formats has led to the publication of books, recommendations and even a draft law. Carried out within the framework of collaborative projects, seminars or focus groups, these initiatives have involved a variety of partners alongside CSI researchers – including researchers from various disciplines, activists and representatives of associations, and practitioners (nurses, physicians, lawyers).
The CSI was instrumental in the creation of the Observatory for Responsible Innovation, an independent think tank for the development and discussion of measures and methods to promote responsible innovation; Fabian Muniesa, a researcher at the CSI, is the Executive Director of the Observatory. Observatory website →
A centre open to international exchange
The CSI is a recognised laboratory with an international presence. A large volume of publications in international journals makes its work accessible to non-French speakers. The CSI maintains its involvement in numerous research projects in partnership with European and international partners. It also continues its tradition of inviting 4 to 5 international visiting scholars per year for stays of at least two months.
A wide range of teaching activities
Members of the CSI participate in teaching at various levels:
– Engineering Programme at Mines ParisTech: Description of Controversies; Society, History, Culture; Minor in Public Affairs and Innovation.
– Master’s Programmes: in the framework of masters at Paris I, Paris III, Sciences Po, University of Bordeaux, International University College of Turin. At Mines ParisTech, teaching and supervision of students in the framework of the master’s degree in environmental management and the master’s degree in health-environment and its continuing education programme.
– PhD training: CSI doctoral programme in sociology, STS speciality, prepared at Mines ParisTech and delivered by the University of Paris Sciences & Lettres (PSL). Doctoral training seminars at Mines ParisTech (doctoral students from all disciplines) and in the framework of higher education institutions abroad (Copenhagen Business School, EISAM in Brussels).
The CSI within the Interdisciplinary Institute on Innovation (UMR 9217)
The Centre for the Sociology of Innovation (Mines ParisTech – PSL University) is since 2015 one of the five laboratories attached to the Interdisciplinary Institute on Innovation (i3), a joint research unit of the CNRS (UMR 9217).
The CSI contributes, alongside the teams gathered by the institute, the CRG (École Polytechnique), the DSES (Télécom Paris), the CERNA and the CGS (Mines ParisTech), to the development of a space for discussion between different approaches and disciplines. Organized around four transversal research themes, this space covers the entire field of innovation in which i3 is interested:
- Transformations of innovative firms
- Theory and models of design
- Regulations of innovation
- Uses, participation, democratisation of innovation