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Innovation as Politics: The startling rise and reshaping of innovation in UK parliamentary discourse 1960-2005

By Lew Perren and Jonathan Sapsed

Abstract

As Nick von Tunzelmann has argued, a major, sometimes the major, influence on industrial progress has been governmental institutions and ideologies, which shape the general climate of business opinion (von Tunzelmann, 1995: 21-22). Adherence to political ideology in government policy on innovation has been particularly keen in the UK (von Tunzelmann, 2004: 331). The primary form for disseminating these ideologies is language. This paper shows systematic evidence on the political discourse of innovation over a forty-five year period, and analyses both its stable and changing meanings. It asks whether the term innovation has become a ‘floating signifier’, a plastic concept used for a variety of political purposes.\ud \ud The term innovation has become central to academic, political and practitioner discussion of the economy and the future of business (Barber and White, 1987; Fagerberg and Verspagen, 2008, Martin, 2008). In the UK innovation is central to the current Government’s policies and those of the opposition. Indeed, figure 1 shows that there has been a tenfold increase in the use of the term in parliamentary debates over the past forty-five-years. Researchers have taken a discourse approach to explore various aspects of innovation (e.g. Lovell, 2008; Salaman and Storey, 2002; Suchman and Bishop, 2000). A recent article by Linton begins to examine the language of innovation within the academic literature, suggesting that interpretation is influenced by one’s perspective (Linton, 2009).\ud \ud Yet in addition to the academic literature, an important field of linguistic use of the term innovation is the field of politics. This paper starts to empirically research the use of innovation by tracing the plasticity of meaning of the term through forty-five-years of political debate in the UK Parliament; a period spanning from Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’, through Thatcherism to Blair’s New Labour (e.g. Meredith, 2003). Before describing the methodological approach to the research the paper explores the conception of meaning that underpins this investigation

Topics: L200 Politics, N215 Change and Innovation
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.brighton.ac.uk:7565

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