Monday, August 16, 2010

Architecture #4: Delight, Beauty and Happiness

You are probably wondering how it is possible that an innovation system could be analysed on its properties for aiding delight, beauty or maybe a more popular word of late - happiness. I had (until recently) been pondering the same thing for over a decade. Some ideas appear to offer intriquing possibilities without any possibility of resolution. So it was with this one. More than a decade ago I regularly had coffee with an architect friend in Canberra who first introduced me to the eloquent summary of architecture as firmness, fitness and delight. At the time I was searching for a language that invoked a 3Dness to the structural studies of economies and 'architecture' seemed like a useful word. At the time I couldn't envisage anything more that just 'form' in various guises.

However, curiously, as I have been reading Alain de Botton's book on architecture, this third piece of puzzle has begun to clarify itself for me. On page 71 (of my version) he states:

... However, there might be a way to surmount  this state of sterile relativism with the help of John Ruskin's provocative remark about the eloquence of architecture. The remark focuses our minds on the idea that buildings are not visual objects without any connection to connects which we can analyse and then evaluate.Buildings speak - and on topics which can be readily discerned. They speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, a sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.

SO of  what do innovation systems speak?
Do they speak of openness and inclusion or merely the trendy and wealthy?

Do they speak of just economies or societies and communities?

#1. Of what do innovations systems speak
       - democracry - maybe, economies - definitely, but societies and communities - I'm less certain.

Today 'innovation' is invoked as the panacea for the ills of our economies but not of our societies.

Should we start asking questions about who innovation is for etc. This has been the realm of science and technology studies but I am beginning to think that we need to urgently dialogue this in Schumpeterian side of the literature as well. Is creativity just for new products and services? What of the poor and disadvantaged even in advanced economies - those that don't go to schools with all the latest technology etc? What of innovations and their effects on the disabled communities. Some innovations improve their lives and others make it harder.

Are schools just to produce clones of a previous era or can we envisage something more?

#2 What of happiness.

In recent years there has been a flood of literature.

One observation (stated in Graham 2005 in World Economics p45)
Easterlin, in his original study, revealed a paradox that sparked interest in the topic but is, as of yet, unresolved. While most happiness studies find that within countries wealthier people are, on average, happier than poor ones, studies across countries and over time find very little, if any, relationship between increases in per capita income and average happiness levels. On average, wealthier countries (as a group) are happier than poor ones (as a group); happiness seems to rise with income up to a point, but not beyond it. Yet even among the less happy, poorer countries, there is not a clear relationship between average income and average happiness levels, suggesting that many other factors—including cultural traits—are at play.

Other factors that are important are: social connections, social services such as education and health etc.

This is another TED video.

#3 - Conclusions

If we want to speak of innovation - particularly 'national innovation systems' then isn't it time that we move beyond a purely narrow economics context. All we are doing is replacing one discourse which emphasised monetary policy along with labour and natural resource exploiting development paths with a technological creation one.

The science and technology studies literature which has developed largely in parrallel with the innovation literature already emphasises culture and gender issues amongst others - isn't it time that there was greater informed cross readings.

Interestingly, there was a conference ths year that seems a step in the right direction from the perspective of innovation systems and happiness.

Innovation and Inequality: From Pharma and Beyond

Workshop in Pisa, Italy, 15-16 May 2010, Conference organisers: Mariana Mazzucato and Luigi Orsenigo

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