Regional and geographical aspects of social innovation

Stream #09

Chairs: Michael Leyshon (University of Exeter), Catherine Leyshon (University of Exeter), Timothy Walker (University of Exeter), Micaela Mazzei (Glasgow Caledonian University), Shukru Esmene (University of Exeter)

This conference stream is focused on the intersections between social innovation and matters of geography. Thinking geographically about social innovation means taking seriously questions of space, place, scale and proximity. Different types of social innovation can be realised at different scales – from an individual working on a singular concern, through to social movements working on issues of profound significance for whole societies. Thinking geographically also draws attention to the nature of the ‘social’ in social innovation. In particular, the ways in which social connections, places and activities are brought into being through processes of innovation. 

There are also wider topological implications of these different kinds of social innovation as each is stimulated, created and operationalised by various configurations of people and organisations, in different geographical contexts. These issues have been brought into sharper focus by the constraints of Covid 19.

One unexamined aspect of this is proximity: the need for social innovators to be physically close to mentors, funders, resources (material or pecuniary), and those they seek to help. In a digital (and Covid) age, the question about proximity takes on an added importance: to what extent is social innovation still ‘placed’ or is proximity less a matter of physical closeness and more about how many clicks?

Thinking geographically, therefore, calls attention not only to the genus, scale and limits of social innovations and questions the extent to which they can be transferred into other places, but the role that proximity plays in enabling social innovations to flourish and implement change. This stream, therefore, invites papers that: 1) Critically examine the role that proximity and place play in social innovation; and 2) assess the role of place and proximity in social innovation as the Covid crisis drives many societal functions online. 

This stream calls for contributions on the following themes: 

  • How is social innovation incubated by communities in place, including marginalized communities or regions? 
  • What is the importance of proximity in social innovation? 
  • What opportunities and threats for social innovation are offered by the rush to digital delivery in a Covid and post-Covid world?
  • How can social innovation be scaled up or scaled down? 
  • How does scale influence social innovation? 
  • How does the digital alter the relationship between social innovation and place?
  • How does the digital influence social innovation including how social innovations are designed and hosted and how they are scaled?
  • What has the Covid crisis taught us about the geography of social innovation?
  • What critical tools and concepts does the discipline of geography bring to enhance our understanding of social innovation?