Sub-theme 27: The Social Structure of Radical Innovations

Simone Ferriani
University of Bologna, Italy
Charles Baden-Fuller
City University London, UK
Gino Cattani
New York University, USA

Call for Papers

Seminal studies on innovation have been mostly focused on the generative phase in the development of a new radical technology. But the conditions facilitating its acceptance especially during the early stage of development to date have not been adequately explored. Indeed, there are several reasons that explain why radical innovations are not easily accepted: they lack the link with extant cognitive processes, and this hinders their diffusion; they trigger resistance from the institutions whose interests are threatened by their adoption; they often emanate from actors who are peripheral to the field and therefore have no or only limited ability to mobilize the resources and constituencies required to legitimize their inventions. Consequently, it is unlikely that radical innovations and their proponents will be readily embraced by constituencies that are committed to existing ways of doing things in any particular field. To be successful, innovators (henceforth candidates) must obtain legitimacy, which in turn hinges on resource holders' (henceforth audience members') willingness to grant them their support. Yet we still know very little about the complexity of the process by which relevant audience members grant or deny legitimacy to radical innovations and their proponents.

It is our contention that in order to fill this gap more attention should be drawn to examining social audiences and the meso-level mechanisms of evaluation through which such audiences affect the legitimation of radical innovations by selectively allocating the material and symbolic resources indispensable for innovation in any given field. In general, social audiences are central to this process because they serve to define, elaborate and, most importantly, bestow differential value on certain features of the particular social object (e.g., idea, artefact, organizational form or technology) under scrutiny, while devaluating others. As a result, they are in a critical position to shape which objects are generated and whether they are eventually legitimated. We are especially interested in studies focusing on social audiences' characteristics that might shed light on how they evaluate and possibly legitimate new radical innovations, and the specific strategies innovators can be deploy to cope with audience pressures and appeal to them.

We encourage researchers from a diverse array of academic disciplines – including organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, strategy – to submit papers to this track. We are open to different types of theoretically grounded empirical work based on qualitative and/or quantitative methods. We especially welcome work that aims to challenge received wisdom and assumptions in organizational literature, and recommend submitting papers already in an advanced state of development. We will place special emphasis on innovative doctoral research that shows potential for contributing to the field in a non-conventional way. We also look forward to manuscripts whose theoretical perspectives and empirical findings allow comparing practices across different empirical settings. To this end, we would like to solicit conceptual and empirical papers addressing the following or very similar questions:

  • How do radical ideas become legitimated?
  • Why do particular innovative efforts succeed in disrupting the dominant logic?
  • How do audience-level features shape the deployment of the symbolic and material resources necessary to sustain innovation, thus creating or inhibiting impetus for institutional change?
  • Which individuals are more likely to appeal to audience members who, in their role of gatekeepers, are entitled to grant or deny recognition and legitimacy to individuals' creative work?
  • How do audiences choose among multiple creative contributions the ones worth endorsing?
  • What micro-processes shape the interplay between the individual innovator and the enabling social context that decides whether or not to endorse and legitimate a radical innovation?


Key readings

Cattani, G., & S. Ferriani (2008): "A core/periphery perspective on individual creative Performance: Social networks and cinematic achievements in the Hollywood film industry." Organization Science, 19 (6), 824-844.
Fleming, L., S. Mingo & D. Chen (2007): "Collaborative Brokerage, Generative Creativity, and Creative Success." Administrative Science Quarterly, 52 (3), 443-475.
Greenwood, R., & R. Suddaby (2006): "Institutional entrepreneurship in mature fields: the big five accounting firms." Academy of Management Journal, 49 (1), 1-21.
Hargadon, A.B., & Y. Douglas (2001): "When innovations meet institutions: Edison and the design of the electric light." Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 476-501.
Johnson, C., T.J. Dowd & C.L. Ridgeway (2006): "Legitimacy as social process." Annual Review of Sociology, 32, 53-78.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962): The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Tushman, M.L., & P. Anderson (1986): "Technological Discontinuities and Organizational Environments." Administrative Science Quarterly, 31 (3), 439-65.
Zuckerman, E. (1999): The Categorical Imperative: Securities Analysts and the Illegitimacy Discount. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Simone Ferriani 
Charles Baden-Fuller 
Gino Cattani