Dark Sides of Innovation

This course is replacing the previously scheduled course Economics of Innovation.

Course details

Corona Situation Update: This course is being held according to schedule. . More information will be sent per email to those who register.

NORSI Course institution: University of Oslo – TIK Centre

ECTS credits: 8

Study location: UiO- TIK – Online

Course coordinator: Professor Fulvio Castellacci at the UiO- TIK Centre

Teaching language: English

Course evaluation: See below – Examination

Course page UiO- TIKClick here

Application Deadline: 1 September 2020. Please go to UiO-TIK course website for admission information.

Course Faculty

Professor Fulvio Castellacci, University of Oslo, TIK

Course Content

The field of innovation studies is based on the implicit assumption that innovation is good for the economy, and that more innovations will lead to a wealthier and more sustainable economy and society. Since the 1980s, the underlying idea that has motivated the field is that innovation leads to positive economic effects, such as economic growth and employment creation, and does for this reason foster individuals’ welfare by leading to greater wealth (Martin, 2016). Innovation research has in fact almost exclusively focused on the positive economic effects of new technologies, and how these contribute to solve grand societal challenges, e.g. by spurring firms’ productivity, industries’ international competitiveness and sustainability transition, and the dynamics and performance of national systems. Relatedly, this research has also represented the foundation for R&D and innovation policies, whose underlying rationale has so far predominantly been to foster the creation and diffusion of innovations (Edler & Fagerberg, 2017). More recent approaches, such as systemic and third generation mission-oriented innovation policy, are also implicitly based on the belief that innovations have the ability to address and solve grand societal challenges.

In spite of the importance and large consensus around the important positive effects of innovation, it is also important to question this assumption, since innovations can sometimes have also unintended and negative consequences. The history of capitalism is full of examples of innovations that have led to damaging effects on individuals, social groups, and/or the natural environment. In general terms, it is most often the case that innovations have positive effects for some and negative effects for others, but research has so far mostly focused on the former and neglected the latter. Investigating the dark sides of innovation means to study its unintended and negative consequences, alongside its positive effects.

This calls for new theoretical and empirical research in innovation studies, taking into account both positive and negative socio-economic effects of innovation, its bright and dark sides, and developing new conceptual and methodological tools to study, compare and assess multidimensional and contrasting effects of innovations in a broader interdisciplinary framework. This new departure will entail an in-depth discussion of how to value the societal effects of innovation, how to measure them, and how to assess their benefits and costs according to different social welfare functions. This is where innovation studies must cross-fertilize with, and draw inspiration from, other fields of research in which the social value of economic actions is explicitly investigated by means of social choice theories.

These questions do also have important implications in terms of R&D and innovation policy. Since innovations have complex and multi-dimensional effects – positive and negative; economic and non-economic – how can policy-makers assess and define whether a given innovation should be given public support, or instead regulated and limited? The multi-dimensional and complex nature of innovation presents policy-makers with a variety of trade-offs and complex choice sets, which call for the development of new tools of social choice analysis.

Learning Outcome

The participants will first be presented with the positive bias in innovation studies, and then discuss relevant illustrations and analyses of the dark sides of innovation. The participants will also reflect upon theories and methodologies that can be used to assess together positive and negative impacts, economic and non-economic, within a common framework. Finally, the participants will also be encouraged to reflect upon the implications and challenges for research and innovation policy.

The course will be designed as a combination of online lectures and group discussions. The course will be structured around online academic presentations of some core themes provided by international guest scholars with specific expertise on innovation and welfare (Barry Bozeman, Ron Boschma, Fulvio Castellacci, Davide Consoli, Elisa Giuliani, Magnus Gulbrandsen, Simona Iammarino, Maria Savona).

The participants will also be asked to identify, analyze and present to the other participants a few selected cases and concrete examples of dark sides of innovation. Overall, the intention is that the course will foster PhD students’ ability to critically assess multiple impacts of innovation, and use these critical insights in their own PhD work.

Course application

Admission to a PhD program is required for participation in this course, preferably in one of the NORSI partner institutions. Other candidates can be accepted by application to the course coordinator.

Applicants are to submit

  •  The application form
  •  A short outline of their PhD project
  •  A letter of confirmation regarding candidacy within a PhD program.

Deadline: 1st August 2020.

Please submit your application via email to: Ingrid Helene Johnsen (i.h.johnsen@tik.uio.no).


Admission to a PhD programme is required for participation in this course, preferably in one of the NORSI partner institutions.


The course is coordinated by Fulvio Castellacci at the UiO – TIK Centre.

A detailed course plan and reading list will be made available for download.

All students will be expected to read the course literature before attending. They will also be required to participate actively in discussions and group work.


A term paper of 15 to 20 pages is required in addition to active participation during the course week. Deadline for submission: 31st December 2020.

Language of Examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading Scale

Grades are awarded on a pass/fail scale. Read more about the grading system.

Date & Location

21 - 25 September 2020 (digital - online delivery) Application deadline 1 September
UiO-TIK (Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture)