Qualification project

On the Shoulders of Dwarfs. The Geography of Community-Driven User Innovation

Research Department: Dynamics of Economic Spaces

Project Leader within IRS:

Duration: 05/2012 - 10/2016

The dissertation project has been concerned with user innovations, understood as new products or services which are not developed in organizations or research and development departments but by “users” such as hobbyists, enthusiasts or people suffering from a specific problem. The investigation of such innovation processes is a new and currently underresearched field in economic geography which requires new conceptual approaches since established concepts regarding the spatiality of innovation processes primarily focus on organizations. User inno-vations are mainly theorized as collective innovations, benefiting from their embeddedness in non-territorially bounded user communities in which members contribute their expertise voluntarily.

This thesis explored the relation between “communities of interest” and processes of knowledge creation and commercial utilization. The thesis focuses on the question of how knowledge created in communities leads to entrepreneurial activities. The aim was the development of a deeper understanding of spatial processes and spatial implication of user-driven, collective innovation processes. On the basis of four case studies it showed how

- local entrepreneurial activities emerge out of participation in non-locally bounded „communities of interest“ and what spatial patterns become observable

- physically dispersed “communities of interest” create “value” as the basis for entre-preneurial activity

- different motivations to innovate (enthusiast-driven/problem-driven) and structural conditions influence the time-spatial path of user innovations

From a theoretical-conceptual perspective, this thesis contributed to the debate on „communities of practice“. In economic geography, they are mainly discussed as vehicles facilitating interaction across physical distance. It broadened the perspective by showing how communities emerge from local, affective situations of individuals and how these communities become knowledge and value creating systems. The empirical results have been generated by using a qualitative, process-oriented research design, consisting of 24 qualitative interviews, (participant) observations and the method of “netnography”.

The dissertation has been successfully defended in October 2016 at the Freie Universität Berlin.