SS33: Geographies of Innovation and Well-Being

Name and affiliations of the session organisers

  • Ron Boschma (Utrecht University)
  • Fulvio Castellacci (University of Oslo)
  • Emil Evenhuis (PBL – Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency & Radboud University Nijmegen)
  • Koen Frenken (Utrecht University)


A large part of research in the Geography of Innovation aims to understand the contribution of innovation to human welfare including the pressing societal challenges we face today (e.g., global warming, biodiversity loss, ageing). However, the larger part of our theoretical and empirical work adopts a narrow and economic view on welfare, focusing on productivity, income per capita and employment creation, mostly disregarding welfare distribution, sustainability, justice and quality-of-life.  

Innovations have a broad variety of effects on well-being, for example, by shaping individuals’ capabilities, values and preferences and social interactions. The relationships between innovation and well-being is arguably heterogenous with important differences among socio-economic groups and territories. Moreover, If innovation policy is to be geared towards improving people’s well-being, taking this heterogeneity into account will be crucial. As the particular challenges innovation may address, will vary according to the circumstances and needs of different people, which will be determined to a large extent by the places they live in. What is largely missing is an exploration of the relationships between innovation and well-being, especially at urban and regional scales.  

Building on Sen’s (1985) seminal work on capabilities and well-being in philosophy and the social sciences, and following more recent work on just transitions (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013), regional development and well-being (Tomaney, 2017), the dark side of innovation (Biggi & Giuliani, 2021), the foundational economy (Hansen, 2022) and innovation and well-being (Castellacci, 2022), this session proposes to study the various geographies of innovation and well-being. A broad encompassing well-being perspective helps to unravel the trade-offs and dilemmas between efficiency and equity, between short- and long-run impacts of innovation, between impacts within and between regions, between job creation and job loss, and between winners and losers of innovations and transitions. It also provides a policy framework to re-think innovation policy and its links to urban and regional policy, to sustainability policy, social policy and other policy domains. 

Possible questions that can be addressed in this special session are:  

  • What is the spatial distribution of well-being and how can spatial differences be explained? 
  • What are the effects of innovation and diffusion of innovation on individual capabilities and well-being and how are such effects moderated by geographical factors? 
  • What are the distributional effects of innovation geographically and across social groups? 
  • How does the spatial distribution of skills and jobs affect innovations and transitions, and how, in turn, do innovations and transitions affect the spatial distribution of jobs and skills? 
  • How to conceptualize and study just socio-technical transitions at different temporal and spatial scales? 
  • How can we re-think innovation policy in the light of well-being at urban, regional, national and trans-national levels, including issues of subsidiarity, justice, quality-of-life and the delivery of foundational services (such as energy, mobility, food, and care)? 
  • What policy mixes can be effective to optimize the effects of innovation at different temporal and spatial scales? 

This list is non-exhaustive and we encourage scholars to address other questions at the nexus of geography, innovation and well-being. We aim to publish a selection of papers in a special issue in 2025. 


Biggi, G. & Giuliani, E. (2021). The noxious consequences of innovation: what do we know? Industry and Innovation, 28(1), 19-41.  

Castellacci, F. (2022). Innovation and social welfare: A new research agenda. Journal of Economic Surveys, in press.  

Hansen, T. (2022). The foundational economy and regional development, Regional Studies, 56(6), 1033-1042.  

Newell, P. & Mulvaney, D. (2013). The political economy of the ‘just transition’. The Geographical Journal, 179, 132-140. 

Sen, A. (1985). Well-being, agency and freedom: The Dewey lectures 1984. Journal of Philosophy, 82(4), 169-221. 

Tomaney, J. (2017) Region and place III: Well-being. Progress in Human Geography, 41(1), 99-107. 


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