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3.1 Infrastructural Convergence

Working infrastructure is based on the interactions between actors (humans and artifacts) (Suchman, 2000). This mutual engagement implies a number of secondary activities of mediating and controlling relationships between heterogeneous actors and their social worlds (Clarke & Star, 2008; Schmidt & Bannon, 1992; Strauss, 1978). To this end, the concept of articulation work (Strauss, 1988) refers to the work of putting together different tasks and coordinating the consequences of distributed activities (Gerson & Star, 1986; Star & Strauss, 1999). For instance, the articulation work is needed when an existing infrastructure generates new infrastructures interconnected with the generative one. Articulation work refers to the division, allocation, coordination, scheduling, meshing, connection of infrastructural activities, and it consists in managing tensions between divergent viewpoints, without silencing any voice[1] (Suchman & Trigg, 1993).

In SPs, “tenants[2]” have an evolving nature and different strategies, competing interests and objectives, discordant languages, specific knowledge and situated histories. This heterogeneity characterizes the identity of a park. Also the diversity of external factors (e.g., politics, industry) influences, for better or for worse, the parks' life. For instance, according to Amirahmadi and Saff (1993, p. 113, my emphasis):

[policymakers] often see science parks as a panacea for solving a wide range of divergent economic, social, and developmental problems. Policymakers hope science parks will cure economic problems by providing employment, generating regional multipliers, promoting exports and foreign investment. They also look to science parks to promote regional equality, upgrade the skills of the local workforce, increase revenue to the university, and perhaps even improve the mental health to those employed in the tranquil surroundings.

Multiplicity and heterogeneity of actors influence their interaction (Bell & Callon, 1994; Bowker & Star, 1999; Hanseth, Monteiro, & Hatling, 1996). Then, to tackle this effect, a process of multiple translations is needed (Bruun & Hukkinen, 2003; Latour, 1987; Law, 1992). The translation can generate ordering effects (Law, 1992) but, basically, it implies a translator, something that is translated and a medium in which that translation is inscribed. In other words, translation is a multifaceted interaction in which actors construct–through the translator's action– common definitions and new meanings, and co-opt each other in the pursuit of individual and collective purposes. This collaborative work can be interpreted as the seedbed for innovation because it enacts a process of convergence, that is the production of shared interpretations of things (Callon, 1986).

Convergence measures the extent to which the process of translation leads to agreement. More precisely it is the agreement regarding something genuinely new. However, even though the meanings associated with the word “convergence” refers to a general sense of commonality, uniformity, consensus, integration and homogeneity, convergence is “inextricably ambivalent, linked to distribution and diversity” (Pellegrino, 2008, p. 82). A successful process of translation generates a shared space (alignment), while an unsuccessful translation means that the actors are not able to communicate. Through a process of disalignment actors reconfigure themselves in separate spaces. A lack of agreement between actors should not be surprising because the convergence is neither obvious nor unproblematic. Conflict characterises the infrastructural life, even though literature often neglects the role of disagreement in innovative processes (Star, Bowker, & Neumann, 2003). Conflict can occur when an infrastructure develops while bootstrapping itself (Zittrain, 2006). I use this concept to denote the sociotechnical process according to which an existing infrastructure grows, empowering itself as innovative milieu by extending its networks and improving its material structure. Accordingly the infrastructural actors multiply, increasing also the intrinsic heterogeneity of the original infrastructure. For this reason, a working infrastructure needs standardisation because, by standards, different actors can cooperate sharing a common “language” or modus operandi (Star & Griesemer, 1989). At the same time, the infrastructure must be flexible or open (Hanseth et al., 1996) to different viewpoints (Galison, 1997). The balance between standardization and flexibility should characterise the infrastructural ecology.

  • [1] The capacity for appreciating differences in other's mental habit compared with one's own, and questioning them, is crucial for a hermeneutic approach, as suggested by Cusinato in this book
  • [2] This is the term generally referring to organizations and institutions (such as companies, universities, research and development units, foundations and associations) working in different lines of business and fields of science and technology, located in a science park
 
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