Lifestyle sports revitalising capitalism: Surfer communities and the re-invention of invention
Paper in proceedings, 2012
This paper will explore the significance of surfer communities in the politico-economic phenomenon that Nigel Thrift (2006) calls “the re-invention of invention”. Moving beyond the idea that the Research & Development activities of sports industries occasionally yield innovations that reshape other sectors, the text will thus argue that the sport of surfing has been instrumental in the present re-imagining of innovation itself.
This argument is made through a review of the emergence of management theories and practices around so-called “user innovation” (Shah, 2000; von Hippel, 2005). This emergence has caused management and innovation scholars to posit that the 20th century corporate lab-based innovation model needs to be replaced: Instead of relying upon in-house engineers, user innovation scholars argue, corporations must tap into the creativity that resides within communities of users. As will be shown, this conception of innovation – which Thrifts sees as central to the contemporary “vitalist capitalism” – is founded upon studies of communities of inventive wind- and kitesurfers. (Voss, 2010)
Surveying the story of user innovation and surfing communities, the paper will interrogate how and why the properties of surfer communities have come to resonate so well with the configuration of the present “creative economy”. Could any other communities, be they sports-related or not, have played a similar role? The text will thus delve into the contingent nature of this development, in which social science has demonstrably “borrowed from” sport studies.