Resistance to technological change

The situation of adversity experienced by disruptive companies like Uber, Facebook, and Airbnb is not new. The resistance to technological innovation and new business models has a long history in the West. From the attacks on Gutenberg's printing press in the late 15th century to the current debates on the potential dangers of automation, AI, and gene editing, such resistance can take various forms – from staging strikes to implementing regulatory barriers. If unaddressed, this resistance can hinder the development of new business models.

Yet, despite the importance of the subject on a global scale, research in this field has been largely overlooked. Scholars have analyzed resistance to change at the organizational and individual levels, but little attention has been paid to the reactions to change of social groups. This project aims to fill this gap by creating a transdisciplinary and multi-level theory of technological change and resistance in social systems, which will analyze the factors and social forces at work. The theory will consider the reasons behind the resistance to adopting technology, the consequences of this resistance, and the best mechanisms to overcome it. The end result will be a set of applied findings that help governments and technological companies in the drafting of their development strategies.

The Project

This will be a multi-year program implemented in three integrated phases:

First Year: Understand Why societies are Resistant to Technological Change

Why do certain technologies prompt more social rejection than others? What factors and circumstances lead to this situation? Is it just a matter of job destruction and displacement of traditional sectors, or is there something else?

This phase will study the long history of resistance to emerging technology and the latest publications on this matter from different disciplines to create a comprehensive overview of all the factors that may lead to resistance to technological change within societies. Among other things, it will assess the role played by:

  • Job insecurity
  • Societal Mistrust
  • CoP’s Pressure
  • Inequality
  • Time ranges of change
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Ethical, religious, and identity-based factors of resistance
  • User inadaptability

Second Year: Understand the interaction between societal resistance, political interests and the regulatory frameworks

This phase will focus on the complex relationship between law and innovation. Every technological adoption is the result of a process of negotiation between the private sector, states, and society. If a new technology does not fit the economic interests or values of a given social group, then their members will be likely to press politicians and regulators to legislate against its adoption (Buhl, 1974; Teece, 1986; Olsen and Engen, 2007). In response, tech companies will use their influence to press regulators and try to overcome the resisting communities. Although scholars and jurists have provided some insights into how this process unfolds, there is still much that we ignore. Our project will study the interaction between the different stakeholders of change (tech companies, traditional displaced sectors, citizenship, CoPs, and governments officials) and regulatory resistance.

Third Year: Develop Strategies to overcome societal Resistance to change

Understanding the main factors that lead people to object to change will give us the opportunity to design a strategy to address these factors, leverage resistance and ensure a successful technological transition for society. This line of research will assess the role played by public institutions and disruptive companies and help them to develop new strategies to overcome societal resistance to change. Private strategies are of direct value to disruptive companies but so are those that pertain to the public sector. Enabling effective public sector policymaking in this space will make technological change more sustainable and of greater benefit for a greater number of people.