The Business of Expectations: How Promissory Organisations Shape Technology & Innovation

01 February 2010

The business of technological expectations has yet to be thoroughly explored by scholars interested in the role of expectations and visions in the emergence of technological innovations. However, intermediaries specialising in the production, commodification and selling of future-oriented knowledge have emerged to exert new kinds of influence on the shaping of technology and innovation. We focus on the work of those specialist forms of consultants known as ‘industry analysts’ and consider them as promissory organisations to capture the fact they are successful in mobilising and indeed increasingly organising expectations within procurement and innovation markets. Our aim is to highlight the important role these actors play in shaping technologies and in so doing how they typically exhibit complex and highly uneven forms of influence. The paper is organised around a central question: Why are certain kinds of promissory behaviour more influential than others? To answer this, we draw from the literature on technology expectations on discussions of the ‘constitutive’ nature of promises, which provides a useful but arguably partial analytical approach for articulating the dynamics and differences surrounding product based expectations. We thus supplement our understanding with recent developments in Economic Sociology and the Sociology of Finance where an ambitious theoretical framework is unfolding in relation to the ‘performativity of economic theory’. By contrasting different forms of promissory work conducted by industry analysts and varying forms of accountability to which this work is subject we begin to map out a typology that characterises promissory behaviour according to differences in kind and effect.