How do values shape technology design? An exploration of what makes the pursuit of health and wealth legitimate in academic spin-offs

Sociol Health Illn. 2014 Jun;36(5):738-55. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12097. Epub 2014 Jan 21.


By actively supporting cooperation between academia, clinical settings and industry, several policy initiatives assume that the two policy agendas of health and wealth can be reconciled through the development of health technology. Our goal in this article is to shed light on the way the concurrent pursuit of health and wealth operates in practice by examining the valuation schemes, actions and decisions that shaped technology development in three Canadian spin-offs. Drawing on the sociology of judgement, our analytical framework conceives of technology development as a purposive collective action that unfolds in a normatively heterogeneous context (one pervaded with both corporate and public service mission values and norms). Our qualitative empirical analyses explore four valuation schemes and their corresponding regimes of engagement that characterise why and how technology developers commit themselves to addressing certain clinical, interactional, organisational and economic concerns throughout the development process. Our discussion suggests that the ability to reconcile health and wealth goals is to be found in the moral repertoires that provide meaning to, and render coherent technology developers' participation in corporate activities driven by economic growth.

Keywords: R&D; academic spin-offs; commercialisation of research; health technology; innovation policy; sociology of innovation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Technology / economics
  • Biomedical Technology / organization & administration*
  • Canada
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Interinstitutional Relations
  • Social Values*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Universities / economics
  • Universities / organization & administration*