The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

A Cognitive and Pragmatic Account of Innovation: Domesticating the Probiotic Gefilus in Finland

Nina Janasik

Doctoral dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to be presented with due permission of the School of Engineering for public examination and debate in Auditorium R1 at the Aalto University School of Engineering (Espoo, Finland) on the 8th of July 2011 at 12 noon.

Overview in PDF format (ISBN 978-952-60-4166-7)   [1226 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-952-60-4165-0)


The aim of this dissertation is to study the ways in which new products gain their distinct identity, or their individuation—i.e., the process of change from an 'imitator' to an 'independent product'. Although this process occurs with regard to all innovations, it has not been problematized as a theme in its own right. The dissertation explores this topic through a case study of the probiotic Gefilus innovation in Finland during the period from 1987 to 1997. The research performed in this dissertation is qualitative. The dissertation provides a cognitive and pragmatic account of the ways in which new products gain their distinct identity among consumers. It thereby provides a complementary perspective on existing research on product identity formation.

Individuation forms a part of the larger process of domestication, or the active process of making an unfamiliar new object one's own that the consumer is assumed to perform when consuming goods. Recently, consumer research has been enriched by socio-cognitive explorations from the tradition of science and technology studies (STS). The dissertation continues this line of socio-cognitive research by inquiring into the more specific ways in which both the intended and real a) object and b) image of such new and unfamiliar products are shaped during the process of individuation. The main analytical tool in this inquiry is the framework of conceptual blending. To this cognitive exploration, the dissertation also adds a pragmatic and organizational line of inquiry. In particular, it suggests that certain ways of organizing collaboration across knowledge borders are particularly well suited for addressing challenges related to the individuation of new products, and that such pragmatic and organizational aspects therefore also need to be taken into consideration.

The key finding of the dissertation is that the individuation process of the probiotic Gefilus innovation involves the introduction of hierarchy, i.e., a distinction between first-order and second-order imitation. At the first level, the Gefilus innovation imitated other products of the same kind, such as yoghurt and cultured buttermilk. At the second level, however, it imitated other products belonging to the category of functional foods, such as the cholesterol-lowering margarine Benecol. The case study shows that this introduction of hierarchy occurred as a response to an impossible situation of institutional contradiction or 'torque', and that it represents a creative, as opposed to destructive, way of exiting such situations. The case study also shows that the introduction of hierarchy forms a central part of the explanation of the unfolding of the Gefilus domestication process.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 4 publications:

  1. Henrik Bruun, Richard Langlais, and Nina Janasik. 2005. Knowledge networking: A conceptual framework and typology. VEST: Journal for Science and Technology Studies, volume 18, numbers 3-4, pages 73-104. © 2005 University of Gothenburg, Föreningen VEST. By permission.
  2. Richard Langlais, Nina Janasik, and Henrik Bruun. 2004. Managing knowledge network processes in the commercialization of science: Two probiotica discovery processes in Finland and Sweden. Science Studies, volume 17, number 1, pages 34-56. © 2004 Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies. By permission.
  3. Nina Janasik. 2011. Learning to match: user–producer integration and blending in the probiotic Gefilus innovation process. International Journal of Learning and Change, volume 5, number 1, pages 51-67. © 2011 Inderscience Enterprises. By permission.
  4. Nina Janasik, Timo Honkela, and Henrik Bruun. 2009. Text mining in qualitative research: Application of an unsupervised learning method. Organizational Research Methods, volume 12, number 3, pages 436-460.

Keywords: probiotic innovation, domestication, individuation, cognition, organization, learning, conceptual blending

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© 2011 Aalto University

Last update 2012-04-17