Browse by title

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 2,220 items :

  • Economics and Finance x
  • Economics of Innovation x
Clear All
You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

The next stage in the study of technological change comes from an economic historian. In 1942, at the suggestion of Sumner Slichter, Rupert Maclaurin, Professor in the Department of Economics at MIT, organized a conference on “the role of technological research in our economy” at the 54th annual meeting of the American Economic Association. According to Maclaurin, “All [participants at the conference] agreed that full employment and an expanding economy are desirable post-war objectives and that considerably more analysis needs to be made of the kind of entrepreneurial motivation and the kind of environmental conditions necessary to achieve an industrial renaissance in manufacturing” (Maclaurin, 1942: 232). The year before, Maclaurin had initiated the first scholarly research program on technological change. In 1941, he obtained a five-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study the “factors and conditions responsible for technological change”. At the time there was almost no scholarly literature on the subject. Technological change was studied, when it was studied at all, in terms of unemployment and labor productivity. Maclaurin’s program of research was entirely different. He was interested in the process leading to technological change, namely the steps necessary to bring an invention to the market. According to Maclaurin, “although economists have long been interested in technological change, there has been very little investigation of the factors influencing the rate of technological progress in particular industries” (Bright and Maclaurin, 1943: 429). “Until quite recently”, stated Maclaurin:

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

Having defined technological innovation as the commercialization of goods, what remains is to study how technological innovation happens. Two concepts serve this purpose - process and system - traces of which are present in the policy documents studied in Chapter 7. The one - process - postulates that technological innovation starts with pure science. The other - system - is a contestation of this belief, insisting that technological innovation is a whole and scientists are only one part of it, and certainly not the initiating actors. These two concepts define two approaches that serve to make sense of technological innovation. I distinguish between approach and theory here. Theories of technological innovation are discussed in the next chapter. Here I document the genealogy of the approaches that guide the theorists. An approach is a conceptual framework or discursive and programmatic device that provides a vision and a storyline or narrative to interpret the world (Braun, 1999; Fisher, 2003).

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

Technological change is a term that allows for broad conceptualization. For example, in the 1950s, surveys of technological change (Brozen, 1951b) were similar to surveys of the history of technology (Clemen, 1951) and, in several ways, similar to surveys of technology and social change (Allen, 1959). They covered the same breadth (a broad definition of technological change) and surveyed the same authors (historians, economists and sociologists). But at the same time, concepts can be made more specific to serve disciplinary boundaries, as economists did. The economists’ representation of technological change is the standard representation of technology: industrial techniques or processes, and their effects on technological progress - employment and productivity, efficiency and output, growth and national income. In this context, what representation of technological change did the social sciences and the humanities espouse during and after the econometric turn? To some extent, historians of technology share the representation of economists (for example, Mumford, 1961; Landes, 1965), as do writers on industrial relations and management (for example, Smith, 1935; Rieger, 1942; Dunlop, 1962; Somers et al., 1963; Bright, 1963, 1970, 1973). They are followed by public organizations. However, some other disciplines developed a different representation, even a more critical one. This Interlude studies some of the representations other than the economic.

You do not have access to this content

The Invention of Technological Innovation

Languages, Discourses and Ideology in Historical Perspective

Benoît Godin

This timely book provides an intellectual and conceptual history of a key representation of innovation: technological innovation. Tracing the history of the discourses of scholars, practitioners and policy-makers, and exploring how and why innovation became defined as technological, Benoît Godin studies the emergence of the term, its meaning, and its transformation and use over time.
You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

Technological innovation is only one of many kinds of innovation. It is also one of the many terms coined to make use of the concept of innovation. In recent years, the concept gave rise to a plethora of terms like social innovation, sustainable innovation, responsible innovation and the like as alternatives to industrial and technological innovation. I call these terms X-innovation. How can we make sense of this semantic extension? Why do these terms come into being? What drives people to coin new terms and what do they want to achieve? The story is one of appropriation and contestation. On one hand, people appropriate a word (innovation) for its value-laden character and because of what they can do with it. A word with such a polysemy as innovation is a multi-purpose word. It works in the public mind (imaginaries) and among policy-makers. It also contributes to scholars’ citation records. On the other hand, people contest a term (technological innovation) because of its hegemonic connotation. They coin alternative ones that often become a brand.

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

In 1932, Harry Jerome claimed that “technological change” is “an uncultivated field” (Jerome, 1932: 33). Certainly, the term “technological change” was known to the scholars of the time and used sporadically. Yet technological change was not studied or theorized about. What does the term mean? Where does it come from, and when did the study of technological change begin? Economist Edwin Mansfield attributed the origin of the interest in technological change to the studies on productivity conducted at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the 1950s (Mansfield, 1972: 478; see also Terleckyj, 1980). To be sure, the NBER produced a whole series of studies in the 1950s on economic growth and productivity - two key terms of the time - but only a couple of studies on technological change per se. Moreover, the NBER’s representation of technological change in these few studies originates from the 1930s.

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

We now reach a key stage in the development of the term and the study of technological change. Economic progress now has the central place in the language and discourse of technological change. This is the end result of several decades of thinking on machines. The debate on technological unemployment ended with an optimistic view. Not all inventions give rise to unemployment. Unemployment depends on the types of machines or inventions. Above all, technological unemployment is a matter of temporary displacement rather than job loss. The National Research Project (NRP) initiated the first empirical program on technological change and concluded similarly: technological change leads to economic progress (productivity). Then Rupert Maclaurin opened the black box of technological change, and identified research as a key factor of technological change. Now, technological change becomes strictly economic and is equated to economic progress, called technological progress. “Technology in itself implies technological progress”, stated Ferdynand Zweig. Zweig understood progress as upgrading civilization and increasing man’s control over nature (Zweig, 1936: 28). He illustrated his assertion by proposing a classification of stages in the development of technology: primitive (tools), qualitative (workshop tools) and quantitative (machine) (pp. 28-32). Scholars subsequently made technological progress a matter of economic issues. “Economic progress which results from a change in knowledge is known as technological progress”, claims Vernon Ruttan (1924-2008), economist at the University of Minnesota and a prolific scholar on technological change in the 1950s and after (Ruttan, 1954: 1). As another economist put it later on: “Technical progress is knowledge that make[s] it possible to produce (1) a greater volume of output [technological change] or (2) a qualitatively superior output from a given amount of resources” (technological innovation) (Rosenberg, 1982: 3). In this context, efficiency (in converting input into output) is the key word. This representation gave rise to an economic field or specialty, even a tradition of research.

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

In the 1940s, sociologists attempted to secure a place in the emerging field of technological change. They tried to appropriate technological change as a term, embodying the term in a totally different framework. To sociologists, technological change has a broader meaning than the economic sense of the term. Technological change refers to a large range of effects of technology on society, which they call social change due to technology. The vocabulary used to discuss technological change reflects this interest: social impacts, social implications and social consequences, and, to a lesser extent, human problems and human relations. Over the years, technological change as a term and a research tradition faded from the narratives of historians of “Science, Technology and Society” (STS). Accounts of the history of STS generally start in the mid- 1960s, that is, upon the institutionalization of STS in university programs (for example, Cutcliffe, 1989, 1990; Jasanoff, 2010), while other narratives start in the 1980s, with authors like Donald Mackenzie, Wiebe Bijker and Michel Callon. Meanwhile, the history of technological change was left unstudied.

You do not have access to this content

Benoît Godin

Theories of innovation are over one hundred years old, and theoretical thoughts on the subject have multiplied in recent decades. For most of history, the theories are not technological. One reads, again and again, that theories of innovation come from economics, particularly from Joseph Schumpeter, as if economics were the whole story. “The term ‘innovation’”, states historian of technology John Staudenmaier, “appears to have originated in a tradition of economic analysis” (Staudenmaier, 1985: 56). Staudenmaier is not alone in this belief. “The founding framework of innovation” is Schumpeter, states Norbert Alter (Alter, 2000: 8). This is a common attribution of innovation’s origin or ancestry (for example, Martin, 2008; Fagerberg and Verspagen, 2009). A dominant and economically-oriented field is responsible for such a historiography. However, theories are far more diverse than the standard historical perspective would lead us to believe. Schumpeter was only one among many theorists who studied innovation over the twentieth century. Scholars later resurrected Schumpeter to give legitimacy to a specific framework (Godin, 2012, 2014). As Michael Freeden suggests: “Ideologies are constantly engaged in reconstructing their own history” (Freeden, 1996: 239). The purpose of this chapter is to provide a historical perspective on theories of innovation, and a sense of their broad range. Over the twentieth century, scholars have produced a diversity of theories, a diversity that came, over time, to be dominated by a few theories, or a particular kind of theory: technological innovation. What are these theories? How do they explain innovation? With what conceptual apparatus?