Newcastle University Business School
NBS8214 Technology Change and Innovation Management
Module assignment 1.:Question 3.
Synthesis of Evolutionary Theory and Social-Shaping Theory: Suggesting Drivers of Technology Change
Technologies has been intertwined with our lives since the early days of mankind (MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1999), when stones where used as a cutting tool. Over time this ‘cutting tool’ was improved, substitutes were developed and the usage of some substitutes stopped; the technology changed. This is just one minor example of a technology change, many have taken place and will occur in the future. Because they have affected, are affecting and will affect our society, it is important to understand the process of technology change with its drivers. There is a large volume of published studies devoted to this understanding which developed multiple theories. The ‘Evolution Theory’ (ET) and the ‘Social-Shaping Theory’ (SST) are the most dominant. The foundations of ET rest on learning processes, involving imperfect adaption and unsuccessful discoveries (Dosi and Nelson, 1994). The SST, emerged through criticizing the ‘technological determinism’ aspect of ET, argues that technology is instead a social product (Williams and Edge, 1996). This essay reviews the literature concerning these theories to answer the question: “What drives technology change?”. The review is based on Geels (2005) four phases of technology change; 1.radical innovations emerge in small market niches, 2. new innovations are used in small market niches, 3. breakthrough of new technology, and 4. replacement by new technology. The two theories are synthesised in the discussion, which elaborates on the suggested drivers of technology change; ‘continuous learning’ and ‘continuous environmental adaption’. The conclusion of this essay provides a summary of the main findings and what implications can be derived.
Radical innovations emerge in small market niches
The ET and SST have different views on how radical innovations emerge in market niches. Within the ET, radical innovations emerge from periods of great experimentation (Henderson and Clark, 1990) based on ‘bounded rationality’; organisations follow routines, recipes and rules of thumb (Nelson and Winter, 1982). The experiences with the evolving technology shape organisational knowledge and innovative capability, which enables organisational learning and adaptation (Henderson and Clark, 1990; Dosi and Nelson, 1994). The SST argues that technologies do not develop simply through a technological logic (Williams and Edge, 1996), instead, different groups of people decide about technology developments through their different understandings and knowledge (MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1999) in order to preserve or alter social relations (Hard, 1993). In short, the literature argues that the emergence of radical innovations in market niches can be explained by ‘technological determinism’ (ET) or by a more complex ‘socially-shaped’ decision making process (SST). At this phase the radical innovation does not threat the established socio-technical regime (Geels, 2005), this threat increases in phase two.
New innovations are used in small market niches
In the second phase of Geels (2005), ‘new innovations are used in small market niches’, the new technology starts developing its technical trajectory and providing resources for further technical development and specialization. Growing support networks and stabilizing rules form ‘regimes’ around technologies. Within ET and SST, ‘regimes’ are defined and named differently. ET uses the term ‘technological regime’ and defines it as the complex of engineering groups (e.g. firms, professional disciplines and societies, university training and research programs, and legal and regulatory structures) that constrain and support development within the regime along particular trajectories (Dosi and Nelson, 1994). Metcalfe...
References: Dosi, G. and Nelson, R. R. 1994. An introduction to evolutionary theories in economics, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 4, 153-172
Genus, A. and Coles, A. 2008. Rethinking the multi-level perspective of technological transitions, Elsevier: Research Policy, 37, 1436-1445
MacKenzie, D. and Wajcman, J. 1999. The Social Shaping of Technology, Berkshire: Open University Press
Metcalfe, J.S. 1994. Evolutionary Economics and Technology Policy, The Economic Journal, 104(425), 931-944
Williams, R. and Edge, D. 1996. The social shaping of technology, Research policy, 25, 865-899
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