Understanding Innovation

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Former 2007/2008 Social Sciences - Law

Abstract

During the last two decades innovation has increasingly become a central focus for policy makers. The reason for this is the central role innovation is assumed to play for income and employment growth (and quality of life more generally). However, in spite of its obvious importance, innovation has not always received the scholarly attention it deserves. For instance, students examining the causes of long-run economic change used to focus on other factors, such as capital accumulation or the working of markets, rather than innovation (Fagerberg 1994). This is now changing. Research on the role of innovation for economic and social change has proliferated in recent years, particularly within the social sciences, and with a bent towards cross-disciplinarity. In fact, as illustrated below, in recent years the number of social-science publications focusing on innovation has increased much faster than total number of such publications. Although a few scholars were active in this area in the early years of the previous century (Josef Schumpeter is the most obvious example; see Fagerberg 2003 for an overview) innovation studies did not really emerge as an academic field before the 1960s. When it did, it did so mostly outside (or in the fringes of) the dominant disciplines in the social sciences and the most prestigious universities. An important event in this process (one that also serves as an example of the tendency for the field to advance in less prestigious academic institutions) was the formation in 1965 of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the newly founded University of Sussex in the UK (a typical “redbrick” university). SPRU came to function as “role model” for the many similar centres and departments that were founded, especially in Europe and Asia, in the decades that followed. Technical universities also became host to many new research centres in this area, as did business/management schools, especially in the United States. Many of these adopted a cross-disciplinary orientation. Several journals and professional associations have were founded.

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