A new perspective on innovation and industrialization

Lilla salen Session 2: Consequences of Technological Change organized by Suvi Heikkuri


Kristine Bruland


Industrialization created a new world which was technology, resource and energy intensive and continuously innovative. The industrial transition led to continuous economic growth, and to the ecological crises we are now experiencing. However, there is still confusion about what this revolutionary process in fact was, and how it happened. This transition has traditionally been understood as an Industrial Revolution - a British event which took place approximately between 1760 and 1830, driven by mechanized textile factories and steam power, and later emulated elsewhere. I argue against this view and present an alternative. I argue that growth started much earlier (from around 1400); that innovation took place across the economy (and accelerating from around 1700), and that it was a part of a global restructuring. If technological change took place across the whole economy we need a wide, society-encompassing explanation. I argue that we must bring capitalism back into the history of industrialization. I focus on three drivers which both fostered and forced innovation, namely firm-level technological competition in products, capitalists’ control of the work process within the business, and the development of competitive firms within a specialized machine making industry. Such a perspective means that the industrial transition becomes extended in time and broadened in geographical reach. It was a European process, which again was linked to global changes, which included the growth of the Atlantic system, imports of Asian goods to Europe, and global competition in the west-African slave market, from around 1600.


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