|Technology and Innovation in the International Economy (UNU, 1994, 239 pages)|
|1. Relevance of innovation studies to developing countries|
Studies of industrial innovations in industrialized countries, and similar studies in developing countries, tend to be done in isolation from one another. The isolation is not total, of course: there is a small number of authors for whom the relevance of studies of innovation in industrialized countries to the situation in developing countries is virtually taken for granted - see for example Katz (1987) or Pack and Westphal (1986). Nevertheless, the isolation is sufficiently noticeable in academic writing, to raise the question whether researchers concerned with technology policies in developing countries might not benefit from a more systematic exploration of what have been called 'innovation studies' (Dosi, 1988). The purpose of this chapter is to map out the territory of 'innovation studies' that could be useful in research on developing countries. This chapter attempts to relate studies on innovation and technological change in developed countries and those in developing countries. It also attempts to connect technology studies to the broader stream of development economics.
By their nature, maps are imperfect reflections of the scale and detail of underlying reality. That, as Joan Robinson once pointed out, is their whole point.¹ It is, nevertheless, quite possible to criticise some maps for being on a scale too small to be as useful as they might be or to be arbitrary in the detail they select. Perhaps the map drawn in this article is vulnerable to those criticisms, for it is the outcome of a preliminary reconnaissance, and not a comprehensive survey. If that is so, we must hope that it at least reveals those parts of the terrain worthy of further exploration.
There have of course been good surveys of the issues of technology policy as they relate to developing countries. A particularly valuable, and quite recent, one by Martin Fransman (1986) covers part of the area of this chapter, but not all.
This chapter is set out as follows. The next section is a summary and discussion of recent literature on innovation in industrialized countries, which focuses on attempts to synthesize 'innovation studies' into a coherent theory. The theoretical structures that emerge from this effort go well beyond the explanation of industrial innovation phenomena per se: they raise rather fundamental questions about traditional theories of the firm and its behaviour. The emphasis is on innovation as a mode of competition, and as a source of sustained disequilibrium in the Schumpeterian style, an approach which is in contrast to the equilibrium stories which are at the foundation of received theory.
The subsequent section then deals with the possible relevance of this body of theory for developing countries. It addresses two questions. The first is how relevant are innovation studies to processes of technological learning in developing countries.2 The second is how important is technological change in the trading relations of developing countries. The final section draws conclusions.