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In what sense do firms evolve?

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  • Bart Nooteboom

Abstract

Does evolutionary theory help, for a theory of the firm, or, more widely, a theory of organization? In this paper I argue that it does, to some but also limited extent. Evolutionary theories of economies, and of culture, have acquired considerable following, but have also been subject to considerable criticism. Most criticism has been aimed at inappropriate biological analogies, but recently it has been claimed that a 'universal Darwinism', purged of all such mistaken analogy, is both useful and viable. Why should we try to preserve evolutionary theory, and will such theory stand up to sustained critical analysis? How useful is it for theory of the firm? Evolutionary theory appears to be the most adequate theory around for solving the problem of agency and structure, avoiding both an overly rational, managerial 'strategic choice' view of organizations and a 'contingency' view of organizations as fully determined by their environment. Whether universal Darwinism stands up to critical analysis remains to be seen. Here, the focus is on evolutionary theory of organization and of knowledge. Use is made of a constructivist 'embodied cognition' view of cognition and of elements of a cognitive theory of the firm.

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Paper provided by Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography in its series Papers on Economics and Evolution with number 2008-12.

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Date of creation: Nov 2008
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Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2008-12

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Keywords: Length 33 pages;

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  1. Nooteboom, B. & Vanheverbeke, W.P.M. & Duysters, G.M. & Gilsing, V.A. & Oord van den, A,J,, 2005. "Optimal cognitive distance and absorptive capacity," Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS) working paper series 05.05, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS).
  2. Wuyts, Stefan & Colombo, Massimo G. & Dutta, Shantanu & Nooteboom, Bart, 2005. "Empirical tests of optimal cognitive distance," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 277-302, October.
  3. Geoffrey Hodgson, 2002. "The Legal Nature of the Firm and the Myth of the Firm-Market Hybrid," International Journal of the Economics of Business, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(1), pages 37-60.
  4. Nooteboom, B., 2005. "Elements of a Cognitive Theory of the Firm," Discussion Paper 2005-46, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  5. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2002. "Darwinism in economics: from analogy to ontology," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 259-281.
  6. Ulrich Witt, 2004. "On the proper interpretation of 'evolution' in economics and its implications for production theory," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 125-146.
  7. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. & Knudsen, Thorbjorn, 2006. "Why we need a generalized Darwinism, and why generalized Darwinism is not enough," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 1-19, September.
  8. Spulber,Daniel F., 2009. "The Theory of the Firm," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521517386.
  9. U. Witt, 2003. "The Evolutionary Perspective on Organizational Change and the Theory of the Firm," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2003-07, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  10. G. Hodgson., 2007. "What Are Institutions?," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 8.
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