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The early development of the steam engine: an evolutionary interpretation using complexity theory

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  • Koen Frenken
  • Alessandro Nuvolari

Abstract

In this paper we analyse the early development of the steam engine as a search process in a multidimensional design space. This perspective allows us to make use of recent insights coming from complex systems theory, in particular, of a generalized version of Kauffman's NK-model. We analyse yearly distributions of steam engine designs and their sectors of application for the period 1760--1800. We interpret the patterns of variety and differentiation characterizing the behaviour of these distributions as emerging properties of underlying search processes unfolding in the design space. We conclude that the early development of steam power technology can be understood as a process of 'technological speciation' of various engine designs in distinct users' niches. Copyright 2004, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Koen Frenken & Alessandro Nuvolari, 2004. "The early development of the steam engine: an evolutionary interpretation using complexity theory," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(2), pages 419-450, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:13:y:2004:i:2:p:419-450
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    1. Marengo, Luigi, et al, 2000. "The Structure of Problem-Solving Knowledge and the Structure of Organizations," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(4), pages 757-788, December.
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    7. Koen Frenken & Alessandro Nuvolari, 2004. "Entropy statistics as a framework to analyse technological evolution," Chapters, in: John Foster & Werner Hölzl (ed.), Applied Evolutionary Economics and Complex Systems, chapter 5, Edward Elgar Publishing.
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