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

  • Koen Frenken
  • Alessandro Nuvolari

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.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Industrial and Corporate Change.

Volume (Year): 13 (2004)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 419-450

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Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:13:y:2004:i:2:p:419-450
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  1. Giovanni Dosi & Daniel Levinthal & Luigi Marengo, 2001. "Bridging Contested Terrain: Linking Incentive-Based and Learning Perspectives on Organizational Evolution," LEM Papers Series 2001/20, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  2. Philip Auerswald & Stuart Kauffman & Jose Lobo & Karl Shell, 1998. "The Production Recipes Approach to Modeling Technological Innovation: An Application to Learning By Doing," Working Papers 98-11-100, Santa Fe Institute.
  3. Koen Frenken & Luigi Marengo & Marco Valente, 1999. "Interdependencies, nearly-decomposability and adaption," CEEL Working Papers 9903, Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  4. Herbert A. Simon, 2002. "Near decomposability and the speed of evolution," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(3), pages 587-599, June.
  5. 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 757-88, December.
  6. repec:dgr:tuecis:0215 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Saviotti, P. P. & Metcalfe, J. S., 1984. "A theoretical approach to the construction of technological output indicators," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 141-151, June.
  8. Halsey, Harlan I., 1981. "The Choice Between High-Pressure and Low-Pressure Steam Power in America in the Early Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(04), pages 723-744, December.
  9. Kauffman, Stuart & Lobo, Jose & Macready, William G., 2000. "Optimal search on a technology landscape," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 141-166, October.
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