Università Ca' Foscari di VeneziaCourse: Global History, A.Y. 2011/2012, Term 1
Collective invention as the engine of Great Britain’s economic growth during theFirst Industrial Revolution
This paper deals with the clusters of innovations (CoIs) and micro improvements (MI) that first took place in Great Britain (GB) between the 18
and the 19
century, as core prerequisites and determinant factors for the emergence of the 1st Industrial Revolution(IR). Economic progress during the IR in Great Britain (GB), is the fruit of such a wide andintricate web of causes, that to stand under the flag of only one of them would certainly be amisleading interpretative path, especially given our purpose of building a logically coherentand cohesive overview of the links between the major economic transformations that took place during the IR in GB. The reading key of this paper is based on the notion of collectiveinvention, as a post-malthusian socio-economical process of network-generated clusters of innovations that strongly characterizes economic growth during the 1st IR. As we will see, inthe British society, collective invention was based on non-institutionalized and thus non- formalized diffusion, contagion and adaptation mechanisms for technical andtechnological innovations, amongst industrial sectors in a weekly-connected industrialsocial community, mostly composed of manual workers, inventors and entrepreneurs thatwere not scientists. We acknowledge that this representation of the IR, based oninnovation/imitation clusters, will probably not be shared by everyone. Moreover, if analyzing the IR from a micro-economic perspective, many of our arguments and reasoning would probably lose much of their relevance, which emerges only when adopting anorganicistic (systemistic) approach, this approach to economic development wishes to be thespecificity of this paper, and will thus also be its limit.
Technology, progress, clusters, innovation, growth, industrial revolution, welfare,knowledge diffusion, productivity, mechanization, applied science, networks, invention, investment,R&D;
At all times in History economic development has drawn its major impetus from non-economichappenings and transformations within society. However, “change, even when socially beneficial, isresisted by social groups that stand to lose economic rents or political power. Consequently, theprocess change involves significant conflict between different groups”
(Acemoglu D. et al., 2005)
.Between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment Europe lived a climate of cultural re-evolution.Through collective questioning and uprising, people progressively replaced most of the ideologicalballast used to protect old privileges and hereditary positions of exploitation, that were previouslypassed off as tradition, culture or religious dogmas. Pre-industrial dominant aristocratic class hadbound the majority of people to poverty and ignorance, and hampered economic growth bydiscouraging or restraining middle and lower classes access to erudition, private venture, propertyownership and free enterprise.