Evolutionary Economists and Business Historians Gather in TCD to Discuss Industry Change

Posted on: 28 April 2010

The School of Business at Trinity College recently hosted a research workshop titled Industry Evolution and Change which brought together business historians and evolutionary economists for two days of dialogue on the topic.  The aim of the workshop was to merge both evolutionary and historical thinking in order to examine how mainstream economic thinking might benefit from a return to a more historical and behaviour based approach to economic activity.

The workshop was attended by some of the world’s leading scholars in both fields and was organised by School of Business lecturer, Dr Jim Quinn, whose research activity focuses on industry evolution.  Evolutionary economists focus their critique of mainstream economic thinking on the basic question of how firms and industries change over time whilst business historians study and disseminate knowledge about business and economic history to track change and the causes of change.

Attendees at the workshop Industry Evolution and Change.

Topical issues debated from both an evolutionary and historical perspective included the current economic crisis along with the future policies and institutional frameworks that may provide pathways for recovery.  The roots of the current banking and financial services crisis were examined along with the role and process of innovation at firm and industry level.  Speaking about the advantages of having representatives from both scholarly fields come together, Dr Jim Quinn said: “Both disciplines concern themselves with change over the long-term and their combined endeavours can shed a more detailed and accurate light on the historic and behavioural causes of our current economic demise. Furthermore, their mutual concern with innovation and entrepreneurship can highlight potential pathways for recovery.”

Speakers at the workshop included two of the world’s leading evolutionary economists, Professor Richard Nelson of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and Professor Sidney Winter of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, whose book An Evolutionary Theory on Economic Change contained the most sustained and serious attack on mainstream, neoclassical economics in over 40 years.  This workshop marks the first step in opening up a dialogue on industry evolution and change between the two sets of scholars.  Dr Quinn will act as co-editor for a special issue of the international journal Business History where the ideas on the topic will be developed further. The Trinity initiative in organising the workshop has also provided an impetus for further engagement and plans are already afoot to organise follow-up events in both the US and the UK and to generate further publications.