Technological Paradigms and Strategic Groups: Putting Competition into the Definitions

Article excerpt

The concept of the technological paradigm has become increasingly popular among Schumpeterian and evolutionary authors. In this note, I want to propose a new definition of this concept and to show how it can be applied to the study of strategic groups, a subject that has received much attention in traditional industrial organization theory and very little in evolutionary theory. In another paper, my co-authors and I used the redefined concept of a technological paradigm to explain the parallel development of scientific communities and industries [Debackere et al. 1994]. The main justification for this paper is to make the concept more operational and useful, especially for evolutionary theory, by linking the definition to measurable reality.

Kuhn [1970] argued that the history of science consisted of relatively long periods of "normal science," during which scientists worked within the confines of a specific "scientific paradigm," alternating with "scientific revolutions," leading to new paradigms. However, Kuhn's use of the word "paradigm" was, at least, ambiguous. Its meaning ranged from actual experiments, theories, or artifacts, which served as guiding examples to all scientists in a certain field, to a complete set of ways of identifying problems, searching for solutions and expressing and evaluating results.

Kuhnian ideas have been referred to by many economists, among them Dosi, who introduced the concept of the technological paradigm and defined it as

. . . a "pattern" of solution of selected technoeconomic problems based on highly selected principles derived from the natural sciences, jointly with specific rules aimed at acquiring new knowledge and safeguarding it, whenever possible, against rapid diffusion to the competitors. . . . A technological paradigm is both an exemplar - an artifact that is to be developed and improved . . .-and a set of heuristics . . . [Dosi 1988].

He also defines a technological trajectory as ". . . the activity of technological progress along the economic and technological trade-offs defined by a paradigm" [Dosi 1988]. Two interrelated problems appear when speaking of technological paradigms and trajectories in this way: scope and content.

With regard to scope, it is clear that Dosi's paradigms are technology-specific and sometimes, but certainly not always, industry-specific. Later writers proposed to broaden, as well as to narrow, the scope of the concept to make it more useful. Principal among the first group are Freeman and Perez [1988], who introduced the term techno-economic paradigm to describe patterns common to all industry in a long-wave period. In contrast, Andersen [1991] defined microscopic (to distinguish them from Freeman and Perez's macroscopic TEPs) techno-economic paradigms as ". . . a mutually agreed definition of the producer-user interface which partly takes the form of specifications of the commodities to be delivered," which comes very close to an industry-specific definition. This also fits in well with the definitions of Saviotti and Metcalve [1984], who consider products to be a combination of three sets or characteristics: technical features of the product, services performed by the product, and methods of production. These sets describe the outer boundaries of a competitive process localized in a specific industry. Therefore, it seems to be most appropriate to define a technological paradigm as industry-specific, at the same time representing an implicit agreement between producers and consumers/users about the nature of the good or service and forming the basis of (technological) competition to the producers. In this way, the concept can be used much more effectively to describe the nature of competition in specific industries. A new paradigm means a new industry and vice versa, even though the exact identification of both may take time.

As in the case of Kuhn's paradigm, the content of the concept technological paradigm can include many things. …