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Myers, SK 2006, 'Evolutionary theory : a 'good' explanatory framework for research into technological innovation?', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright SK Myers 2006


This study attempts to answer the question; does evolutionary theory provide a ‘good’ explanatory framework for examining the phenomenon of technological innovation? In doing so, the study critically examines mainstream marketing’s in-place explanatory frameworks, offers an explanation of ‘evolution’ based on new insights from a broad range of (sub)disciplines, and makes the practical proposition that this explanation is a ‘good’ analogous representation of the technological innovation process.

As an alternative to the ‘scientific empiricist’ approach that dominates much of marketing’s research into technological innovation, the study develops a research methodology that is based within a postmodern philosophy, adopts an epistemology of transcendental realism, bases the research design on abduction and textual explanation, and brings together a research method based on the criteria of interesting, plausibility and acceptability.

Familiarisation with mainstream marketing’s explanatory frameworks for research into technological innovation identified Diffusion theory, New Product Development theory and Network theory as dominant. It is concluded that these frameworks are based on problematic theoretical foundations, a situation considered as largely due to a pre-occupation with assumptions that are atomistic, reductionistic, deterministic, gradualistic and mechanistic in nature. It is argued, that in concert with the ‘socialised’ dominance of mathematical form over conceptual substance, mainstream marketing’s research into technological innovation is locked into a narrow range of ‘preordained axiomatics’.

The explanation of ‘evolution’ offered within the study is based on a why, what, how, when and where format. The resultant explanation represents a significant departure from the (neo)Darwinian biological perspective that tends to dominate evolutionary explanations of socio-economic behaviour, in that the focus is on the principles (and associated conceptualizations) of ‘variation’, ‘selection’ and ‘preservation’ within the broader context of open and dissipative systems. The offered explanation presents a number of theoretical ideas, and in particular, that evolution can only occur in a ‘multidimensional space of possibilities’, denotes a process of ‘adaptive emergence’, and is essentially concerned with ‘on-going resilience through adaptability’.

The practical proposition is made that the offered explanation of ‘evolution’ can be used in an ‘as if’ manner, that is, the principles of ‘variation’, ‘selection’, and ‘preservation’ (and the meanings ascribed to them through conceptualization) are analogically transferable to the technological innovation research area. The proposition is supported through reference to theoretical and empirical research, highlighting the similarity with respect to the generative mechanisms, structures and contingent conditions underpinning both ‘evolution’ and ‘technological innovation’.