Invention, diffusion and linear models of innovation: the contribution of anthropology to a conceptual framework

Par Benoît Godin

There exist two sequential or linear models of innovation in the literature. One is the “linear model of innovation” as such. This model comes from management and economics, and deals with the study of the origin of inventions. The other model, of which the linear model of innovation is one part or step, is that of innovation as a process of invention followed by diffusion. This “model”, or rather the theory on which it is based, comes from anthropology and was invented as a solution to a controversy on the role of invention and diffusion in explaining cultural change. The sequence ‘invention → diffusion’ has remained influential in later studies of technological innovation from sociology to management and economics. This paper documents the origin of the sequence and its subsequent use in the study of technological innovation.
JEL codes: B2, N14, O15

Key words

  • innovation
  • innovation studies
  • linear model of innovation
  • anthropology
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