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Vol 4 - Issue 4

Technology and Innovation

List of Articles

Inventions and history of technology. Historiographical benchmarks and issues.
Cédric Perrin

This article offers some pertinent reflections as an introduction to the current issue of Technology and Innovation dedicated to “the Invention and History of Technology”. It presents some of the concepts and issues that have marked the evolution of the historiography of the question over the last fifty years.

La Fronde: women, technology and invention in the 19th Century
Anne Chanteux

At the end of the 19th Century, the journal La Fronde focused particular attention on the science and technology of its time. This journal, founded by Marguerite Durand, published lists of patents filed by women. Who were these women? How did they intervene in the field of technology when their education and rights predisposed them to other activities?

The Development of Fuel Cell Research in France at the End of the 1950s: Analysis of the Historical Construction of a Technological Enthusiasm
Nicolas Simoncini

Using archival research, this paper analyzes the causes and conditions that led to the development of fuel cells in France at the end of the 1950s. There were many contributing factors: the break with the research previously conducted in Europe from the 19th Century to the 1930s, led by the English engineer Francis T. Bacon; the rise of energy self-sufficiency concerns following the Second World War; fears of losing a strategic scientific and technological advantage over other nations; and the increasing role of the French state in the orientation of science and technology. The institutionalization of the relation between the military, academic and industrial sectors also created a thought collective and a social network which shaped fuel cell research.

Prussian blue, such a French dye
François Delamare

While Prussian blue did indeed begin its European career as a pigment, it was as a dye that it spread in France during the 19th Century. As early as the 18th century, various French chemists (Macquer, Le Pileur d’Apligny) had foreseen and proved that Prussian blue could be used as a dye. This discovery did not interest French dyers, who at that time used indigo from the French Antilles which was very cheap. It wasn’t until the break in international trade due to the Continental System (1806) that the French government urgently began to seek a replacement blue. J.-M. Raymond perfected the Prussian blue dyeing of silk (Raymond blue) in 1811 and his son, P. Raymond, that of wool cloth in 1822. The shades obtained were so highly prized that these dyes would be retained after the Empire’s fall, when France would again import indigo, English this time, from the Carolinas. The fashion in France for Prussian blue dyeing was then the cause for the development of an industry for the production of cyanides and yellow potash prussiate, the major part of which was used for dyeing. Manufacturing processes evolved but this flourishing situation was brutally brought to an end in the 1860s by the appearance of the first blue aniline dyes.

The birth of wind turbines: a question of definition(s)
Philippe Bruyerre

This article investigates the historical accounts of the births of different wind turbines: the Dutch polder windmill (17th century), the American wind pump (19th century) and the Danish wind turbine (20th century). These multiple births and rebirths refer to the “definition” of the technical object, in both senses of the word “definition”: the enunciation of what a thing is and its degree of spatial and temporal finesse (as in "high definition" in the domain of images).

Pierre Bézier and the Renault Transfer Machines (1940–1960). When Cinema Fails to Glorify an Industrial Hero
Alain P. Michel

Pierre Bézier is an anti-hero of industrial innovation. He has alternately been seen as the artisan of an original form of automation, the promoter in Europe of numerical control, and as one of the founders of industrial computing. While "Bézier curves and surfaces" are still widely used, the family name is seldom associated with the man and hardly ever linked to his previous innovations which have fallen into oblivion. This paper investigates the failure of a film promotion campaign for Renault transfer machinery in the late 1950s. This case study makes it possible to compare Bézier’s workshop practices to the patterns of industrial thought which did not consider him as a worthwhile innovator. In other words, as Bezier’s trajectory resists the canonical interpretative frameworks of heroic industrial innovation, the anecdotal acquires a historical value.

Rationality and constraint management in the innovation process: the case of Saint Gobain’s Plateforme du bâtiment
Ludovic Vievard, Joëlle Forest

The permanent injunction to innovate raises the question of the mode of existence of innovations. How do the innovations that shape our world and our behaviors emerge? In order to provide some answers, this article reviews the history of a marketing innovation: the plateforme du bâtiment of Saint Gobain. Although it is clear that the genesis of this innovation does not emerge ex nihilo, the history of the plateforme du bâtiment shows that the final form taken by this innovation is closely linked to the way the designers took into account the constraints inherent in any design process. It also highlights the fact that innovation results from the deployment of two forms of thought: creative and analytical rationality. In this way, this article encourages us to emancipate ourselves from a romantic conception of innovation inherited from the magnified storytelling of the genesis of great innovations.

Collateral innovation. When invention creates needs for innovation in the field of understanding and treating pelvic diseases
Cédric El Maleh, Dominique Vinck

Innovation often takes root in the invention of an original solution to a given problem. In the case of the innovation process discussed in this article, the story indeed begins thus. Doctors confronted with a health problem, to which they are struggling to find satisfactory solutions, turn to mechanics in order to work together to find an innovative solution and then disseminate it. This article reports on the trajectory of their cooperation. The article shows that detours and unexpected innovations are not simply by-products but also play a role in the dynamics of innovation as they unintentionally contribute to preparing the demand for the innovation that was initially expected. The article thus helps to account for the complex temporalities of innovation and for dynamics that are far from linear. Moreover, the fact that the actors are teams of collaborative researchers, no member of which emerges as a hero of the story, helps to account for the actors who are often left in the shadows. This article reports on the socio-technical thickness of an innovation’s way of life and how it can fit into an environment that it has also helped to shape.

Science fiction and innovations: challenging the engineering mindset
Marie-Luc Arpin, Corinne Gendron, Nicolas Merveille, Jean-Pierre Revéret

This article examines engineering’s current identity crisis and looks to science fiction literature as a potential path to more epistemological openness in the face of crisis. Even if this literature contributes to the ideology of technological unavoidability, it can also help to transcend it and, at the same time, nourish an epistemological pluralism capable of questioning the technicist problematisation of the social by the engineer.