This book is the first monograph-length investigation of innovation and the innovation process from an archaeological perspective. We live in a world where innovation, innovativeness, creativity, and invention are almost laughably over-used buzzwords. Yet comparatively little research has been carried out on the long-term history of innovation beyond and before the Industrial Revolution. This monograph offers both a response and a sort of answer to the wider trans-disciplinary dialogue on innovation, invention, and technological and social change. The idea of innovation that permeates our popular media and our political and scientific discourse is set against the long-term perspective that only archaeology can offer in dialogue with a range of social theory about the development of new technologies and social structures. The book offers a new version of the story of human inventiveness from our earliest hominin ancestors to the present day. In doing so, it challenges the contemporary lionization of disruptive technologies, while also setting the post-Industrial-Revolution innovation boom into a deeper temporal and wider cultural context. It argues that the present narrow focus on pushing the adoption of technical innovations ignores the complex interplay of social, technological, and environmental systems that underlies truly innovative societies; the inherent connections between new technologies, technologists, and social structure that give them meaning and make them valuable; and the significance and value of conservative social practices that lead to the frequent rejection of innovations.
This chapter introduces the volume and sets out its aims. It introduces the concept of bricolage: an archaeological approach to meaning-making that juxtaposes diverse data and bodies of theory to develop narratives for understanding complex and fragmented assemblages. A preliminary definition of innovation is presented, and the structure of the book is explained.
This chapter investigates the concept of innovation and its research history across a number of disciplines, from economics to archaeology. It explores how particular conceptualizations of innovation and progress have been tied up in colonial and racist discourse through the case study of colonial and archaeological assessments of Aboriginal Tasmanian culture and technology. The chapter argues that archaeologists, by dint of their training in exploring worlds and social structures not shaped by post-Industrial-Revolution capitalist relations, are particularly well suited to explore the wider question of how and why people innovate (or don’t).
This chapter explores in greater depth the interpretative tools available to archaeologists interested in innovation and technological change. It begins with an extended discussion of the research history of early-agriculture studies and the various narratives and interpretative frameworks that have developed in this thriving field. Evolutionary approaches to innovation are discussed and found to be limited in their applicability because of their inability to grapple with the complexities of social relations and socially constructed technologies. Instead, the chapter argues that the most appropriate approach to the study of innovation, particularly when examining highly fragmented archaeological data, is through the application of social models that emphasize connections between persons and things, a relational approach foregrounding ideas of social construction, negotiation, and historic trajectories. This approach allows us to bring together complementary data and to work at multiple temporal and spatial scales to tell thick histories of innovation and resistance.
This chapter explores the idea of invention and asks what, if any, insight archaeology can offer into something that is often considered both momentary and rare. The invention of metallurgy in Eurasia is explored both to delineate the variety of archaeological tools applied to understand this phenomenon, and to demonstrate that invention is considerably less transient than typically imagined. Taking a social approach, the chapter argues that invention is a process with both spatial extent and time depth, and one that involves a network of people, crafts, and ideas. To explore this further, a discussion of imitation and emulation is developed. This brings together archaeological and anthropological narratives of technological imitation with more recent work on iterative processes and re-combination in the digital sphere. The chapter argues that the idea of parsimonious inventions developed by singular (male) individuals is a myth that elides the complex social networks and historical processes that shape this creative process.
This chapter explores the motivations for innovation adoption in the past and present. It is built around a discussion of the complicated ways indigenous people incorporated (some) European materials into their material culture through a culturally contingent process of re-definition and negotiation. This fraught process is contrasted with common-sense adoption narratives built around a scaffolding of economic rationalism and superior functionality. The chapter argues against this sort of post hoc ergo propter hoc interpretation, suggesting instead that the choice to adopt an innovation is best understood through the lens of specific social and interpersonal relationships. In order to shift our perspective away from more traditional adoption narratives focused on influential or aggrandizing male elites, the chapter looks at shifting patterns of community and identity linked together by women and children through phatic labor. The role of kin – biological and fictive – is emphasized.
This chapter askes how innovations spread – both over space and through time. It attempts to bridge the distance between the individual-scale sharing of knowledge or skills and the regional scale patterning visible archaeologically. The case study explored in this chapter is the spread of Lapita material, people, and practices in the prehistoric Pacific. As the study makes clear, especially when small-scale and pre-modern societies are concerned, kin networks are crucial vectors for the dissemination of new ideas, technologies, and practices particularly through teaching and learning. This observation leads to an extended discussion of craft learning that explores the ways various training models identified ethnographically and historically encourage or discourage innovative practices. Evolutionary models of knowledge transfer are contrasted with more embedded approaches, such as models of situated learning and communities of practice. The discussion then broadens to explore the geographies of innovation dissemination. While archaeologists fixate on narratives of diffusion and migration, research in the contemporary world focuses on the development of regional innovation systems. The chapter argues that these dominant approaches overlook the role of peripheral populations and the creativity of marginal communities.
This chapter explores the tricky question of non-innovation, and how we might understand it both archaeologically and in the present. At its core is the case study of Romano-British Cornwall, during an apparently static and stodgy period where archaeologists have observed a marked tendency towards continuity from much earlier periods in settlement pattern and material culture. By assuming that this seeming non-change reflected active, negotiated choices, a new model emerges in which maintaining traditional practices and ways of life is part of an active resistance of Roman domination. This case study is used as an entry point, first to discuss how to identify and understand innovation resistance or non-innovation in archaeological contexts and, second, to understand the various practices that are bundled together under the umbrella of conservatism. The chapter emphasizes how innovation and non-innovation result from and affect flows of power, and the effects of these on personal and social networks. The logic of anti-innovation is explored, and the modern myth of disruption as unalloyed good is, itself, disrupted. The chapter builds on post-colonial literature to argue that persistence is a better frame for non-innovation than conservatism, but that even the identification of a given practice as innovative or not is a subjective judgment affected by power relations, histories of practice, and local context.
This chapter builds on the previous one to explore the related phenomena of creativity and innovativeness. It starts with a discussion of the evolution of modern humans and how ideas of creativity and technological innovation have been bound up for centuries in our concept of what it means to be human. This case study leads into a discussion of creativity, grounded in recent archaeological research by Joanna Sofaer and linking back to earlier discussions of creative re-interpretation, re-combination and resistance. This is followed by a discussion of innovativeness – essentially creativity on a societal scale – that starts in models from psychology and organizational studies and contrasts these with a case study of Cornish miners in nineteenth-century Australia. These more contemporary examples are contrasted with evolutionary archaeological approaches that identify demographic pressure and population density as causal factors in innovative behavior in prehistoric societies. The chapter argues that these divergent approaches can by integrated through the application of non-anthropocentric models of social interaction, in which shifting makeups of heterogeneous networks of humans, non-humans, things, and places affect how individual people and communities navigate their world, leading to emergent innovativeness.
This short chapter concludes the volume with a more contemporary perspective on innovation, resistance, and technological change. It draws a parallel between the present world and the interwar years of the early twentieth century to argue that we are currently at a cusp where radical technological developments seem to be less exciting and more terrifying as their consequences become more apparent. The chapter argues that archaeological approaches can offer visions of alternative futures through the construction of myriad alternative pasts. It emphasizes the many different social conformations, aside from individualizing capitalism, that have fostered innovation in the past, and makes clear that capitalist myths of innovation actively erase the contributions of non-dominant individuals – children, women, indigenous people, etc. It concludes with a challenge to the reader to dismantle their preconceptions, draw on a variety of different and contrasting data and approaches, and attempt to construct their own narrative of innovation, past and present.