Abstract: Innovation and Research in the Steel Industry: A Collaborative Project? (1950-1990s)

Eric Godelier


From a Schumpeterian point of view, innovation comes when an invention is transformed by an entrepreneur into a new type of product or production process. This linear march toward change and progress relies on a rational and linear set of steps from a concept to its realization, implying collaboration among different categories of actors, either individual or collective. But what about when a network of corporations is in charge of designing and implementing new ideas, either for the entire network or some of its members? Are they ''innovating'' in a Shumpeterian sense? Do we have to rethink the classical concept of innovation and its linear approach to the process? The French steel industry after World War II represents a good example of this in-between collective organization. In April 1944, the steel industry decided to organize its research on a shared basis; at the same time, the French state was establishing a series of new research institutions like the Institut National d'hygiène (Public Health Institute). Nevertheless, the new research unit, the IRSID (Institut de la Recherche Siderurgique) was a private initiative designed by the French steel companies. This initiative could be seen as real progress toward a better research organization in the steel industry—or as a clever tactic developed by the companies to avoid a possible nationalization and increasing control by the French state.