I am currently Professor of Economics at the Bureau d'Economie Theorique et Appliquée (BETA), University of Strasbourg, and Professor of Economics of Technical Change at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology, UNU-MERIT, at the University of Maastricht. I have several varied research interests. Below is a listing of some of them, with links to further information and collaborators.
This work focusses on the externalities in technology use. Externalities arise from learning among producers, learning among users, and network externalities of various kinds. When these features of a technology are strongly present, they imply that the benefit to using a technology increases with the number of other agents using that same technology. Potential bandwagons and technological lock-in exist. Recent work concerns spatial aspects of feedbacks among users of a technology and the spatial patterns of technology adoption and use that result from different patterns of externalities.
As we learn more about knowledge and how it moves around an economy it becomes more and more clear that the communication structure of a group of agents can be central to its creation and diffusion. Since much important knowledge is tacit, or uncodified, knowledge transmission is not well-modelled as a process that is free, instantaneous and universal. Indeed, much transmission is very local, taking place in time-consuming and face-to face interactions. Nonetheless, there are typically pathways by which a piece of knowledge does get communicated to the entire population of interested agents. This research is focussed on understanding how the architecture of a communication network --- who is connected to whom --- affects the performance of that network in terms of knowledge creation and distribution. One question that arises continuously is whether the small world architecture dominates here as it does in network models of other phenomena.
This research is focussed on issues of the economics of science, particularly in middle income countries. Emerging economies are all concerned with improving productivity, and see technological upgrading as a necessary condition. It is well-known that improvements in the human capital stock are an integral part of upgrading, so there is now strong interest in mechanisms underlying the process of knowledge generation (research) and diffusion (education) in these contexts. This research focusses on university science and education, largely in the context of South Africa, where the concern with knowledge upgrading is confounded with the legacies of apartheid and the ongoing struggle to overcome them.
Advances in knowledge is considered one of the major components of economic growth. Knowledge generation occurs in many places in the economy--in R&D labs; universities, military research facilities; during the processes of production or consumption. This research concerns the relationships among knowledge generation, the place in which it is generated, and the uses to which it is put. In particular, the idea that knowledge generated in one locale, for use by a particular type of actor, can be absorbed in another locale, and contribute to knowledge generation there, and can sometimes simply be used by a different type of actor than that for which it was intended.
Competitions among different ways of doing a particular task often end with a single technique dominating the market. In fact, this dominance often takes the form of a single technique being the only one used. Competitions among video cassetter recorder technologies, computer operating systems, automobile technologies (internal combustion, steam and electric) are all examples of technology competitions. The outcomes of these competitions are often driven by increasing returns to adoption--as a technology becomes more common, the net payoffs to using it increase.
While there has been considerable work done on the evolution of production, particularly relatingto technical change, less research has been done on the evolution of consumption. There has been work on conformity and fads, but little explicit work on the evolution of consumption as a good moves through a population of heterogeneous consumers. As an example, holiday resorts are often "discovered" by the rich. The presence of the rich makes the destination desirable to members of the upper middle class, who pick it up as a place to go. Their presence has two effects--it makes the resort desirable to the middle classes, and it makes it undesirable to the rich. The rich move on, seeking sunnier, more distinctive climes, and the middle class become patrons. Here, consumption decisions are driven in part by the fact that consumers feel conformity, distinction and aspiration effects from the consumption of other members of the population. The upper middle class aspires to join the upper class, and so imitates its behaviour. The upper class feels the need to distinguish itself from the middle, and so moves on as the imitation begins. Any agent, though, to remain a member of its class, needs to conform to some extent. These ideas are present in the works of the sociologist, Pierre Bordieu, and the economist George Akerlof.
Much recent work in economics can be seen as arising from the view that economies can be understood as embodying processes that operate in real time. The essence of an economy is that agents are acting purposively, using various means to gain their particular ends. Embodied in this view is that part of understanding economic phenomena involves understanding the processes that underlie those phenomena and the processes by which the observed states come into being. This can be seen both in the Austrian School and in the recent interest in evolutionary economics.
One of the difficulties facing evolutionary economics as a field has been empirical analysis. The problems arise from the tenet of the evolutionary approach that if the economy is a process to be modelled as evolcing, it will necessarily change in ways that are unpredictable from the point of view of an anayst. The inherent unpredicatility in fine implies that historical analysis will have a central place in understanding economic phenomena within this general perspective. Some of this analysis has been explicitly counter-factual. In any scientific endeavour counter-factual analysis is ubiquitous and accepted to the point of being unobserved, counterfactual history is somewhat tendentious in economics at least. Nonetheless, the nature and underpinnings of evolutionary economics, in particular its concern with historical processes, and the view of causation inherent in much of the theorizing, seem to demand it.