Elizabeth Garnsey (1968)

Reader in Innovation Studies, Department of Engineering and Business School, Cambridge University, UK.

My first degree before I went to Berkeley, was in economics at Oxford. When I returned to  Cambridge, UK, I worked as a research associate in the Labour Studies Group of the Department of Applied Economics. My doctorate on occupational structure in the Soviet Union had showed that the Soviet economy was incapable of making the transition from industrial to post-industrial economy and was on the way to internal collapse. Comparative work  on occupational structure led me  to take an interest in employment structure  (at a time when unemployment was very high in Britain) and in women's employment.  I worked on projects for the UK government and on European Union on "non-standard employment." The work of our team was used to draw up the  Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty.

By the late 80s I wanted to move beyond remedial policy to seeing how new employment could be created and became increasingly interested in the rise of new industries, first from a job generation perspective and to see how new technologies were creating opportunities for enterprise and propelling new industries. In Cambridge UK, as in the Bay Area, new high tech companies were springing up in the 1980s,  as yet largely unnoticed. This seemed to be the way of the future,  in the face of the disintegration of the old systems of capitalism and communism. In the Soviet Union there were no mechanisms to encourage innovation. I began to research into innovation in high tech Cambridge and on clusters of new activity. As a result of my work on new technologies I was appointed to a teaching post in a division of the Faculty of Engineering. At Cambridge UK,  the Institute for Manufacturing resembles Stanford¹s Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management. We put on  courses on industry for engineers and placements for engineering students in companies - a great base for research. I have been here since 1984. I am now what is called a Reader (in Innovation Studies), a joint appointment in the Business School at Cambridge (Judge Institute) and the Engineering Department.

If I have to define my discipline, I view myself as an economist rather than a sociologist. I wanted to learn some sociology to counter the narrowness of the economics paradigm and my experience at Berkeley moved me out of orthodox economics into 'alternative' political economy. I have published more in economics and business journals than in sociology journals.

The impact of my work? My research has influenced policy measures in Brussels and in London. In Cambridge I have been active in promoting links between industry and the university  through technology transfer. I have helped young companies to start up and grow, working at the local Innovation Centre. I place students with them on projects to help solve business development  and technical problems. I have taught and advised Russians and Armenians among others on innovation - on the basis of my experience of scientists using their knowledge to address industrial problems.

In the engineering school where I teach, the few of us who are not engineers are all viewed  together as in the soft sciences. From this perspective, all the disciplines dealing with people have much in common. My current work on the resource based theory of the firm and on evolutionary economics covers ground that is of interest to both sociologists and economists, while work on clustering of high tech activities encompasses business studies, economics and geography. In applied work of the kind I do, the relevance of continuing divisions between the social sciences is in question. Rigorous concepts and evidence are needed but these can cross disciplinary boundaries, as applications of evolutionary theory show.

Dissertation Title: 
Societ Educational and Manpower Policy During the Seven-Year Plan, 1959-1965: A Sociological Analysis of Policy Formation