Institute for Mediterranean Studies


The social preconditions of innovation - Aspects of the Greek experience

Project outline

The ELISTOKAINO project is part of the strategic development plan of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies (IMS) and the Foundation for Research and Technology. Through an interdisciplinary approach, it seeks to contribute to an understanding of innovation in Greece, by studying aspects of the Greek experience over time in this area. Research on innovation is a new field of social history and the IMS aims, with the completion of this research, to have made its mark on the international scholarly map in this field and thus increase the number of fields in which it has achieved academic and research excellence.

Moreover, the IMS anticipates that, by the completion of the project, it will

  • Contribute to interdisciplinary approaches, promoting an osmosis between the natural and human sciences
  • In this regard, it will capitalise upon the fervent interest of many engineers and natural scientists in the history of their fields
  • Expand its educational activities through formal collaborations with the University of Crete's postgraduate study programmes, and in this way will
  • Introduce historical and sociological research on innovation to young scientists, broadening their scientific horizons and assisting in their professional development
  • In academic terms, the research will lead to several doctoral theses and  Master's dissertations.
  • It will present scholarly research and innovation, in a manner intelligible to the general public, through exhibitions and other activities, making their history and importance to society more widely known.

The huge importance of innovation to securing sustainable and viable economic growth is widely accepted. With the Lisbon Strategy of March 2000, the European Council set as a strategic goal for the next decade to make the European Union, through innovation and knowledge, "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world". The acknowledgement by EU authorities that the Lisbon Strategy's goals had not been met and their reformulation and greater specification in the Europe 2020 strategy as "smart, sustainable, inclusive growth" demonstrates that the introduction of innovation into the economy and its translation into greater development do not depend so much on decisions taken at the top but instead presuppose the existence of a series of social factors. It is precisely these factors that are difficult to conceptualise using the quantitative indicators with which, as a rule, the performance in innovation of an economy and its society are measured. Public and private expenditure on research and development, the number of graduates in the natural sciences and engineering, broadband penetration, the expansion of life-long education, the number of international patents, the rate of employment in manufacturing and information technology services and other similar factors that constitute the so-called Composite Innovation Index (CII) describe situations, often tautologically, but they do not explain them. The participants of the ELISTOKAINO project are convinced that a historical and sociological approach can give answers to matters that the quantitative approach to innovation cannot.

The difficult times through which the Greek economy has gone in the past few years have often brought to the forefront of discussions proposals for technological research and innovation. Even so, although offhand "historical" and "sociological" interpretations are often given of the insufficient research funding or the supposed failure of research to contribute to economic growth, and proposals are made that range from increasing funding to abandoning scientific research, a proper consideration of the deeper causes of the state of research and innovation in Greece today is missing, as though they did not have a history.

It overlooks the fact that the creation of the modern Greek state, which is today looked upon by much of the international community as a "failed state", was a major innovation in a pre-urban and pre-industrial social context. This innovation was a combination of imported elements and local factors. The same happened in all areas of the economy, science and the arts, while there was no lack of exclusively domestic innovative activities that have not yet been researched. As there was a coordination between the various fields of social activity, in the sense that the set of social, economic and ideological factors that influenced the acceptance or production of innovation existed simultaneously in more than one field, the combined historical and sociological investigation of aspects of Greek experience will allow for a better understanding in general of the social preconditions of innovation.

A historical and multiperspective approach to the issue of innovation poses the question as to which particular aspects of Greek experience will be studied and for which period of time. The selection of the particular cases that are being proposed here was done using the criteria of their social significance and representativeness. On the basis of these criteria, the research interest is focused not only on those cases where innovation was successfully introduced but also on cases of failure and resistance. Even more so, given that resistance to innovation is often inextricably linked to its ultimate successful introduction. Although the research aims to contribute to understanding current situations, the period it covers stretches from the more recent past of the second half of the 20th century to as far back as the emergence of modern Greek society in the 18th century, the period of the Neohellenic Enlightenment and the pre-revolutionary years. This period can be considered as the mould in which characteristics of modern Greek society were shaped diachronically. This retrospection was also necessitated by the desire to put a check on superficial historical interpretations which attribute features and problems of modern Greek society to the legacy of the Ottoman period, which is supposedly responsible for the absence of a land-owning aristocracy, the conservatism of the bourgeoisie or "middle classes" who avoid taking economic risks, the attachment to the communal and the insufficient development of "subjectivity" in relation to the "West". Using these criteria, the issue of technological and economic innovation was chosen to be investigated through the following case studies and periods:

  • the perception of time and mechanical devices for time keeping in the Greek lands ( 18th - 20th centuries)
  • the field of mentalities and the attitude to the natural sciences during the initial period of the formation of modern Greek society
  • agriculture, the main production sector from the interwar period until 1970
  • shipbuilding, which is associated with shipping, a major and diachronic sector of the Greek economy and identity
  • the institutionalisation of protection for innovation through patent laws
  • Greek industries that have invested in research and the development of new products
  • the discussions on Greekness that took place in the visual and performing arts, alongside industrialisation and in relation to it
  • the role of engineers and entrepreneurs, both those who acted independently and those who worked as part of foreign missions and companies.
  • The role of women in research and innovation in Greece

The main results of the  research actions of the project are accessible through the following links:

  • Perceptions of time and mechanical devices for time keeping in the Greek lands eighteenth to twentieth centuries [R.A.1] (1.1, 1.2 401MB .accdb)
  • Scientific and technological experiments during the Greek Enlightment [R.A.2]
  • The introduction of innovations in Greek agriculture during the twentieth century [R.A.3] (3.1, 3.2)
  • Turning points in the Greek and Mediterranean shipbuilding industry, nineteenth - twentieth centuries [R.A.4]
  • Innovation in theory and practice [R.A.5] (5.3)
  • Engineers, industrialization and modernization, 1830-1940 [R.A.6]
  • The role of foreign engineers in public works in Greece [R.A.7]
  • Innovation versus tradition and «Greekness» in visual and performing arts [R.A.8] (8.4, 8.5, 8.6 .xls .zip)
  • The role of women in research and innovation in Greece [R.A.9]
  • Workshops and exhibitions [R.A.10]