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Seminar – The social recognition of innovators: Uncovering the heads behind the guillotine

Universiteit van Amsterdam ABS

Studies on the origin of novelty have mostly focused their attention on who is most likely to innovate and how innovations become socially accepted. However, such research assumes that there is no uncertainly on the innovator-innovation link, thus taking for granted external audiences’ ability to identify who are the main actors behind a focal innovation. Such recognition is important because it determines advantages and rewards, as well as drawbacks and penalizations for the recognized actors. To unveil the processes driving the social recognition of innovators, we conducted a historical investigation of one of the most iconic and controversial objects of modern history: the ‘guillotine,’ a beheading machine which was named after, and attributed to Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a prominent French politician and humanist that contributed to its adoption in the years of the French Revolution (circa 1788-1792). Our research explains why – despite having no role to its design or production – Dr Guillotin (against his own will) has traditionally been recognized as “the inventor of the guillotine.” We advance a general process of social recognition and argue that three elements determine the association of individuals to innovations: (1) the actors’ social posture; (2) the collective debate around the innovation; and (3) a set of three recognition mechanisms connecting the former two: perceived congruence, enabling contribution, and co-identification. We explore how the audiences’ information asymmetries, and the controversial nature of certain innovations further strengthen the innovator-innovation link.

Hybrid from REC M4.02


  • Paolo Aversa (Kings College London)


Plantage Muidergracht 12,
1018 TV Amsterdam