— Cultural Sources of Newness

Two unique French institutions for valuing newness

It was my colleague Lutz Marz who first got me interested in the institutions and processes involved in valuing newness. His careful analyses of constellations of stakeholders arguing for and against radically new types of automobile engines reveal the cultural dynamics behind why an innovation does (or does not) achieve the status of newness.

His research contributed significantly to structuring our research program on cultural sources of newness by suggesting that it is analytically useful to differentiate between two phases in the innovation process: the phase during which new possibilities emerge and the phase during which they are assessed as worth keeping. (Yes, we also recognize that valuation occurs throughout, as people evaluate ideas and their sources all the time, not just after an innovation has taken shape, but there is a definite shift in emphasis.)

Some of our projects focus more on the first phase and some focus more on the second. But none of them study the unique institutions that establish newness in the French language. A BBC radio program about the Académie Francaise revealed the roles played not only by that agency but also by the French family dinner conversation. This latter traditional institution is particularly active during festive periods like Christmas, while official agencies take a break. A written blog post cannot do justice to the topic, which must be heard with the wonderful French accents (including some great rapping!). I recommend not delaying to tune in, because I don’t know how long this program will be available online.

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