Hollingsworth.pdf

 


 
RESEARCH ORGANIZATIONS AND MAJOR DISCOVERIES  
IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCIENCE:  
A CASE STUDY OF EXCELLENCE IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH
 
 
J. ROGERS HOLLINGSWORTH

 

INTRODUCTION
This paper is a small part of a much larger historical and cross-national research
agenda in which the author has been engaged for more than a decade. The agenda has
confronted two major problems: (1) How does the institutional environment in which actors
are embedded constrain their behavior (Hollingsworth, 1986; Hollingsworth, Hage, and
Hanneman, 1990; Campbell, Hollingsworth, and Lindberg, 1991; Hollingsworth, Schmitter,
and Streeck, 1994; Hollingsworth and Boyer, 1997; Hollingsworth, 2000), and (2) How do
the structure and culture of organizations facilitate or hamper their innovativeness
(Hollingsworth and Hollingsworth, 2000a, 2000b; Hage and Hollingsworth, 2000;
Hollingsworth, Hollingsworth, and Hage, 2002 forthcoming; Hollingsworth, Müller, and
Hollingsworth, 2002 forthcoming).
The paper addresses the problem of how the structure and culture of research
organizations influence the creation of fundamental new knowledge. More specifically, the
paper is part of a research project which is concerned with the question of why research
organizations varied in their capacity to make major breakthroughs in biomedical science in
the twentieth century. The perspectives that have been useful in shaping this project have
come from diverse sources — the literatures on national systems of innovation, on
organizational innovation, on evolutionary economics, on organizational capabilities, and
literatures in the history and sociology of science. The ideas in these literatures have been
refined and extended through many dozen historical case studies of major discoveries,
which my colleagues and I have conducted in approximately 200 research organizations in
twentieth-century Britain, France, Germany, and the United States (Hollingsworth,
Hollingsworth, and Hage, 2002 forthcoming; also see unpublished sources noted at the end
of this paper).
The theoretical framework of the paper is used to analyze the structure and culture
of the one research organization which had more major breakthroughs in biomedical
science than any other in the twentieth century: the relatively small Rockefeller University
in New York City. Hopefully, this case study will shed light on the kinds of organizational
strategies, structure and culture which facilitate the creation of fundamental new knowledge
in very hybrid fields of science.

 

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