The aim of this Special Issue of the European Journal of Social and Economic
System is to collect a series of papers which deal with the issue of knowledge
recombination and innovation, adopting different perspectives and using different
The term recombination is taken from genetics and it means the natural
formation in offspring of genetic combinations not present in parents by the
processes of crossing over or independent assortment1. It appeared in the
economics literature quite recently, imported by a biologist, Stuart Kauffman (e.g.
1993), who is interested in complex systems; and by an economist, Martin Weitzman
(e.g. 1998), who studies economic growth. Both of them refers to this concept, since
they intend to show how new ideas emerge from a combination of past ideas and to
stress that the element of novelty arises from the new way to relate (keep together)
pre-existing elements instead of inventing ex-nihilo.
The idea is far from being new, even in economics. Already Usher (1929) and
Schumpeter (1934) evoked this feature of both inventive and innovative activities.
The former claimed that invention finds its distinctive feature in the constructive
assimilation of pre-existing elements into new synthesis, new patterns or new
configurations; the latter that the essence of innovation is carrying out new
combinations and that development consists primarily in employing existing
resources in a different way, in doing new things with them. Moreover, already the
French mathematician Henri Poincaré recognized this point long time ago, for
example, when reflecting on how the finest ideas were generated in the sciences:
They are those which reveal to us unsuspected kinship between other facts, long
known, but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another. Amongst chosen
combinations the most fertile will often be those formed of elements drawn from
domains which are far apart. (1908).
More recently, the theory of the firm in the Schumpeterian vein has referred
expressly to it: the creation of any sort of novelty in art, science or practical lifeconsists
to a substantial extent of a recombination of conceptual and physical
materials that were previously in existence (Nelson and Winter, 1982, p. 130).