When did Research and Development laboratories (R&D labs) emerge? What was the institutional and intellectual context? Have they undergone major changes in their nature? What role have R&D labs played in their surrounding economy?

  • 4
    I'm very uncomfortable with questions that are based on an unsourced, unsupported opinion. Could you possibly do the preliminary research through google and come back with a question that is more precise?
    – MCW
    Nov 15, 2013 at 12:32
  • Many inventions have come out of R&D labs, sure, but I see no reason to believe that it's "most" inventions, and it certainly is not most of progress however you define it. Nov 15, 2013 at 12:49
  • The origins and progression of the modern applied science laboratory (R&D is essentially applied science) is a very interesting topic, and surprisingly difficult to track down. Nov 15, 2013 at 13:43
  • 3
    I'm unsure if you'd consider Leonardo DaVinci's studio an "R&D lab".
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 15, 2013 at 17:22
  • 3
    It's an interesting (and important) question for sure, but perhaps "R&D Lab" needs to be better defined. What counts as an "R&D Lab"? A corporate research facility? A government national lab? A research university science department? A private think tank? The garages where many tech companies started? Someone's basement? Which of these are "R&D Labs"?
    – ChickenGod
    Nov 16, 2013 at 3:53

1 Answer 1


When did Research and Development laboratories (R&D labs) emerge?

In the late 19th and early 20th century.

What was the institutional and intellectual context?

In Miller 2011 it is clear that the R&D lab emerged as the Taylorisation of research and development of technology for the capitalist market. Intellectually, I see them as having some basis in the 19th century development of scientific experimentalism and its formalisation.

Have they undergone major changes in their nature?

During the 1940s states became highly interested in "science" and "engineering" and increased funding and regularised both University and Non-University applied research cultures.

What role have R&D labs played in their surrounding economy?

While this is too complex to answer in a limited manner, R&D labs have been influential in driving patent law and the commodification of knowledge, and they have also been a primary way for large institutions to control the development and dispersal of applied knowledge.

Significantly, R&D Labs have been highly influential in the proletarianisation of research work.

Sources: Miller DP, 2011, 'The Paradoxes of Patenting at General Electric: Isador Ladoff's Journey from Siberian Exile to the Heart of Corporate Capitalism', Isis: international review devoted to the history of science and its cultural influences, vol. 102, no. 4, pp. 634 - 658

"Technoscience" debate in STS / HPS

"Discovery narrative" debate in STS / HPS

Generally you'll want to read a fair bit of modern era Science and Technology Studies / History and Philosophy of Science works.

  • 1
    +1 overall but I really must ask: what exactly is "proletarianisation of research work"? Nov 26, 2013 at 8:55
  • Proletarianisation in the technical sense of a reduction of work to wage labour. 19th century development happened individually, and often as a vocation expressed by bourgeois. Or as Miller attests in relation to earlier "Discoveries" in collective situations of work (steel manufacture) where the work itself (steel) was the object of research. The "research lab" produced "research" as a form of commodified labour paid a wage. Labs, through concentration, regularisation, wage, etc. have been part of reducing post-docs, for example, to the status of low paid workers. Nov 26, 2013 at 23:13

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