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?
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.