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Anchoring Innovation: A Classical Research Agenda

  • Ineke Sluiter (a1)

Several periods in classical (Greco-Roman) antiquity provide an intriguing mix of being ‘in the grip of the past’ and profoundly innovative in all societal domains at the same time. A new research agenda of the Dutch classicists investigates this combination, under the hypothesis that the two are connected. Successful innovations must somehow be ‘anchored’ for the relevant social group(s). This paper explores the new concept of ‘anchoring’, and some of the ways in which ‘the new’ and ‘the old’ are evaluated and used in classical antiquity and our own times. Its examples range from a piece of ancient theatrical equipment to the history of the revolving door, from an ornamental feature of Greek temples to the design of electric cars, and from the Delphic oracle to the role of the American constitution.

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7. The Dutch Rathenau institute has just published a report detailing a number of recent ‘inventions’ that require attention to human-factor conditions in order to become successful innovations: Maclaine Pont, P., van Est, R. and Deuten, J. (2015) Met beleid vormgeven aan socio-technische innovatie. Essay in opdracht van de directie Kennis en Innovatie Strategie van het Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu (Den Haag: Rathenau Institute).
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11. For a study of the new in the Middle Ages, see Ingham, P.C. (2015) The Medieval New. Ambivalence in an Age of Innovation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).
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16. In Antiquity, genealogy, mythology, and etymology are strong examples of ‘anchoring discourses’, see Sluiter, I. (2015) Ancient etymology: a tool for thinking. In: F. Montanari, St. Matthaios and A. Rengakos (Eds), Brill’s Companion to Ancient Greek Scholarship (Leiden: Brill), pp. 896921.
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22.Vitruvius De architectura 4.2.2-3.
23. Coulton, J.J. (1977) Greek Architects At Work. Problems of Structure and Design (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), pp. 3739.
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25. Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), pp. 119128.
26. Since the start of our programme, we have also found the term used by Moscovici, S. (1976) La psychanalyse, son image et son public (Paris: PUF, 2nd rev. edition, first ed. 1961), and repeated in an influential paper by M.W. Bauer and G. Gaskell (1999) Towards a paradigm for research on social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 29(2), pp. 163–186 (, who claim that anchoring ‘involves the naming and classifying of novel encounters, ideas, things or persons’ (p. 172; this is certainly one of its modes recognized here as well). The term is also used by linguists, in connection with anchored or unanchored brand-new information (E. Prince (1981) Toward a taxonomy of given-new information. In: P. Cole (Ed.), Radical Pragmatics (New York: Academic Press), pp. 223–255, esp. 236–237; in connection with linguistic deixis in Charles Fillmore’s Lectures on Deixis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 27ff., esp. at the end of his essay ‘May we come in?’).
27. Rogers, E.M. (1995) Diffusion of Innovations (4th ed.) (New York: the Free Press), p. 224.
28. Wilson, E.O. (1998) Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred Knopf).
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review
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