Book Review (Belussi and Sammara 2010)

Business Networks in Clusters and Industrial Districts.

Business Networks in Clusters and Industrial Districts. The governance of the global value chain

Fiorenza Belussi and Alessia Sammara (Eds)

Routledge (Series: Regions and Cities), London and New York (2010) xxiv + 413 pp £100 (hbk)

Reviewed by Grete Rusten, Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Norway

(2 March 2010)

Studies on industrial districts and clusters as arenas for entrepreneurial and innovative activities, tools of localized learning and production systems have had an important impact on the discipline of Economic Geography for more than 30 years. A timely question would therefore be if there is much new insight that can be brought into these debates. By reading this edited volume by Belussi and Sammarra, the answer is yes.

This book with 18 very distinct chapters presents both the theory and empirical evidence related to industrial districts in its classical geographical setting of Italy, in addition to other studies based on empirical evidence from a wide range of other countries. Merely mentioning the studies that are covered in this book in most detail includes empirical evidence from regional studies in Romania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, Germany, as well as China, India and Brazil. This broad geographical coverage combined with a focus on both clusters in industrial regions and larger urban settings is in itself interesting to a broader audience. It is however also somewhat problematic since the book lacks a comprehensive and systematic discussion about similarities and contrasts between the various regions and industrial communities that these studies individually have identified. My opinion is that this debate could have concerned more details about the large variations among industries, production processes and not least social aspects forming these businesses. The latter should address to what extent informality and community entrepreneurship of the industrial district and cluster models differs in various locations. I am aware of that doing these comparisons in full detail would have required a much more coordinated research design than what has been possible here. Still I miss a more critical discussion from the editors summing up the major finding from the various contributions. Not least is this importance to be able to answer whether there is a basis to develop a theoretical model that fits all and everywhere or paying more seriously attention to role of geography. Are we in fact dealing with an altogether different cluster phenomena in the more Italian type of Industrial Districts than that which is observed in studies based on empirical evidence from Paris in chapter 15 by Najoua Boufaden, Sofiéne Lourimi and André Torre, or Bangalore by Jan Vang and Christina Chaminade in chapter 18? The history of the Marshallian theories, both referring to respectively the Italian and Anglo-Saxon tradition presented in the introduction chapter by the two book editors, in fact stands out as a good starting point for a potentially more critical debate about theories and geographical contexts that could be followed up in future research.

The fact that the book covers a relatively wide spectre of industrial sectors with the basis of updated empirical evidence is something that should be appreciated. I would in this respect especially highlight section IV which covers high-tech industrial districts and clusters, both because of the somewhat newness in what industries are covered, and not least because some of these contributions also cover other categories of institutions than simply companies. The latter is not least relevant for policy makers that are trying to develop a broader and more robust industrial platform. Bringing in universities and other forms of R&D “production” to better meet the waves of global competition and market prospects represents one of strategies not least in high cost countries. Also chapter 7 by Fiorenza Belussi and Silvia Rita Sedita and chapter 18 which have previously been introduced should be mentioned as they analyse two different processes linked to the globalisation of labour. It is respectively about how businesses and regions are bringing workers to jobs, and how jobs are brought to regions with pools of workers. Unfortunately the first of these two chapters is a bit too short to be able to cover this topic in a satisfactory way.

It would have been interesting to follow analysis about how globalisation including global supply chains, spatial division of labour and global competition leads to a tension between integration and erosion of resources, knowledge and cultural atmosphere that are associated with industrial districts and clusters in more detail. This led me to another weakness of the book, namely too little focus and documentation on management practises and corporate strategies. These studies as they are presented here exclude valuable details about modern management strategies such as modulization, bundling, project management and the reshaping of company practices through externalisation of production capacity that more than ever go hand in hand with sophisticated branding and marketing strategies. Looking into these topics is important to fully understand the complexities of the organisation and business practises that form and reform the organisation, geography and competitive strength of production systems. Presenting full cases on a company level rather than just giving brief overviews of major findings in tables and more general discussions are therefore included in my suggestions for further improvement that could be followed up by future research. Finally I want to add that the reader should be more informed about how various concepts have been measured. Two examples to illustrate this point are the social capital and relationships presented in chapter 8 or international subcontracting chains in chapter 4. My conclusion is that the book as a whole represents a valuable contribution to current debates concerning the role of clusters and geographical proximity in the globalised economy. I find this book both relevant to scholars and policy makers.

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