Special Issue Monográfico 2015 'Rethinking industrial districts in the XXI Century'



Fabio Sforzi

Rethinking the industrial district: 35 years later

The year 2014 marked a double anniversary: the 35th and 25th anniversaries of the publication of two seminal papers of Giacomo Becattini on the industrial district. The first paper (Becattini, 1979) conceptualizes the industrial district as a «unit of investigation», while the second (Becattini, 1989) conceptualizes the industrial district as a «model of production». Between the two papers there is a mutual dependence. The industrial district as a «model of production» deprived of the industrial district as a «unit of investigation» loses its originality as a way of interpreting economic change and becomes merely «one type of a cluster». This paper deals with the relationship between district and cluster, then also between the industrial district as a singular theoretical construct and the many industrial districts described by empirical investigations, and concludes with some remarks on the topicality of the industrial district.

Keywords: industrial district; cluster; regional economics; regional studies; economic history
Giacomo Becattini

Beyond geo-sectoriality: the productive chorality of places

This article discusses the question of what should be the proper conceptual framework for analysing productive phenomena. The cause for reflection on this topic stems from a proposal made by researchers from the Bank of Italy (Alampi et al., 2013) to analyse productive phenomena through the lens of an integrated geographical and sectorial perspective. The author proposes a reversal of the approach, arguing that the starting point for analysis should be the assumption that every place — as defined by a combination of natural conditions and the outcome of history — has at any given time a specific «productive chorality». This productive chorality is not merely derived from the technical, spatial, and cultural proximity of businesses, but also, and more importantly, from the cultural homogeneity and congruity of all the inhabitants of that place, who contribute, positively or negatively, to local production.

Keywords: industrial district; geo-sectoriality; productive chorality; local development
Joan Trullén

Giacomo Becattini and the Marshall’s method

The studies of Giacomo Becattini concerning the notion of the «Marshallian industrial district» have led a revolution in the field of economic development around the world. The paper offers an interpretation of the methodology adopted by Becattini. The roots are clearly Marshallian. Becattini proposes a return to the economy as a complex social science that operates in historical time. We adopt a Schumpeterian approach to the method in economic analysis in order to highlight the similarities between the Marshall and Becattini’s approach. Finally the paper uses the distinction between logical time, real time and historical time which enable us to study the «localized» economic process in a Becattinian way.

Keywords: Giacomo Becattini; industrial district; Marshallian industrial district, economic methodology
Fabio Sforzi, Rafael Boix

What about Industrial District(s) in Regional Science?

The aim of this paper is to critically consider how the concept of «industrial district» was born and evolved in the field of regional science. Despite the claim by Isard that the emergence of a spatial dimension in economics was being hampered by Marshall’s alleged prioritising of time over space (Isard, 1956), the concept of «localization economies» introduced into regional science by Ohlin, Hoover and Isard clearly is itself a legacy from Marshall. This contradiction in the work of Isard and others followed to a large extent from the way in which Marshallian concepts were historically situated in economic thought before Giacomo Becattini’s re-reading of Marshall and his ideas. This re-reading began in the 1960s, focussing on conceptual issues related to industry (Becattini, 1962), and then culminated in the following decades with work on the idea of the «industrial district»: considering it first as a unit of investigation of economic research (Becattini, 1979) and, later, as a way of industrial development (Becattini, 1989). In brief, the originality of Marshall’s economic thought can be found in Book IV of his Principles of Economics. This originality can be seen in the statement that economics is more important as a way of studying man in society than as a way of studying wealth; and continues through the affirmation that man’s character is moulded by his daily work. That is to say, a person’s «place of living» (where individuals live and work) is important not only for the formation of human skills but also for the formation of character. The place as the unit of investigation (i.e. the «functional region») is one of the main elements which distinguishes the identity of regional science from other branches of economics. 

Keywords: industrial district; regional science; regional studies; regional economics
Marco Bellandi, Lisa De Propris

Three Generations of Industrial districts

The paper presents a theoretical framework for understanding the evolution of industrial districts from Marshall’s conceptualisation to today’s realities and theorisations of the industrial district as model of industrial organization and development. We discuss three generation of industrial districts: the first generations of districts were the seedbeds for the first industrial revolution. The second generations corresponded to the re-emergence of industrial districts in advanced and industrialised countries during the second half of the twentieth century, after the golden age of mass production. The current and third generation is being revealed resorting to scholarly observation. We will argue that each generation of industrial districts have emerged and grown in correspondence with specific technological, institutional and market conditions. Some evidence from the Italian case is presented.

Keywords: industrial district; manufacturing; local economic development
Fiorenza Belussi

The international resilience of Italian industrial districts/clusters (ID/C) between knowledge re-shoring and manufacturing off (near)-shoring

The literature regarding ID/C is based on seminal writings of Marshall, followed by Giacomo Becattini’s rediscovering of the concept of an «industrial district». But the concept of a «cluster» was also promoted during the 1980s by Porter, and highlighted the importance of geographically clustered and interconnected firms and institutions specialised in a particular field. Despite the model of ID/C has been often described as locally self-contained, various empirical researches and our analysis have pointed out its increasing involvement in the process of internationalization. The recent entry and exit of MNEs, and the phenomena of off-shoring did not question the model of ID/C per se, but it contributed to showing how interwoven the evolution of local economies and MNEs is. 

Keywords: industrial districts; clusters; MNEs; off-shoring; re-shoring
José Luís Hervás Oliver

How do multinational enterprises co-locate in industrial districts? An introduction to the integration of alternative explanations from international business and economic geography literatures

This article focuses on understanding why multinational enterprises co-locate in industrial districts, stressing, unfolding and describing the potential of the local or regional-level agglomerations of people and firms which permits multinational enterprises to obtain additional sources of competitive advantage when properly fit. In order to fulfil this goal, the paper presents an attempt to link the literature of industrial districts and economic geography with that on international business. Three theoretical frameworks are tested in an empirical case. The paper has implications for the two lines of literature and opens up a key debate for the future. 

Keywords: industrial districts; economic geography; international business; off-shoring, MNEs
José Á. Aznar-Sánchez, Anselmo Carretero-Gómez, Juan F. Velasco-Muñoz

An industrial district around a mining resource: the case of marble of Macael in Almería

Marble quarries in Macael have been exploited since ancient times but its complex industrial district had to wait till the fifties to emerge. This industrial district includes extraction, processing and marketing activities. In the 1980s some development programmes were designed in order to modernize and boost the marble sector. Since then, it has become an international reference for ornamental stones. The sector has undergone a great transformation: from being a mining agglomeration to become an industrial district. This shift has provided the district with a great dynamism and resilience. Moreover, its competition position has considerably changed. It used to be based on comparative advantages but nowadays it is based on competitive advantages. In its heart a nodal enterprise Cosentino has emerged, which has become an international leader on a global scale.

Keywords: marble, Almería, local development policy, industrial district, crisis
María Jesús Ruiz Fuensanta, Francesc Hernández Sancho, Vicent Soler i Marco

In vino veritas: competitive factors in wine-producing industrial districts

The wine sector holds a prominent place within the whole Spanish food and agriculture industry. The importance given to this activity has also been transferred to the international market where Spain holds a position of leadership, both in terms of production as in overseas sales. A large number of the wine-producing firms in our country are located in industrial districts, which is to say in geographical areas characterised by a high concentration of small and medium-sized companies whose productive organisation corresponds to a model based on flexible specialisation. In previous papers, it has been possible to verify how wine-producing industries located in industrial areas show greater efficiency in relation to rivals located in other types of environments. The aim of this article is to further research on the specific features of industrial districts which could explain their firms’ increase in efficiency. For the identification and quantification of these determining factors affecting productive efficiency, a methodology based on parametric adjustments models is to be used. An empirical application is to be carried out on a sample of Spanish wine producers for the years 2000 and 2010, extracted from the SABI database. 

Keywords: Industrial districts; Productive efficiency; wine sector