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A novel approach to national technological accumulation and absorptive capacity: aggregating Cohen and Levinthal


  • Paola Criscuolo
  • Rajneesh Narula


The paper develops a more precise specification and understanding of the process of national-level knowledge accumulation and absorptive capabilities by applying the reasoning and evidence from the firm-level analysis pioneered by Cohen and Levinthal (1989, 1990). In doing so, we acknowledge that significant cross-border effects due to the role of both inward and outward FDI exist and that assimilation of foreign knowledge is not only confined to catching-up economies but is also carried out by countries at the frontier-sharing phase. We postulate a non-linear relationship between national absorptive capacity and the technological gap, due to the effects of the cumulative nature of the learning process and the increase in complexity of external knowledge as the country approaches the technological frontier. We argue that national absorptive capacity and the accumulation of knowledge stock are simultaneously determined. This implies that different phases of technological development require different strategies. During the catching-up phase, knowledge accumulation occurs predominately through the absorption of trade and/or inward FDI-related R&D spillovers. At the pre-frontier-sharing phase onwards, increases in the knowledge base occur largely through independent knowledge creation and actively accessing foreign-located technological spillovers, inter alia through outward FDI-related R&D, joint ventures and strategic alliances. En s'appuyant sur l'analyse initiée par Cohen et Levinthal (1989, 1990), cet article améliore la compréhension du processus d'accumulation de savoirs au niveau national et des capacités d'absorption au niveau des entreprises. Ce faisant nous reconnaissons l'existence d'effets transfrontaliers importants dus au rôle des IDE entrants et sortants et que l'assimilation de savoirs étrangers ne concerne pas les seules économies en rattrapage mais est aussi réalisée par les pays en phase de partage de frontière (frontier-sharing phase). Nous postulons une relation non linéaire entre la capacité d'absorption nationale et l'écart technologique, due à la nature cumulative du processus d'apprentissage et à la complexité croissante des connaissances externes au fur et à mesure que le pays s'approche de la frontière technologique. Nous défendons l'idée que la capacité d'absorption nationale et l'accumulation de savoirs sont simultanément déterminées. Cela implique que des phases de développement technologique différentes nécessitent des stratégies différentes. Au cours de la phase de rattrapage, l'accumulation de savoirs s'effectue essentiellement par le commerce et/ou par les retombées sur la R&D des IDE entrants. A partir de la phase de prépartage de frontière (pre-frontier-sharing phase), l'amélioration des connaissances intervient en grande partie au travers de la création de savoirs indépendants et de l'accès activement recherché aux retombées technologiques localisées à l'étranger, entre autres au travers des retombées sur la R&D d'IDE sortants, d'entreprises conjointes et d'alliances stratégiques.

Suggested Citation

  • Paola Criscuolo & Rajneesh Narula, 2008. "A novel approach to national technological accumulation and absorptive capacity: aggregating Cohen and Levinthal," The European Journal of Development Research, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 20(1), pages 56-73.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:eurjdr:v:20:y:2008:i:1:p:56-73
    DOI: 10.1080/09578810701853181

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    References listed on IDEAS

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