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What qualifies as a cluster theory?

  • Peter Maskell
  • Leïla Kebir

This paper investigates the theoretical backgrounds of the “cluster” and proposes a framework aiming at drawing the contour of cluster theory. The profundity of the notion of ‘clusters’ is arguably conditional on the coherence of three fundamental issues associated with the concept: 1) the economic and social benefits that may accrue to firms when clustering or co-locating (the existence argument); 2) the diseconomies encountered when clustering exceeds certain geographical and sectoral thresholds (the extension argument); and, finally, 3) the possible erosion of economies and onset of diseconomies over the lifecycle of the cluster (the exhaustion argument). Each of these three issues is examined in terms of three relevant major theoretical frameworks that can be brought to bear on the cluster concept. The paper considers approaches based on the idea of externalities (illustrated by the Marshall's work on ‘Industrial district’); on competitiveness issue (illustrated by Michael Porter’s theory of cluster growth); on a territorial perspective (illustrated by the GREMI approach). The paper acknowledges the general shift in explanatory emphasis from considerations of static cost efficiency towards more dynamic interpretations that highlight the creation and use of knowledge as their pivotal theoretical element. By placing these changes within a common conceptual framework the paper shows how different theoretical solutions provide distinct points of departure for subsequent policy recommendations. Three distinctive groups of solutions are identified focusing respectively on local spillovers, on competitiveness and on the region and its development. The paper concludes by identifying areas of particular ambiguity where further theoretical work is most urgently needed.

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Paper provided by DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies in its series DRUID Working Papers with number 05-09.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:aal:abbswp:05-09
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.druid.dk/

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  1. Glenn Ellison & Edward L. Glaeser, 1994. "Geographic Concentration in U.S. Manufacturing Industries: A Dartboard Approach," NBER Working Papers 4840, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Stefano Breschi, 2000. "The Geography of Innovation: A Cross-sector Analysis," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 34(3), pages 213-229.
  3. Frank Moulaert & Farid Sekia, 2003. "Territorial Innovation Models: A Critical Survey," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(3), pages 289-302.
  4. Bennett Harrison, 2007. "Industrial Districts: Old Wine in New Bottles? (Volume 26, Number 5, 1992)," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(sup1), pages S107-S121.
  5. Maskell, Peter, 2001. "Towards a Knowledge-Based Theory of the Geographical Cluster," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(4), pages 921-43, December.
  6. Brian J. Loasby, 2001. "Organisation as Interpretative Systems," Revue d'Économie Industrielle, Programme National Persée, vol. 97(1), pages 17-34.
  7. Anders Malmberg & Peter Maskell, 2002. "The elusive concept of localization economies: towards a knowledge-based theory of spatial clustering," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 34(3), pages 429-449, March.
  8. Ron Martin & Peter Sunley, 2003. "Deconstructing clusters: chaotic concept or policy panacea?," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(1), pages 5-35, January.
  9. Brusco, Sebastiano, 1982. "The Emilian Model: Productive Decentralisation and Social Integration," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(2), pages 167-84, June.
  10. Richardson, G B, 1972. "The Organisation of Industry," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 82(327), pages 883-96, September.
  11. Maskell, Peter & Malmberg, Anders, 1999. "Localised Learning and Industrial Competitiveness," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 167-85, March.
  12. Gioacchino Garofoli, 1993. "Economic development, organization of production and territory," Revue d'Économie Industrielle, Programme National Persée, vol. 64(1), pages 22-37.
  13. Harald Bathelt & Andersand Malmberg & Peter Maskell, 2002. "Clusters and Knowledge Local Buzz, Global Pipelines and the Process of Knowledge Creation," DRUID Working Papers 02-12, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
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