Chapter 5: Technological Change, Knowledge Integration and Adaptive Processes: The Mechatronic Evolution of the Reggio Emilia District
Lorenzo Ciapetti INTRODUCTION 1. An evolutionary perspective has increasingly moved to the centre of the industrial and geographical economic literature on clusters and districts in recent years (Bell and Albu, 1999; Belussi et al., 2003; Giuliani et al., 2005; Tappi, 2005; Iammarino and McCann, 2006; Sammarra and Belussi, 2006). Whereas the theme of absorptive capacity has been intensively investigated (Cohen and Levinthal, 1990; Rocha, 1999; Giuliani, 2002; Bathelt et al., 2004; Schmidt, 2005), less attention has been paid to the interplay between the knowledge bases of leading district firms, to interdistrict flows of knowledge, or to the economic performance and competitive position of district firms in global markets. The question of how an industrial district evolves over time (Iammarino and McCann, 2006) prompts two related questions. The first concerns the extent to which the pace of evolution is linked to technological change and product upgrading while the second asks about the consequences of evolution for the interfirm linkages of traditional districts and their mechanisms of reproduction. The case of Reggio Emilia in northeast Italy presents features associated with the classical Italianate district (Markusen, 1996), in that it is a localized ‘social network’ specializing in customized goods. However, the district also has a longstanding tradition of openness and export-oriented production which has dictated a lesser role for traditional interfirm linkages inside the district (Pagnini et al., 2004). It is, to a certain extent, an ‘open district’ with loose geographic constraints (Belussi and Sammarra, 2005), a high rate of innovation and high...
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