A Handbook of Industrial Districts
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A Handbook of Industrial Districts

Edited by Giacomo Becattini, Marco Bellandi and Lisa De Propis

In this comprehensive original reference work, the editors have brought together an unrivalled group of distinguished scholars and practitioners to comment on the historical and contemporary role of industrial districts (IDs).
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Chapter 49: Lessons from Industrial Districts for Historically Fordist Regions

Josh Whitford


Josh Whitford 1. INTRODUCTON This chapter is not so much about industrial districts (IDs) per se as it is about lessons the model might offer to regions that are decidedly ‘not’ IDs. Much of the literature on IDs has used them to show that there is more than one way to organize a regional political economy, that it is thus problematic to speak of a ‘one best way’, and therefore to fight Chandlerians and their ilk. But what does this mean for regions that are already on a particular path? In this chapter, I use a case study of the metalworking sector in the American Upper Midwest to show that changes in the organization of those industries have made analyses of IDs relevant even to some of those historically Fordist manufacturing regions that have long represented, at least rhetorically, the antithesis of the ID. The chapter’s role in this Handbook is to underscore in yet another way that studies of IDs are not merely curiosities, and that insights drawn from their study should thus be of interest to readers across a broad array of academic and policy fields. 2. The decentralization of American manufacturing The very development that first thrust IDs into the international limelight – the fragmentation of once-predictable mass markets – thrust them into that limelight precisely because it so fundamentally rocked the Fordist order. The 1970s in augurated an era of dramatic corporate restructuring the effects of which are still felt today. Large firms that sell products on the...

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