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 25: The Empirical Evidence of Industrial Districts in Italy

Fabio Sforzi


Fabio Sforzi 1. Introduction Interest in the industrial districts (IDs) and their role in the Italian economy has existed for over 30 years. But the book that popularised the ID concept in Italy was Mercato e forze locali: il distretto industriale edited by Giacomo Becattini in 1987 (Becattini 1987). The ID concept offered a new way to think about small firms which had had a remarkable increase over the previous decades. The ‘ID thesis’ was formulated by Becattini at the end of a research path nourished through empirical research and theoretical thinking. Becattini had investigated the economic development of Tuscany through empirical research (Becattini 1966, 1969, 1975a), and had dug in Marshall’s system of thought through the theoretical thinking (Becattini 1962a, 1975b). The result of continual ‘coming and going’ between theory and practice led Becattini to conceptualise the ID both as a way to classify the national economy (Becattini 1979) – that is, the ID as a ‘unit of analysis’ – and as a way to organise the production (Becattini 1989) – that is, the ID as a ‘model of development’. According to the theoretical framework dominant in those years, the economies of production (that is, the advantages of division of labour) could be obtained only in large factories. The small firms (when they were not craft firms producing for the local market) could act only as subcontractors employed by big companies, most often agglomerated in the vicinity, and benefitting from agglomeration economies. On the contrary, the ID model stated that the advantages...

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