Boundaries, Structures and Strategies
Edited by Andrea Colli and Michelangelo Vasta
7. Small firms and local production systems (1900–1960)* Mario Perugini and Valentina Romei INTRODUCTION 7.1 In Italy, the discussion about the role of small firms in the process of industrialisation and economic development has been lively for a long time, especially since the 1970s, when the concept of ‘industrial district’ became of common theoretical use.1 A prolific period of case studies produced dozens of interpretative models and hundreds of analyses of ‘local areas of industrialisation on traditional sectors’.2 Historians, economists and sociologists who studied the industrial districts took a large variety of topics into consideration, from the role of institutions, to the mechanisms with which social and industrial structures interact, in addition, of course, to the more traditional studies on the production structure and organisation. A number of economists identified the economic and social events of the 1970s – the crisis of Fordism as a form of organisation, the crisis of mass production in general, the reorganisation of the large factories in the north-west of Italy that led to a decentralisation of manufacturing production and the development of numerous subcontracting firms in the central and north-eastern Italian regions – as the main factors for the development of clusters of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Italy (Brusco & Paba, 1997; Bellandi, 1999; de Cecco, 2001). However, the thesis of the origin of Italian industrial clusters in the 1970s has been disputed by historical research that has highlighted the importance of small firms in the long-term Italian economic development (Federico, 1994a; Colli, 2002a)...
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