The Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography
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The Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography

Edited by Ron Boschma and Ron Martin

This wide-ranging Handbook is the first major compilation of the theoretical and empirical research that is forging the new and exciting paradigm of evolutionary economic geography.
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Chapter 10: A Social-Evolutionary Perspective on Regional Clusters

Udo Staber


* Udo Staber 1. Introduction The observation that something like an ‘evolutionary turn’ may be taking place in economic geography (e.g. Boschma and Frenken, 2006; Boschma and Martin, 2007; Grabher, 2009) does not in itself suggest that other theoretical approaches to questions of economic geography have lost momentum. This is most apparent in research on regional clusters.1 By theorizing from a range of perspectives to highlight issues related to institutions, technology, power, knowledge, culture, and so forth, researchers have made significant contributions to our understanding of clusters and the processes that drive them. However, the multitude of theoretical approaches in use has also fragmented the field, producing a plethora of models and many difficult-to-measure concepts that, when seen in isolation, limit the generalizability and applicability of research findings. Theoretical fragmentation is probably unavoidable in research on constructs as fuzzy as clusters and related concepts such as flexible specialization, collective learning, and identity. But there is also the need for explanations that combine generality and parsimony with rich descriptions of local phenomena. The social-evolutionary approach, intended as a general framework for linking disparate parts and perspectives on developmental aspects of clusters, may meet that need in several respects. Many evolutionary accounts of clusters lack precision. They don’t provide a clear answer to some of the fundamental questions raised in evolutionary economic geography. For example, what does it mean to say that a cluster has evolved? Has the cluster merely changed, or has it moved toward greater adaptive complexity? How did a particular...

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