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«Territorial Knowledge Dynamics: From the Proximity Paradigm to Multi-location Milieus OLIVIER CREVOISIER & HUGUES JEANNERAT ˆ ˆ ˆ Institute of ...»

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Published in European Planning Studies 17, issue 8, 1223-1241, 2009 1

which should be used for any reference to this work

Territorial Knowledge Dynamics: From the Proximity

Paradigm to Multi-location Milieus


ˆ ˆ ˆ

Institute of Sociology, University of Neuchatel, Faubourg de l’Hopital 27, 2000, Neuchatel, Switzerland


This paper addresses the issue of updating a research agenda about territorial innovation models (TIMs) such as innovative milieus, industrial districts, regional innovation systems, etc. The theoretical shift from innovation studies to the knowledge economy is taken into account by the suggested concept of territorial knowledge dynamics (TKDs). Observable major changes within society are also integrated, especially the huge increase in the mobility of production factors. The thesis developed is that the learning processes in TIMs were mainly cumulative knowledge dynamics that varies according to the scale of the region (the traditional local/global framework), whereas today’s combinatorial knowledge dynamics develop in multi- location and multi-scalar ways. Knowledge circulates to a greater extent and is continuously mobilized and combined within interacting firms and regions. In this paper, ideal typical forms of TKDs are formulated from three research perspectives: a relational approach, a circulatory approach and a structuralist approach. This paper presents the theoretical background used by the European research project “EURODITE” on these specific issues.

1. Introduction A knowledge-based economy is defined by the systematic and permanent mobilization of knowledge in order to analyse the result of actions and to design new actions to be under- taken (Ascher, 2001; Foray, 2004). Learning and innovation—meaning the design and implementation of new technical solutions and/or new products/services—are not inter- mittent or occasional as is the case in traditional industry, but are ongoing processes.

Over the last 20 years, territorial approaches have played an important role in the innovation and knowledge economy. They have given rise to a vast array of literature ˆ Correspondence Address: Olivier Crevoisier, Institute of Sociology, University of Neuchatel, Faubourg de ˆ ˆ l’Hopital 27, 2000, Neuchatel, Switzerland. Email: olivier.crevoisier@unine.ch 2 that is currently the subject of numerous syntheses and retrospective reviews (see, for example, the synthesis of territorial innovation models (TIMs) by Moulaert and Sekia (2003), that on innovation and space by Simmie (2005), the special issue of Regional Studies on innovation and space in 2005 or the critical review of literature by Lagendijk (2006) on conceptual flow in regional studies). The archetypical productive forms represented by innovative milieus, technopoles, industrial districts or more generally clusters are today considered to be organizational modes through which economic change takes place. They have also made it possible to draw up various regional policies (Sagan & Halkier, 2005). The considerable merit of these approaches is that, as of the 1980s, they succeeded in articulating various analytical dimensions of innovative processes (technological, industrial, economic, spatial and socio-political) and in building a paradigm for study that was, until recently, pertinent.

We nevertheless consider that today it is necessary to bring these conceptions up to date in order to take into account the changes that have taken place at two levels. First, at a theoretical and conceptual level, there has been a rapid development of new theories on the knowledge economy and a radical expansion of the conceptions of innovation to include socio-cultural dynamics and the economy of services, which makes it necessary to move beyond the concept of innovation that was inherited from the industrial economy. Secondly, at a more general level of the development of society and the economy, it is necessary to take into account the extraordinary growth we are witnessing regarding the mobility of information, knowledge, individuals and capital. The traditional paradigm covered by Moulaert and Sekia (2003) under the generic designation of TIMs is in fact essentially based on the thesis of the immobility or low mobility of production factors, at least at an international level. On a European scale and beyond it, however, we are witnessing an increasingly intensive circulation of these factors. Regarding capital, the situation is evident. Regarding labour and competencies, although migrations and changes of job are not increasing a great deal, today’s working methods call for considerably more work-related travel than in the past.

The objective of this article is to formulate the basic reflections and main hypotheses within a renewed research programme that articulates knowledge economy and territorial dynamics around the concept of territorial knowledge dynamics (TKDs). The work has been carried out in two research contexts. First, the Group for European Research on Innovative Environments (GREMI) initiated reflection on the current issues at stake within research into territorial economies (Colletis-Wahl et al., 2008). After that, a conceptual framework was established for the EUDODITE (http://www.eurodite.bham.ac.uk/) research programme: a project that is currently carrying out a series of on-site surveys in order to explore theories similar to those presented here.

In this article, we are defending the idea that it is essential to broaden the traditional paradigm based on innovation trajectories to include knowledge dynamics. In the traditional paradigm, and seen in schematic form, economic activities evolve in a linear or cumulative manner, as and when innovations take place. At the same time, only proximity interactions permit rich, multi-functional learning. The regions thus become specialized within a global market.

At present, there is a development of new information technologies, a drop in transport costs, easier movement of persons, progressive integration of research and higher education within corporations, as well as considerable growth in intangible activities within the composition of a product and its consumption. All these factors are leading to a growth 3 and multiplicity of knowledge, and one that can be mobilized rapidly and over greater distances. The decisive factor is therefore no longer the fact that economic activities match regional training and research structures, but the local capacity to formulate entrepreneurial projects and also the ability to mobilize knowledge and competences at medium and long distances.

The research hypothesis we present here can be described as follows. The traditional regional trajectories of the specialization of techniques and products are based on knowledge dynamics that are mainly cumulative, within a structure that articulates both local and global factors indifferently. The trajectories are, however, giving way to combinatorial territorial dynamics that are mainly based on the anchoring of composite (Antonelli & Calderini, 2008) fields of knowledge. In other terms, there is a move from specialization within regional production systems to more specific regional knowledge and resources within multi-location networks of mobility and anchoring.

Our reasoning is structured into four phases. The first part briefly covers various conceptions relating to knowledge. Knowledge is envisaged as a dynamic of social interactions rather than a public or private good that generates externalities.

The second part handles the characteristics of the traditional paradigm of TIMs (Moulaert & Sekia, 2003) and emphasizes the cumulative aspect and the role of proximity within local/global articulation.

The third section presents the major changes that affect traditional innovation and learning dynamics: the growing and central role of socio-cultural dynamics, the development of increasingly fungible technologies, and finally the growth in the mobility of information, knowledge and individuals.

The fourth part sketches out three possible research avenues in order to explore these hypotheses: a relational approach, a circulatory one and a structuralist one.

To conclude, we shall return to the evolution of the role of the local aspect within TKDs, and in particular concerning the functions of specification by means of local milieus. In fact, the theories of the 1990s see the local scale as being the privileged one for endogenous development. Moreover, the region remains the principal entity for implementing territorial innovation policies. Reflection on the possibility for action at this scale is thus always meaningful.

2. Knowledge as a Social Dynamic Knowledge is addressed in different ways within economic and social theories. In this section, and without wishing to present an exhaustive inventory thereof, we shall explain how knowledge can be conceptualized within a territorial approach.

2.1 Knowledge: A Public Good, a Private One or a Collective Activity?

The neo-classical economic approach specifies knowledge as being a capital good: its construction is costly and its use produces a yield. It is finished in the sense that it does not change during its purchase or sale. It evolves from given technological changes that are exogenous to the system. It is furthermore not contextual and its value is a priori independent of its location or depends only on exogenous transaction costs. The debate has thus become focused on its nature as a private or public good. If knowledge is a public good, it generates externalities from which enterprises can benefit.

4 Antonelli (2006) stresses that it is difficult to consider knowledge as a public good in the strict sense as advanced by Arrow, since certain institutional mechanisms, such as intellectual property rights, or socio-cultural mechanisms such as language, make it possible to restrict access to knowledge or to appropriate it. Inversely, the phenomena of swarming and overflow, frequently observed when new discoveries are made, prove that knowledge cannot be perceived as a private good that can be fully appropriated.

Beyond the public/private debate, Antonelli claims that knowledge can also be treated as a collective activity involving the capacity to enter into interaction with various actors within economic and social contexts.

2.2 Knowledge as a Sharing Process Knowledge is also perceived as a collective, shared activity within territorial economy.

When taking a social perspective, the processes of interaction and learning become the main subject of study. We thus move from a concept in terms of static externalities from which certain economic agents can benefit thanks to the market’s imperfections to one that is relational, evolutionary, and more compatible with territorial approaches.

Knowledge develops through interaction among actors. It is composed of various processes: generation, use, circulation and anchoring. These general processes are moreover contextualized, i.e. the pertinence of their specific content is only revealed in relation to their context. The socio-spatial configurations of knowledge dynamics networks have thus become particularly worthy of study.

In territorial terms, individuals and competencies move around and interact with others at varying distances. Thus, either continuity and/or development take place or there is a break. These different knowledge dynamics should thus be studied more closely, observing the way in which they are articulated around economic processes.

3. The Traditional Paradigm: Clusters, Milieus, Districts and so on Towards the end of the 1980s, various trains of thought within territorial economy developed in order to account for the diverging dynamics among regions or within a single country. Benko and Lipietz (1992) offered, at the time, a panorama of these approaches (industrial districts, science parks, etc.). We should also mention the GREMI research programme which, as of 1985 (see Aydalot, 1986), progressively drew up and documented the concept of the innovative milieu (Camagni & Maillat, 2006). Without ignoring the differences between these theoretical approaches, the present paper opts to design them under the generic name of TIMs proposed by Moulaert and Sekia (2003).

TIMs developed mainly during the second half of the 1980s and in the 1990s in order to explain the crisis affecting traditionally prosperous industrial regions on the one hand, and on the other the success of other regions such as the so-called “Third Italy”. This work was followed by other approaches such as that of learning regions (Lundvall, 1992; Florida, 1995; Morgan, 1997; Maillat & Kebir, 1999) or that of evolutionary geography (Boschma & Frenken, 2006). These authors developed the basic concept by—among other aspects—integrating concerns relating to knowledge yet without questioning its role.

In this section, we recall the way in which, globally, these theoretical approaches articulate economic change (mainly handled from the notion of innovation) and the territory (which identifies and compares proximity learning and those taking place at a distance).

5 We also review various criticisms that have been made as of the early 1990s, notably from the “Proximity Dynamics Group” (Torre & Gilly, 2000; Boschma, 2005).

We shall also highlight what constitutes the core theories of innovative milieus and industrial districts, i.e. the idea that “local” is the scale at which innovation emerges.

Moulaert and Sekia, for example, provide a clear picture of how endogenous development is at the origin of TIMs.

3.1 Specialization of Activities and Regions Based on Technological Trajectories and Rich Proximity Learning In an industrial approach to economy, Nelson and Winter (1982) distinguish between radical innovations and technological trajectories. Radical innovations (for example, organic chemistry) appear as exceptional phenomena. Their origin is exogenous to the system and they open up a new development constituted by the succession of innovations that mobilize the basic techno-scientific principles of radical innovation. Innovation therefore takes place along new trajectories that appear intermittently. Each phase leads to refining new techniques or products that are then implemented over a certain period.

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