Sociology and Economic Development Policy: The Case of Industrial District Promotion

By Staber, Udo | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Sociology and Economic Development Policy: The Case of Industrial District Promotion


Staber, Udo, Canadian Journal of Sociology


* Research for this paper was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am grateful to Jurgen Grote, Will van den Hoonaard, Charles Snow, and the CJS reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The usual disclaimer applies.

Abstract: Criticism of the limited public policy relevance of sociological research has led to urgent calls for more policy-oriented knowledge. I discuss the promotion of industrial districts for economic development as an area where sociologists could play a prominent role in public discourse. I argue that industrial districts are primarily social, not technical, systems, and propose that sociologists pay closer attention to the institutional processes by which interfirm structures are created and transformed.

Resume: La critique de la pertinence limitee de la politique gouvernementale sur la recherche sociologique a cree un besoin urgent d'une connaissance davantage axee sur les politiques. J'aborde la promotion des districts industriels pour le developpement economique comme un secteur ou les sociologues pourraient jouer un role predominant par rapport au debat public. Je soutiens que les districts industriels sont principalement des systemes sociaux, et non techniques, et propose que les sociologues accordent une attention accrue aux procedes institutionnels par lesquels les structures interentreprises sont creees et transformees.

Introduction

Not too long ago Giddens (1987:44) predicted that "there will be a deepening involvement of sociology with the formation of practical social policies or reforms." He based this prediction on the assertion that government policies which are informed by a view of the omniscience of markets will not be very durable. Economic institutions do not emerge automatically in response to economic needs, but are constructed by individuals whose actions are both facilitated and constrained by the social networks in which they are embedded (Granovetter, 1985; Giddens, 1987; Hirsch et al., 1987). Many of the protective institutions which have been constructed to manage the ill effects of markets are now under attack in Western societies, as governments are relying more on markets to stimulate economic growth. But the history of industrialization has shown that individuals will tolerate only a certain degree of insecurity and uncertainty before they seek protection from the market through institutional arrangements (Polanyi, 1944). Despite the rise of market models, there are urgent calls for novel institutional structures that can help to ease the pain of adjustment to social and economic change. It is here that sociology, as a science of institutions, can make a significant contribution and help solve some of the practical problems of "postmodernity" (Beck, 1992; Huber, 1995).

In this paper, I discuss an area of inquiry and policy action where sociologists could play a prominent role: the promotion of industrial districts for regional economic development. Because industrial districts have gained prominence among regional planners and industrial strategists, sometimes even to the point where they are considered a canonical model for economic development, they require a careful assessment of their potentials and limitations. Careful scrutiny is all the more necessary because of the tendency of policy practitioners, aided by economic development consultants, to overgeneralize the district approach and to apply it in a paradigmatic and context-independent fashion, despite occasional admonitions from sociologists that institutional solutions for industrial districts are highly place-specific and that the existing set of clearly successful districts is quite limited (Masi, 1991; Zeitlin, 1992; Amin and Thrift, 1994). This policy view is unfortunate for it can lead to serious distortions in the application of what may in fact be an effective model of regional economic development, albeit only under specific circumstances, which are yet to be explored systematically.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Sociology and Economic Development Policy: The Case of Industrial District Promotion
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?