National systems of industrial production have undeniably converged over the second half of the twentieth century. The world has turned into a 'global village' and similarities have increased across national units. In spite of strong isomorphic pressures, though, differences have persisted that set apart, to this day, national systems of industrial production. Local peculiarities are sufficiently significant and resilient that one can still identify and contrast national models and point to distinctly German, French, Italian, or American features. In fact, both trends--convergence and persistent differentiation--are key to understanding our contemporary industrial world and the evolution of national systems of industrial production, particularly since 1945. This book developed from the belief that the very coexistence of these two trends was in itself a paradox worth studying. The main puzzle seemed to be the fact that differences had persisted while, at the very same time, similarities had been increasing. The challenge was thus to propose an account of the evolution of national systems of industrial production after 1945 that would take in those two apparently contradictory trends.
The gap between existing accounts or theoretical arguments and empirical reality prompted me to define the research agenda along those lines. Indeed, the literature has focused either on convergence or on national specificities, rarely on their coexistence. As a consequence, accounts have always been partial. A focus on convergence has led researchers to disregard differences between national systems of industrial production or to dismiss them as merely transitory. A focus on national specificities, on the other hand, has generally meant forgetting isomorphic pressures, which as a matter of fact worked their way into the real world despite or around local peculiarities. Empirical territories, furthermore, rarely overlapped. Studies of convergence have tended to target countries such as the USA, the UK, or Germany. France, Italy, Sweden, or Japan have repeatedly been used, on the other hand, to illustrate the argument that national systems of industrial production were unique. Convergence and differences were thus made intellectually incompatible while, on the ground, they remained stubbornly intertwined. In contrast, I propose to study in this book three Western European countries taken from both types of empirical territories--France, West Germany, and Italy--and to account for the balance, in each national system of industrial production, between the impact of isomorphic pressures and the long-term persistence of peculiar, local features.
Beyond the fundamental differences that set them apart, arguments focusing on convergence and those accounting for national specificities make a common mistake. They both rely on the assumption that national systems of industrial