Describing the Change: Evolutionary Trajectories of Industrial Districts in Global Value Chains

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.2.01 (Tower One)
Valentina De Marchi, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
Gary Gereffi, Duke University, Durham, NC; Duke University
Roberto Grandinetti, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
Because of globalization and, more recently, the global recession, industrial districts (IDs) in Italy and other developed countries underwent deep transformations that drove scholars to question the resiliency of such forms of production organization. The vast empirical evidence collected so far supports the view that the lengthy Marshallian era of Italian IDs has come to an end, and newer studies reveal a high diversity among IDs in terms of internationalization, innovation and local development even within the same industry. In this study, we outline some of the different trajectories that characterize the evolution of IDs through the lens of the Global Value Chain (GVC) perspective -- i.e., focusing on the role of key lead or anchor firms within and outside the districts, looking at the governance structures of IDs, and assessing their ability to connect to global flows of knowledge and products. Based on a review of the existing literature, we identify different trajectories along a spectrum that includes two poles: the decline of IDs, implying a downsizing of the districts in terms of number of firms, levels of specialization, and performance on national and international markets; and their hierarchization, also characterized by a depletion of the population of district enterprises and their interorganizational relationships, but to the advantage of few large firms. In the middle, trajectories of (glocal) reproduction describe a much more variegated situation, where the local competitive advantage of ID firms is reinforced or reshaped through their participation in GVCs and where multiple chains can characterize the same district. We illustrate these trajectories in terms of in-depth case studies of IDs based in the Veneto region (Italy). The analysis of both local and global elements informs how IDs in the Veneto have evolved from the Marshallian stage, and how they currently are linked to larger GVC governance structures and innovation systems. Finally, the paper draw implications for policies aiming at effectively supporting local development via industrial districts embedded in GVCs.