The role of multilevel dynamics and agency in regional industry renewal
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This dissertation investigates the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of evolutionary economic geography (EEG) and its approach to regional restructuring. A dynamic approach considering that regional industries are continuously renewing (albeit to differing degrees) is developed. Such considerations have largely been ignored in investigations of regional restructuring and much work on EEG, which have instead focused on how to re-establish former contingencies following external shocks, i.e. a reactive approach. The concept of regional industry renewal is discussed, emphasising that regional restructuring is a continuous process characterized by different ‘intensities’ in different regions and/or time periods. Moreover, it is emphasized throughout this dissertation that EEG has addressed the micro level of firms and organizations, the meso level of regional settings, and the macro level of national and international settings. However, particular focus has been put on the meso level, as is illustrated by the literatures on industry clusters, regional innovation systems (RIS) and the concept of related variety. However, ‘uni-level’ approaches focusing on the meso level have implied that EEG has predominantly developed imprecise categorizations of micro-level activity and that the role of the macro level mainly has been approached by looking at supraregional linkages as relatively homogenous. These approaches can largely be classified as static, and dynamic approaches that treat the three levels as integrated are lacking. Thus, the approach to regional industry renewal used herein emphasizes that its sources can be both endogenous and exogenous to a region, and also that agency can play a role in shaping how these processes develop spatio-temporally, i.e. that different actors can proactively contribute to the process. In addition, the few recent contributions investigating the micro, meso and macro levels in conjunction have largely focused on path creation and new industry development, and less so restructuring of existing industry activity.
Thus, a multilevel approach to regional industry renewal is developed. Furthermore, this is connected to the debates over the role of structure and agency in EEG. It is argued that EEG has generally ascribed power to structure over agency, but that recent conceptual and empirical works have granted agency (ascribed to the micro level) a more prominent role in the evolution of economic systems. It is proposed that different actors, e.g., firms, industry clusters, and national policymakers, have different scopes and roles in the regional industry renewal processes, but that, importantly, agency resides not only at the micro level but also at the meso and macro levels. The connotation of this argument is for instance that the agency of cluster facilitation can play an important role in regional industry renewal. This is referred to as ‘system agency’, because deliberate actors can play a role in changing structural frameworks, e.g., through changing national regulations or regional innovation policy, and that they, in turn, can influence the practices of other (regional) actors.
These issues are explored based on seven papers, each of which used qualitative methodology. The papers contribute with theoretical and empirical insights on the role of agency and multilevel dynamics in regional industry renewal. The empirical work described in these papers focused on the Bergen region in western Norway. Based on this work, the Bergen region is argued to be characterized by beneficial multilevel dynamics as a result of strong firms and research and development organizations, and an industry structure characterized by related and diversified activities. Furthermore, policy has arguably played an important role in contributing to regional industry renewal in the Bergen region, inter alia through RIS development. In addition, the region is also characterized by a largely positive interweaving in global knowledge flow and trade, and several leading firms operate in the region. Thus, the Bergen region serves well as a case study illustrating the theoretical and conceptual approaches developed in this dissertation.