The use and misuse of clusters in economic development policy : a case study of two cluster policy initiatives in the North East of England
This thesis examines the development of cluster policy and considers the extent to which difficulties in implementing cluster policy can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the concepts that underlie clusters. In order to move beyond the work of Michael Porter's (1990,1998) and to provide a conceptualisation of clusters that considers the notion that traded transactions may be more efficiently conducted when spatially concentrated, but also allows for an understanding that economic processes are path dependent, influenced by their institutional and cultural context and shaped by the motivations and behaviour of individual actors, this thesis uses Storper's (1997) `holy trinity' of `technologies-organisations-territories' as a framework to examine a wide range of concepts that underlie our understanding of clusters. The conclusion is that clusters are highly context dependent, and that multilayered explanations for their existence and evolution are required. The way in which cluster policy has developed is also highly context dependent and each element of Storper's triumvirate has implications for cluster policy. Given a lack of agreement as to the definition and nature of cluster policy, this thesis proposes that cluster policy development be understood as a process and a five-stage cluster policy model is developed. This model is used both to consider the literature regarding cluster policy and also as a framework to examine the development of two cluster policy initiatives in the North East of England and their impact on actors within one particular cluster in the region. These case studies indicate that the level of understanding of cluster concepts amongst policy makers, and issues throughout the cluster policy making process, impacted on the development and the outcomes of the policy initiatives, but that the development and outcomes were also influenced by the nature of the particular cluster. The thesis concludes that a better understanding of the scale and boundaries of clusters and the distinct theoretical elements making up cluster concepts may lead to a better conceptualisation of clusters and cluster theory. A series of policy recommendations is then drawn.