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Research Focus

Innovation and Cluster Development

Research has shown that closely intertwined regional concentrations of firms from a particular sector, together with their supporting suppliers, continue to attract further firms in that value chain. In my work on such clusters, I have developed a multi-dimensional conception which acknowledges that clusters are heterogeneous industry configurations which differ according to their development stage and life-cycle characteristics. This conception analyzes clusters along several dimensions, i.e. horizontal (competition and variation), vertical (cooperation and learning), institutional (reproductivity), external (access to outside technologies and markets) and power (coherence and adaptability). A primary goal of my work is to develop a conceptual understanding of the genesis, growth and reproduction of industry clusters as a basis for regional economic analyses and the design of regional policies. The structure of social relations between localized firms (i.e. their buzz), the role of local institutions therein and the influences of extra-local markets and linkages with external actors (i.e. pipelines) have been a particular focus of my research. This also includes analyses of existing policy programs and the development of new policy initiatives.

Starting with my PhD work, the development of high technology regions has been a major focus of my research. My goal is to understand why some regions grow faster than others and why they generate opportunities for personal wealth creation and economic growth while others stagnate or shrink. In previous work, I have analyzed the development of high technology regions in North America. The empirical analysis involved personal interviews with high technology firms in Atlanta, Boston, the Research Triangle, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Since the late 1990’s, I have extended my research on clusters to media and cultural product industries. For instance, I have investigated those forces which supported the start-up and location processes of media firms in Leipzig, East Germany in spite of unfavorable conditions which developed prior to German unification. In another study of the growth prospects of the Munich media cluster, only sparse linkages with the broader entertainment sector and international markets were found, limiting the growth prospects of this cluster. I have further analyzed the impact of the recent media industry crisis on the structure of local project networks in the Frankfurt advertising industry. The goal behind this research is to contribute to an increased understanding of the functioning and spatiality of the cultural economy and find ways how to support its development.


Industrial Restructuring and Governance Systems

Over the past decade, I have developed a strong interest in theory which explores the relation between long-term social and economic development and institutional change. I became especially interested in changes within the industrial production structure during the Fordist crisis through the work of the French regulation school. This is also reflected in my Post-Doctoral thesis (Habilitation) about technological change, the division of labor and spatial structures in the German chemical industry. A central issue which I have dealt with in both research and teaching is how the combined changes in institutional settings and in production and technology affect the social and spatial divisions of labor. For instance, I have investigated the question of how chemical firms in Eastern and Western Germany adjusted their production programs and processes to meet the changing conditions of the Fordist crisis. My research aims to provide a basis for the development of policy programs which help regions overcome the negative effects of industrial restructuring and remain innovative.

Insights from studies on national systems of innovations and varieties of capitalism have also become influential in my work. This has served to shift the focus of my analysis towards the importance of social and economic institutions on industrial production, interaction patterns and their reproduction. From this, I have developed an interest in the analysis of national models of governance. In the case of the German political economy, I investigate the basic structures behind the system of corporate governance and their evolution. In the early 1990s, the German model of corporate governance came to be celebrated as an alternative to the American and British paths of deregulation, privatization and reduction of social security standards. Since the late 1990s, however, it has become clear that the German model is under heavy pressure, due to lower-cost competition, an increasingly problematic population structure (rapid aging, insufficient levels of immigration), the high economic cost of German Reunification, and the internationalization strategies of German firms. Based on the varieties-of-capitalism and national-innovation-systems approaches, I investigate the evolutionary capacity of the German political economy by analyzing the institutional foundations and their consequences for competitiveness and innovation.


Globalization and Regionalization

Some of the processes described above are closely related to the consequences of globalization processes on industrial organization and their impacts on the social division of labor and regional competitiveness. Over the past decades, the public debate about globalization has become increasingly contradictory. On the one hand, globalization is viewed as an opportunity for economic growth. On the other hand, it is associated with increasing cost-competition and a threat to regional prosperity and growth. In the context of legitimate governance, there is a need to deepen existing research on this global-local nexus. My research aims to explore the opportunities for the creation of relational policies which take into account the needs of highly-flexible, far-reaching firms, yet also support the economic conditions of less mobile, locally-bound agents. As the world economy develops into a triadic structure, my research interests have come to encompass industrial case studies in North America, Western Europe and Southeast Asia, especially China.

In the global economy, knowledge has become a decisive factor for firms to achieve a competitive advantage. My research has indicated that leading international trade fairs have become focal points in this context and can be viewed as temporary clusters. They are important events which support processes of interactive learning, network building and knowledge creation. In international trade fairs, spatial proximity and face-to-face contact enable firms from different countries to exchange information about new market developments, present new products and monitor the innovations of others. In the future, I will continue to investigate how firms use such gatherings to establish and maintain contacts with international business partners.

In close collaboration with Prof. Gang Zeng from the East China Normal University in Shanghai, I have conducted several research projects in China in recent years. From the perspective of a national-innovation-systems approach, I investigate, for instance, how industrial firms from Europe are able to overcome cultural-institutional differences when extending their production and supplier networks to China. The identification of the socio-institutional barriers for German firms which aim to establish local supplier relations and the role of policy initiatives in supporting the development of clusters in China are of particular interest in this research. I will continue my work on the political economy of China and aspects of overcoming institutional and “cultural” barriers in economic transactions and production relations. I am particularly interested in the role of boundary spanners and issues of competition and governance in the interaction between Chinese and foreign agents.


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