Knowledge Bases and the Geography of Innovation

University dissertation from Lund University Press

Abstract: Despite the ongoing globalisation of economic activities, innovation does not take place randomly distributed over space, but concentrates in certain locations. A central argument to explain the spatial concentration of innovation activities lies in the ability of geographical proximity to facilitate interactive learning and knowledge exchange, which in turn is seen as an important driver for regional growth and prosperity. Intensive knowledge sharing within the regional milieu is considered pivotal to continuous innovation, while at the same time, distant sources of knowledge are important for accessing new ideas and thoughts. When, why and in what respect local or non-local knowledge sourcing and exchange matters for innovation is a key question addressed in this dissertation. The thesis applies a regional innovation systems perspective where innovation is seen as the result of interactive learning processes involving various actors from industry, academia and governments, which collectively contribute to regional innovation and growth. Moreover, the thesis takes a broad-based view on innovation where innovation is seen as critical for all sectors of the economy, and not only for science and (high-) technology orientated activities. A distinction between industries is made with respect to the type of knowledge base that underlies innovation activities (i.e. analytical, synthetic and symbolic). When, why and in what respect the geography of innovation varies subject to industry specific difference in the knowledge base is a further key question addressed in this dissertation. In order to account for the diversity of channels through which knowledge can be sourced and exchanged, particular attention is devoted to the notion of networks that connect firms and other organisations inside and outside the region, but also to other modes of knowledge transfer such as monitoring of collaborators and competitors, the mobility of knowledge embodied in skilled labour, and informal relations between individuals within knowledge communities. The dissertation reveals that the organisational and geographical scope of knowledge exchange is strongly (but not exclusively) shaped by the type of knowledge base that underlies innovation activities. The results point in the direction that symbolic industries, partly as a consequence of the context-dependency of cultural knowledge, are deeply embedded in localised knowledge networks, while knowledge exchange in synthetic industries is less locally organised and more governed by the national institutional framework. Analytical industries tend to rely less on localised sources of knowledge, and more on specialised knowledge providers in other parts of the world. The research design is inspired by critical realist ontology, epistemology and methodology, and draws on a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. The empirical focus lies on several regional industries (or clusters) in different parts of Europe, with the main attention on the new media, food and life science industries in Scania, southern Sweden. The dissertation consists of five articles that are published or forthcoming in peer-reviewed journals, preceded by an opening part which outlines the theoretical and methodological background framing the individual articles.