51st Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "New Challenges for European Regions and Urban Areas in a Globalised World", 30 August - 3 September 2011, Barcelona, Spain
The dissemination of knowledge in industrial districts (ID) and clusters has often been linked to the existence of a specific tacit knowledge. Thus, the companies belonging to ID specialization sector might sustain a distinctive competitive advantage against isolated firms. However, the observation of technological changes in recent decades and the presence of ID whose technological intensity has dramatically increased in the same period suggest the existence and need for codified knowledge in these agglomerations. As result of tacit knowledge decline, the economic performance of ID could move backwards, given the greater ease to imitate and reproduce their contextual knowledge by competitor firms located in not district areas. The paper discusses the above assumptions, suggesting the existence of combinations/hybridizations of both types of knowledge in ID, which we have named locational-translational knowledge. This third type of knowledge could explain the maintenance of ID contextual advantages even in presence of higher doses of codified knowledge. This would require the presence of agents acting as interfaces able to absorb new pieces of codified knowledge in order to combine them with local knowledge for adjusting the specific needs of ID. However, we argue the existence of several constraints, such as the size of 'creative market district', in ID which may require the opening of ID to knowledge imported from academic institutions and other formal research organizations, in contrast with autarky or isolation suggested by tacit knowledge. Finally, an analysis of the ID evolution enables us to appreciate that the process of absorption, combination and dissemination of external knowledge may have existed throughout the life cycle of ID but supported, at each stage, for different institutional agents: the 'impannatore', the 'cappofiliera' firm and, lastly, for formal knowledge-oriented institutions such as the above referred.