Regional competitiveness as social process: institutions, social networks and cognitive frames

Peck, Frank ORCID logo ORCID: and Roncevic, Borut (2015) Regional competitiveness as social process: institutions, social networks and cognitive frames. In: Regional Studies Association International Conference on Global Growth Agendas: Regions Institutions and Sustainability, 24-27 May 2015, Piacenza, Italy. (Unpublished)

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Recognition of the importance of social process is longstanding in regional studies and has formed the basis of much theorising surrounding the underlying factors that influence regional competitiveness. Social dynamics, for instance, are central to such concepts as innovative milieu and industrial districts as well as regional clusters and regional innovation systems. More recent discussions of the nature of regional innovation have continued the quest to understand the social context that underpins economic relations in terms of territorial knowledge networks, regional spillovers and knowledge domains. In this paper, we reflect on these ideas and explore the relevance and usefulness of recent sociological approaches to the economy based on the concepts of cognitive frames and social fields. The first part of the paper considers the theoretical basis of these ideas. This is followed by some reflections on the policy dilemmas associated with attempts to influence such social processes.

Sociological approaches to analysis of economies have tended to emphasise the influence that social structures exercise on individual action. Recent discussions have focused mainly of three social forces – the influence of social networks, institutions and what have been called “cognitive frames”. By and large, globalization renders obsolete old debates on the most appropriate modes of societal steering (markets vs. states vs. networks) and encourages a search for new concepts which explain the influence that social settings exercise on economies. At the meso level, concepts are needed that address the ability of a social setting to continuously (re)produce technological and social innovations within the framework of regional systems of innovation. These systems have been characterised as “social fields” that like markets, can be studied as arenas of interaction for the exchange of ideas and technologies.

The concept of the “cognitive frame”, however, adds nuance to the notion that innovation occurs through social networks. Such frames have been defined as “cognitive shortcuts that individuals use to help make sense of complex information”. As such, this concept focuses on how individuals interpret or represent the world they inhabit and, critically, how selective simplification occurs involving filtering which determines what information is acted upon and that which is apparently ignored. Cognitive frames, of course do not exist independent of institutions and social networks as there is a complex interaction between these three levels of analysis. Recent theoretical developments have drawn attention to this concept in seeking to understand the factors that cause social fields to alter over time which occurs partly in response to shifts in cognitive frames. This implies the need for in-depth analysis of these ‘invisible sets of forces’ that contribute towards effective local adaptation and response to global trends.

The paper also considering the implication of the concept of cognitive frames for policies designed to influence social actions that partly underpin the competitiveness of regional economies. Institutions, social networks and cognitive frames have in the past been repeatedly confirmed as relevant in determining a variety of outcomes such as levels of inward foreign direct investments, regional innovation and technological progress. Institutions exert their influence by limiting permissible scope of actions, encouraging some and discouraging others. Social networks position individual and collective in social space, limiting ties with specific nodes and encouraging others. Most interesting, however, we explore the possibility that “cognitive frames” provide useful insight into the way in which individuals absorb knowledge that leads to action and how this vital rocess may be influenced.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Departments: Centre for Regional Economic Development (CRED)
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 10 May 2016 13:35
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 14:01


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