The purpose of this paper is to examine the antecedents (the medieval guild) of modern day industrial clustering. The paper challenges the notion that work of Alfred Marshall provides the intellectual underpinning of cluster thinking.
The source material uses archival research on medieval guilds and historical texts. In tracing the development of forms of co‐operative association this paper employs the technique of genealogical spanning. The prism of forms of co‐operative association is used to examine the rise and fall of the medieval guild.
Medieval guilds have been largely ignored by modern proponents of cluster theory and Italianate industrial districts. Guild activity in technological invention and innovation, in skills transfer and knowledge (both codified and tacit) had many of the same positive attributes that are found in neo‐Marshallian industrial districts. The long history of cooperative behaviour in geographically concentrated firms in industrial districts had its genesis in the medieval guild.
The paper suggests that collaboration (in craft guilds) and clusters (cooperation and relationships) have been a dominant paradigm since the Middle Ages; a viewpoint which is commonly ignored by the dominant US‐centric view of individualism, competition and arms lengths relationships in business. Cooperation and relationships have attracted significant scholarly attention and most recently the studies in the cluster literature have tended to favour the social and knowledge‐based approach. This phenomenon suggests that the future social, political and economic dynamics in Europe will remain firmly rooted in the creation of areas of regional specialization, as has been the case in the past.
This paper contributes to our understanding of the embeddedness of cooperation by comparing the characteristics of the medieval guild with the characteristics of modern day (Porterian clusters). Cooperation rather than competition is the dominant paradigm of industrial activity. The competitive divide between employers and employees was an aberration of the Industrial Revolution and promoted by political economists as a means of facilitating the mobility of labour by diffusion.
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