Technological Change and the challenges for Regional Development:building "social capital" in less-favoured region
Nunes, Richard J.
Heitor, Manuel V.
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The relevance of regional policy for less favoured regions (LFRs) reveals itself when policy-makers must reconcile competitiveness with social cohesion through the adaptation of competition or innovation policies. The vast literature in this area generally builds on an overarching concept of “social capital” as the necessary relational infrastructure for collective action diversification and policy integration, in a context much influenced by a dynamic of industrial change and a necessary balance between the creation and diffusion of knowledge through learning. This relational infrastructure or “social capital” is centred on people’s willingness to cooperate and envision futures as a result of social organization, such as networks, norms and trust that facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit (Putnam, 1993: 35). Advocates of this interpretation of “social capital” have adopted the “new growth” thinking behind “systems of innovation” and “competence building”, arguing that networks have the potential to make both public administration and markets more effective as well as learning trajectories more inclusive of the development of society as a whole. This essay aims to better understand the role of “social capital” in the production and reproduction of uneven regional development patterns, and to critically assess the limits of a “systems concept” and an institution-centred approach to comparative studies of regional innovation. These aims are discussed in light of the following two assertions: i) learning behaviour, from an economic point of view, has its determinants, and ii) the positive economic outcomes of “social capital” cannot be taken as a given. It is suggested that an agent-centred approach to comparative research best addresses the learning determinants and the consequences of social networks on regional development patterns. A brief discussion of the current debate on innovation surveys has been provided to illustrate this point.