Clusters have become a key focus of discussion and analysis in contemporary debates on urban and regional economic development (Feldman, 2000; Porter, 1990; Steiner, 1998). Closely associated with the work of the Harvard business economist, Michael Porter (1990, 2000), the cluster concept has attracted particular interest from academics, consultants and policy-makers concerned with promoting urban and regional growth in an increasingly global economy (Benneworth et al., 2003; Glaeser, 2000; Martin and Sunley, 2003). As Steiner (1998, pp. 1 and 4) observes, clusters have become an object of desire for many cities and regions, resting on the widely accepted assumption that increased specialisation will lead to increased levels of productivity, growth and employment. Cluster-based policies have been adopted by a range of organisations operating at different geographical scales, including regional development agencies within a number of European and North American states, national government units such as the UK government’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and supranational bodies such as the OECD and the European Commission (see—for example, DTI, 1998; European Commission, 2002; OECD, 2002). Such policies require the identification of specialist clusters which can then be targeted for support, typically in the form of R&D assistance, bespoke training, venture capital, initiatives which attempt to inculcate a culture of innovation and learning and efforts to build and reinforce a sense of cluster identity amongst constituent firms and rganisations (Raines, 2002). As advocates of clusters often argue (Porter 1998, 2000; Botham and Downes, 1999), the approach is not confined to dynamic new clusters of the knowledge economy, but can be applied in a variety of sectoral and spatial contexts, from old industrial regions undergoing structural readjustment to peripheral rural regions seeking new sources of growth and even prospective industrial ‘hotspots’ in the ‘global south’ (Altenberg and Maeyer-Stamer, 1999; World Bank, 2000).
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