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towards a relational perspective

By Harald Bathelt and Johannes Glu Ckler


Abstract. Resources are crucial for the technological and economic development of firms in spatial perspective. In this paper we contrast two ways of conceptualizing resources, and argue that a conventional, substantive understanding implies a number of shortcomings which can be overcome through the application of a relational conception of resources. In examining four types of resourcesömaterial resources, knowledge, power, and social capitalöour argument is that resources are constituted in a relational way in two aspects. First, resources are relational in that their generation, interpretation, and use are contingent. This depends on the particular institutional structures and social relations, as well as on the knowledge contexts and mental models of the agents involved. Second, some types of resources, such as power and social capital, are also relational because they cannot be possessed or controlled by individual agents. They are built and mobilized through day-to-day social practices. Individuals or groups of agents may appropriate the returns, but not the resources themselves. We conclude that a relational concept reflects the contextual and interactive nature of the selection, use, and formation of resources. This offers new insights into the explanation of heterogeneity in firm strategies and trajectories, as well as regional differences in the development of localized industry configurations, such as clusters.

Year: 2004
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