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Getting the specialization right. Industrialization in Southern China in a sustainable development perspective

Elisa Barbieri, Marco R. Di Tommaso, Chiara Pollio and Lauretta Rubini

World Development, 2020, vol. 126, issue C

Abstract: Information and communication technologies (ICT) are acknowledged as a powerful tool used to foster development and to broaden people’s agency. This being so, ICT are also the results of specific production processes. And, little attention has been given to the degree of sustainability that the places that are currently in charge of producing ICT attain. In this framework, we investigate under what conditions specializing in ICT products rewards a territory in terms of technological innovation and socially sustainable development. Our analysis focuses on the case of Dongguan city, China, which is a core area in the global production of ICT. Industrialization in this area has been mainly FDI-led and framed within a Province-level industrial specialization policy – the Specialized Towns program. We perform an empirical analysis based upon a unique township-level dataset covering several years (2000–2016). We then integrate the quantitative data with qualitative fieldwork information on Dongguan ICT-specialized townships. Our findings suggest that (1) specializing in ICT can pay in terms of innovative performances, provided it is supported by an institutional setting aimed at collectively promoting innovation, a sufficient degree of extra-cluster relations and a sufficiently high level of education of the population. (2) Social sustainability can be improved in ICT clusters by long experience in public involvement towards building collective action. Since many of these areas do not currently show to have reached such social and economic conditions, they risk being captured in a middle income-low development trap. Governments targeting ICT specialization should then focus also on devoting specific policy initiatives towards social inclusion.

Keywords: Innovation; Social sustainability; ISID; China; Specialized Towns; ICT (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104701

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