In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Regional Clusters

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Competitive Advantage and Clusters: Agglomeration Economies and Network Effects
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Knowledge Creation and Diffusion
  • Methods for Cluster Identification and Analysis
  • Clusters and Similar Concepts
  • Cluster Types, New Types of Clusters, and Rethinking Clusters
  • Cluster Dynamics, Cluster Evolution, and Cluster Life Cycle
  • Cluster Policy

Urban Studies Regional Clusters
Han Chu, Robert Hassink
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0058


Clusters as a broad term can mean any collection of elements or phenomena, and is used in among others astronomy, biology, medical science, and computing and data science. This article focuses on various aspects of regional clusters from an economic geography and regional economics perspective. Although many ideas related to the concept of clusters in economic geography and regional economics originated from Alfred Marshall’s industrial district developed at the end of the 19th century, Porter popularized this term in the 1990s. Michael Porter considers clusters to be geographic concentrations of interrelated collaborating and competing companies and institutions in a particular field. As a geographic concept, clusters vary in terms of size, ranging from a cluster within a neighborhood of a city to a cross-regional, international cluster. In general, however, regional clusters are a meso-level concept and therefore cluster studies are often linked to regional development and competitiveness, most notably in Porter’s ‘diamond model’. Moreover, many studies of clusters are linked to the concepts of enterprise, entrepreneurship, and innovation. In recent years, with the increasing globalization and digitalization of the economy, extra-regional linkages of clusters, such as global pipelines and temporary clusters, have received more and more attention. From a methodological perspective, both qualitative and quantitative methods are used in cluster research, sometimes both methods are combined. Studies of informal contacts/informal exchanges of clusters as well as studies of local buzz and global pipelines usually use qualitative research methods, while studies of cluster relatedness, cluster convergence effects and the impact of clusters on economic performance tend to use quantitative research methods.

General Overviews

Regional clusters is an important concept in economic geography and regional economics, and numerous books and articles have introduced and systematically reviewed clusters from different perspectives. Vorley 2008 summarizes cluster research by giving an overview of these different perspectives, whereas Asheim, et al. 2006 contains a rich collection of chapters on different aspects of clusters and regional development. Enright 2003 also gives a good overview of the characteristics and types of regional clusters. García-Lillo, et al. 2018; Sedita, et al. 2020; and Cruz and Teixeira 2010 analyze the intellectual structure or evolutionary trajectory of cluster literature based on a bibliometric method. Whereas the former analyzes the cluster literature from a topical core-periphery perspective, the latter is about different topics in different stages of the evolving cluster literature. Martin and Sunley 2003 arguably reviews the cluster concept in the most critical way. A short, concise, and recent book, Vicente 2018 comprehensively introduces the history and development of clusters and sorts out the cluster policies of different countries and supranational institutions. It has a slightly economist view on regional clusters and, hence, emphasizes network externalities more than real places and context.

  • Asheim, Bjørn, Philip Cooke, and Ron Martin, eds. Clusters and Regional Development: Critical Reflections and Explorations. London: Routledge, 2006.

    The book provides further clarification of clusters, then identifies the process of their formation and evolution and the advantages as well as limitations they bring, and finally focuses on the advantages and limitations of the “cluster model” as a policy tool. Bringing together a range of leading scholars who have made important contributions to cluster theory, this book provides a comprehensive empirical and theoretical analysis of issues, such as cluster evolution, cluster modeling and typology, and cluster assessment.

  • Cruz, Sara C., and Aurora A. Teixeira. “The Evolution of the Cluster Literature: Shedding Light on the Regional Studies–Regional Science Debate.” Regional Studies 44.9 (2010): 1263–1288.

    DOI: 10.1080/00343400903234670

    This article divides the definition of clusters mainly into those based on spatial proximity and those based on knowledge and network elements. Analysis of pre-2007 articles on clusters reveals a particularly prominent role of learning processes and knowledge spillovers, as well as the importance of social networks and firm interactions in the dissemination of information and the production of innovations that lead to cluster growth and regional development.

  • Enright, Michael J. “Regional Clusters: What We Know and What We Should Know.” In Innovation Clusters and Interregional Competition. Edited by Johannes Bröcker, Dirk Dohse, and Rüdiger Soltwedel, 99–129. Berlin: Springer, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-24760-9_6

    This chapter in an edited book gives a very good overview of the main theoretical elaborations on regional clusters, as well as research gaps. Based on the gaps analysis, a research agenda is developed. The chapter also looks at older concepts, elaborates on the main characteristics of clusters, gives an overview of different types of clusters, and deals with cluster policy.

  • García-Lillo, Francisco, Enrique Claver-Cortés, Bartolomé Marco-Lajara, Mercedes Úbeda-García, and Pedro Seva-Larrosa. “On Clusters and Industrial Districts: A Literature Review Using Bibliometrics Methods, 2000–2015.” Papers in Regional Science 97.4 (2018): 835–861.

    DOI: 10.1111/pirs.12291

    The authors use a bibliometric method analysis of 1,344 research papers published between 2000 and 2015 in different journals in the fields of economy, management, business, planning and development, urban studies, and geography, with the aim of identifying and visualizing the knowledge structure around “industrial district” or “industrial cluster” in the above-mentioned fields. By document citation and co-citation analyses, the authors divide the literature into eight groups and explain the details of each of the eight groups.

  • Martin, Ron, and Peter Sunley. “Deconstructing Clusters: Chaotic Concept or Policy Panacea?” Journal of Economic Geography 3.1 (2003): 5–35.

    DOI: 10.1093/jeg/3.1.5

    This seminal and critical article is concerned with definitions, theorizing, empirics, and advantages of the cluster, and its use in policymaking. The article argues that due to its fuzziness, clusters cannot provide a generic and deterministic model of how agglomeration relates to local and regional economic growth. Further, the paper criticizes the tendency to assume a correlation between a mere spatial concentration of industries and regional economic growth without thoroughly analyzing and, hence, knowing about networks and competition between firms in these spatial concentrations.

  • Sedita, S. R., A. Caloffi, and L. Lazzeretti. “The Invisible College of Cluster Research: A Bibliometric Core-Periphery Analysis of the Literature.” Industry and Innovation 27.5 (2020): 562–584.

    DOI: 10.1080/13662716.2018.1538872

    The paper finds evidence of a topical core-periphery structure of cluster research. The results suggest that the cluster literature has developed due to new external inputs, with the core becoming progressively smaller and more fragmented and the periphery larger over time.

  • Vicente, Jérôme. Economics of Clusters: A Brief History of Cluster Theories and Policy. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Pivot, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-78870-8

    This book provides a synthesis of cluster theory, systematically tracing the history of the concept of clustering starting with Marshall’s industrial districts and discussing the mechanisms of cluster theory as proposed by economists and innovation geographers. Further, the book examines how clusters influence the structure and dynamics of innovation networks, focusing on the microeconomic factors of cluster formation and the phenomena of externalities and knowledge spillovers in cluster dynamics. Finally, the book looks at clusters as the core of industrial policy and describes cluster policies of different international institutions, countries, and regions.

  • Vorley, Tim. “The Geographic Cluster: A Historical Review.” Geography Compass 2.3 (2008): 790–813.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00108.x

    Through reviewing the literature, the article summarizes five theoretical perspectives of clustering, namely the Italian school of industrial economics, new trade theory and Marshallian localization economics, new endogenous growth theory, economics of firm strategy and Marshallian localization economics, and new-Schumpeterian and evolutionary economics. Together they constitute an approach to clusters based on multiple perspectives.

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