How do “boundary spanners” influence the globalization and evolution of industrial clusters?

Industrial cluster has been one of the most researched concepts within economic geography since the 1990s. There is a significant body of conceptual and empirical research on clusters and their evolution to investigate the factors that enable clusters to grow and innovate. However, the impacts of actor agency on cluster evolution have been relatively under-examined in the existing literature. 

To fill this research lacuna and to provide a more thorough framework explaining cluster evolution, Dr. WU Di from Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, developed a systematic theoretical framework that reveals the role of the agency of resourceful, knowledgeable individual actors—functioning as “boundary spanners”—in facilitating cluster globalization and cluster evolution. 

This framework was developed through a case study of the globalization and evolution of the Jingdezhen ceramics industry cluster in China since the mid-2000s. A multi-method ethnographic research involving in-depth interviews, participant observation, and secondary research was conducted to collect data between September 2017 and December 2018. 

In this framework, Dr. WU identified four specific cluster boundary-spanning mechanisms—namely, discursive construction, innovation promotion, production coordination, and market reach—through which clusters become globally connected and evolve accordingly. 

“This research shows that clusters’ pre-existing resources and assets are not the only key determinants of cluster evolution. More importantly, active interventions of individual actors are also fundamental factors in driving cluster evolution.”, said Dr. WU. 

This study has recently been published in Progress in Human Geography.



Forging connections: the role of‘boundary spanners’ in globalizing clusters and shaping cluster evolution














Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences