Regional innovation & social networks

My interest in regional innovation and the role of social networks for knowledge transfer can be traced back to my time as a visiting student at UC Berkeley in California.

As a student at the sociology department, I was introduced to social capital theory by one of my professors, and the concept immediately caught my interest. In the Master course, the concept was used in the analysis of social stratification, and I found the theories of Pierre Bourdieu and Robert Putnam especially inspiring. I was originally supposed to write my Master thesis on a whole other subject, but upon my arrival back in Norway, I had already decided to change my subject based on what I had learned and the ideas I had developed while in Berkeley.

Social networks continued to be my point of interest when I started working on my PhD in economic geography. I wanted to further explore how to use the concept of social capital in order to shed light on how innovation occurs in regional settings.

My research showed that some creative actors, such as firms that operate in the animation industry or fashion design, are more dependent on informal social networks than many other industries. This is because they operate in markets characterized by unpredictability, rapid shifts in trends and fashions, and as such, the informal social networks help them obtain relevant information and knowledge, get assignments and set up projects and at the same time, make up for the lack of formal organizational structure that characterize these types of industries.

Another interesting insight I gained was that place matters for these types of informal networks to develop. And for cultural industries in particular, location in urban environments is an important precondition. Urban environments have always fascinated me, and having lived in both California and New York, I have had the opportunity to further reflect on the importance of place, and why creativity tends to be spurred in urban environments.

There is still so much to figure out in regards to which mechanisms foster innovation and creativity. These, together with other topics related to regional development, are issues that I would like to explore further through my work at Nordregio.

Ingrid H G Johnsen

Senior Research Fellow