Organizational and Institutional Genesis: The Emergence of High-Tech Clusters in the Life Sciences
Walter Powell, Stanford University; Kelly Packalen, Queen's University; Kjersten Whittingon, Reed College
Most research on the emergence of high-tech clusters samples on successful cases, and works backwards to trace a narrative, often highlighting the role of specific individuals or groups. Our approach begins with the formation of a new field - - biotechnology in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and follows the field to the present. We emphasize the sequence of network formation, and the importance of organizational diversity and catalytic organizations that provide relational and normative glue. We examine eleven regions in the U.S. that were rich in resources - - ideas, money, and skills - - that could have lead to the formation of life science clusters. Three of the communities formed robust groupings, but most did not. Although local details are always relevant, our argument transcends the nuances of history in each community to specify the processes and mechanisms that foster catalytic growth. The necessary conditions are a diversity of for-profit, nonprofit, and public organizations, a local anchor tenant, and a dense web of local relationships. These features make possible cross-network transposition, whereby experience, status, and legitimacy in one domain are converted into ‘fresh’ action in another. The argument does not hinge on specific types of organizations or ingredients; indeed, it is general enough to accommodate multiple pathways.
Walter W. Powell is Professor of Education (and) Sociology, Organizational Behavior, Management Science and Engineering, and Communication at Stanford University, and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute. Powell works in the areas of organization theory, economic sociology, and the sociology of science. His interests focus on the processes through which knowledge is transferred across organizations, and the role of networks in facilitating or hindering innovation, and institutions in codifying ideas. With Jeannette Colyvas, he is studying the origins of university technology transfer, and how commercial engagement by faculty eventually became taken-for-granted and institutionalized. With Patricia Bromley, he is examining the consequences of increased professionalism in the nonprofit sector and its broader impact on civil society. With Dan McFarland, Chris Manning, and Dan Jurafsky, he is studying how scientific ideas are created and propagated, and whether interdisciplinary collaboration enhances, retards, or alters this flow. He is currently completing a book with John Padgett, entitled The Emergence of Organizations and Markets, culminating a decade-long project that analyzes the role of networks in invention, transposition, and re-functionality.