Abstract: Local Knowledge and Global Connection in Italy's Gold Jewelry Districts
A number of scholars have emphasized the importance of knowledge flows to the gaining of competitive advantages by clustered and flexibly specialized firms in industrial districts. Crucial to the success of these local systems is the construction and reproduction of unique collective skills rooted in heterogeneous networks that link local and extra-local actors. This paper addresses the question of what it means for local societies to become sites of unique skills by looking at the history of two Italian towns specializing in the production and trade of gold jewelry in the 1950s and 1960s. Issues of meaning and power have been neglected in the literature. By reconstructing the conflicts and negotiations in the two towns over skill formation, I place the politics of knowledge at the center of my narrative and examine the contrast between tacit knowledge, embedded in informal relations of apprenticeship, and explicit knowledge, rooted in formal technical education. The distinction between the two kinds of knowledge was itself politically constructed in the two towns, and such distinction was crucial to the preservation of—or challenge to—the prevailing structures of economic power.