Changing cultures of competitiveness Institute for Advanced Studies
Changing Cultures of Competitiveness: Conceptual and Policy Issues - ESRC Seminar Series Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University
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Most academic studies and policy recommendations on 'economic competitiveness' arise from economics and management. Some work (e.g., Porter's competitive Diamond) has moved from theoretical paradigm through policy paradigm relevant to many sites and scales to 'knowledge-brand' status that is eagerly sought for the guru status of its leading advocate(s). Key terms here are 'entrepreneurship and innovation', 'knowledge-based economy', 'creative industries', 'clusters of innovation' and 'security for competitiveness'. They co-exist, in an ambivalent way, with attempts to domesticate competitiveness by linking it to social and/or ethical norms and governance practices (e.g., corporate social responsibility, poverty reduction, green/progressive competitiveness, etc.). This is often said to be the case in continental European contexts, where competitiveness is linked to social cohesion, in alleged contrast to more neo-liberal Anglophone countries. Domesticated or not, these 'changing cultures of competitiveness' are central to the conceptual and policy concerns of scholars, policy-makers and social change agents. Hence a seminar series that connects different stakeholders offers timely opportunities not only to clarify, re-examine, and evaluate these various economic and social formulations of competitiveness; but also to rethink policies through observing and debating alternative socially creative schemes.

Concern with 'competitiveness' varies significantly across disciplines and topics. It is the master narrative in economics and management studies (e.g., Porter 1986 and 1990) and is gaining greater attention among scholars working from socio-cultural perspectives (e.g., ESRC's Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change in Manchester University ). This ESRC seminar series concentrates on one specific aspect of change -- cultures of competitiveness - and will add value by adopting an inter-disciplinary perspective that draws on sociology, politics, cultural studies, geography, and linguistics. It interprets 'competitiveness' not only as an economic goal with socio-cultural underpinnings but also as a set of economic discourses and knowledge brands that mediate the refashioning of identities and practices of everyday life. Initial work in this area includes sociology (Jessop 2002), politics (Rosamond 2002; Strange 2002; Fougner 2006; Sum 2006), linguistics (Thomas 2003; Fairclough 2006), geography (McGuirk 2004; Bristow 2005) and education (Robertson 2005). This seminar series builds on these discussions to stimulate academic and policy discussions and publications from this perspective.


Seminars are organized around six themes:

Theme 1 - Cultures of Competitiveness: Discourses and Knowledge Brands

Theme 2 - Financialization of Competitiveness

Theme 3 - Competitiveness, Global Production and Labour Relations

Theme 4 - Changing Cultures of Competitiveness in Education

Theme 5 - Changing Cultures of Competitiveness: Social and Environmental Dimensions

Theme 6 - Social Exclusion and Socially-Creative Spaces


Workshops on the six themes will be hosted by different partner universities: Lancaster University , Northumbria University, Manchester University , Bristol University , and Newcastle University . The seminar series is also co-listed as a United National Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) project. All the UK institutions are easily accessible by road, rail and air. Participation is not limited but, ideally, we aim for 40-50 attendees per seminar. This will include academic and non-academic users (e.g., international organizations, local and national governmental bodies, NGOs as well as with other public and private organizations ).

Expected Outputs

The organisers will focus on disseminating the seminar materials and discussions to as wide a set of audiences as possible. This will occur through (i) a dedicated web-site, (ii) conference presentations (including at meetings of EAEPE, PSA, SASE, AAG, International Sociological Association (RC 21), and the International Studies Association), (iii) concurrent Internet workshops, to include practitioners, organized through the Access Grid Node (AGN); (iv) production of a journal special edition and/or an edited book. We aim to valorize the knowledge and lessons gained not only in the academic community but also outside.

Other Linked Projects

This seminar series also connects with an EU-funded Framework 6 Project, DEMOLOGOS, in which Lancaster and Newcastle are involved, and which is concerned with models of socio-economic development at local and regional levels; we will benefit from inputs by DEMOLOGOS researchers (Jessop, Moulaert, Gonzalez, Sum) and develop synergies, adding value to both projects.

Other linked projects include:

  • BISA International Political Economy Group
  • Ethical Corporation
  • GlobalHigherEd: Surveying the Construction of Global Knowledge/Spaces for the Knowledge Economy
  • International Working Group on Financialization
  • Learning and Life Chance in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) (website under construction)
  • Social Investment Forum
  • Social Studies of Finance
  • Social Studies of Finance Network
  • Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour
  • UK Social Investment Forum

Lancaster University Bristol University Northumbria University Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Global Urban Research Unit


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