The causes of divergence in regional innovation patters - a comparison of two coastal cities in China

Student thesis: Phd


Ranging from 'systems of innovation' to 'varieties of capitalism' (VoC), a broad body of literature explores regional innovation following the institutional approach and attributes the divergent patterns of innovation to institutions (Hall and Soskice, 2001). However, this approach is criticised for being overly deterministic and treating firms as homogeneous recipients of institutional influences. Whilst acknowledging the role of institutions, a firm-oriented approach is needed for conceptualising regional innovation (Iammarino, 2005; Uyarra, 2010). Recognising the importance of innovation networks, this study operationalises the networking concept and elaborates regional firms' innovation relational patterns. With interests in understanding the wide regional disparities across China's regions despite the high centralisation and the context of China's pursuit to become a country strong in marine economy and innovation, this thesis uses the multiple-case study method and concentrates the empirical focus on two regional coastal cases in China - Qingdao and Ningbo. Despite superficial similarities in a number of aspects, the study shows differences in marine innovation performance between the two regions and explores the causes of these divergent patterns of innovation. By selecting firms from two representative sub-marine-sectors, this thesis presents four key findings: (1) it characterises that marine firms' innovation performances are influenced by the combinations of firm-level factors, especially the relational networks with vertical and horizontal actors, (2) it identifies two different patterns of marine firm innovation on the regional level, labelled as the regionally coordinated pattern and the firm-oriented pattern; (3) it demonstrates that the regionally coordinated model generates more advantages to facilitate the marine firm innovation and regional innovation than the firm-oriented one and explains why, (4) by recognising the firm-level diversity, it demonstrates the mediated institutional impacts and explores the importance of regional institutions in explaining the regional disparities of innovation by structuring the dominant patterns of firm behaviours. This thesis contributes to regional innovation studies by offering a framework to explore the causes of regional differences in innovation, reconciling the conflicts between the institutional explanations and the intra-regional heterogeneity across firms, and uncovering China's regional innovation and the important but under-researched marine industry, through which deepens our understanding on China's innovation and contributes to the literature on marine clusters. Policy implications include the need for policymakers to differentiate the regional focus and emphasise institutional building, and more general implications highlighting the importance of facilitating firm-centred innovation development and supporting innovation collaboration.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLaszlo Czaban (Supervisor) & Kieron Flanagan (Supervisor)


  • Regional innovation
  • Marine innovation
  • China

Cite this