O: Global Value Chains

Global value chains (GVCs) involve the production of goods and services that cross international borders. GVCs grew rapidly during the era of post-war trade liberalization and export-oriented industrial policy, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. Many studies have shown that GVCs are a “mixed blessing” for engaged countries, accelerating exports, generating employment, and often supporting technological learning in lower-income countries while raising risks of isolation from leading-edge innovation and new industry creation, becoming stuck in highly competitive, low-value activities, and raising crucial social and environmental concerns that states may not have the capacity or leverage to address.  Much GVC research has sought to tease out the nuances that influence these various outcomes and their development implications. However, recent economic, technological, public health, and geopolitical changes have triggered considerable restructuring of GVCs and suggest an uncertain future. Trade wars and the global pandemic have caused businesses and policy-makers to rethink cherished assumptions about how the global economy can be expected to function and be governed. Key concepts such as global integration, vertical specialization, and lean supply chains have been called into question. The new watchwords are decoupling, reshoring, regionalization, and supply chain buffering. These changes raise the prospect of more domestic and regionally oriented value chains and possibly speeding the rise of multipolar GVCs. Also, new digital technologies may make participating in and coordinating GVCs easier, or deepen existing divides and uneven development outcomes. Now more than even research on GVCs is needed to understand the magnitude and the direction of these changes and how they are going to influence sustainable development in the next years. Accordingly, network O welcomes qualitative and quantitative work that considers private as well as public governance of GVCs, and the implications of GVCs and GVC-oriented policies for economic, social, and environmental up- and downgrading and (uneven) development outcomes.

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The following interview with Network O organizers Gary Gereffi, Mari Sako, Tim Sturgeon, and Eric Thun was conducted by Emma Greeson, a PhD candidate in Sociology at UC San Diego. It has been updated by the current organizers (2020).

When was your Network founded?

The global value chain (GVC) Network began as a mini-conference in 2009, and then as a full-fledged Network in 2010.

Briefly, what was the genesis of the Network?

The GVC perspective focuses on the intersection of global industries with national and local economies, and highlights the linkages between economic actors across geographic space. The “lens” of GVC analysis can offer a range of insights related to the dynamics and drivers of economic development, as well as industrial and social upgrading (or downgrading), with implications for firm strategy, public policy, and the production of economic statistics. The SASE Executive Council approached the organizers because GVC research had been yielding fresh insights into the processes of global integration and economic development and because its interdisciplinary character made it a good candidate for a SASE Network. Initial motivating topics included how advances in information and communication technologies were creating new possibilities for outsourcing and offshoring and how these impacts varied significantly across industries. While other SASE Networks focus on issues relating to economic development, none take global integration and the industry lens as their starting point.

What academic disciplines are most represented in your Network?

A defining feature of the GVC Network is its explicitly inter-disciplinary approach and its focus on firm-level analysis. The Network regularly has contributions from economic sociology, political science, geography, and international business.

How has the focus of the Network changed over time?

The focus of the Network reflects the evolution of the GVC research agenda and shifts in the global political economy. In earlier years there was a very strong focus on the economic impact of GVCs, especially on the power of large, global firms to set the terms of industrial upgrading. Research largely consisted of a series of industry/country case studies in agro-food, forestry, and high- and low-tech manufacturing, and a bit later, services. More recently we have seen a growing focus on the social implications of GVCs. Scholars have sought to understand if and how the benefits (and potential costs) of GVC participation spread beyond the walls of the firm to broader society, and in recent years, geopolitics, public health, and environmental concerns have forced their way toward a more central place on the agenda.  Along the way, there has also been a concerted effort to improve the methodology underpinning GVC analysis and the forms of data that are available for research.

What do you get from SASE and this Network in particular that you do not get at other conferences that you attend?

A real strength of SASE, and the GVC Network in particular, is the opportunity for different disciplines to engage in intimate dialogue with one another.   All too often in academia, subjects close themselves off from each other, but at SASE there is a real search for cross-fertilization. The recurring nature of the Networks creates a unique space for longer-term evolution of discussion, debate, and sharing of insights.

Is there anything about this Network and its dynamics, frameworks, orientations, or central issues that make it different from other Networks?

The Network is based on an explicitly global view of the political economy that nevertheless takes the specificity of domestic and local institutions and historical context into account. As such, GVC research has a proven track record of addressing the economic and social policy concerns of governments and non-governmental organizations alike.

What would you want people to know about your Network?

The Network has gone from strength to strength in attracting a mix of senior and junior scholars, and doctoral candidates are always welcome. As the selection process has become more competitive, the quality of discussion has increased markedly.