Structure and agency in local path development: A comparative study of the online games industry in Shanghai and Hamburg

The question of how industry develops differently in different regions is an interesting topic in economic geography. Scholars have contributed enormous knowledge concerning various relatedness, the role of multiple actors and their agencies, and regional industrial preconditions, in contributing to local industrial path development. However, our knowledge on the agency-structure relations present in local industrial development is limited, if not totally lacking, not mentioning how such relations influence the industrial development trajectories and ultimately the overall competitiveness of the local industry. Based on such reflections, this thesis aims to fill such an ‘agency-structure’ gap in local industrial development by looking at the developmental trajectories of one creative industry—online games industry, in two regions that belong to different countries (Shanghai in China and Hamburg in Germany). In both cases, all sorts of misalignments between the focal industry and the institutional frameworks (including both formal and informal institutional elements) could be observed during the industrial development processes. It is under such industry-institution misalignments that the agency and activities of multiple actors have been analyzed. By comparing the two trajectories in different institutional contexts, the research contributes to the literature in the following ways. First, this research gives due attention to the structural forces, such as the formal and informal institutional structures, that affect local industrial development. Secondly, it contributes to a nuanced analysis of agency in local industrial development, including innovative entrepreneurship, institutional entrepreneurship and place leadership. Finally, it reveals the dynamic agency-structure relations, which serve as the causal mechanisms leading to different developmental outcomes in the games industry in the two selected cities.


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