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Industrial transition and regional policy: The North East Industrial Cluster, 1920-2020 (Advert Reference: SF21/BL/EIS/WILSON)

   Faculty of Business and Law

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Over the course of the last 100 years, industry in the North East of England has undergone a radical transformation, moving away from its traditional reliance on coalmining, shipbuilding and heavy engineering towards digital technologies, tourism and other service sectors. At times, this has been a painful transition, with significant ramifications for its indigenous community. Although policymakers at both national and local levels have attempted to provide solutions, these have been met with varying degrees of success. This project will evaluate how and why the North East industrial cluster was obliged to experience these changes, focusing on a series of issues: the forces that drive, and impede, the processes of change and transformation; the impact of wider contextual forces that influence cluster evolution and performance; how these forces are mediated and accommodated at the level of the cluster and network; and what role contingency plays in these processes. In undertaking this analysis, the project will also contribute to developing a deeper understanding of cluster evolution, introducing key questions such as the unit of analysis to study (people; firms; district) and whether clusters are more than the sum of their parts. This will highlight the vital roles played by knowledge creation and innovation in the process of generating a sustainable pattern of development, begging the all-important question of whether the North East is equipped to respond effectively to long-term economic change.

While this is undoubtedly a historical project, it will also demonstrate the value of a longitudinal analysis to two other areas: social science theories about clustering; and the elaboration of effective regional economic policies. With regard to the former, the project will contribute extensively to the debate about the life-cycle of clusters by providing deep insights into the North East experiences. Similarly, the project will evaluate successive attempts by national and local policymakers to revive the North East economy, contributing to the current debates related to ‘levelling up’.

There are now multiple archival sources to support this project (for example, the Tyne & Wear Archives, Durham Archives, Mining Institute, and the Lit & Phil), ensuring that detailed primary research can be conducted on people, firms and the region as a whole.

This project is supervised by Prof John Wilson.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·       Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF21/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Open

Start Date: March 2022 or October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Please note this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend.


John F. Wilson, Chris Corker and Joseph Lane (forthcoming), Industrial Clusters in Great Britain: Knowledge Creation, Innovation Systems and Sustainability, Routledge.
John F. Wilson, Steven Toms and Ian Jones, The Role of Governments in Markets. Interventions and Unexpected Consequences in Industrial History. Routledge Focus on Industrial History Series, 2020, 140.
John F. Wilson, Steven Toms and Ian Jones, A Search for Competitive Advantage. Case Studies in Industrial History, Routledge Focus on Industrial History Series, 2020, 140.
John F. Wilson, Nicholas Wong and Steven Toms, Management and Industry. Case studies in UK industrial history, Routledge Focus on Industrial History Series, 2020, 150.
John F. Wilson, Steven Toms, Abe de Jong and Emily Buchnea, The Routledge Companion to Business History (Routledge, 2017. xiv + 394.)
Andrew Popp & John F. Wilson (2007), ‘Life-cycles, contingency and agency: growth, development and decline in English industrial districts and clusters’ Environment & Planning A, Dec 2007.
Andrew Popp & John F. Wilson (2003), ‘Business networking in the industrial revolution: some comments’, Economic History Review, October 2003.
John F. Wilson & Andrew Popp, Clusters and Networks in English Industrial Districts, 1750-1970 (Ashgate, 2003, pp.xii + 288).
D. Farnie, D. Jeremy, T. Nakaoka, John F. Wilson & T.Abe, Regional Business Strategies: A Comparison of Lancashire and Kansai, 1890-1990 (Routledge, 1999, pp.321).

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