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Exploring the Knowledge Strategies of Temporary Cluster Organizers: A Longitudinal Study of the EU Fabric Industry Trade Shows (1986–2006)



Trade shows and other temporary clusters have recently emerged as key sites of theoretical relevance for scholars who are interested in the spatial consequences of interactive learning. Recent research has viewed these events as relational spaces in which countless actors interact and learn spontaneously without a central actor governing the process. In the case of permanent clusters, however, studies have started to unpack the practices through which key actors, such as entrepreneurial and professional associations, stimulate learning and interaction. In this article, we hold that these central subjects also have an important role in activating the benefits of colocalization with regard to temporary clusters. In an empirical study of the European Union clothing fabric trade shows between 1986 and 2006, we identified four types of practices through which trade show organizers shape learning and interaction at their events. Contrary to current views, our study found that exchanges of knowledge at these events do not always occur at the global level. Instead, the geographic scale of the processes of exchanging and acquiring knowledge in temporary clusters is socially and politically constructed at several levels—from the merely local to the truly global. We also found that organizers of trade shows facilitate vertical relationships between exhibitors and typical visitors (i.e., buyers), whereas other knowledge flows are neglected or even hindered. We conclude this article by highlighting the theoretical implications of our study for the literature on the spatial consequences of interaction and innovation.