Relational perspectives on innovation activities of firms from peripheral regions

Subproject within the framework of the Initial Training Network RegPol²

The project focusses on firms that are located outside larger agglomerations and investigates the formation contexts and development dynamics of their innovation activities. Departing from a knowledge-grounded and interactive understanding of innovation, the project explores the spatial and relational configurations of the networks firms mobilise for their innovation activities. The regional focus is on firms located in South Estonia and the Erzgebirgskreis in Saxony (Germany).


Increasing regional disparities and processes of polarisation and peripheralisation are common phenomena in Europe. Especially in many of the Central and Eastern European countries, a rapidly widening gap between economic centres and peripheral regions can be observed. Economic development is increasingly concentrated within few localities, while other regions cannot keep up with the pace.

A lack of innovation is frequently identified as a main driver of peripheralisation processes, both within theoretical debates and empirical investigations (e.g. Kühn 2015). While the reverse argument suggests that innovation activities can be a significant factor to stimulate regional development capacities and to counteract ongoing peripheralisation processes. However, such potentials are in contrast with stereotypical representations of peripheral regions in wider innovation discourses as per-se ‘non-innovative regions’. Against this background, one aim of the project is to contribute to a more differentiated understanding of peripheral regions within largely agglomeration-oriented innovation discourses in economic geography. 


Based on interviews with business representatives and actors from the regional development sphere, selected innovation projects were re-constructed according to space-time centred and network-analytical aspects (‚innovation biographies‘ – e.g. Butzin und Widmaier, 2015).

These reconstructions exhibit for instance the heterogeneity of innovation projects and their associated networks: some projects are realised with only few partners, while others involve a larger number of partners from different contexts. However, one similarity appears to be the spatially multi-local organisation of innovation activities. For their innovation efforts, firms from peripheral regions mobilise collaborations and knowledge from various scales, ranging from the local to the international scale.

A recurring theme emerging from the project is that firms take over specific sub-functions in externally initiated innovation projects. Against this background, visibility and networking can be identified as important mechanisms for firms from peripheral regions: they allow firms to be identified as project partners, to participate in external developments and to make use of emerging innovation opportunities.

Interim results of the project are continuously presented and discussed at internal Reg-Pol² workshops as well as at the following meetings and conferences:

  • Regional Studies Association annual conference 2015 in Piacenza, Italy
  • EUGEO conference 2015 in Budapest, Hungary
  • Jena Lecture Series in Economic Geography 2016 in Jena, Germany
  • European Rural Geographies Conference 2017 in Braunschweig, Germany
  • Nordic Geographers Meeting 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden


Reidolf, Merli / Graffenberger, Martin (2019): How local resources shape innovation and path development in rural regions. Insights from rural Estonia. In: Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation (JEMI), 15 (3), 131–162

Project information

Project team

Martin Graffenberger


University Tartu, Estonia
OÜ Geomedia, Estonia

Duration of project

09/2014 – 08/2017

Funded by

European Union – FP7, Marie Curie People Programme, Initial Training Networks (ITN)

Further information

Martin Graffenberger
Tel.: +49 341 600 55-187

Marie Curie Initial Training Network RegPol²


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