Block I: "Structure/Sector"
The first of the blocks distinguished - referred to as “Structure/Sector” - is special due to the fact that the foundations for it were laid by the phenomenon of competition - as it seemed - naturally opposing cooperation. There are many voices emphasizing that the turn of the 1980s and 1990s is a turning point for a change in the perspective of thinking about the economy and running a business - a shift from focusing on competitiveness strategies to strategies based on cooperation (although not denying competitiveness) (Faulkner & de Rond, 2000). The 1990s was a time when the interest in cooperation in the economy soared to an unprecedented level: “Linkages between firms and their suppliers, their customers, and even their competitors are becoming the ‘modus oper- andi’ for remaining competitive” (Gray, 2000, p. 243). The foundations for changes in the strategies of economic operators lay in the transformations taking place in the economic sphere and other areas of life caused by the intensification of globalization processes. These processes have led to a shift in customers’ expectations towards largely unified tracks, while manufacturers have been forced to react even faster to changing market conditions (Faulkner & de Rond, 2000). It is therefore hardly surprising that with the growing expectations of producers and service providers by their customers, with ever faster changing business environment (merging of most local markets and the creation of a global market overlay has made the fluctuation of one element destabilize and change the operating conditions for everyone involved) it has become an urgent problem to find a good way of doing business under such conditions.
The solution to this situation did not appear out of nowhere, it has always existed and was to join forces of individual entities in shorter or longer acts of cooperation. The stimulus to link two naturally occurring, and at the same time seemingly abolishing vectors of the functioning of entities in the economic field - competition and cooperation - was the Porter’s concept of five competitive forces (Porter, 1979; 1980). The core of this concept was the author’s conviction that the success of an enterprise operating in a given sector is determined by more than just its potential - it is necessary to take into account also other undeniable forces with expected impact on the economic operator. Porter’s five forces are: threat of new entrants, threat of substitute products or services, bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of customers, and jockeying for position among current competitors (Porter, 1979). An analysis of these forces in a given sector should provide the interested entity with the knowledge necessary to assess the attractiveness of this sector: the greater the forces involved, the more difficult the sector would be to “conquer” (less attractive). On the other hand, the low levels of the forces indicated above allow for the recognition of a given sector as relatively attractive and susceptible to “conquer”.
What makes Porter’s concept - although strongly preferring “external” factors (market/sectoral) - not completely deterministic, is the mutual influence of the sector (structure) and enterprises and other entities operating in this sector (structure elements). The structure creates conditions for entities to act, while entities - through their actions - influence the structure. This assumption places Porter’s concept at least close to the structuralist paradigm, according to which action appears within a certain structure but is largely conditioned by it, and therefore its implementation significantly contributes to the reconstruction of that structure, as Giddens’ (1986) theory of structuration states. However, while in Giddens’ case, changes in one structure are rather determined by the intersection with other structures in which simultaneously operating entities participate, in Porter’s case, the structure (sector) and its elements (entities involved in this structure) update the operating conditions “on an ongoing basis”.
One of the strategies that can be adopted by organizations operating in a particular sector is to join forces to obtain together a better competitive position than either organization would individually. It will not always (or rather rarely) be a combination integrating the entities involved into one new entity - most often, however, it will be a certain episode (shorter or longer), during which organizations united in a given cooperation process will have to find a “golden mean” between cooperation and competition. As Madhok writes: “Inter-firm collaboration is clearly a mixed motive game [...], where the relationship is characterized by a spirit of collaboration (for creation of the pie) and competition (for distribution of the pie). It is therefore important to know when to collaborate and when to compete” (Madhok, 2000).
Similar dilemmas are a constant element of reflection of cluster members. Interestingly, the author of the cluster concept (and at the same time its definition) was precisely Porter, who by naming the acts of simultaneous cooperation and competition by cooperating entities, bridged the earlier era of the primacy of competition and today’s pro- operational attitude. A cluster is a construct in which cooperation in some spheres is combined with competition with its partners in other spheres. However, neither the cooperation process distorts maintenance of own subjectivity by the members of the CO involved, nor does the continuous competition with each other have a hindering and destructive effect on the positive relations existing between the cluster members (this is, of course, in a model situation - in fact, some entities however, they cannot reconcile in action such a dualism). Hence, it is precisely COs that are very interesting objects for research and analysis, as they allow to reconcile opposing tendencies on a common ground.
The institutional theory, which has been indicated as a valuable supplement to both Porter’s concept and Giddens’ theory of structuration, is an ideal example of a concept that could also be successfully included in another group of theories, e.g. those emphasizing the importance of relations. However, its core - a strong emphasis on the importance of the quasi-objective context, this time in the form of the existence of an organizational field (instead of a sector - as in Porter’s case) - strongly links it to the category of cooperation theories currently described. An “organizational field” encompasses “those organizations that, in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life: key suppliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory agencies, and other organizations that produce similar services or products. The virtue of this unit of analysis is that it directs our attention not simply to competing firms, [...] or to networks of organizations that actually interact, [...], but to the totality of relevant actors” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983, p. 148). The omnipresent power of the organizational field manifests itself not only in an obvious - under this assumption - determination of conditions for the functioning of entities anchored in this field (i.e. undertaking economic activity, strategies for improving one’s competitive position, methods of competing with other entities of a similar type, and forms of cooperation with them and/or other entities), but also unifying impact on each of these entities: “Once disparate organizations in the same line of business are structured into an actual field (as we shall argue, by competition, the state, or the professions), powerful forces emerge that lead them to become more similar to one another. Organizations may change their goals or develop new practices, and new organizations enter the field. But, in the long run, organizational actors making rational decisions construct around themselves an environment that constrains their ability to change further in later years” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983, p. 148).
What causes the organization to become similar within the organizational field can be the already mentioned bilaterality in interaction between the structure and its elements (through actions taken by these elements within the structure) - the dynamic adaptation of the structure and its elements visible in the process of structuring may also constitute the basis for explanations of unifying tendencies taking place in this area: “Through repeated interactions, groups of organizations develop common understandings and practices that form the institutions that define the field and, at the same time, these institutions shape the ongoing patterns of interaction from which they are produced” (Lawrence et al., 2002, p. 282). One could also try to call this process a new name - isomorphism - but its definition (more general than the definition mentioned above) does not in principle bring any new element to the already existing puzzle: “isomorphism is a constraining process that forces one unit in a population to resemble other units that face the same set of environmental conditions” (DiMaggio &t Powell, 1983, p. 149).4 Regardless of which of the identified types of isomorphism we take as crucial for a specific organization to resemble other entities of a similar type (coercive - related to the domination of some organizations over others and the legitimized power to exerting pressure on them; mimetic - choosing proven solutions under uncertainty; normative - derived from professionalization, i.e. a common set of norms and expectations that must be met by representatives of individual professions - employees of collective entities embedded in the organizational field) (DiMaggio &c Powell, 1983) - each of these forces will be a strong determinant of the homogenization of entities within the organizational field.
Since cooperation between organizations is already taking place in the organizational field, it is also subject to the processes of isomorphism, or, more broadly, the similarity of the forms of cooperation available in the organizational field. The conditions prevailing in the field/sector (depending on the concept) set both a “hard framework” in which the cooperation process can take place (e.g. applicable local, national, and European legislation; condition of a given industry - raw material prices, demand for products or services offered by the industry, etc.), as well as “soft expectations” towards such cooperation (e.g. adherence to the norm of reciprocity or the initial level of trust in partners in a given cooperation process). The vast majority of organizations anchored in the organizational field/sector are familiar with these principles and try to comply with them, as they increase the likelihood of successful completion of a specific cooperation process. Thus, they become similar to each other, apply similar “good practices”, avoid performing specific movements knowing that in other cases they have brought negative results, they share their visions of what cooperation is and what it can/ should look like. In this context, scientists are also making their own contribution to stiffening the situation: closing unique processes in one category because they are “similar” to each other, creating lists of “good practices”, or promoting some forms of cooperation at the expense of others - these are mechanisms supporting the homogenization of cooperation in the organizational field.
The activity of COs - including the processes of cooperation between their members - is subject to similar organizational field influences as individual organizations. Here, however, it would be appropriate to distinguish (and at the same time distinguish from each other) two main dimensions of this similarity: the “cluster-wide” dimension regarding the unification of COs functioning in general (more closely related to the institutional theory) and the “sectoral” dimension reflecting the homogenization of the operation of
COs in a specific sector/industry (more clearly corresponding to Porter’s theory). It seems that the actual pattern of CO initiation and development and the model of its activity will constitute a specific resultant of the interactions derived from both of the above-mentioned dimensions.