- Global Production Networks: Theorizing Economic Development in an Interconnected World by Neil M. Coe and Henry Wai-Chung Yeung
Over the past few decades, the structure of the global economy vis-à-vis production has morphed spatially — into one replete with dispersed networks and a plethora of actors, localities, and relationships transcending state boundaries. The components of this contemporary economic structure, termed Global Production Networks (GPNs) by its authors Coe and Yeung, are the [End Page 222] entities-of-interest in this book. Given the absence of a book-length treatment of GPNs by the extant literature, the value-add offered by Coe and Yeung in terms of delineating unified causal explanations for the rise and persistence of GPNs is timely and noteworthy. Across its six chapters, the book is cognizant of complementary approaches, and seeks to inform subsequent empirical exploration by attempting conceptual development of the GPN framework.
Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book by: perusing the changes in production and increased interconnectivity; reviewing the emergence of the GPN framework (termed GPN 1.0) alongside its antecedents and competing theories such as global commodity/value chains (GCCs/GVCs); and presenting “GPN 2.0” which accords “greater analytical precision and explanatory power in theory of GPNs” (p. 21). Coe and Yeung, drawing on their extensive engagement with the competing GCC/GVC approaches, detail the advantages of GPN analysis as an approach that: (a) accounts for the role of extra-firm institutions such as government agencies and trade unions; (b) is multiscalar in nature; (c) moves beyond analytical limitations of a linear chain concept in production; and (d) considers the governance characteristics of GPNs. This succinct introduction serves as a coherent roadmap that presents a critical, but objective, narrative to orientate readers to prior GPN research. In addition, it is a compelling backdrop for readers to consider GPN 2.0, which is developed in depth in the subsequent three chapters.
Coe and Yeung proceed to profile the actors involved in GPNs as well as the characteristics of these networks in Chapter 2. This is a key strength of the book, where the role of actors ex-firms such as the state, international organizations, and intermediaries are acknowledged and scrutinized for their impact on overall firm activity. Considering network configurations and power relations gives credence to a more nuanced understanding of production in the global economy. The chapter ends by explicating territoriality in GPNs across local, regional, national, and global scales. Given how prior scholarship has mostly focused on the economic drivers of network-building and persistence, this chapter is a critical step in advancing analyses of production engaging non-economic causal elements; although the ability of the authors to integrate reality with their explanans is also at the expense of theoretical parsimony.
The theoretical framework of GPNs is then systematically reinforced in Chapter 3, where Coe and Yeung identify the cost-capability ratio, market characteristics, and financial discipline as three key dynamic forces. These forces, alongside different forms of risk, are posited to “compel firms … to develop active strategies in order to thrive” (p. 113). While this narrative is well supported by a multiplicity of country and firm examples, the forces explicated seem to be firmly motivated by solely for-profit motives. While adequate in the context of pure economic analysis, this chapter could have benefitted more from a more inclusive account of non-economic forces. For instance, government-linked or state-owned enterprises, or industries with national security implications may not manifest the aforesaid trinity of dynamics. Nonetheless, the strategies typologized in Chapter 4 as intra-firm coordination, inter-firm control, inter-firm partnership, extra-firm bargaining, are robustly outlined and exemplified; illustrating persuasively how different actors adopt a combination of strategies to cope with differing dynamics and risk environments.
In the penultimate chapter of the book, Coe and Yeung go on the offensive by leveraging on the theoretical conceptualization of organizations, dynamics, and strategies in Chapters 2 to 4 to explain patterns of unequal...