From a national to a local economy: deconstruction and comparison of the Norwegian economic model with the one of the city of Carrara


What prompted me to deal with this subject that at first glance the two main protagonists of my paper seem so distant from each other? Well, from the very beginning I wanted to make my choice clear right away. I was born in Carrara and I have lived there practically all my life, I think it is a beautiful place to live. It is enclosed in a small part of the coast where the sea comes into direct contact with the mountains. Beautiful mountains high and twisted sharp, it seems to have the glorious Alps “of the north”, but on the sea. The city is also very beautiful, with its center formed by millenary history. Carrara is known all over the world for its marble, it is said to be the best in the world, but it is exactly what made it famous, the great gift that its splendid mountains have given it that is leading it to ruin. Today Carrara is nothing more than a large open pit quarry from which its “white gold” is ripped away and then exported all over the world. Most of the profits end up in the pockets of the big “padroni” of marble, and the town is left with only a few crumbs while it sinks under the weight of its blocks that are extracted. A couple of years ago I went to Erasmus in Norway and was amazed at how the Norwegian government had managed to manage the exploitation of its resources in a completely different way, and with the proceeds it had thought about the good and development of its population, bringing it to what it is today. Since then I often think about whether what Norway has done with its resources Carrara can also do with its resources. There is a lot of difference between the two realities, yet I also see them becoming connections and similarities. These are precisely the ones I would like to bring to light in this paper. Perhaps this project may seem utopian, but in the end, aren’t the things that seem impossible the things that lead us to seek out what they are? 


In the introduction to my paper and the subsequent development of the subject, I would start from the beginning of everything, quoting what Dicken’s (2015) wrote in his book:” in a very authentic sense, the mining industry represents the beginning, the initial phase at the basis of the production circuit, of the GPN network that kick-starts the global economy. Without raw materials, everything else could not begin”. Mining activity is inextricably linked with its territory, indeed we could say that it is precisely the mining activity that actively shapes the territory, directly influencing its anthropocentric activity, its economy, and directing social and political development. In my text, I will focus on two examples that at first may seem very distant from each other, but it is precisely in the mining activity that their common ground lies, and this is what has made them what they are today even at a global level. My two examples The Norwegian state, which, through the export of oil and natural gas, has had an extraordinary development worldwide thanks to the way it has managed its resources. Through the use of policies aimed at creating direct state control over resource management, creating a socio-economic fabric in which local manufacturing and industry were placed at the center of the sector, financed by foreign investment in which the state played the role of intermediary. Through the reinvestment of the proceeds generated by its extractive activity, Norway initiated a series of social policies that led, as a maximum point, to the establishment of a sovereign fund, which guaranteed it the constitution of national welfare. The second example concerns the city of Carrara, famous all over the world for its precious and pure marble. Despite its mining activity, aided by new technologies in the sector, has never been so productive, the city and its territory are slowly dying due to poor management of its resources which risks causing significant environmental damage, such as hydrological instability or the disappearance of the Apuan ecosystems, caused by the marble industry. The focus I would like to give concerns the institutional point of view and how they have led to the creation of the economic structure of the two cases and their mechanisms. “It is well known that it is not always a good thing to be rich in natural resources, to the point that the term ‘raw materials curse’ has been coined to indicate the poor economic performance of states rich in non-renewable resources. This is a frequent phenomenon, although it is not inevitable, and can have many different and multiple causes. One of the main ones is the excessive specialization of the economy. The ‘raw materials curse’ is usually referred to states, nevertheless, it is a useful conceptual reference for Carrara”(Burgalassi, 2019). To avoid this “curse” the importance of institutions is crucial. They are the ones who regulate the activities in a given territory, creating “the rules of the game”, that is, the system of laws, rules, and social norms, which actively establish what can and cannot be done, directing the creation of an economic ecosystem. The institutional analysis, within the capitalist sphere applied to two different magnitudes, for both cases will start from a national level, and then focus on the local level for what is the main study: the reality of Carrara. My paper aims to try to break down what are the economic structures of our two cases, trying to highlight their function and mechanisms, their importance in social reproduction, in the creation of those compressive structures important to reproductive continuity, and in general in the creation of that economic-social fabric that actively directs the action of economic-institutional agents, leading to the active creation of the economic structure itself. The historical perspective in this text is not the dominant one, but I will certainly make use of it to understand how we have reached the point where we are now and to better understand what the future dynamics could be, in a process of continuous territorial transformation, because although raw materials can represent the lifeblood of territory, if not properly managed, they can also represent the death of the place. 

Theoretical framework:

What difference does scale make to capitalism? 

The paper deals with the comparison of two economic systems. Today’s world as we know is founded on capitalism, and by capitalism, in this context, I do not just mean an economic system, but treating it from a broader perspective, by capitalism I mean a social system. What immediately springs to mind when looking at our two models under consideration is the difference in scale and sovereignty, so we ask ourselves: what difference does scale make to capitalism? 

The difference in scale creates two types of difference in capitalism: the first one is a horizontal difference (between local), and the second one, is a vertical difference (between local and national) (Gough, 2014). The first type of capitalism acts horizontally, creating a more or less equal exchange, but with different entities, between confined local realities. Interactions can be of various kinds: economic, technological, infrastructural, social, cultural or more often a mix of these. Trying to apply it to our local case, the city of Carrara could have a horizontal exchange with a nearby location, for example, the city of La Spezia in terms of infrastructure for the use of its port. The second type of capitalism, the vertical one that affects the local-state relationship, takes place on a higher scale with a disparity of strength that under normal conditions hangs towards the state. There is, however, a relationship of dependence of the state towards the local if the state has on its side a principle of strength, its realization, and continuity of realization are within the local. An example, in this case, we take from our state case, Norway. The Norwegian state, to continue its mining activity in the North Sea, must rely on its manufacturing sector, which allows it to build the infrastructure and technologies suitable for drilling in the North Sea. The industrial districts or geographical clusters are an excellent model of vertical and horizontal interaction. The Norwegian state has been very skillful in creating this network. Michael Porter (1998) defines it in the following terms: “Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field”. where this is created and developed, staying on the Norwegian case, a very good one is, for example, the Oslo suburbs or one of the R&D sites in Stavanger, which are subject to horizontal interaction with the municipality, which will later become vertical with the state authorities. In the abstract everything is initially based on the remuneration system. The production of wages is organized by capital through the exploitation of the labor force, with the objective of capital accumulation as a value. The labor force is provided by the social sphere. Production and labor force are under different ownership and control (Gough, 2014). They manifest themselves by taking place in different spaces and times by locating themselves. They are moments of a single process of class reproducibility. Social and class reproducibility is essential because it changes and shifts the role of the scale. Capitalistically speaking, scale is important in terms of volumes, number of interactions, and possibilities given, but not in terms of functioning. There are economic structures that are applied on larger territorial scales and function worse than others applied to smaller territories and vice versa. Capital represents the absolute value in the capitalist system, and this can be obtained through the exploitation of the labor force, which however plays a double role in the creation of value, creating what are collective consumption indispensable for the reproducibility of the system itself (Brenner, 2001). What is important to note within the problem concerning the scale, is the fact that reproducibility and consumption are located in local markets, and these markets are spatially defined. The state exists within this moment of reproducibility interaction, it is not a distinct institution with its dynamics but a singularity in the contradiction (as it manifests itself inside the local, but staying at a higher level, however without the inferior dimension, i.e. the local, it would not find its manifestation) in the economic evolutionary history that enters into the life of the world. This helps us to understand in our case that a comparison between the Norwegian state and the city of Carrara is feasible. As much as the state is an inter-territorial organism and plays a role of direction and control over what are the local realities connecting them, the action and manifestation of what happens are at a local level. The economic structure itself of the local reality then interacts vertically with that nation that through its institutional, legislative, and economic system connects the different local realities. Scales are socially constructed and are important in terms of the additional possibilities they bring, but a scale does not determine the quality of an economic structure, but rather it is the economic structure that can use the possibilities offered by the numbers on the scale. 


To define what is meant by the term “institution” and its relevance to the question of this text, I tried to follow the lines of thought of Bathelt and Gluckler (2011) in which they present their ideas and arguments in the paper “institutional change in economic geography”. The term institution has an ambiguous definition without clearly defined boundaries that can often be misinterpreted. So let us first ask ourselves what an institution is not. An institution is not a simple behavioral regularities rule of behavior, it is not an organization, it is not a rule. The exclusion of these phenomena turns our focus toward a positive definition of social institutions: “we define institutions as forms of ongoing and relatively stable patterns of social practice based on mutual expectations that owe their existence to either purposeful constitution or unintentional emergence” (Bathelt and Gluckler, 2011). Institutions are a social technology (Bathelt and Gluckler, 2011), and as such are situated within a historical process of continuous change. They are formed from several parts taking into account more factors related to the space-time dimension, from their constitution there is the formation of socio-economic actions and in general the constitution of what is considered “the rules of the game”. Institutions operate on different scales, and within our text when we refer to them we must always understand them from a spatial point of view concerning a larger context. The environment in which the acting institution is already present defines the existing framework. Bathelt and Gluckler (2011) deconstructing that of which an institution is formed, rightly point out to us that it consists of two factors: the structure and the agent. Through the theorem of the duality of structure and agency resembles (Barley and Tolbert, 1997), we come to the following conclusions on the internal training formation of the institution: 1) the agent is located in a defined space and time, assigning them physical coordinates we can attribute to him the function of social interaction. 2) The structure is virtual, located outside of time and without a subject. This implies the lack of physical dimensions, and therefore only a virtual interface. What can we deduce from these two points? Since the institutional structure lacks physical dimensions, it envelops the agent within it. The agent is inside the structure, so if the structure exists it is only because of the social interaction caused by the agent. Why is it important to understand this? With this analysis the importance of the subject is highlighted, the institution takes dimensionality only through the subject and this is important in two points: 1) with a Marxist perspective, it is social action that must define economic action, and not in capitalist terms, economic action that defines social action. 2) Mediation between micro-macro level: the action of the subject can take place on several scales, the role of the institutions is to be integrated into a dialectic relationship on several scales of magnitude, creating bridges between several institutions within the geographical space and giving continuity to that form of change constituted by the up-down process that starting from the capitalist system at a global level unwinds and branches out to the local level. A final point to underline in my attempt to define the institutions relevant to the context of the text is the question: “how is institutional change possible if the actors’ intentions, actions, and rationalities are conditioned by the institutions that they wish to change? This paradox can be resolved through social action that is fundamentally reflexive and contextual in nature” (Leca and Naccache, 2006), to this correct answer I add the importance of the spatial dimension, of facts as far as the up-down process is a continuous dialectical relationship, it is simpler in theory through social action to change an institution at the local level than at a higher level because of the lower number of actors involved. 

Case model:

History and structure of the Norwegian economic system:

Norway is often taken as a state to be taken as an example, in fact since the 1960s few states can boast of similar growth and development from both an economic and social point of view. It is considered the perfect mix of a socio-capitalist economic system, a mix that has led it to have a winning formula: according to 2018 data, the nation has the fourth-highest GDP in the world, one of the countries with the highest number of citizens with a university education and a very low unemployment rate of 0.41%. But how did it reach certain levels of development taking into account its economic history, which in the 1960s had one of the lowest domestic GDPs in Europe, and its economy was mostly low on fishing and timber? Let’s take a brief look at its history. In May 1963 the Norwegian government took over the sovereignty of a substantial stretch of the North Sea off its coast. Imported oil resources were found in that part of the sea (currently 1.3 million barrels per day are extracted), and drilling began in 1969. How have the institutions reacted to this sudden discovery of oil deposits? And what role have they played in the development of the Norwegian state? The Norwegian institutions, instead of relying on private companies, decided to nationalize the wells and to enclose them under a single national company, the Statoil. This meant that all oil and gas revenues did not go to private companies, but directly to the government. The government and the institutions could have reduced taxes (which are still among the highest in the world today) or started important infrastructure and city construction projects, but instead of speculating, they were far-sighted and decided to create social policies to benefit their population. In 1996 they reached their peak with the founding of a sovereign fund called the Government Pension Fund Global, also known simply as the “Oil Fund”, which is currently the largest sovereign fund in the world. The philosophy and morality behind the creation of this fund are very simple: the territory belongs to Norway and as such is owned by its citizens, and since it is their land that is being exploited, it is right that they should benefit from the money they get from the exploitation of their land. This means that, from a theoretical point of view, every Norwegian citizen owns about 200000 euros, but this money is not accessible directly by the person (not even by the government itself), but it is contained within the fund and covered, and from the proceeds of the investment, the money is used to strengthen the school system, health, infrastructure, other welfare services in general, and covered in the fund itself. This portfolio is diversified in various parts: stocks, bonds, cash, commodities, etc., the thing to underline is not so much what it invests in, but what it does not invest in, in fact behind the various investments that the fund follows there is a philosophical thought with important ethics. The fund does not invest in the arms market, in tobacco companies, companies that harm the environment or that do not respect workers’ rights, it does not invest in other companies that produce fossil fuels, besides the curious fact that the only country that the fund is forbidden to invest in is North Korea. 

The results described above are important in terms of development and renewal, but nothing comes about by chance. Norway has managed to put this system in place and make it work thanks to the creation of an entire socio-economic structure that surrounds and wraps tightly around what is the main source of its economy, the oil sector, by centralizing it. The centralization has led to a total involvement by the state that has created a network that starting from the local dimension extends to a national level (and later also international through the sovereign fund but in different ways), thanks to the central role of the public sector and the implementation of social policies. In the Norwegian case, we have a close relationship between the horizontal and vertical dimensions formulated by Gough. However, the revenues derived from the sector are not aimed at reinvesting in the sector (a part of it, of course, but this is not the main purpose), risking total dependence and excessive specialization, but rather the revenues are aimed at further development of its techno-industrial and economic fabric and its compressive structures, leading it to have greater and greater autonomy from its main source of income. To achieve this the state, and the state’s ability to bargain with foreign investors, have been fundamental. How was it possible to create this economic system in which a large sector of raw materials such as oil and gas is involved with a central role, involving public institutions, policies, and knowledge-intensive sectors that later turned out to have dynamic qualities, leading to the formation of production clusters for other economic sectors, without falling under the spectrum of the “raw materials curse”?

To answer this question I report a small historical summary taken from Simon Ville’s paper (2013) “The dynamics of resource-based economic development: evidence from Australia and Norway”:

The first major instrument to direct foreign companies toward local enabling industries was the decision to create a specific “Norwegian technological style” in the offshore oil sector (Olsen and Sejersted, 1997). Offshore oil platforms used in the Mexican Gulf and other overseas oil fields at that time were constructed of steel, but the harsh weather conditions in the North Sea, strict safety conditions set by the Norwegian government, and technological initiatives from local industries required oil companies to use large, expensive concrete platforms (Hanisch and Nerheim, 1992). This technological style was based on local expertise in the design and production of dams for the hydropower sector (Engen, 2009). The state-owned oil company, Statoil, became the operating organization for the transfer of knowledge to Norway and to create links to enabling sectors. Foreign oil companies had to train Statoil to be able to lead operations in future fields and to support the wider build-up of local education in the petroleum sector (Hanisch and Nerheim, 1992). Statoil would use its position as owner of oil fields to enter into contracts with local industries. The system was effective. In 1974, the Norwegian portion of the supply business was 28% (Engen, 2009), and increased to 58% by 1980. To engage Norwegian scientists and research organizations in the oil sector, the government introduced the “Goodwill agreements” in 1979. This gave foreign oil companies “goodwill points” if they entered into R&D contracts with Norwegian firms and research institutions. The policy transformed parts of the national research system. As a result, Sintef (Trondheim), Christian Michelsen’s Institute (Bergen), and Rogaland Research (Stavanger) became major R&D performers (Engen, 2009). The high investment levels in the offshore sector created a market for local knowledge-intensive sectors, including high-tech industries. Information and communication technologies became integrated parts of production systems and development processes of the resource-based industries (Sogner, 2009). By the end of the 20th century, the oil and gas sector was the main customer for the local ICT industry, but also many research institutes, consultancy firms, engineering companies, machinery industry, and other parts of the knowledge-intensive business sector (Engen, 2009). The close interaction between oil and gas producers and knowledge-intensive organizations in Norway created over time a strong cluster of companies and research institutions, which shaped technological development in the petroleum sector and became potential export sectors. These clusters became important elements of the economy both as producers and as competence centers for other sectors of the economy. This analysis highlights the primary role that institutions and the use of new technologies have in creating fertile ground for the emergence of new economic sectors, thus removing the risk of the “curse of natural resources”. Simon Ville (2013) summarizes them in two points: 

-What matters for long-term growth rates is not the existence of large resource-based sectors, but rather the quality of institutions in the economy.

-New resource-based sectors often emerge not because new natural resources are discovered but because new technologies create the basis for commercial production and marketing of a known resource.

Norwegian landscape
Photo by monicore on

Case study:

Italy and the institutions:

To carry out a comparative study between the two different economic structures, we first need to focus for a moment on the division of the Italian state from an institutional point of view, so that we can contextualize the reality of Carrara.

Starting from the analysis of the role of institutions in the Italian state, we can see that there are immediately two important perspectives: the first concerns a popular vision that institutions and politics have on the economy. This popular perspective is undoubtedly seen from a negative and distorted point of view, in fact already from before, but especially because of the Tangentopoli rulings of 1992, which as a result led to a strengthening of this idea. The Italian cultural context has brought to light this common vision of an internally corrupt state, both in the highest and lowest roles, of a weak government in which Mafia activities thrive above all thanks to illegal activities and the winning of contracts and sub-contracts. This prospect is reflected in a collective distrust that affects the world of governance at every level, from national to local and vice versa. In the “popular” perspective, institutions lose value and credibility by being read-only from a negative and suspicious perspective. Why is it important to bring this perspective back into this context? The importance of stressing the above lies in the fact that it is influential in social action. The perception in negative terms of institutions has now become a cultural fact on a national scale, and this perspective used very often with the action of confusing what is the electorate at all levels leads to a strengthening of this feeling itself. It, therefore, has an active role in the media influence of the actors involved in social actions at all levels, but especially with an emphasis on the local for its importance in the manifestation of state singularity. The action gave by the socio-cultural creation it carries out even if in indirect terms it is relevant in directing the creation of the social reality itself. In such a context there are wide possibilities of movement for certain social actors. “Then there is another perspective of Italy, the ‘real’ Italy, the one accepted from the academic and international point of view with solid data” (Locke, 1995), and this is what we refer to in this paper, but always keeping a watchful eye on the social influences that first Italy can bring. The “real” Italy, is made up of dynamic reports that are confirmed by statistical comparisons with the economic data of other nations, and that confirms the fact that the Italian economy, despite the skepticism of the populist vision, is one of the most important economies in the world with high ranges in terms of exports. What we are interested in is understanding the role of institutions in this Italy, and above all how they operate at a local level and how much freedom they have in this dimension. To understand how Italian institutions and local Carrara institutions operate, we need to see briefly how Italy is divided and organized territorially, and what relations these divisions have with each other. The territory of the Italian state is interiorly divided into three other constituent elements: region, province, and municipality, together with the state these three elements make up the Italian Republic. The region, which is the first sub-group we find after the state, is a territorial body with its statutes, powers, and functions which are regulated by the principles established by the constitution, the regions are not considered local authorities. At a lower level, we find the provinces as an intermediate body that acts as a bridge between the region and the municipality. The municipality in the legal system of the Italian Republic, is the smallest unit of administrative subdivision, is considered as an autonomous local territorial authority. This is important in our case because the city of Carrara also plays the role of a municipality. Since the municipality is the smallest fraction of territorial control and it has a direct influence on its territory, our analysis will concern only the municipal area trying to understand how the interaction of all the various actors takes place, leading to the creation of the local economic structure and the creation of the surrounding fabric in which the cultural factor plays a decisive role in its reproducibility.

Institutions on the premises: the reality of Carrara

Carrara is a city that was born and lives thanks to its marble. The economy of Carrara is mainly based on the extraction, processing, and export of marble. The numbers that the marble industry has achieved in recent years are impressive, as is the damage that this work is causing to the territory (the hydrological instability is just one example, and the increasingly frequent floods in recent years are a testimony to this). To try to understand the forces that have brought Carrara from being the pride and joy of Italy and the world center of marble to an ever-increasing decay from untapped potential, we must first try to understand the city from a cultural and historical point of view. Carrara and its territory play an important role in the modern history of the Italian people. Marble has been quarried in northwestern Tuscany’s Apuan mountains since the Roman Republic. During the nineteenth century, the quarrying and working of marble became a truly industrial enterprise. In the first half of the 1800s, wide-scale exploitation of Carrara’s marble riches was promoted by growing international demand for Carrarese marble, increased foreign and local investment, and technological advances. By the end of the nineteenth century, the industry was in the hands of an able entrepreneurial class that was imbued with capitalist values. While extending their control over excavating, transporting, working, and marketing the valuable stone, the marble entrepreneurs both modernized the industry and expanded production. Amassing huge personal fortunes, marble industrialists established family dynasties that collectively controlled the province’s richest natural asset, its largest single workforce, and, eventually, local politics as well. Representing the most dynamic and wealthiest group in the area, the Carrarese marble industrialists became deeply involved in the region’s politics in the mid-nineteenth century (P. Lorenzini, 1994).

To understand the economic structure of Carrara we begin the analysis from its central sector, the beginning of the stone sector, through the system on which the management of marble quarries is based. The one mentioned above by Lorenzini (1994) is important because it highlights the history and process of the local industrial class, and how the influence they still exert today not only in their sector but also in the creation of local policies. A striking example of this concerns the system of concessions behind the marble quarries. The main manager of the Carrara marble quarries in the municipality administers the marble agri marmiferi. The agri marmiferi are the plots of quarry considered public, which are given in concession for a certain period to individuals or partners. But the municipality is not the manager as far as “estimated assets” are concerned, i.e. quarries considered as private property, with no expiry date and which cannot be reassigned by public tender. All this is allowed because regulation of the XVIII century is still applied, more precisely the edict that Maria Teresa Cybo-Malaspina, sovereign of the Duchy of Carrara, issued in 1751 to regulate the quarry activity (note that it is a pre-unitary act, that is, issued before the formation of the Italian State). In the intentions of the princess duchess, there was the will to put order to a system without logic, so much so that she instituted a sort of ‘perpetual concession’ of excavation to those who had the quarry registered in the cadastre at the time for at least 20 years. All the others would have to abandon and return the quarries. For years there has been debate about how legitimate regulation of the 18th century is still to be considered evaluated. However, some entrepreneurs claim its validity and continue to consider themselves as owners of assets that should belong to the “unavailable municipal patrimony”, according to the Royal Decree n.1443 of 1927. Today in the municipality of Carrara there are 80 quarries, of which 8 are estimated assets, the agri marmiferi 20, while all the remaining activities operate in a mixed form, halfway between agri marmiferi and esteemed estimated assets. The important thing to underline is what it means to be the owner of an esteemed good because two advantages derive from it: 

– The concession is perpetual and therefore there is no need to worry about a possible expiry date.

– You only have to pay one of the two taxes established by law. Those who administer the agro-marble must pay the municipality 8% of the value of production and the region 5%, while those who own the estimated asset pay only the amount imposed by the region and nothing to the municipality (Guido, 2015). 

After many years and as many re-readings of the case, the question of the concession of the Carrara quarries is still open today and without a conclusive answer. The current situation is certainly based on a disparity of treatment of a homogeneous situation: the agro-marble and the estimated asset do not differ either morphologically or economically. “The only reason for this disparity is rooted in a document of 269 years ago of which it is perhaps not possible to give a correct interpretation” (Cecili, 2018). The problem has also been highlighted many times because of a disparity in earnings, between the important revenues that entrepreneurs in the sector accumulate and the derisory figures that remain in the coffers of the municipality. The question of the allocation, management, and legal status of the Carrara quarries, which is intrinsically connected with the income from them, are only a part of the problems and contradictions that the stone economy pours into the town. There are other issues of absolute importance that in this paper we list only in brief: the environmental damage that extraction causes to the territory, the damage to health created by marble dust, the damage to municipal and civic infrastructures that are caused by the transport of marble from the mountains to the sea by truck. The examples reported lead us to highlight a conservative dynamic, immobility accentuated by the lack of economic policy interventions that should have reduced the social and economic gap and strengthened and encouraged integrated local development (Benevolo, 2001). 

View from the top of part of the quarries district of Carrara. Photo by the internet (21-07-2021)

Another important point that significantly diversifies the two realities examined that we examine in-depth, is the relationship with technological change concerning institutions. “Michael Storper has introduced the central concept of conventions (taking into consideration that each part of the convention has different Spatio-temporal extent) and continues to demonstrate the many ways in which institutional context and rules shape economic transactions, more recently, the emergence of evolutionary approaches within economic geography represents an important focal point for institutionally inflected analyses of regional economic change” (Gertler, 2010). The Norwegian state has invested heavily in its manufacturing and industry, the famous “Norwegian technological style”, to be able to cope with the pitfalls that the extreme environments of the North Sea can face through the latest frontiers of mining engineering, thus creating an internal network of close relationships between primary and secondary activity and the supporting actor structures, carrying out development and succeeding in creating new job opportunities. In Carrara, the creation of this capillary fabric is disappearing. The institutions and the entrepreneurial sector through the internal market are finding it difficult to create this. For many years Carrara, as the world capital of marble, has been at the forefront in terms of its extraction and processing. However, in recent years this trend has changed concerning both GPN and a lack of strategic coupling. The phenomenon is called ‘strategic coupling’ as the overall capacity accumulated within a specific local economy and a specific GPN to align interests and activities, to improve value creation and value capturing at the local and global level (cf. Cox, 1997). “This specificity is important because local economies have a particular industrial mix with a specific demand for production factors and the supply of specific types of infrastructure. These specificities also define the attraction of particular GPNs to these locales” (Jacobs & Lagendijk, 2013). The knowledge and skills that the sector has managed to create on the territory have also been exported abroad. While many times the creation of an expansion and foreign competitiveness can produce positive effects through the introduction of new ideas and more efficient technologies that can safeguard the operator but also the environment, this has not happened in Carrara. The attraction of particular GPNs on the territory has been and still is present, but institutions, political and economic bodies have been slow to act in a global context, resulting in a deterioration of their importance on the international scene. “Today, fewer and fewer marble blocks are processed, leading to a drop in employment in the sector” (Benevolo, 2001). Most of the blocks today are processed abroad, due to all those dynamics that GPNs involves, such as the demolition of borders and therefore processing in lower-cost countries. Local agents have found it difficult to understand the potential of the new global factor due to an overly specialized economy and risk going seriously against what is the “raw materials curse”. Even symbolically this was found, the world marble exhibition that was held for several years in Carrara and was an emblem of the city itself, with buyers from all over the world coming to the Apuan area for the marble trade, is now held in Verona, further proof of the ineffectiveness of reacting at a wider and more competitive level. It is never easy to create an economic and social fabric that, starting from a single sector, can expand and interact in other economic situations and contexts. Under the best conditions, however, it can happen as written by Simon Ville (2013), “of which Norway is a clear example, the resource-based sectors have functioned as drivers of knowledge development in other sectors, which have become enabling sectors diffusing technology to many parts of the economy”. Other examples of lack of realization of social and compressive structures, of networks and agents that can support the main economic activity, we find it through the realization of those networks and educational institutions that are fundamental to give continuity to the sector that the territory offers. The educational and training centers through active involvement of the institutions should try to transmit a critical look at the various economic sectors, to highlight the contradictions and weaknesses of the latter leading to the exploration of new possibilities. Teaching aimed at innovative research that may prove to be more competitive within the GPN. These actions are indispensable for the realization of dynamic qualities that can create that sub-structure that collaborates and interacts, also in terms of social reproduction, with the primary activity. In this category, we can give an example in the field of secondary education in which disintegration is evident. In the current year, the “Istituto del marmo Tacca” high school shows a total enrollment divided into five years of only 49 students, a number that proves to be too small for a training center that should provide for that generational renewal in such an important sector as marble, from which (following the Norwegian model) the push towards a decentralization from it and the creation of new opportunities should arise. 

If we look instead at the Norwegian example, in this sense we notice a strong involvement of educational institutions at all levels, but especially at a university level (OECD statistics). The Norwegian state, thanks to its welfare, offers free university access and through it has created a continuous network of dialogue between the academic world and its main economic sector. We can note this concerning the geological sector (Oslo University has played a central role in mapping Norwegian resources) and engineering, but also the economic and management disciplines, which are indispensable for the proper functioning of the whole apparatus and always ready to bring innovative ideas for further development in the future. 

With what has been reported so far, and the data bear witness to this, we want to highlight the fact that today the future scenario of a Carrara overwhelmed by a “raw materials curse” is a more than concrete possibility. The cultural idea of affirming monopolistic values (Harvey, 2000) in marble quarrying continues to be competitive for the moment because of the uniqueness of Carrara’s “white gold”. Work activities, on the other hand, show negative trends, and this is a fact to be taken into account in the future (Burgalassi, 2019). The important economic structure of the city, which has brought significant results in terms of earnings over the past 150 years, proves inadequate to meet the needs of the GPN. To change the economic structure, regardless of the size of the scale, it is not enough to act on the individual sector, however important it may be, but the perspective must be increased. To create a less specialized economic structure, we need to create a quality network involving all the various parties, institutions, economic agents, knowledge centers, and citizens as social actors. Through the interaction of all parties involved, a program can be drawn up for the creation of those quality economic institutions, mentioned by Ville (2013), which by passing through those supporting actors structures can bring significant changes to the economic structure, in this case, the Norwegian case is a clear example. 

Through the concept of “space of dependence” (Cox’s, 1998) we can summarize in four points the state in which the reality of Carrara is immersed and its dependence in the relationship with the marble market.

Physical: Carrara, as highlighted several times in the text, is strongly linked to its territory. Its entire history passes through the marble of its mountains, and the maritime routes that its sea has allowed it to build. The very functioning of the town, through the historical process and economic modeling, has made its structure based on the extraction, processing, and marketing of marble. Today the destiny of the city inevitably passes through its territory.

Institutional: the marble sector actively forms what are the local institutions that then go on to form those social infrastructures (taxes, laws, concessions, etc.) or physical infrastructures (roads, tunnels, ports).

Economic: the space of economic dependence means the accumulation of capital in a localized form. Quarries represent “potential” capital. 

Political: through the historical summary of Lorenzini (1994) and the Estense decree, the influence that the “owners” of quarries have on local political bodies have been highlighted. There is a dependence on the local level on how the strategy and actions of the economic actors lead to certain electoral security. 

View from the bottom of part of the quarries district of Carrara. Photo by author (21-07-2021)


The primary purpose of the text was not to “point the finger” against the quarry system, the contradictions and disparities of it emerge from the text but are not the end, they represent how it is possible to achieve our goal. The aim was to highlight how the “quarry system” leads to an excessive specialization of Carrara’s economic structure making it inadequate within a larger context like the GPN, bringing it dangerously close to the risk of incurring the “raw materials curse” in the near future. The structure of Norway shows us that this is possible, that there are valid models to tackle the problem. Going beyond what may be differences in legal status, size, geographical location, or even cultural factors, I hope I have managed to isolate, deconstruct and highlight the two different economic systems. Indeed, in the case of Norway, its economic system, precisely as it has been structurally set up and designed by its institutions, tends to continuous renewal. Its entire structure is not dependent (although it may seem a contradiction, as Gough pointed out, capitalism is made up of contradictions), on its sector and source of primary income. It is the very nature of the system structure itself, which leads to the result that the more capital derived from its primary sector (gas and oil) is injected into the whole economic system, the more the system itself becomes independent and autonomous concerning its main market, and the more it shifts its income towards innovative sectors leading to new possibilities. All this system structure leads to the continuous existence and reproducibility of the system itself, and consequently to continuous growth. Taking Carrara into consideration, however, we note the opposite. Its economy is strongly concentrated around quarrying and the stone market. Its relatively small population, compared to the wealth of its territory, has led to an average situation of immediate prosperity, and this prosperity has been sustainable for several decades leading to an illusion of the entire economic system in question. The lack of action, on the part of the institutions and the local entrepreneurship itself, of research towards other opportunities that the territory and the local reality can offer to try to find independence from its main resource towards a continuous renewal, with a dynamic development also in other sectors has been almost nothing. The total (or almost total) dependence in a single sector in which the whole system structure is based leads to stagnation, and vulnerability in case of changing scenarios. If the quarries were to run out (a possibility to keep well in mind in the next decades), if there was a collapse in the stone market, if new players entered the scene, the whole block of the local economic system would be faced. Solutions in this case, and to the point where we have arrived today it is not easy to find them and that is not the purpose of this paper. Certainly, the creation of a network involving more discussion between institutions, businesses, and local workforce representation is fundamental to direct a certain economic activity. 

The economic structure of the Norwegian state in this text represented the reference model to look at, while that of the city of Carrara represented the case to analysis. Above I have very quickly summarized what has emerged if we try to deconstruct the two economic structures. The conclusion is that while the structure of Norway is moving towards its reproducibility over time, that of Carrara is exposed to possible crises in a significant way. Both structures find their similarities in the mining sector, their meeting takes place at the very beginning of the GPN. Their developments, however, take different paths. Three are the most important points that emerged from this brief analysis, and from which I think that the institutions of the city of Carrara should try to take the Norwegian model as an example, to seek greater independence from the stone sector and the risks that a lack of it would entail. The first could be the creation of production clusters in search of new possibilities that stone technology offers even outside its sector. To explore what new possibilities could be created, a strong collaboration with knowledge centers is indispensable. The second point that I think emerged concerns precisely the areas of knowledge and the whole series of compelling factors that are indispensable in the creation or modification of such a complex economic structure. Looking at Norway, it can be seen that the institutions have proved to be dynamic and quick to create all those series of networks and socio-economic scaffolding that are indispensable for the creation of skills and ‘consciousness’ that are essential for sustaining and renewing the economic system. Schools, universities, professional training centers, and a fertile ground for investment with policies that look to the social welfare, is what Norway has been able to do and probably the biggest challenge. It requires the same effort from Carrara’s institutions if the city is eager to continue to prosper. The question that arises now is how to create all this? By what means? This brings us to the third and perhaps most provocative and revolutionary point.  

Taking the Norwegian case as an example, the government has used revenues from the oil sector to invest in new sectors leading to the creation of the current situation. It would certainly be an interesting challenge to see if it would be possible to do something similar with the income from marble (once all the various costs have been removed) could be essential to create a network of companies, institutions, and people that can give a new push towards the creation of a new dynamic economic structure that looks at the innovation of the territory also through its valorization, such as the historical-artistic or even naturalistic heritage, which in recent years has always been moving towards decline.

View from the bottom of part of the quarries district of Carrara. Photo by author (21-07-2021)


–   Amdam R. (2010), “Sectoral Versus Territorial Regional Planning and Development in Norway”.       Taylor & Francis.

–    Bathelt H. & Glucker J. (2013). “Institutional change in economic geography”. Sage publication.

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ambientale propria per il Legislatore regionale. Rivista di Diritto Tributario.


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