In this paper we offer an approach to learning about the unique features of industrial districts as a socio-economic phenomenon that is based on differences. Instead of searching for one generic theory that may explain the unique construction of an industrial district or one universal way of getting under the skin of its subjects we propose ‘interstanding’ as a road to insight. The title alludes to different relationships: between theoretical frameworks and empirical approaches, between writing and reflecting on the one hand, creating conversations, talking and listening on the other, between teacher and student, between the academic and business communities. In the paper this ‘interstanding’ perspective of knowledging is demonstrated in the context of an annual international doctoral course on SMEs in economic and regional development. The participating doctoral students are organized into research teams, each furnished with a specific theoretical perspective on localized economic development, and subsequently jointly brought to the industrial district of Gnosjo¨ in Sweden in order to meet with owner-managers and further local stakeholders. The student groups report on their field experiences, thereby creating maps as diverse as the different theoretical frameworks being used. These contrasting images of the district’s generic features and sustainability are used as an input to a conclusive polylogue seminar that offers an ‘interstanding’ that, on the one hand, reminds the participants that any, including scientifically investigated, reality is socially constructed, and, on the other, communicates that tensions between alternative conceptual constructs, especially if substantiated in empirical research, offer an inspiring road to knowledge.
- Industrial district