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Timothy J. Sturgeon, Senior Researcher, IPC
timothy sturgeon

Timothy Sturgeon's research focuses on the processes of global integration and digital transformation, with an emphasis on offshoring and outsourcing practices in the electronics, automotive, and services industries. His work explores how evolving technologies and business models are altering linkages between industrialized and developing economies and development experiences more generally.


Impact: Timothy Sturgeon has been a leader in the field of Global Value Chains (GVCs) and Global Production Networks for nearly 20 years.  His research on outsourcing and offshoring in electronics manufacturing in the 1990s led to the publication of the article, Modular Production Networks: A New American Model of Industrial Organization in 2002, which, as of September 28, 2020, had garnered 2,148 citations in Google Scholar and was the third most cited article in the journal Industrial and Corporate Change.  The growth of GVCs in the 2000s across multiple industries and jurisdictions raised a host of additional theoretical and policy questions, which led to the publication of The Governance of Global Value Chains: An Analytic Framework, co-authored with Gary Gereffi and John Humphrey, which has garnered 8,061 citations and is the most cited article in Review of International Political Economy by a factor of 2.76.  The article has been reprinted in English multiple times and translated into Chinese and Italian.  These and other publications by Dr. Sturgeon and his colleagues have helped to establish GVCs as a dynamic and rapidly growing subfield crossing, among others, development studies, international political economy, industrial sociology, and economic geography. 


In a culmination of this work, of sorts, Dr. Sturgeon recently completed Compressed Development: Time and Timing in Economic and Social Development with co-authors D. Hugh Whittaker, Tianbiao Zhu, and Toshie Okita for Oxford University Press.  As a way to re-cast development theory to fit better with contemporary conditions, the book grapples with the speed of change and how this affects development experiences.  Because compression has historically been a general tendency in successful developers — because societies can build on what’s come before — the book focuses on forces specific to recent history such as financialization, global value chains, and digital technologies.  The book seeks to explain why most developers have not advanced to high income status, moving beyond narrow economistic treatments of the middle-income trap.  And, as the sub-title suggests, the book takes a broad view of development, looking not only at the effects of compression on economies but also social development, including education, public health, and urbanization. 

Dr. Sturgeon’s profile in the field of GVCs led to a series of collaborations with international development organizations and statistical agencies to try to improve the data resources available for the study of globalization.  This work, which began in the mid-2000s, has involved assessments of the data resources available for the study of the international sourcing of services, including a research program and classification of business functions (for National Science Foundation and Eurostat), and a complimentary grouping of ICT-enabled services (with UNCTAD) that has been adopted by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, among others.  He has also developed a classification of final and intermediate goods in the electronics, motor vehicle, and textile-apparel industries (with UNIDO) that has been used to create a public use data set on international trade by the World Bank and has been taken up by the UN Statistics Division.