The implication is that the process of technical change, at the firm level, is generally evolutionary. Firms that survive within the marketplace will move along a technical trajectory accumulating resource commitments and expertise that is generally heterogeneous in character. Knowledge is learnt actively, rather than gained from an exogenously defined set of blueprints. Edith Penrose appeared to have this point in mind when she choose to stress that a firm’s ability to compete successfully depended upon its resource base. Resources may be built up over time but incur opportunity costs. Those costs include an increasing polarisation of resources towards specific knowledge and expertise. Such polarisation may be particularly problematic when new technology threatens to disrupt established infrastructural and technical systems. With this in mind, Chesbrough and Teece’s distinction between autonomous and systemic innovation is helpful..

I am writing an essay on MSc course, and I need to do a thorough analysis of the text. Basically, I struggle to understand the word polarisation and thus the whole meaning because of it. The dictionary does not help much as it refers to physics or either to two opposing groups of something.

How can I interpret "increasing polarisation of resources"?

P.S I did my BSc in technical discipline and God how I struggle to understand business people who write academic papers with the sole idea of making it to look cool with fancy words...

  • 1
    Note to closevoters: this is not a dictionary-only question. Vile has looked up the definition of the words and still doesn't understand. This is an acceptable question for the site.
    – WendiKidd
    Apr 8, 2013 at 22:32
  • 3
    I think this is Too Localised. FWIW, the quoted extract looks like poor quality English to me (carelessly-written, and/or by a non-native speaker). The usage polarisation of resources sounds clumsy to me, but probably what the author means is the resources are concentrated in specific clusters, not evenly spread. This is not a normal usage for polarisation, which normally draws attention to the fact that everything is at one extreme or the other of two possibilities. Apr 8, 2013 at 22:36
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    @FumbleFingers I agree. It would have been useful to say what the polar opposite was, such as "Those costs include an increasing polarisation of resources towards specific knowledge and expertise, as opposed to providing for the general welfare of individuals." Otherwise the argument is unclear (to me anyway). Without that, "concentrated" is the better term.
    – user485
    Apr 8, 2013 at 22:40
  • @FumbleFingers Fair enough. I did think the sentence read oddly, because as you say, polarization only makes sense in twos. (This would be why I didn't post an answer ;)).
    – WendiKidd
    Apr 8, 2013 at 22:40
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    There are hacks in every discipline; but don't tar all economists with the same brush. Smith, Veblen, Keynes, Galbraith spring to mind as engaging writers. (Business writers on the other hand--bless their hearts, they want so much to sound like real scholars.) Apr 9, 2013 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


The dictionary defines polarization thus:

polarisation (Noun)

1 The production or condition of polarity, as:

a. A process or state in which rays of light exhibit different properties in different directions, especially the state in which all the vibration takes place in one plane.

b. The partial or complete polar separation of positive and negative electric charge in a nuclear, atomic, molecular, or chemical system.

2 A concentration, as of groups, forces, or interests, about two conflicting or contrasting positions.

In your sentence, the author is (mis)using the second meaning. The author is attempting to invoke the concentration part of the definition without also making use of the two conflicting or contrasting positions part of the definition.

Consequently the two following sentences are equivalent:

Those costs include an increasing polarisation of resources towards specific knowledge and expertise

Those costs include an increasing concentration of resources towards specific areas of knowledge and expertise.

In context, the author is commenting on the fact that resources (which in papers is often synonymous with money) being concentrated into certain small areas of special interest, instead of being spread thinly over the sector as a whole.

  • Matt, yes you got the best explanation for that context, however I don't see the "two conflicting or contrasting position" part in the OP's piece. It is worthy noting that in Romance languages, and surely in Italian, "polarisation" doesn't necessarily imply that contrast. So, maybe Fumble is right to say that that usage is a not native one.
    – user114
    Apr 8, 2013 at 22:52
  • @Carlo_R.: True. There is a disappointing number of academic papers which (mis)use long English words to try and look clever. This is almost certainly such a case.
    – Matt
    Apr 8, 2013 at 22:59
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    @Carlo_R.: Or I suppose I should say that there is a disappointing trend within the academic community to use excessive verbiage and misappropriate complex vocabulary instead of using truncated equivalents when expanding upon simple concepts for the purposes of artificially increasing one's perceived intelligence :)
    – Matt
    Apr 8, 2013 at 23:01
  • @Matt♦: Possibly mistranscription[s] by OP, but when she choose to stress that a firm’s ability to compete successfully depended upon its resource base involves at least one if not two gross tense errors. That, plus the semantic issue of whether polarisation can cluster around more than two "poles", makes the entire passage highly suspect to me. Certainly not worth serious attention from people trying to learn "normal" English. Apr 8, 2013 at 23:37
  • @FumbleFingers Wow, these are not my mistakes. I did not even notice, yes I copied the text exactly as it is in the author's paper. This is a shame, as paper seems to be one of the most famous when considering the case of electric car in 1990-2005. It is interesting though that the culture of reading changes as I do tend just to scan the text to grasp the ideas and concepts, but never to examine whether it is grammatically correct.
    – Vile
    Apr 9, 2013 at 0:23

'.... Those costs include an increasing polarization of resources towards specific knowledge and expertise....'

Polarization has been badly used here. The author ought to have brought out two opposing subjects/ items, or just simply, two opposites opposite ideas.

For example,

'.... trouble is looming if lack of affordable housing continues. If it leads to polarization, then our reforms have failed'

Here, in this sentence, I'm trying to say that lack of affordable housing will lead to a friction between the different social classes

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