Fostering research on industrial policies via investigation

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2024-01-29

As a reflection of the relationship between the government and the market on industrial development issues, industrial policy research has always held an important position in Chinese economic research. Investigation and research, as an important method of economic research, has had ups and downs in the development process of industrial policy research in China. However, it has always played a unique and irreplaceable role in linking theories with national realities and expanding theoretical development in the context of China’s issues.

In the 1980s, industrial policy researchers, represented by the older generation of economists, actively responded to and answered major practical problems faced by China’s industrial development based on solid investigation and simple economic theories. It was through in-depth investigation and research of government departments, enterprise managers, and employees that these researchers could identify the bottlenecks faced by China’s industrial development, and identify the optimal direction for reform and development.

In the 1990s, along with increasing international academic exchanges, the digitalization of literature brought about an increase in the availability of foreign literature, and the dependence of industrial policy research on mature industrial economics theories significantly increased. Correspondingly, research methods grew increasingly diversified and standardized.

In the late 1990s, with a large number of foreign-trained economists and doctoral students returning from overseas, the tendency for industrial policy research to promote the development of industrial economics theory itself was greatly strengthened. Correspondingly, complex and rigorous econometric analysis had become the mainstream method of empirical analysis. Investigation and research, due to its inability to effectively control variables and provide counterfactual evidence like econometric research, was gradually classified by the academic community intentionally or unintentionally as an insufficiently rigorous scientific research method.

Looking back at the history of industrial policy research in China since the reform and opening-up, the theoretical expansion orientation and the standardization of empirical methods in academic research have continuously improved. However, objectively speaking, the tradition of academic research closely serving major practical issues of China’s industrial development had not been consistent, leading to fluctuations in the status of investigative research methods within the industrial policy research system. China’s unique institutional characteristics and strong developmental orientation dictate that the industrial policy practice possesses distinct Chinese characteristics. Many crucial industrial development and policy realities defy simple application and explanation through mainstream economic theories. The unique advantage of investigation and research is that it explores new research perspectives and variables in the complexity of reality that cannot be well explained by existing theories through a thorough description of the research object. When researchers have sufficient theoretical rigor and seriousness, such perspectives and variables not only possess Chinese characteristics and theoretical generality, but also contribute to deepening China’s industrial policy practice. In addition, quantitative researchers should fully leverage the unique advantages of investigative research. Prior to and during quantitative research, they should enhance theoretical interests by conducting investigations, constructing more meaningful problem backgrounds.

Looking ahead to the future, the continuously deepening reform and opening-up will undoubtedly propel China to become a world manufacturing and digital powerhouse, and Chinese researchers will naturally have a comparative advantage in exploring rich research topics and materials from this process. As long as China’s industrial policy research maintains sufficient inclusiveness towards investigation and research, and as long as researchers themselves can adhere to appropriate positions and principles and continuously improve and perfect in the process of interacting with China’s industrial policy practice and other research methods, investigation and research will undoubtedly play a greater role in expanding China’s industrial policy theory and supporting China’s industrial policy decision-making.

Based on this understanding, I hope to share the following three aspects with Chinese industrial policy researchers: firstly, researchers should hold a sufficiently cautious stance on investigation and research methods in the method selection stage, clearly limiting investigative research to qualitative research and analysis such as “profound description,” identifying process mechanisms, and discovering new theoretical dimensions and variables.

Secondly, researchers should uphold a high level of professionalism throughout the research process. Unlike quantitative research, investigative research naturally presents limitations such as limited process reproducibility, necessitating a more comprehensive presentation of the research process and data. Researchers should demonstrate a heightened commitment to academic rigor.

Thirdly, and most importantly, researchers should have a stronger awareness of theoretical expansion and a Chinese problem orientation. High-quality investigative research requires researchers to have a deep understanding of not only the research topic itself, but also a deep understanding of industrial economics theory and a comprehensive grasp of the background of the industrial policy formulation and implementation process.


He Jun is a research fellow from the Institute of Industrial Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Editor:Yu Hui

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