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Paper info: Niche Practices in the Upstream Petroleum Industry


Niche Practices in the Upstream Petroleum Industry


John Finch
University of Glasgow
United Kingdom
John Finch and Virginia L. Acha

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 21st IMP-conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2005.



We identify three approaches to understanding niches: (1) the wellspring as a stable ecology whereresources are exogenously defined, (2) the firm’s forte as a specific location created by a company inits development and use of resources, and (3) emergence through collective discovery as a site ofnovelty through interacting resources across different agents. We assess the tractability of thesethree approaches empirically in assessing the exploration, development and production activities indeepwater in the US Gulf of Mexico. Niches are distinct from clusters. Niches exhibit extensivebounds at particular moments in time and temporal bounds in which endogenous tendencies foreseetheir demise. The resources of niches develop through interacting both autonomously and throughagents’ deliberation in realising entrepreneurial plans through experimental activities. We find thatApproach (2) is most convincing in capturing the early phases in forming a niche, with Approach (3)being more visible towards its end, although neither captures the niche exclusively. Approach (1) ismore appropriate to clusters. Geels (2002) envisages a break between an established socio-technicalregime or cluster and a niche, with the niche being an experimental location from which the sociotechnical regime selects among proto-technological trajectories. In contrast, we find communicationand continuation between the realms of the niche and the socio-technical regime.