2007 Symposia Report

2007 Annual Symposia: Workshop Report

University of Sussex

6th-7th June

Overview

This year’s symposium brought together over 30 postgraduate research students, researchers, practitioners, and university lecturers conducting research across a wide national and international spectrum.

The presentations and discussion forums over the two days focussed upon a number of key contemporary research themes in economic geography. Key themes included: (i) impacts of emerging forms of governance and relations in global value chains and production networks on firms, society, and communities; and (ii) the incorporation of social and cultural geographies into research on economic globalisation.

Overall the symposium generated a great deal of insightful and stimulating debate, drawing input from all participants, each of whom clearly drew useful experience and knowledge from the event.

Key Themes

1. Global firms and location decisions

The first two series of presentations were given by research students at various stages of their research. During the first session there was a general network based emphasis on the production location decisions of firms and TNCs. More specifically, the session highlighted changing behaviours of firms in light of macro economic factors and globalisation of production and consumption. The effects of such activities were elucidated through impacts on regional development, utilisation of peripheral economic locations, and how global networks are being shaped by local contexts. The research and discussion demonstrated a growing recognition of the need to understand relations in global production networks, for instance in highlighting knowledge flows within and between economic spaces, and the role of governance typologies in shaping linkages between economic actors.

2. Employment, migration, and labour

The second session turned the spotlight away somewhat from firms and institutions and toward the individual. In particular there was a focus upon the impacts of changing economic geographies on employment, migration, and labour decisions. As a result of national, regional, and international policy, employment opportunities and choices are directly affected. Changing employment spaces may create social inequalities, wage differentials, and impact upon social reproduction. Employment choices and labour policy are not always market driven, but increasingly as a result of social and cultural factors. Furthermore, the impact of civil society’s involvement in labour markets may be creating opportunities for hitherto disempowered individuals.

3. Governance, conventions, complex geographies, embeddedness

During the second day a number of key papers were given by prominent academic researchers. Generally the papers touched and expanded upon many of the themes raised on the first day. A summary of key themes follows:

  • New forms of governance inside and outside of Global Value Chains (GVCs) are emerging as a result of the introduction of a plethora of private and public standards used in global food supply chains. This is also due to the creation of an ethical learning economy driven by increased ethical consumption and corporate responsibility in GVCs. Reference was made to the emergence of various typologies of governance within a chain and the use of conventions theory to develop further understanding of these forms of governance.
  • Global civil society is introducing new forms of governance into corporate driven value chains that challenge market norms but also introduce complexity and pressures of cost and conformity on suppliers. Empirical research suggests that increasing use of ethical trading initiatives is resulting in some positive impacts on labour conditions in the global south, but is failing to address issues of freedom of association and conditions of migrant and casual labour.
  • An increasing body of work that employs a Global Production Network (GPN) framework views both firm and non-firm agents as integral to a network. This introduces complex geographies incorporating a variety of regulatory institutions, corporate cultures, and labour and consumption geographies. The discussion highlighted a particular gap in the literature related to migration.
  • Arguably, embeddedness in some regional GPNs counters the notion of unchecked globalisation and a ‘race to the bottom’ in global production location decisions. Empirical research highlights the need to understand complexities in a particular industry and increasing recognition of the influence of quality conventions. Also cultural geographies emanating from particular places or notions such as national identity are embedded within the production and consumption geographies of particular industries and have an impact upon local and regional development.

David Phillips
Geography, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne