Book Review (Brakman et al. 2009)
The New Introduction to Geographical Economics
Steven Brakman, Harry Garretsen and Charles Van Marrewijk
2009, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; 568 pages, ISBN: 978-0-691-13942-5 (£35 pbk, £75 hbk)
Reviewed by Vítor Braga
Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Felgueiras
IPP; CIICESI; CETRAD
(2 March 2010)
Despite being considerably well established, economic geography remains an evolving and dynamic field of knowledge creation in understanding how economic activity spreads/cluster across space. As a consequence, a large number of perspectives have been turned into models which form the theoretical framework for today’s economic geography. Following much debate between economic geographers and economists in recent years, there is also a sense that a lot of what is traditionally seen as economics is closely related to the work of economic geographers. This book aims at providing a full explanation of the most commonly used models in ‘geographical economics’ and how they might be useful not only for economists but economic geographers. It explores deeply an extensive number of these models. One of the most positive aspects of the book is the constant concern in relating the theoretical models with either applications developed by researchers, or by figures that support or question these models.
The concern of the authors in providing insights of the ‘real world’ explains the organisation of the book. It is divided into four main parts. The introduction aims at providing a first contact with geographical economics, explaining the main concepts and displaying figures to illustrate the key ideas and arguments. The second part is devoted to the description of the core models on geographical economics, presenting empirical evidence on each of these models. The third part is organised around applications of geographical economies, including extensions to some more traditional models. Finally, the fourth part of the book briefly reviews some policy issues that can emerge from the application of the core models on geographical economics to demonstrate the practical relevance of this body of work.
This broad approach makes the book very versatile in terms of its target audience. While it clearly delivers on geographical economics for first timers and is an ideal textbook for undergraduates, it is still interesting for those who have been involved in these debates for a longer period of time. The recurrent use of empirical evidence, applications and extensions makes it more interesting and illustrative for those that know little of geographical economics, and as such, it still provides a good review of applications of the models for graduate students, policymakers, and early career researchers. In light of such an approach, it should be highlighted how the book contributes very little new knowledge to the field – it mostly presents a systematised review of the most important contributions to the discipline. In other words, it does what expected from a textbook, not a research monograph.
Despite the importance of the book in developing and presenting the core models of geographical economics, the book could have benefited from incorporating more of the multidisciplinary approaches recently developed by economic geographers, acknowledging and developing the qualitative variables that also influence the distribution of economic activity across space. But perhaps this is symptomatic of the continuing divide which exists between geographical economists and economic geographers? The recent developments of institutional economics and the combination of traditional economic geography and economic sociology have brought significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind the location of economic activities, and these features are critical for policy makers. The inclusion of this perspective, combined with the models developed in the book, could enrich its analysis and provide a broader perspective of the issues that are really important for those, whether they be geographical economists or economic geographers, when studying important aspects and processes of economic transformation.
Nonetheless, the book can still be considered good value for money, since it provides an accessible starting point for those interested in geographical economics – be it students embarking on a new module/course, or established researchers keen to get a good overview of this developing sub-field of economics and potential ally to economic geography. It provides an approach that is very likely to attract these new students to the study of geographical economics. The consistent inclusion of maps and figures, mostly related to situations in Europe and the USA make it appealing for the understanding of core models. In addition, the book includes boxes that, despite not being central to the analysis, provide additional information on the issues being discussed. This approach enriches the book, because it relates all the models with situations in the real world, even in the case of the models which appear most detached from the reality.