Book Review (Christopherson and Clark 2009)

Remaking Regional Economies. Power, Labor, and Firm Strategies in the Knowledge Economy

Remaking Regional Economies. Power, Labor, and Firm Strategies in the Knowledge Economy

Susan Christopherson and Jennifer Clark

Routledge. 2009. ISBN 0415551285, 192 pages, £23.99 (pbk)

Reviewed by Katariina Ala-Rämi, Department of Geography, University of Oulu (24 May 2010)

Christopherson and Clark address in their book ‘Remaking Regional Economies. Power, Labor, and Firm Strategies in the Knowledge Economy’, the return to the ‘regional question’, criticizing ‘new regionalism’ with the use of two empirical studies – the optics and imaging industry in Rochester, and the film and television industry in Los Angeles – showing how some basic assumptions about the global economy should be examined and questioned in the regional industries that rely on skilled, innovative, and flexible workers. These empirical studies are based on a rich and wide literature on the global economy and the region: which makes it easy to agree that the book is both interesting and insightful for a range of students and researchers of the social science disciplines.

The book is divided into three section; shaping the regional project, case studies, and regions of knowledge production and innovation policies. The overall structure of the book is very practical and each section and chapter communicates with each other smoothly, providing an accessible and comprehensive book for readers. The first chapter introduces four common ‘taken–for-granted’ assumptions related to firm strategies, labor, and power (regions present firms with a set of strategic options along with production locations, power matters in firm networks, labor skills are central to firm cost and innovation strategies, the role of the regional scale is becoming more important), which the authors claim to affect too much contemporary regional policy. They critique these premises through well-grounded arguments and suggest how they are going to approach these in their case studies.

The aim is respectable; not only to examine the paradox connected to the concept of innovation and its emergence in a region, but also divergence between these theories and the reality of firms in knowledge-based industries in certain regions. Furthermore, the final chapter ‘attempts to put the pieces back together’ and discusses some viewpoints for regional economic development; how we should pay more attention to the central role of the labor force and its capacities for learning, but also the role of power in distributing these capacities. Moreover, the authors recognize the limitations that exist in contemporary regional policies which are more or less too optimistic in their abilities to support innovative actions and learning. The authors suggest that learning and labor force policies should be combined with economic development policies: paying more attention to residents’ personal development and expectations of a higher quality of life, including improved housing and health services.

Chapter two examines firm strategies, focusing on resources, context, and territory examples found in the current literature and point out their weakness e.g. to recognize the individuals influence and choices as well as not different firms have different kind of history or respond to the changes in the global changes and the market. Chapter three focuses on the labor markets and the regional project, suggesting the role of regional institutions, intermediaries, and governance and their ability to support regional development is easily overestimated in regional policies. Case studies are presented in chapters four and five which illustrate two different regions, Rochester and Los Angeles, in their economic development path, each of which has been influenced by the same time national governance regime. Here the themes of the first three chapters are discussed in more detail, specifically engaging in an analysis of corporate power.

Chapter six aims to go further with the analyses of firm strategies and labor markets combining the case studies with the literature presented in the first chapters to argue that regional innovation systems are paradoxical, since even within successful industry and regions, real innovations, substantial income growth and economic development is rarely realized. The authors present many different perspectives for this critique – one important question is power. In chapter seven authors acknowledge the concept of ‘the learning region’ for broadening the list of what regions need to compete successfully. In addition they propose three more aspects which should be addressed: the regional labor market, who is acting in and on regions, and question about competition.

Chapter eight ‘remaking regions’ is the discussion part of the book that aims to explore the ‘possibility for a different vision of regional economic development in the knowledge economy’. The authors call on researchers to examine and question concepts which are too often taken as self-evident or vague – What is the region or the regional scale we are talking about? Who is using them and for what purposes? Who are the key actors with political or economic interests? The authors argue that most functional definitions are rarely those which act as the basement of public policies. Regional labor or firms networking do not follow administrative boundaries. Firms, especially transnational ones, are not interested in strengthening the regional competitiveness as such but their own capability to be globally competitive.

It is easy to echo the view of Professor Taylor mentioned in the cover of the book – that ‘this book is a wake-up call’. After finishing this book the reader is left with more questions than answers. I agree that book does not provide all the answers to the questions it raises. The authors challenge scholars to enter this debate about the region and the regional question for understanding regional economic development policy. Undeniably, this book is a valuable contribution to economic geography, scrutinizing theories that are too often portrayed as a certainty, such as the regional innovation system.

The structure and layout of the book is coherent, the language is very fluent and easy to read, even for non-native English speakers. Therefore the book is enjoyable to read. However, as the book is rather limited in length (about 150 pages without the references) compared with rather strong theoretical contents, the contribution of the book would not be smooth to digest if you were unaware of these theories before. Therefore, for students at least, the understandability would be better if there had been a more profound explanation of the basic differences between the ‘regional question’ and ‘new regionalism’ in the opening chapters. Certainly, it is of value for buying and reading. Indeed, the limited length is also an advantage since the readers attention is maintained throughout, leaving time and space for the reader to think about the questions being raised in the book and relating them to their own research interests.

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