Book Review (MacKinnon and Cumbers 2007)

Cover of An Introduction to Economic Geography: Globalization, Uneven Development and Place

An Introduction to Economic Geography: Globalization, Uneven Development and Place

By Danny Mackinnon and Andrew Cumbers.

(2007) Prentice Hall, ISBN 0131293168.

Reviewed by Adrian Duhalt (04 May 2011)

Introduction to Economic Geography, which is organised in three parts, focuses on elaborating key themes around globalisation, uneven development and place – conceptions that greatly contribute to illustrating the nature and complexity of the contemporary world economy.

In elaborating these conceptions in the first part of the book, Mackinnon and Cumbers lay emphasis on the significance of embracing a political economy perspective with the objective to address issues economic geography is chiefly concerned about, that is, regional development, urban growth, and the spatial distribution of output (Chapter 1). For the authors, this interdisciplinary approach is encapsulated in the knowledge that ‘political economy analyses the economy within its social and political context, rather than seeing it as a separate entity driven by its own set of rules based on individual self-interest’ (p. 14); and this essentially accentuates the need to shed light on the wider empirical picture to understand and analyse economic geography phenomena.

It is worth noting that discussion throughout the book largely benefits from this variegated analytical standpoint, and here is where the most important value of Introduction to Economic Geography lies. Undergraduate students in geography and other fields, for instance, will find that analysis of political and economic factors play a fundamental role in explaining/understanding, say, the drivers behind development imbalances within and between countries, the spatial distribution of economic activities, as well as other key economic geography topics.

The first part of the book is complemented by Chapter 2, 3, and 4, where the first of which provides a brief yet instructive and accessible account of different approaches to economic geography, with these serving to demonstrate the way in which the discipline has evolved conceptually in the wake of distinctive contexts of development over time: from the intervention of the state in economic matters – advanced by the theories of Keynes – and the subsequent ‘upsurge of neoliberal thinking in the West and the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe’ (p. 33) to ‘the growing importance of [economic] sectors such as entertainment, retail, and tourism’ more recently (p. 35).
In Chapter 3, by paying particular attention to i) how different actors such as capitalists, workers, consumers, and government are connected to one another within a complex economic system and ii) the way by which these relationships are determinant in shaping the structure of capitalist economies, Mackinnon and Cumbers manage to develop a concise account on the mechanisms and players that allow for the reproduction of capital. All this leads to explore the geographical notion of capital reproduction in Chapter 4, in which the authors resort to describing the different wages of industrialisation the world economy has experienced and the resulting geographical expansion of capitalism. By elucidating the emergence of industrial centres in England in the nineteenth century and the mechanisms that also facilitated industrialisation in certain parts of Europe and North America, the reader is in the position to recognise the way in which capitalism became institutionalised in these regions and elsewhere – as in-text features on Britain’s north-south divide (p. 79) and the development of Silicon Valley (p. 80), to name a few, demonstrate.

All things considered, the first part of Introduction to Economy Geography works well in setting out the foundations of the book, providing the reader with key ideas and concepts further elaborated in the remaining chapters.

In relation to the second part of the book – comprised of Chapter 5, 6, 7 and 8 – the locus of attention centres on key actors and processes, and basically refers to how interaction among the state, the economy and multinational corporations (MNC) has profoundly shaped the division of labour and the spatial patterns of development. For that matter, the 2008-09 economic slowdown is viewed as providing handy evidence for the authors to reject the neo-classical notion that economic processes are self-regulating, leading to advance the belief that the economy is, instead, ‘regulated through a wide range of political, social and cultural mechanisms’ (Aglietta 1979), and that the state is in fact the entity putting these particular mechanisms in place. In Chapter 5, the reader will therefore learn that this perspective was widely praised in the realm of policymaking in the UK and other industrialised economies in the post war period and that the welfare state, along with the institutionalisation of government-led economic planning, was modelled upon Keynesian economic theory. This strand of economic thinking played a rather influential role in the arena of policymaking for several decades, however, stagnation and rising inflation in advanced economies in the 1970s commenced to question the value of Keynesian postulates, which were further contested by the challenges globalisation of the world economy posed. In that respect, discussion in Chapter 6 explores one fundamental component of globalisation: the emergence of the multinational corporation. Here, even though the changing nature of MNCs and foreign direct investment as important agents of globalisation is contemplated, it is unmistakable that Mackinnon and Cumbers adopt a somewhat limited geographical perspective, playing down i) recent developments shaping the world economy – the expansion of MNCs from emerging economies and the pace at which foreign investment from these countries is becoming increasingly important – and ii) the role of the global south as an engine of world economic growth. The increasing integration of the world economy is also exhibited in the changing spatial dimension of labour. And that is what Chapter 7 deals with – it essentially exposes i) the ways in which the nature of work and employment has been outlined throughout the past four decades or so by the growth of an industrialised society, at least on the part of more advanced economies, and, to a much lesser extent, ii) how more traditional lifestyles associated with subsistence activities in less developed countries are threatened by the contemporary context of development. By studying different forms or work, the authors reflect on another geographical dimension of uneven development: the deindustrialisation/tertiarisation of advanced economies and the shifting of labour-intensive manufacturing activities to developing countries in the global south. This interpretation of the world economy is further advanced in Chapter 8, where discussion pays attention to the geographies of development. Here, a review of different schools of thought helps us understand the heterogeneity within the group of developing countries and, probably more importantly, how societies interpret/tackle the issue of development through different lenses.

In the last part of the book the authors concentrate on contemporary issues (e.g. spatial patterns of finance, global value chains, geographical agglomerations of economic activities, and alternative practices to capitalism) that to a significant degree reflect the broad range of realities economic geographers are concerned about, and of which undergraduates might not be aware in their first year. Students are therefore introduced to themes that could be further explored in assignments at later stages of their degree or even serve to guide the research interests of those contemplating to pursue postgraduate studies.

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