Book Review (Martin 2008)

Image of the cover of Economy: Critical Essays in Human Geography

Economy: Critical Essays in Human Geography

Ron Martin (Editor)

Ashgate 2008, 588 pages, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-7546-2745-6, £140.

Reviewed by Dr Jon Swords, Geography and Environment, Northumbria University (06 July 2009)

Economy by Ron Martin is part of Ashgate’s Contemporary Foundations of Space and Place series. Alongside this tome are volumes entitled Politics, Environment, Development, Regions, Transport, Culture and Society, The City, The Rural, and Theory and Methods. According to series editor John Agnew, the collection comprises “the most significant articles published over the past forty years in the major fields of human geography and provide an authoritative reference source in human geography and its major subfields”. Essentially, each volume is like a reader for that part of human geography.

Readers are useful books when you’re seeking to grasp the major works within a particular subject area. There is much to be gained for undergraduates, postgraduates and even ‘postdoctoral’ researchers. Within economic geography the most obvious example of a competing project is The Economic Geography Reader  (Bryson et al., 1999), a popular book amongst academics and students. Economy is not dissimilar. It too uses a selection of previously published high quality, high impact papers to map recent currents within economic geography. Specifically, Economy focuses on five themes: conceptual developments; localisation of global economic space; the function and role of firms, workers and places; culture, technology and knowledge; and the regulation of economic space.

Where Economy and The Economic Geography Reader (hereafter TEGR) differ is in breadth and depth. The former has a narrower scope but greater detail because the collated articles are unabridged, whereas those in TEGR are edited (heavily in some cases). So, while both books contain Barney Warf’s highly cited work on telecommunications and knowledge transmission from Urban Studies (1995), Economy contains all 18 pages compared to TEGR’s six page version (the same is true of Amin and Thrift, 1992; Gertler, 1995; Markusen, 1996 all of which appear in both books). A further difference is the way sections are introduced in Economy. Instead of a preamble to each section of the book, Martin introduces the themes in an introduction. This opening outlines the aims and structure of the book, but more interestingly traces the contours of contemporary economic geography. These are then reflected in the themes of the book and illustrated by the chosen articles.

These choices prompt a number of questions:

  1. By expounding a particular view of what constitutes contemporary economic geography, does this actually represent all contemporary economic geography?
  2. If not, what is missing?
  3. And, by choosing detailed and explicitly conceptual papers, who is the book aimed at?

A quick answer to the first question is that, no, Economy does not represent all of contemporary economic geography. Rather, it represents one perspective of what economic geography is, and in so doing presents an agenda for its future development. In particular, this book reflects recent excursions into areas of economics with papers discussing New Economic Geography (Martin and Sunley, 1996) and evolutionary economics (Boschma and Frenken, 2006), and Martin’s own work at this intersection (see Martin and Sunley, 2006; 2007). This is a useful project as economic geography acts as an important critique of economics, and a unified theoretical foundation has not emerged within economic geography since the influence of Marxist approaches waned (although this need is up for debate).

So what is missing? While the role of agglomeration and localisation is dealt with in Part 2 (Amin and Thrift, 1992; Coe et al., 2004; Markusen, 1996; Yeung and Lin, 2003) newer concepts such as city-regions, and emerging debates surrounding the nature and sustainability of local and regional development policy (Morgan, 2004; Pike et al., 2007) are conspicuous by their absence. So too are interventions on post-socialist and post-colonial perspectives on economic development, cultural readings of economic activity, and the geographies of money. There is also nothing on ‘doing’ economic geography. Obviously, it is unrealistic to expect all of these topics could be covered in a single volume, and some are dealt with in other volumes in the series. This reinforces the fact that Economy is just one perspective on what counts as economy geography. It also prompts one to ask how useful a single volume in this series is. In fact, given most of the Series’ target audience have access to the majority of these journals through their library subscriptions, and taking into account the price, one has to wonder who will buy this, or other books in the series. Libraries are clearly the target audience, but will they want to spend £1200 on what is essentially a bound version of what they probably already have available as print and electronic journals?

Finally, there is a question about the quality of, literally, the text itself. Each of the entries has been lifted from their original journal with no change to formatting or layout. As a result there are at least six different fonts used, and font size ranges from approximately 8pt to 12pt. More worryingly, the quality of the text itself is very poor in places. Markusen’s article suffers the most with some parts very difficult to read.

In sum, there is no doubting the quality of the papers in this book. They represent some of the best writing in economic geography by some of the sub-discipline’s leading scholars. However, it does not, and cannot, encompass the diversity of work economic geographers are currently doing. It is an impressive volume, but it is let down by the quality of reproduction, a flaw that would  not be expected by a reader paying £140.

Bibliography

Amin, A. and Thrift, N. (1992). “Neo-Marshallian Nodes in Global Networks.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 16:571-587.

Boschma, R. A. and Frenken, K. (2006). “Why Is Economic Geography Not an Evolutionary Science? Towards an Evolutionary Economic Geography.” Journal of Economic Geography. 6:273-302.

Bryson, J., Henry, N., Keeble, D. and Martin, R. (1999). The Economic Geography Reader: Producing and Consuming Global Capitalism.

Coe, N., Hess, M., Yeung, H. W., Dicken, P. and Henderson, J. (2004). “‘Globalizing’ Regional Development: A Global Production Networks Perspective.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 29:468-484.

Gertler, M. (1995). “”Being There”: Proximity, Organisation, and Culture in the Development and Adoption of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies.” Economic Geography. 71:1-26.

Markusen, A. (1996). “Sticky Places in Slippery Space: A Typography of Industrial Districts.” Economic Geography. 72:293-313.

Martin, R. and Sunley, P. (1996). “Paul Krugman’s Geographical Economics and Its Implications for Regional Theory: A Critical Assessment.” Economic Geography. 77:259-292.

Martin, R. and Sunley, P. (2006). “Path Dependence and Regional Evolution.” Journal of Economic Geography. 6:395-437.

Morgan, K. (2004). “Sustainable Regions: Governance. Innovation and Scale.” European Planning Studies. 12:871-889.

Pike, A., Rodriguez-Pose, A. and Tomaney, J. (2007). “What Kind of Local and Regional Development and for Whom?” Regional Studies. 41:1253-1269.

Warf, B. (1995). “Telecommunications and the Changing Geographies of Knowledge Transmission in the Late 20th Century.” Urban Studies. 32:361-378.

Yeung, H. W. and Lin, G. C. S. (2003). “Theorizing Economic Geographies of Asia.” Economic Geography. 79:107-128.

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