Book Review (Rowe 2008)
Theories of Local Economic Development: Linking Theory to Practice
Edited by James Rowe.
2008, Ashgate, 398 pages, £65 hbk, (0754673057).
Reviewed by Pedro Marques, Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, University of Newcastle (04 May 2011)
The objective of this book is to present a coherent theoretical framework that can inform the practice of local economic development. Being mainly a practitioners’ field, local economic development draws on an array of perspectives, from regional economics, management studies, and economic geography to develop and justify its policies. Unfortunately, although probably also unavoidably, it also draws heavily on fads and political compromise, as acknowledged by several authors in this book. It is because of this fragmentation that the editor, James Rowe, decided to bring together a group of experts, with an array of backgrounds and work experiences (in fields covering economics, architecture and planning, governance and management studies, innovation and enterprise studies, and geography), to try to create a cohesive framework that can inform better policy instruments.
There are several interesting chapters in this volume, in particular those where the main strands of literature in specific areas are highlighted and summarized. As examples there is the contribution by Mark Miller (Chapter 2), in which the author reviews the evolution of local development policies over the last 80 years; or the one by Phillip McCann (Chapter 7), where location theory is discussed and where some ideas for its future development are presented. However the quality varies significantly between contributions: for instance Chapter 6 by Michael Luger presents an uncritical view of the cluster literature, with statements such as: “The cluster-based analysis helps the client region decide on which types of businesses to try to maintain or develop more, which types to allow to decline, and which types to create from almost no presence at all” (p. 118). Conveniently the research cited to back this statement is by the author himself. Otherwise it would have been interesting to see examples where this has actually happened in practice. Another consistent problem throughout the book, damaging its overall quality, are the typographical and grammatical errors that can be found in many chapters. In Chapter 3, for example, the editing mistakes make Figures 3.2 and 3.3 almost illegible due to the misplacement of ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs.
A main challenge with an edited book such as this is that each author is likely to have a different view both of how local economic development happens, and of who should be targeted by the policies that try to stimulate it. One can even question whether it is possible to develop a unified vision of this process, since this implies that local economic development can be reduced to a technical issue, framed by one single theoretical paradigm. In fact the many perspectives from which practitioners take their ideas represent not only different academic disciplines, but also a different set of political priorities. For that reason one cannot assume that a theory can be built, without first asking who will be the subjects of economic development, and what kind of political project will be supporting it.
A solution to this problem usually involves using the introduction and conclusions of the book to pull together the main ideas in each chapter, while still accepting the diversity of perspectives. Despite some attempts to do this, the introductory and concluding chapters fall short of delivering it. The editor argues convincingly that practice needs to be complemented by theory and sketches in very broad details a theoretical project around the work of the French philosopher Deleuze. There is clearly a concern with introducing Deleuzian concepts at this point, and the book even provides a 6 page appendix of Deleuzian definitions to assist in this task. However, Rowe never really delivers on the aim of using Deleuzian concepts to explain how they inform an alternative way of understanding local economic development, and how that could then translate into different and better policy instruments. In sum, this edited collection delivers some important and interesting points relating to local economic development but ultimately fails to fulfil its stated goal of developing a coherent theoretical framework that can link the theory and practice of local economic development.