Book Review (Tamásy and Taylor 2008)

Image of the cover of Globalising Worlds and New Economic Configurations

Globalising Worlds and New Economic Configurations

Christine Tamásy and Mike Taylor (Editors)

Ashgate: Farnham and Burlington (2008), 312 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-7546-7377-4.

Reviewed by Russell Prince, School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.  (27 May 2009)

Although the utopian one-worldism of globalisation discourse from the early nineties has thankfully faded from view, there is little doubt that many of the changes tagged as symptomatic of the coming globalised world were more than just ‘globaloney’. Geographers have been well placed to examine and reflect on these changes and, as a result, rather than watching their discipline wither away (O’Brien, 1992) they have seen interlopers from other disciplinary orientations come to appreciate the importance of the spatial in a globalising world. Christine Tamásy and Mike Taylor’s edited collection Globalising Worlds and New Economic Configurations is indicative of these trends. It draws together scholars from a range of disciplines, including geography, economics, management, political science and planning, and gets them to present short studies of economic arrangements that have recently emerged as nation-states have recalibrated their borders in the last few decades. Far from the mythological ‘flat world’ of neoliberal fantasy where local economies become integrated into one big marketplace (Friedman, 2007), the collection shows just how complex, divergent and uneven the global economy continues to be.

It is possible such a meta-summary does not do justice to the array of work contained in this volume. This is realised in the range of empirical topics, which includes regional governance, foreign direct investment, textile trading, metal manufacturing, labour markets, low-cost air travel, high-skilled migrancy, professional football and several chapters on the automotive industry, and the range of places these studies focus on, such as Auckland, the English Midlands, Ohio, Malaysia, Norway, Poland and Korea. It is realised in the variety of theoretical and methodological constructs used to analyse these topics, including commodity chain and production network analysis, cluster analysis, regionalism, institutionalism and post-structuralism, all conducted with a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, often in the same chapter. And it is realised in the different approaches the chapters take to their subjects, ranging from largely descriptive accounts to normative and critical analysis. This diversity is no bad thing – it is an excellent demonstration of exactly what the book claims to be about: the plural economic configurations emerging in a globalising world. But it also shows the myriad different ways we can understand these configurations. For example, two chapters set next to each other, both analysing different clusters in the American Northeast, one of floriculture and one of solar energy, each take quite different methodological approaches. While the former uses a statistical analysis of the 2002 US Census of Agriculture to identify potential cluster areas, the latter conducts an historical analysis of the origin of Toledo’s solar energy cluster to reveal its antecedent in the glass manufacturing industry that had once thrived in the city. Side by side these studies demonstrate the different ways we might think about and analyse clusters and cluster development, and their juxtaposed insights highlight one of the latent themes of the book: the way economic processes are entangled with social, political, environmental and cultural processes.

With 25 chapters and 38 authors the book is a useful compendium of cases for students and academics interested in evidence for the diverse economies that have taken shape in the globalising world. The editors have chosen breadth instead of depth, keeping the authors on a tight leash with each chapter only around twelve pages long. At its best, this results in punchy, pointed and theoretically inflected discussions of emergent economic systems. Although background and comparative quality controls are sacrificed to a certain extent, in the introduction the editors make the point of assuring the reader that each chapter went through an international refereeing process. If readers want more information about a particular case, they will need to turn to the comprehensive reference lists that accompany each contribution.

Structurally, the introduction claims the book is comprised of seven sections, although this is not translated into any form of separation between each section of chapters. The sections are organised into themes of three or four chapters on: cross-border business relations; international investment flows; production chains; the dynamics and reconfiguration of enterprise clusters; dynamics of human capital resources; issues of business vulnerability, competition and persistence; and, incongruously, New Zealand. This last section is added in to ‘round out the geographical discussion’, but why New Zealand might be interesting is not discussed apart from a statement that it is ‘competing from the edge of the global economy’ (pg 2). Given two of the New Zealand chapters are about commodity chains and could have been made to fit into the section on production chains, and two are about regional governance in Auckland and could have fit into the section on business vulnerability and competition (with some adjustment of the theme of the section), this does not seem necessary. It also highlights the obvious deficiency of the book, which the organisation into themes goes some way to covering up: the absence of large parts of the globe, notably Africa and South America. While there is limited space in a book of this type, the quite different economic processes operating in leftwards swinging South America and perennially underdeveloped Africa would be of considerable interest and probably worth making room for. The reason for this deficiency is obvious: the book is based on an event for the Dynamics of Economic Space Commission of the International Geographical Union, but it is a weakness of the book that although it states that it is not a conference proceedings, it often feels like one with its selection of cases.

The other major weakness is the overly short introduction and, relatedly, lack of a conclusion. Although it is ten pages long, the introduction ends as a discussion of the place of the book within the literature on globalisation after just two when it moves onto a summary of the chapters. A more in-depth discussion of changes in how we think about globalising processes over the last twenty to thirty years would have assisted in situating the studies to follow, particularly for students. A conclusion that discussed where this leaves us as a global economy, and perhaps a call for more research focused on the distinctive spatialities of economic processes that can inform policy – policy that too often still works with clunky conceptions of nation-states as simple economic units – would have given the book a political edge to go with its empirical and theoretical breadth. This would have also been an opportunity to point out that the lack of coverage of these areas may be a weakness in the IGU’s Commission and make a call for more research on the dynamics of economic spaces in Africa and South America.

References

Friedman, T. L., 2007, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

O’Brien, R., 1992, Global Financial Integration: The End of Geography, London, Pinter Publishers.

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