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Regional Economies as Knowledge Laboratories

Philip Cooke and Andrea Piccaluga (Eds)

Edward Elgar, 256pp, £69.95, ISBN 1-84376-821-6

Reviewed by Frank Rennie, Lews Castle College, UHI Millennium Institute.

This is an edited collection of twelve chapters, with the addition of an introduction and conclusions, on the topic of the knowledge economy as it currently refers to regional development. Some time is spent at the start tracing the evolution of the concept of the knowledge economy and related subjects such as “the information society” and the use of ICT and/or ‘knowledge intensive industries’ in the stimulation of regional economies. The following chapters then deal with conceptual analysis of exemplars and comparison of different perspectives from Europe, North America, and Japan. This is primarily a book concerned with analysing the theoretical perspective on how the knowledge economy contributes to local and regional development, how its effects can be measured, and how these effects might be incorporated in regional policy interventions. The overall impact is the production of a great deal of theoretical considerations, inter-leaved with some specific examples of how the theory plays out in practice, but (perhaps of necessity) a rather patchy and erratic progression through the subject area. The book is a very useful contribution to the literature on a subject that is becoming increasingly popular – namely the linkage between clusters of ‘knowledge economy’ activity (regional universities, software and high technology industries, regional ICT infrastructure) and local/regional economic re-generation.

Almost inevitably this collection does not provide any ‘blueprints’ or answers for budding planners or development agencies, but it serves a useful purpose in documenting a range of experience and case studies of policy attempts to link regional development strategies to various aspects of the knowledge economy. This collection is for dipping into, rather than devouring cover to cover, and will be better used to provide a general discussion on the backdrop of the subject title rather than as a ‘manual’ of good practice. The language of the text reflects the heavily theoretical perspective and though it claims that it is intended for ‘a wide-ranging audience’ it will be mostly used by academics in the various sub-disciplines of economic studies rather than by practitioners or development managers. Some chapters, such as the critical review of the knowledge economy (chapter 12) provide a useful literature review and analysis, while several other chapters are more specific in their focus upon regional interventions and their results, so the wider application to the subject has to be inferred. In particular I feel that the role of regional colleges and higher education institutes could have been more detailed and more comprehensive, given the trends towards distributed learning, elearning, applied research, and the geographical decentralisation of man of the functions of knowledge management and administration.

In sum, the book provides a useful collection of articles that give a very partial review of the subject but in view of the growing importance of the topic it will form a useful inclusion in the college library. Despite the welter of related academic articles in this general area of discipline, there has been remarkably little that attempts to bring the different levels of academic analysis together to provide some coherent, underpinning theory for the view that regional economies can be manipulated, or experimented with, utilising knowledge management