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Local and Regional Development

Andy Pike, Andrés Rodrìguez-Pose and John Tomaney.

Routledge; London (2006). Hardback £90 ISBN: 978-0415357173, Paperback £24.99 ISBN: 0415357187.

Reviewed by Roberta Comunian,
School of Geography, University of Southampton.

'Local and Regional Development' addresses the need to move forward the debate about local and regional development, particularly bridging the theories and definitions of regional development with the policy and practice in different contexts. It also expresses the limits of other research in the field, which rarely take in consideration a multi-disciplinary perspective and the variety of sources, which the authors refer to. The overall methodological message is clear: we cannot pretend to measure local and regional development with one single framework. Economics, social dimensions, political issues, cultural contexts need to come into the complex picture of studying local and regional development.

Local and regional development is one of those multi-faced topics which somehow concerns all researchers and all geography courses, but perhaps through short-sightedness or simply lack of time tends to be addresses from one single perspective - adopting the economic perspective as detached from the social perspective or the policy / governance dimension. The book succeeds in engaging the audience in looking at the subject from different perspectives, not only from different theories but also from different geographical and context-specific dimensions.

The book manages to target a variety of audiences. For graduates and practitioners it provides a useful introduction to the understanding of local and regional development, collecting the main research perspective of the last 30 years as well as providing practical examples. For academics, with a ready knowledge of theories and research in the field, it provides a critical and insightful overview on the development of the subject as well as a proposed framework on how to move forward the debate about what local and regional development should be and who it should involved. This is laid out in the conclusions.

One of the main achievements of the book is the way in which local and economic development is not given as granted, but put into perspective. This starts with the problem of definition and understanding of what local regional development is, a phenomena that is too often captured by simplified models or single case studies. This critical perspective is central to the book as the subject is viewed not only from its timely evolution but also on its geographical and place-based nature. In reference to the first perspective, the book points out how our own understanding of local and regional development has changed in the past 20 years, both within academia and in terms of policy actions and objectives. In terms of the place perspective, the authors underline how what we call or experience as local and regional development is completely intertwined with the nature and history of the place where it takes place. In this respect, the selection of case studies offers helpful insights into the importance of context-specific issues in the understanding of local and regional development. The case studies also provide a direct example of the two forces emerging in regional economic development: development as a geographical and idiosyncratic phenomenon which should be based on local differences and development as a homologation exercise which see policy as the mean through which different places can reach similar levels of growth or development. The way case studies are explained and addressed match the authors' point of view in that local and regional development cannot be judged as success or failure, but need to be better understood and better contextualised.

The layout of the book is clear and helps the reader develop knowledge about the theories and frameworks before addressing more specific issues in reference to institutions and policy interventions. The first part introduces the authors take on the subject, the importance and significance of the topic and enters the debate about what local and regional development is, and who it is for. The second part details the theories and the understanding of local and regional development available from the literature. Attention is drawn to the changing role of institutions and state in the last decade and the growing involvement of the civil society in the governance of local and regional development. The third part focuses on policies and interventions, attempting to unfold the tools and objectives behind public interventions and development strategies. Finally, the fourth part presents six case studies, from across Europe, Asia, Central and North America, and highlights policy interventions, but also context-specific issues, limits and potentials for local and regional development.

The conclusions drawn by the authors can be considered somewhat limited in reference the 'holistic, progressive and sustainable' approach that they propose for a new understanding of local and regional development. They themselves suggests that 'this agenda may be criticised as utopian or too reformist and insufficiently radical' (p.271) and that 'building a holistic, progressive and sustainable local and regional development is by no means an easy or straightforward task' (p.271). The limit or criticism is not the vision they present, which on the contrary is well explained and I would hope widely accepted, but on the means through which this might be achieved. In particular, it highlights the tension between the role of researchers in this field and the way local and regional development takes place. At the end of the book, I am left with the question of what role research in local and regional development and how the insights of academics in this field can inform and affect the way local and regional development can be not only understood but also somehow re-shaped.

The book is available in both hardback and paperback. The hardback version of the book is naturally quite costly but fortunately a paperback version is available which will enable students and young researchers to benefit from its insights. Furthermore, although the reading and flow of arguments is sometimes strongly academic, most of the chapters are easy to read. There is hope that the volume might get into the hands of policy makers and update them on what can be the forms and the different objectives of their work and what their profession might require in the next few years.

(Added 06 November 2007)