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The Changing Economic Geography of Globalization

Giovanna Vertova (editor)

2006, Routledge London and New York. £80.00. 250 pages. ISBN: 9780415353984.

Reviewed by Tim Vorley, University of Cambridge.

This edited collection, which is the product of an interdisciplinary conference held at the University of Bergamo in 2003, represents another contribution to the economic geography literature on globalisation. Vertova identifies the aim of the collection as to ‘assess the importance of space’ which is not particularly novel in light of the increasingly numerous accounts seeking to analyse how the global map is being redrawn and the impacts of this. However in contrast to more conventional neoliberal accounts the book draws together related although rarely integrated perspectives, and through complementary arguments seeks to offer a different insight to the role of space in the global economy.

The introduction provides a concise précis as to some of the main proponents of the globalisation literature which form the background to the book. Identifying the contested nature of globalisation which has divided social scientists, Vertova considers the characteristics of capitalism, the role of the nation state, the role of transnational corporations and empirical evidence of globalisation. These four discontents provide a loose focus and drawn together through their mutual dissatisfaction with the idea of globalisation as a homogenising force provide the common link across the book. The remainder of the introduction reflects on the changing nature of space in the global economy in an abridged review to position the books contribution.

The remainder of the book is comprised of two parts. The first is made up of four chapters which address different theoretical approaches towards debates of space and globalisation. The first chapter by Bellofiore and Vertova is critical of neoclassical conceptualisations of space, and considers the shortcomings of Walras and Marshall. Building on this critique they offer an alternative Marxist reading which puts space at the centre of the capitalist process, which is then developed through its integration with Schumpeterian and Keynesian. In applying this framework the chapter argues the new interpretation of capitalism to offer a new explanation as to the relevance of space in globalisation. The second chapter again picks up on the issue of spatial significance and addresses why positionality matters in a geographical sense. Sheppard challenges different theoretical assumptions arguing positionality to be important to contemporary spatial economic systems, and finishes by considering an example of international trade and responses to globalisation. The third chapter assumes a more systematic approach, as Conti and Giaccaria contend that the contemporary economy cannot be considered simply in terms of spatial proximity, and instead look at how systematic territorial theories can be applied to contemporary debates in economic geography. The organisation of social, cultural and economic relations are identified as central to this systematic (re)interpretation of territory. In the last chapter of the first part Swann poetically observes ‘[P]lace is what we think with’. The chapter traces the four ages of place, identifying the meaning of place and how it is informed through spatial histories – a pattern that remains rife in a globalising world.

The second part of the book presents a number of more empirical studies which consider the changing role of spaces in the global economy. Chapter five is a study of the changes experienced in the San Francisco Bay Area pre/post the dawn of the new economy. In what is an excellent case study Walker exemplifies the changing geography of capitalist economies and identifies their broader relevance to contemporary debates. Asheim and Coenen consider the role of clusters and innovation systems in a global world in chapter six, and highlight the significance of the knowledge base. Drawing on examples of Nordic case studies the chapter concludes that globalising learning economies are characterised by disintergration, and it is the location of core activities and the knowledge base that is most significant. In chapter seven Paci and Usai look at economic performance in terms of employment dynamics in Italy. The chapter tells the story of Italy’s heterogeneity and the implication of externalities. The penultimate chapter examines the effect of ICT policies in Europe. Through their research Capello and Spairani identify variants in growth before considering alternative policy options and the importance of preconditions favouring ICT exploitation. Finally Terrasi considers the implications of and for regional inequalities on EU enlargement, and finishes by making recommendations about the future formulation of European regional policy.

Having read both the theoretical and empirical contributions I was left looking for the coherence in the book, a coherence that could have been offered by an afterword by Vertova. Indeed the ambitious aim of the book to present related although rarely integrated perspectives, which it arguably achieves, really demands such a conclusion or overview to bring the collection back together. This criticism is not unique to this book, but one which can often be levelled at edited collections, especially those which lack a precise focus, and in this instance globalisation was not quite focus enough. That said, chapter by chapter the book was an interesting read, however, some of the chapters felt underdeveloped and could have gone further, but with such a vast topic and limited space this is inevitable. In covering so much ground the book would be hard pressed to capture the depth of globalisation as a concept in economic geography and its consequences spatially. Arguably what we are left with is a number of essays, some theoretical some empirical, that are loosely structured around a central theme and serve to highlight the diversity of globalisation beyond a neoliberal perspective.

Overall the book is an interesting although slightly unaccomplished project, yet I found its charm in its eclecticism. It is largely well written and spans many topics so is likely to cater for a variety of interests in this respect. I think that readers may be disappointed by the book if taken at title value alone, and students potentially confused, as the book is not really a tale of the changing economic geography of globalisation but rather the alternative economic geographies of globalisation. On this basis it provides and interesting accompaniment to more neoliberal accounts, and is a worthwhile is not slightly disjointed contribution. For the hardback copy the price of £80 is expensive although it is worthy of investment as a library/departmental copy.

(Added 09 October 2008)