RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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396 Re-presenting Economic Geography (3)
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Nicholas Phelps (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Michiel van Meeteren (Loughborough University, UK)
Jana Kleibert (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space / Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Chair(s) Nicholas Phelps (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 164
Session abstract Once upon a time, Peter Haggett described the core of geographical praxis as “the art of the mappable”. Back then, the notion of cartographic or figurative representation and generalization of common geographical features was not controversial, but something to aspire to. These days, there has been somewhat of a pushback against mapping and abstracting economic geographic phenomena through representation as geographers have focused on the non-representable aspects of geographical praxis and the perils that arise from the performative power of representations.

This RGS-IBG session raises the question whether a lack of representations is a cause for concern in economic geography - where is the geography in some economic geography? This relates to worries about having lost something distinctive that characterized old-school economic geography: the explanatory power that can be derived from spatial figures. Moreover, distrust of the visual might have caused the loss of distinctiveness of economic-geographical approaches vis-à-vis sister disciplines in heterodox economic studies. Perhaps the lack of images has tainted economic geography’s image? Is there a need to ensure we make the effort to re-present economic geography?

Of course, the use of spatial figures in geography has not been without its problems. Spatial figures, think of icons such as networks, enclaves, mosaics, webs, archipelagos, or corridors, simplify reality. Their abstractions allow focusing on common aspects of disparate geographical phenomena. They can be rendered as overly crude simplifications of complex realities. Worse, their use and misuse over time can see these simplifications further distorted to the point where an original figure can become downright misleading or unhelpful. Ironically, the most successful spatial figures can gain something of a life of their own – travelling far out of geographical and historical context. This brings both fame and notoriety to the economic geographer: as the spatial figure spreads, the criticisms levelled at it might become valid as it unreflexively applied in an unsuitable context.

We invite contributions that discuss the potential and pitfalls of spatial figures and representation in economic geography. This could be case studies on particular spatial figures; the potential of spatial figures in bolstering economic geography’s visibility in the world; how spatial figures enable knowledge mobility and conceptual stretching; and the politics of spatial figures.
Linked Sessions Re-presenting Economic Geography (1)
Re-presenting Economic Geography (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Picturing Economic Practices
Michael Crang (Durham University, UK)
Nicky Gregson (Durham University, UK)
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
If geography is a 'visual discipline', and it is an 'if', then what do the ways economies and economic practices are visualised tell us about economic geography? We suggest that attending to some absences is revealing. So whilst economies are visualised, the practices that compose those economies largely are not depicted. Most notably, whilst economies are rendered into visualised forms of data and conceptual schema, they are not often explored via pictures, video or photographs. It is as though economic geography has decided to agree with Bertolt Brecht’s summation in the Threepenny Opera: that photography is a mere reflection of surfaces, and does not unpick the structures behind those surfaces, and “less than ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality. A photograph of the Krupp works or the AEG tells us next to nothing about these institutions.” This paper asks what might we learn from photography and video about economies and economic practices. It begins with thinking the visual in fieldwork, the documenting of practices but also with pictures as a currency of exchange with and between actors. Then it turns to professional forms of still and moving image, from journalistic exposés to the aesthetics of documentaries. There are a variety of photographic projects documenting economic actors, practices and change from the journalistic to high art, that themselves become economic subject to markets and economies. What kinds of economies might we see with them?
Mapping the architectures of global production
Anke Hagemann (Technical University of Berlin, Germany)
Elke Beyer (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)
„Production networks don’t just float freely in a spaceless/placeless world.“ (Dicken 2007, 18) They are always formed and articulated by specific physical landscapes on the ground – architectures, urban spaces and infrastructures – at the diverse sites of manufacturing and distribution. In these places, globalized production affects not only economic development, but also the built environment and urbanization processes. However, economic geography has paid little attention to the territorial and physical dimensions of global commodity production and circulation, and even less to their cartographic representation.

In this paper, we discuss how the spatiality of global production networks, as well as their interplay with the built environment, can be productively analyzed employing the disciplinary perspective and methodology of architectural and urban research. Drawing on a relational case study of diverse urban production locations in Turkey, Bulgaria and Ethiopia, the paper gives special attention to mapping and architectural drawing as tools of spatial analysis. We argue that – prior to an imposition of abstract concepts on complex situations – a profound enquiry into ‘spatial figures’ of global economic networks requires comprehensive empirical groundwork. The paper demonstrates ways of ‘unpacking’ network nodes through small scale spatial analysis, taking into consideration the physical preconditions and effects of commodity production. Such an analysis allows to emphasize the individual variations and contradictions of spatial figures, and sheds light on how their concrete spatiality and materiality operate on the ground. Moreover, the paper challenges a static understanding of spatial figures and argues for exploring the processes of spatial transformation on multiple scales.
The Cambridge ‘Spin-off net’ reimagined: a case study of Optics Valley, China
Julie T. Miao (University of Melbourne, Australia)
The international reputation of Cambridge science park and Cambridge University in the UK, as seedbeds for high-tech start-ups, was leveraged most significantly by the seminal work of Seagal Quince and Partners (1985). In particular, the ‘spin-off net’ they produced, which innovatively captured the motherhood connections between the university and the companies, and then among companies themselves, has captured people’s imagination of the so-called ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’. But this ‘spin-off net’ concealed an important assumption made by these consultants, i.e., the networks formed among different actors in Cambridge were free from political and financial motivations. Adopting similar method in analysing the spin-off connections in Optics Valley, a planned high-tech cluster in Wuhan, Central China, this paper nonetheless reveals far more complicated and multifaceted motivations behind its growing spin-off net. Financial motivations emerged as the most fundamental reasons in forming the first spin-off circle, especially after the top-down reforms of state-owned research institutions. Yet political motivations are found to play a bigger role in forming the more recent spin-off circles, as companies were under growing pressures to build coalition with government-affiliated companies for accessing resources that were essential to their survival. By unpacking the ‘spin-off net’, this paper unveils multilayered rationales behind its formation, and contributes to the reflection on the potential and pitfalls of spatial figures.
Shoring-up the Archipelago: value manipulation across new(er) international divisions of Labour
Michiel van Meeteren (Loughborough University, UK)
Jana Kleibert (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space / Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
The transfer of value over large distances is a centuries old phenomenon. Uneven terms of exchange and extraction of raw materials exemplify (neo)colonialism; labour exploitation in production arrangements within global commodity chains characterize globalized industrialisation; and financialised capitalism excels in wealth-transfer through immaterial flows of capital and knowledge. While the value manipulation and transfer have varied, relying on changing sites and technologies, there are nonetheless important continuities in their contribution to uneven development at multiple scales. All three forms have in common that value manipulation can be described through the spatial metaphor an archipelago. The archipelago describes a space where value extraction in nodes/islands of the archipelago is combined with transferring value at longer distances. This contribution unpacks the different spatial technologies and infrastructures that generate these ‘island effects’ and enable the long-distance value transfer. We argue that the spatialities of the geographical transfer of value require more thorough theorisation and analyse these infrastructures as tightly globally-integrated but locally disembedded enclave structures that support value-transfer regimes through their boundedness and semi-permeability: ports and free-trade zones; special economic zones; and corporate (offshore) offices and digital platforms. We illustrate our argument by comparing economic geographic literatures that describe different archipelago effects, including global commodity chains, world city networks, critical logistics, financial geography and literature that analyses processes of bordering and (de)territorialisation at the urban and regional level. This results in an understanding of continuity and change in the spatial organization of value manipulation throughout technological shifts.
Discussant
Karen P.Y. Lai (Durham University, UK)
Discussant