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Fuzzy concepts, scanty evidence, policy distance: The case for rigour and policy relevance in critical regional studies

Book or journal references : Regional Studies, vol. 37, pp. 701-717 (2003).

Author(s) : Markusen , A.

Abstract :

Regional analysis is increasingly populated by fuzzy concepts that lack clarity and are difficult to test or operationalize: flexible specialization, windows of opportunity, resurgent regions, world cities, cooperative competition. Many analyses rely on anecdote or singular case studies, while contrarian cases and more comprehensive and comparative inquiries are ignored. Methodology is often not discussed adequately. This trend has been accompanied by an increasing detachment from political and policy advocacy. In this paper, I define fuzzy concepts and relate their proliferation to an emphasis on process rather than institutions, agents and behaviour. To demonstrate my arguments, I review three highly acclaimed bodies of work-flexible specialization with its re-agglomeration thesis; world cities; and 'cooperative competition' in industrial districts a la Silicon Valley. The paper makes the case for adherence to social science norms of conceptual coherence, causal theory (with both behavioural and structural components) and subjection of theory to the rigours of evidence, where the latter may encompass qualitative and quantitative techniques. Greater commitment to entering the policy debate and to making results accessible and informative to policymakers, regional planners and political activists would substantially strengthen this body of research and its usefulness.


Keywords :

regional concepts; methodology; regional policy; agglomeration FLEXIBLE ACCUMULATION; INDUSTRIAL DISTRICTS; EMPIRICAL-ASSESSMENT; PRODUCTION SYSTEMS; SILICON VALLEY; GEOGRAPHY; ECONOMIES; CITIES; FLEXIBILITY; POSTFORDISM

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