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Economic and Political Worlds

The Economic and Political Worlds Research Group specialises in the study of social, political and economic change in towns, cities, regions, and city-regions, their impact on different social groups and different places and their relationship to policy and planning.

The Group is currently leading major international research in key areas of regional economic development around smart specialisation and economic resilience. Urban and regional governance refers to the changing ways in which places are organised and governed, changes which are associated with globalisation, decentralisation or devolution and with technological and cultural change.

'Governance' has become a key concept in recent years indicating that policy making and implementation is increasingly effected through the participation of a wide range of actors - governmental, business and societal. Evolving patterns of governance challenge received theoretical perspectives and policy thinking, and they have major implications for the geographies of development, policy and planning.

Research areas, themes and projects

Since the Group's work addresses both academic (theoretical and empirical research) and practitioner (policy-making) dimensions, the relationships between these two kinds of activity is a distinctive concern of the group. The individual perspectives and research interests of the members of the Group include research on innovation, economic development, and various aspects of urban and regional governance and politics, such as energy and voluntary sector bodies.

These interests are pursued through involvement in a wide variety of networks, at a variety of scales and in a range of different national contexts. Through research projects, academic conferences, seminars, and publications the Group is closely engaged with leading-edge debates in both academic and policy dimensions. The relationship between theory and practice is indeed one of the group’s major concerns.

Important areas of contemporary research activity include:

The pursuit of innovation within cities, regions and city-regions has become a central feature of regional economic development policy in recent years. Since the 1990s, there has been a shift away from the traditional linear approach to understanding innovation which focused on infrastructure provision, support for firms and technology transfer. More recently, regional policy has been driven by the belief that regional economic growth is dependent upon the creation of successful regional innovation systems.

Critical research questions addressed by the group include:

  • Why do some regions find it easier than others to craft the institutional networks and knowledge transfers essential to the development of effective regional innovation systems?
  • What can governments do to facilitate the development of effective spatial innovation strategies?
  • What constitutes success and what indicators should be used to judge whether these regional innovation strategies are yielding any tangible benefits?
  • What role does geographical and relational proximity play in fostering territorial innovation and business success in the increasingly globalised and digital economy?

Urban and regional economic development is increasingly perceived to be driven by the imperatives of global competitiveness and pursuit of the knowledge economy. As a research group, we actively engage in critical debates around the theory, policy and practice of local, city and regional economic development.

Critical questions addressed include:

  • Is competitiveness a relevant concept for cities and regions?
  • How do the competitiveness strategies pursued by cities and regions impact on economic development outcomes?
  • How are these strategies determined and shaped and what is the precise nature of the relationship between theory and policy in economic development practice?
  • What role do culture and creativity play as drivers of economic development success?
  • Are all places necessarily destined to pursue similar economic development strategies in the context of globalisation?
  • What shapes the level and success of entrepreneurship and rates of new firm foundation in regions?
  • How effective are entrepreneurship strategies in improving business start-ups?

The notion of regional resilience is of increasing interest to policy-makers, academics and practitioners interested in understanding how places recover from and respond to economic shocks and crises. As a research group we are actively engaged in researching regional resilience through two European research projects.

Critical questions addressed include:

  • What is the meaning of regional resilience?
  • What theoretical frameworks helps us understand and interpret resilience?
  • How is resilience measured?
  • What factors shape the resilience of regions to economic shocks?
  • What role is played by actions at the firm level through diversification and the development of new technologies?
  • What can regional and local governments do to help build resilience?

The growing concerns around climate change and the challenges of sustainable development are challenging our understanding of how to progress economic activities which provide a more sustainable future for places in economic, social and environmental terms. As a research group we actively engage in debates around the business networks, governance and planning processes which can help and hinder the pursuit of these more challenging and cross-cutting development agendas.

Critical questions addressed include:

  • What is the potential for shorter, more localised agri-food chains to deliver sustainable regional development?
  • How might new linkages be established between food producers, processors and consumers, as well as among producers, to enable them to counteract the power of multiple retailers?
  • What is the potential for local sourcing in the context of EU and national public procurement regulations?
  • To what extent can local procurement deliver multiple dividends for communities and regions?
  • What scope exists for the development of sustainable clusters of green businesses in regions?

The capacity to design and deliver one's own strategy, and the ability to act on locally acquired knowledge without having to secure permission from remote and often indifferent central government departments, is often regarded as a potential institutional asset for urban and regional areas. As a research group, we are actively engaged with debates around the role, processes and effects of decentralised forms of governance, particularly at a time of considerable austerity and changing societal demands.

Critical questions addressed include:

  • Does devolution have a democratising as well as a developmental impact?
  • Is there an economic dividend from regional devolution?
  • How can social and territorial justice be secured at a time of austerity and increasing social polarisation?
  • How can city-region institutional structures manage potential conflicts between growth, sustainability and social inequality agendas?
  • What are the major challenges presented by the development of collaborative or partnership governance?

Regions are now firmly embedded in the policy agendas of many nations as key spatial areas for stimulating and coordinating economic development and societal well-being. Policies across the globe have highlighted the continuing progression of successive governments to harness the potential of regional socioeconomic environments. Increasingly, this potential is considered to concern not only future economic success and development, but also success manifested in the form of improved societal well-being. With this in mind, the research group is exploring the extent to which cultural factors are the missing ingredient in explaining regional economic development and its evolution.

Critical questions addressed include:

  • How do regional differences in culture impact on the economic development and societal well-being of these regions?
  • Is regional cultural change leading to a more homogenous or heterogeneous cultural traits across regions?
  • Is regional cultural change associated with positive development in the form of improved economic development and/or well-being?

Group Lead

Dr Crispian Fuller

Dr Crispian Fuller

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

+44 (0)29 2087 4705