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Beyond the regional lifeworld against the global systemworld: towards a relational –scalar perspective on spatial–economic development

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Recent writings in economic geography have questioned the way the literature has featured the regional scale in discussing issues of innovation and economic competitiveness, and called for a different conceptualization of scale. This paper takes up the challenge to go beyond what is called the ‘regional gaze’, by presenting a critical review of the regionalist literature and outlining an alternative approach. The critique of the ‘regional gaze’ is developed in two steps: first, by discussing the influence of strategic management discourse; and second, by invoking the twin concepts of lifeworld–systemworld. This critical account results in identifying various windows for elaborating an alternative conceptualization of the relationship between economic development and space. A first alternative is found in the dimension of the ‘non–local’ or ‘extra–local’, but the significance of these notions is considered to be limited. Drawing on recent work on scaling and the ‘politics of scale’, a relational–scalar approach is proposed that focuses on the question of how scalar qualities are socially produced and contested. What is called for is a geographical imagination that sees innovation and economic competitiveness as braced on spatialized networks rather than bounded territories scaled at the regional level. An illustration of how such a perspective may be elaborated is found in recent discussions on the concept of ‘global production networks’.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nijmegen School of Management (Spatial Planning Department) email:

Publication date: January 1, 2002


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