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Rethinking relational economic geography

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Recent theoretical and empirical work in economic geography has experienced what might be termed a ‘relational turn’ that focuses primarily on the ways in which socio-spatial relations of economic actors are intertwined with processes of economic change at various geographical scales. This phenomenon begs the questions of whether the ‘relational turn’ is simply an explicit reworking of what might be an undercurrent in economic geography during the late 1970s and the 1980s, and whether this ‘turn’ offers substantial advancement in our theory and practice. In this paper, I aim to evaluate critically the nature and emergence of this relational economic geography by revisiting its antecedents and conceptual frameworks. This evaluation opens up some significant conceptual issues that are further reworked in this paper. In particular, I argue that much of the work in this ‘relational turn’ is relational only in a thematic sense, focusing on various themes of socio-spatial relations without theorizing sufficiently the nature of relationality and its manifestation through power relations and actor-specific practice. This paper thus illuminates the nature of relationality and the multiple ways through which power works itself out in ‘relational geometries’, defined as the spatial configurations of heterogeneous power relations. As a preliminary attempt, I first conceptualize different forms of power in such relational geometries and their causal effects in producing concrete/spatial outcomes. I then show how this relational view can offer an alternative understanding of a major research concern in contemporary economic geography – regional development.

Keywords: actors; epistemology; power; socio-spatial relations economic geography

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117570, Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2005


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