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Whatever happened to Regulation theory? The Regulation approach and local government revisited

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This article contributes to an ongoing debate about the causal source of policy change by considering whether the Regulation approach, which has been largely discarded since the 1990s, can help to explain change in economic development polices at the level of local government in the UK. First, the 'decline' of the approach is explained by interviewing key exponents of the approach from the 1990s. Second, the approach is applied to a narrative of local economic policy in the City of York 1980-2006. In applying the Regulation approach, a number of problems are encountered. Chiefly, as a macro-approach, it lacks the finer tools to be able to explain all aspects of local change. Moreover, the approach is open to the charge of over-determinism by over-privileging the role of economic crisis in change. In the case of York, the cause of change has not been any crisis of Fordism but instead an acceptance of neo-liberalism in national and international spheres of governance, the inevitability of which may be overstated by exponents of the crisis of Fordism. However, the application of the Regulation approach to the case study reaffirms the importance of broader hegemonic political struggles and economic change to the study of local institutions, and the insights that more holistic analysis can make to the study of institutional change. Without some linkage to the broader economic and political hegemonic struggles, that the Regulation approach provides, meso-level theories are inherently wanting. The approach may be worth revisiting in the light of the new crisis of capitalism.
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Keywords: Regulation theory; economic policy; local economic development; local government; new institutionalism; policy change

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Politics and International Relations, Swansea University, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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