Re-presenting Economic Geography

Nick Phelps (University of Melbourne), Michiel van Meeteren (Loughborough University), and Jane Kleibert (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space)

Once upon a time, Peter Haggett described the core of geographical praxis as “the art of the mappable”. Back then, the notion of cartographic or figurative representation and generalization of common geographical features was not controversial, but something to aspire to. These days, there has been somewhat of a pushback against mapping and abstracting economic geographic phenomena through representation as geographers have focused on the non-representable aspects of geographical praxis and the perils that arise from the performative power of representations. This RGS-IBG session raises the question whether a lack of representations is a cause for concern in economic geography – where is the geography in some economic geography? This relates to worries about having lost something distinctive that characterized old-school economic geography: the explanatory power that can be derived from spatial figures. Moreover, distrust of the visual might have caused the loss of distinctiveness of economic-geographical approaches vis-à-vis sister disciplines in heterodox economic studies. Perhaps the lack of images has tainted economic geography’s image? Is there a need to ensure we make the effort to re-present economic geography? Of course, the use of spatial figures in geography has not been without its problems. Spatial figures, think of icons such as networks, enclaves, mosaics, webs, archipelagos, or corridors, simplify reality. Their abstractions allow focusing on common aspects of disparate geographical phenomena. They can be rendered as overly crude simplifications of complex realities. Worse, their use and misuse over time can see these simplifications further distorted to the point where an original figure can become downright misleading or unhelpful. Ironically,  the most successful spatial figures can gain something of a life of their own – travelling far out of geographical and historical context. This brings both fame and notoriety to the economic geographer: as the spatial figure spreads, the criticisms levelled at it might become valid as it unreflexively applied in an unsuitable contextWe invite contributions that discuss the potential and pitfalls of spatial figures and representation in economic geography. This could be case studies on particular spatial figures; the potential of spatial figures in bolstering economic geography’s visibility in the world; how spatial figures enable knowledge mobility and conceptual stretching; and the politics of spatial figures.

The website for the Royal Geographical Society's History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group

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