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retailing, geography of

  Conventionally defined as the study of the interrelations between the spatial patterns of retail location and organization, on the one hand, and the geography of retail consumer behaviour on the other. Retail geography is often situated at the overlap of related sub-fields, including economic geography, the geography of services (Daniels, 1995), and urban geography.

Work within retail geography follows one of two broad trajectories. The historically dominant perspective is somewhat more applied and neo-classical in orientation. Since the late 1980s a self-defined \'new\' retail geography has emerged, in clear opposition to the former. This has been influenced initially by political-economy perspectives, being subsequently responsive to developing debates within cultural geography (see Clarke, 1996, for an overview).

Mainstream retail geography has certain general characteristics. Broadly speaking, neo-classical economic principles predominate, with considerable emphasis placed upon the structuring role of individual consumer decisions. This can be seen in the continuing influence of central place theory (cf. Parr, 1995), the refinement of which played an important role in the quantitative revolution of the 1960s.With strong links to marketing (Jones and Simmons, 1993), retail geography is also applied in its emphases (applied geography), with an historically well-developed attention to the geographic concerns of retail management or in relation to planning (Wrigley, 1988). Retail geography has conventionally adopted a specific spatial focus, with inquiry usually directed at the intra-urban and, occasionally, at the regional scale. The geographies of consumer behaviour and retail organization are also frequently theorized as some function of distance, actual or perceived (see distance decay; spatial science). Retail geography continues to develop; of special importance are recent developments in geographical information systems (Benoit, 1995).

It is the geography of retail consumption that appears to be the most well-developed sub-field (consumption, geography of). One historically important perspective draws from general spatial interaction theory, and its family of gravity models, to simulate and forecast consumer spatial behaviour which is assumed to be some response to distance minimization and utility maximization on the part of the consumer. From the 1960s, cognitive-behavioural perspectives were introduced, with consequent developments in consumer spatial cognition, perception and spatial learning. This proved important to the wider field of behavioural geography.

The emphasis on consumer demand accounts for the relatively limited attention given to the geography of retail capital. One important stream of analysis, however, drawn from the early pioneering work of Berry, has classified and analysed both the morphology of urban commercial structures and the central place hierarchy in line with principles derived from central place theory. Spatial changes in retailing — such as the relation between decentralized retail investment and traditional city centre retailing — have also received attention. Recent important developments include the importation of \'institutional\' accounts of retail organization and spatial change (Brown, 1987). Again, the \'applied\' focus of much research in this field is much in evidence, as witnessed by the level of development of fields such as store location and market-area analysis (e.g. Thill, 1995).

Despite its many insights, this perspective has come under challenge in the last decade, as political economic and cultural perspectives have been brought to bear on retail geography. Initial insights were drawn from the allied field of industrial geography which saw the import of Marxist perspectives into spatial-economic analysis in the 1980s. One influential analysis by Ducatel and Blomley (1990), drawing from Marxist insights into economic structure, sought to re-theorize retail capital both as a vital component of a larger capitalist system and as characterized by its own internal logic (see circuit of capital).

Although this re-theorization has been criticized (Fine and Leopold, 1993), the call for a political economic perspective on retail capital generated a response, particularly in the United Kingdom, which has seen some striking changes in both the organization and importance of retail capital over the past two decades. The \'new economic geographies of retailing\', as Wrigley and Lowe (1996) style them, have paid particular attention to the phenomenon of retail restructuring. For Wrigley and Lowe (1996, p. 7), six themes are prominent: (a) the reconfiguration of corporate retail structures; (b) the reconfiguration of retailer-supplier chain interfaces; (c) the organizational and technological transformations in retail distribution; (d) the reconfiguration of labour practices and social relations of production within retailing; (e) the spatial penetration, manipulation and switching of retail capital; and (f) the regulation of retail restructuring. Several of the essays in their book are instructive on these issues, as are related papers (e.g. Sparks, 1996). The geography of retail change, not surprisingly, has received special attention, as witnessed by the attention given re-configured \'consumption spaces\', such as the \'mega-mall\', and shifts in both the intra-urban and international location of retail capital (Hallsworth, 1992).

The \'new retail geography\' has recently become more attentive to the cultural geographies of retailing, as well as the economic geographies (cf. cultural turn). In line with a more generalized recognition that economic processes are culturally coded, retail geographers have again become attentive to questions of consumption. However, consumption is not seen simply as the unproblematic expression of consumer demands, but is understood as a critical site for the expression, reproduction and contestation of various identities. One question, in this regard, is the way in which gender roles are formed in \'retail spaces\' (see gender and geography). Certain retail spaces — notably the department store and the mall — have received particular attention (Blomley, 1996). However, it is interesting to see other retail sites coming under scrutiny (e.g. Gregson and Crewe, 1997).

As Glennie and Thrift (1996) note, academic treatments of consumption have often been semiotic in focus, that is, the images invoked by retail capital and retail spaces are given special attention (cf. Shields, 1992). Such analyses also tend to fall into two camps. On the one hand, contemporary forms of consumption are seen negatively, as inducing fragmentation, anomie and superficiality (compare Hopkins\' 1990 treatment of the \'placelessness\' of mall design). On the other hand, consumption is seen as offering possibilities — albeit faint — for more redemptive futures where contemporary forms of consumption, associated with retail capital, allow for creative reworkings of the self.

While still rooted in an applied and largely empiricist paradigm, retail geography seems to have evidenced an opening up in the 1980s. For a long time retail geography has been largely immune from broader theoretical debates within human geography. With a partial willingness to embrace some of these questions, it will be interesting to see what the next decade will bring. Perhaps insights from post-colonial theory might be applicable (cf. Smith, 1996). Also, recent discussions concerning globalization might be relevant, particularly given an interest in international capital flows within the retail sector.

One important question relates to the treatment of space within retail geography. The applied, modelling-based perspective seems to treat space either as a neutral container or as an independent variable. Conversely, the \'new retail geography\' sees the relation between space and retail activity as reciprocal and mutually constitutive. Thus, for example, retail capital can structure space in particular ways, yet is itself configured by socio-spatial processes, such as nation-specific \'corporate cultures\' (Shackleton, 1996). However, the specific importance of spatiality to retail activity awaits a self-conscious examination. Knotty conceptual issues such as scale, the politics of space, or the construction of place need to be more systematically unravelled in relation to retail geography.

Finally, the bifurcation of retail geography into applied and social-theoretic streams begs some important questions. The former seems largely indifferent to the latter, which has attempted to consciously distinguish itself. While there are some evident differences, this need not obscure the possibilities for productive exchanges. For example, more conscious critical reflection on some of the assumptions that underpin \'mainstream\' retail modelling might be productive. Alternatively, some recent insights from marketing, such as Butner\'s (1992) discussion of \'servicescapes\', might be of interest to critical retail geographers. More generally, the degree of actual difference between the two perspectives, or the possibilities of other \'new retail geographies\', demand more careful consideration. (NB)

References Benoit, D. 1995: Using GIS for retail location analysis of United Kingdom supermarkets. Geo Info Systems 5 9: 46-51. Blomley, N.K. 1996: I\'d like to dress her all over: masculinity, power and retail space. In N. Wrigley and M. Lowe, eds, Retailing, consumption and capital: towards the new retail geography. London: Longman, 238-57. Brown, S. 1987: Institutional change in retailing. Progress in Human Geography 11 2: 181-206. Butner, M.J. 1992: Servicescapes: the impact of physical surroundings on customers and employees. Journal of Marketing 56: 57-71. Clarke, D.B. 1996: The limits to retail capital. In N. Wrigley and M. Lowe, eds, Retailing, consumption and capital: towards the new retail geography. London: Longman, 284-301. Daniels, P.W. 1995: Services in a shrinking world. Geography 80 2: 97-110. Ducatel, K.J. and Blomley, N.K. 1990: Rethinking retail capital. International journal of urban and regional research 14 2: 207-27. Fine, B. and Leopold, E. 1993: The world of consumption. New York: Routledge. Glennie, P. and Thrift, N.J. 1996: Consumption, shopping and gender. In N. Wrigley and M. Lowe, eds, Retailing, consumption and capital: towards the new retail geography. London: Longman, 221-37. Gregson, N. and Crewe, L. 1997: The bargain, the knowledge and the spectacle: making sense of consumption in the space of the carboot sale. Environment and Planning A: Society and Space 15 1: 87-112. Hallsworth, A.H. 1992: The new geography of consumer spending. London: Belhaven Press. Hopkins, J.A. 1990: West Edmonton Mall: Landscape of myths and elsewhereness. Canadian Geographer 34 1: 2-17. Jones, K. and Simmons, J. 1993: Location, location, location: analyzing the retail environment. Toronto: Methuen. Parr, J.B. 1995: Alternative approaches to market area structure in the urban system. Urban Studies 32 8: 1317-29. Shackleton, R. 1996: Retailer internationalization: a culturally constructed phenomenon. In N. Wrigley and M. Lowe, eds, Retailing, consumption and capital: towards the new retail geography. London: Longman, 137-56. Shields, R., ed., 1992: Lifestyle shopping: the subject of consumption. London: Routledge. Smith, M.D. 1996: The empire filters back: consumption, production, and the politics of Starbucks coffee. Urban Geography 17: 502-24. Sparks, L. 1996: Space wars: Wm Low and the \'auld enemy\'. Environment and Planning A 28: 1465-84. Thill, J.-C. 1995: Modelling store choices with cross-sectional and pooled cross-sectional data: a comparison. Environment and Planning A 27 8: 1303-15. Wrigley, N. 1988: Retail restructuring and retail analysis. In N. Wrigley, ed., Store choice, store location and market analysis. London: Routledge, 3-34. Wrigley, N. and Lowe, M., eds, 1996: Retailing, consumption and capital: towards the new retail geography. London: Longman.

Suggested Reading Berry, B.J.L. and Parr, J. 1988: Market centers and retail location: theory and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Hollinshead, G. 1996: Retailing: historical patterns and future trends. Plan Canada 36 6: 12-18. Potter, R. 1982: The urban retailing system. Aldershot: Gower. Reekie, G. 1993: Temptations: sex, selling and the department store. Sydney: Allen and Unwin. Shields (1992).



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