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  The spatial structure of an economy. The term is a direct translation of the German word Raumwirtschaft, and is originally associated with a distinctive German school of location theory. Popularized during the 1950s and 1960s by Walter Isard (1919- ), the founder of the neo-classical economics-inspired regional science movement, space-economy became associated with a distinctive style of economic geography that emphasized quantitative methods and theoretical abstraction (Isard, 1956). As a term it was later deployed by geographers operating within a framework of political economy, but with the recent cultural turn in economic geography the expression has become increasingly dated.

The idea of a space-economy has always been underwritten by theoretical assumptions. Initially space was treated abstractly and unproblematically as something to be filled, as an empty container to be stuffed with various economic activities. Those activities could be examined at a variety of geographical scales — farm, city, region, nation, globe. Of particular interest were the ordered geographical patterns that emerged, for example, concentric rings of land use (Alonso model; von Thünen model), or a hexagonal distribution of urban production sites (central place theory). Both in the original German location school\'s use of the term, and later in Isard\'s too, those geographical patterns were formally derived from the postulate of economic rationality in combination with assumptions about transport costs (the means by which space was introduced into the analysis). Links with neo-classical economics resulted also in an equilibrium approach that stressed optimal spatial arrangements, for example, ones that maximized profit for industrialists, or retailing choice for consumers.

Even in this idealised space-economy various intractable mathematical and theoretical problems arose because of the very inclusion of space as a variable (Massey, 1973). Partly as a response to these technical problems (see spatial autocorrelation), but mainly as part of a much broader social critique, some economic geographers from the early 1970s onwards attempted to recast the space economy in the theoretical terms of political economy. Harvey\'s (1982, 1985) work from a Marxian economic perspective was formative. Rather than the ordered, optimal and tranquil landscapes suggested by Isard et al., Harvey postulated a space-economy riven by crisis, always in motion, and relentlessly driven by the capitalist imperative to accumulate. In particular, key for Harvey was a fundamental contradiction between fixity and mobility — between agglomeration in place and dispersion over space — which is then implicated in the constitution of place-based class alliances (cf. regional alliance) and subject to \'the fires of open and escalating competition with others\' (see the figure).

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig68.gif }

space-economy Fundamental tensions in the landscape of contemporary capitalism (Source: Gregory, 1989)

After Harvey\'s initial work space-economy as a term became less used. In part it is because of Doreen Massey\'s (1984) writings on layers of investment, and the subsequent locality studies, that emphasized place rather than space. And in part it is because of a different style of theorizing, one that is less abstract, less all-encompassing (see Grand Theory). Indeed, the recent cultural turn in economic geography (Lee and Wills, 1997) has accentuated and developed both lines of development, resulting in the further marginalization of space-economy as a term. When it is used it tends to be by those mobilizing an analytical approach either on the political Left (such as Sheppard and Barnes, 1990; Webber and Rigby, 1996), or on the political Right (represented by neo-classical analysis, and given a recent boost by the work of Paul Krugman; see Martin and Sunley, 1996). (TJB)

References Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1985: The urbanization of capital. Oxford: Blackwell. Isard, W. 1956: Location and space economy. New York: John Wiley. Krugman, P. 1991: Geography and trade. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Lee, R. and Wills, J., eds, 1997: Geographies of economies. London: Arnold. Martin, R. and Sunley, P. 1996: Paul Krugman\'s geographical economics and its implications for regional development theory: a critical assessment. Economic Geography 72: 259-92. Massey, D. 1973: A critique of industrial location theory. Antipode 5 (3): 33-9. Massey, D. 1984: Spatial divisions of labour. London: Macmillan. Sheppard, E. and Barnes, T. 1990: The capitalist space economy: geographical analysis after Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa. London: Unwin. Webber, M. and Rigby, D. 1996: The golden age illusion. New York: Guilford.

Suggested Reading Harvey (1985), ch. 2.



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