Food for the chain

The Economic Geography Reader - Production, Places and Environment
May 26, 2000

In the past decade, publishers have found it increasingly difficult to persuade academics to write textbooks. This reflects, in part, the increased pressures on staff to undertake activities that will count for the next research assessment exercise, or generate income, or preferably both. One response has been a growing interest in the production of readers of previously published material, because these generally take less time and effort to prepare. The two texts under review provide examples of variations on this theme.

The Economic Geography Reader is an excellent collection of 51 edited pieces, all written or published since 1988 (the longest is 12 pages), while Production, Places and Environment is a stimulating set of 14 articles, nearly all full length, written or co-authored by the editor and published between 1983 and 1999 (the longest is 30 pages). Both are concerned with reviewing key issues, concepts and arguments that have played a formative role in the development of economic geography over the past decade or so. During this period, a "new" economic geography has emerged, albeit one that is built on what has gone before, which presents a more diversified view of the way in which economic activities are organised over space and affect the well-being of places, regions and nations. The growth in interest in service industries and the globalisation of economic activity reflects, in part, changes in the way the world economy is structured, while the study of topics such as the geographies of labour, money and consumption are representative more of the changing interests of economic geographers. Both books are organised in the same way. An introductory chapter written by the editor(s) reviews recent changes in approaches to studying economic geography, and the contributions are divided into four parts, each of which has an introduction prepared by the editor(s).

Both texts cover issues of production, work and labour and give prominence to discussion of theoretical interpretations of economic change, but they differ in the other topics emphasised. Production, Places and Environment focuses on recent economic changes in the UK and Europe, particularly the northeast region of England, whereRay Hudson has undertaken much of his research. The Economic Geography Reader , on the other hand, takes a wider "western" interpretation of economic processes, including changes in the newly industrialising countries and a specially commissioned chapter on the post-socialist world. Hudson is more explicit in his discussion of politics and policies and includes material on the environmental impact of production, while The Economic Geography Reader has a whole section on spaces of consumption. With the exception of one part of one article in The Reader on the contract farming of exotic fruit, neither text includes material on agricultural geography. This is a pity, particularly as the links between agricultural geography and the rest of economic geography have become closer in recent years with the growth of interest in topics such as farm diversification and the food chain.

The Economic Geography Reader is the more student-friendly of the texts. It has been prepared with second and final-year British undergraduates studying economic geography in mind, though it could be useful for students of a similar level in other developed countries. The project grew out of years of teaching, and the selections were chosen for their readability. Guidance is given on "reading the readings" and selected further reading is given at the end of the introduction to each part. Production, Places and Environment's "research autobiography", on the other hand, leaves its selections to "speak for themselves" to the advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students it sees as its audience. The difference in approach is, perhaps, most clearly seen in the introductory chapters. The Economic Geography Reader is an informative guide for the reader to contemporary economic geography, whereas Production, Places and Environment's review is more theoretical and assumes prior knowledge by the reader of the issues discussed. I suspect that many students will find it easier to read the case-study chapters in Production, Places and Environment first and then put them into a wider context by reading the introduction. Both books are valuable overviews of the recent developments in economic geography. By bringing together a set of key articles, each book increases the opportunity for students to read the original literature. The Economic Geography Reader is the more suitable as a course text, but both books are likely to be referred to often as sources of valuable case studies and theoretical discussions. There remains, however, an urgent need for a non-edited, up-to-date textbook in economic geography, synthesising and interpreting the many exciting advances that have characterised the subject in recent years and incorporating suggestions for how students may learn actively by using and applying the ideas.

Mick Healey is professor of geography, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.

The Economic Geography Reader: Producing and Consuming Global Capitalism. First Edition

Editor - John Bryson, Nick Henry, David Keeble and Ron Martin
ISBN - 0 471 985 9 and 98528 7
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £55.00 and £19.99
Pages - 494

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