Although I have always been comfortable with being labelled an economic geographer, the type of research I have done in the past two decades has moved away from narrow studies based on location theory and regional economics to more eclectic understandings of the economy that draw on the role of the state, of forms of governance, of culture and society, of technology, and on issues of identity and performativity. Many interconnected influences are always in play in the evolution of the industrial landscape. My research in a range of different settings has made it clear that geographies of industry vary enormously from place to place not just because of different cost structures, but because industry is locally constructed.
- New geographies of industry in the neoliberal age.
- Mature extractivist hinterlands.
- Performance of the economy, at trade shows, in sport, at protests, and in art.
- The social and geographical construction of technology, especially with respect to the bicycle.
Geographies of industry have been the main focus of my research for over 50 years. Growing up in the industrial port of Liverpool - which at that time was very probably the fastest shrinking city in the world - meant that issues of plant closures, layoffs, unemployment, outmigration, de-industrialization, and the rise of the post-industrial city were everyday experiences, and the opposite of the spatial fix of new industrial capital that I am seeing today in my research in China.
My main research interest is in the current era of neoliberal governance which, having initiated the biggest wave of economic restructuring in human history, is now being buffeted by a wave of counter-globalization. The contemporary economy is intrinsically global in its relations, but local in the way these relations are played out. It has had profound consequences for the 34 rich OECD countries experiencing massive de-industrialization matched by a rise of their service economies, and it has had equally profound impacts on the newly industrializing countries. It has been accompanied by the re-articulation of global production networks (GPNs), by big changes in forms of work, in gender relations, and identities - both individual and collective, and by a brisk growth of TNCs, large and small, including the rise of major global retailers which are now competing with resource-based transnational corporations in the governance of the global economy. This massive transformation has taken place quickly, but it is quite variegated in the form it has taken, and is just beginning to adjust to the economic nationalism evident in the US and Europe.
Industrial restructuring has been a recurring element of production since the Industrial Revolution, but it has taken on new forms in the current neoliberal era as the majority of states have rolled back the social and regional support systems of the post-war Keynesian state and rolled out new and diverse programmes that promote private enterprise and globalization. This evolving wave of restructuring connects with my on-going work in a number of contexts including : the move to lean production in the Canadian pulp and paper industry; the decline of many peripheral resource regions under new forms of neoliberal governance; the expansion of global production networks that connect, for instance, China with Canada, often resulting in hypermobile trading links; and the growing significance of performative aspects of the economy at trade shows, protests, and other cultural manifestations which have the capacity to become liminal spaces in this age of branding and of technological modernity.