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1. The Changing Discipline Of Human Geography
This section presents a brief history of geographical thought in order to situate the approaches that human geographers have developed in studying Western Europe (for a fuller history, see Johnston 1991). During the nineteenth century, geography in Western Europe sought to describe and explain the spatial distributions of the natural world and of people and their activities. However, association between strong strands of environmental determinism that sought to explain human characteristics in terms of natural environmental conditions, exempliﬁed by the work of Ellen Semple, and the politically discredited doctrine of Lebensraum in Nazi Germany, produced a shift from explanatory concerns to regional description. While there were variations between national ‘schools,’ with the French under the inﬂuence of Paul Vidal de la Blache most powerfully exemplifying the regional descriptive approach, there was also a degree of commonality of approach to geographical scholarship across Western Europe.
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Then, in the 1960s, inﬂuenced by earlier developments in North America summarized as the ‘quantitative’ and ‘conceptual’ revolutions, human geography in Western Europe began to be redeﬁned. The emphasis switched to spatial science and explanation of generalized spatial patterns, drawing on ideas from neoclassical economics, and from qualitative regional description to quantitative—especially statistical— analysis of spatial patterns. Initially ‘revolution’ was concentrated in a few Departments in the UK and Sweden. From there, it diﬀused to other parts of Western Europe. These changes were contested, however. Much Western European geography retained a strong interest in the uniqueness of places, a focus that later re-emerged, albeit in a modiﬁed way. It soon became clear that spatial science had major limitations. Initially, behavioral geographers in Western Europe, as in North America, responded to these by seeking more realistic assumptions about the knowledge and motives that underlay peoples’ spatial behaviors (Pred 1967). This did little to remedy the explanatory weaknesses, however. Consequently, human geographers sought stronger explanations grounded in more powerful abstractions of the processes that generated spatial patterns. As a result, Marxian and neo-Marxian political economy soon became the focal point of ‘critical’ geography within Western Europe (Carney et al. 1980) and more generally (Harvey 1982). However, there were again strong counter-pressures, with humanistic geography (Ley and Samuels 1978) emphasizing human agency, meaning, intentionality, and individual life-worlds, rather than the unfolding structural logic of capital in explaining spatial variations in human activity.
Around the late 1970s, however, some important changes emerged in the social sciences, with implications for theory and practice in human geography and the ways in which Europe was studied. As a result, human geography in Western Europe became a pluralist discipline, encompassing many epistemological positions and substantive focuses, with strong links to cognate social sciences. Most importantly, there was an elaboration of seminal ideas about the centrality of space to social and economic life and growing recognition of the signiﬁcance of spatiality in many of the social sciences. This generated a constructive dialogue within Western Europe across national and disciplinary boundaries. It involved social scientists seeking to infuse their theories with spatial sensitivity, and geographers (such as Massey 1984) exploring relations between social process and spatial form. ‘The diﬀerence space makes’ to the constitution of societies, and the ways in which economic, social, and political processes operate within the structural limits that deﬁne capitalist economies, became cross-disciplinary research frontiers.
There was growing recognition that relationships between social processes and spatial forms are reciprocal, contingent, and indeterminate. This led to exploration of the ways in which such relationships actually do evolve and the spatiotemporally variable forms that they take, directing attention to the institutions through which societies and their geographies are constituted and reproduced. The prime focus of concern became middle-level theories and concepts as human geography underwent an ‘institutional turn.’ Linked to this, post-structural approaches resulted in greater sensitivity to the limitations of, and absences from, metanarratives. This was associated with a broader ‘cultural turn’ in human geography and the social sciences, and heightened awareness of cultural variation in the ways in which capitalist societies are constituted and of the variable meanings that people, places, and events can assume because of this (Hudson 2001).
Paralleling developments of the 1980s in terms of sociospatial relationships, in the 1990s the social sciences in Western Europe increasingly acknowledged the signiﬁcance of connections between the social and natural worlds in understanding societies and their geographies. As such, another ‘traditional’ geographical concern was given a new twist and became central to broader social science debates. One consequence of this was growing interest in Actor– Network theories, which seek to bridge the divide between social and natural worlds and explore how human subjects and nonhuman objects become contingently linked in networks in particular time space contexts (Thrift 1996).
These growing concerns with relationships between society, space, and nature coalesced in debates about processes of globalization, links between ‘the global and the local’ and their impacts on and in Europe (Amin and Thrift 1994). This led to recognition that changes at ‘global’ and ‘local’ levels are reciprocal and complex rather than simply one-way and one-directional. While processes of globalization inﬂuence ‘local’ change in Europe, those processes are aﬀected by ‘local’ place-speciﬁc eﬀects in Europe (from the formation of the European Union to local social movements protesting about environmental pollution or cultural destruction). Some see ‘globalization’ as homogenizing, eliminating diﬀerences between places under the relentless pressures of capital accumulation and technological advances in transport, information technology, and telecommunications as the world of places dissolves into a world of ﬂows (Castells 1996). In contrast, human geographers in Europe have conceptualized it as a complex interplay of processes that both link and help deﬁne varying spatial scales in a complex mosaic. Globalization is seen as the latest phase of combined and uneven development, enhancing the distinctiveness of places and their importance in the contemporary world.
2. Changing Emphases In The Geographical Study Of Western Europe
2.1 The Changing Geopolitical Map Of Europe And The Meaning Of ‘Western Europe’
The dramatic changes in the geopolitical map of Europe in the postwar period have attracted the attention of geographers (such as Williams 1998). These changes include:
(a) the division of Europe between East and West following the partition of Berlin and the lowering of the imaginary but highly inﬂuential ‘iron curtain’ in 1948;
(b) the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and then the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 by the Benelux countries, France, Germany, and Italy;
(c) the formation of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) in 1961 by nations that either did not want or were not allowed to join the EEC (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, the UK);
(d ) the subsequent revision of the boundary between the EEC and EFTA, and the admission of non-EFTA states to the EEC; and
(e) the collapse of state socialism in the east in 1989, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and a new phase of expansion of the European Union (EU), as it had become in the process of deepening economic integration, in the 1990s.
By 1995 the EU had expanded to 15 member states. Currently, there are several other applicant nations in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Turkey). Other nations (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania) may become applicants for accession in the foreseeable future (Hudson 2000).
Three cleavage planes have been decisive in this ongoing partitioning of geopolitical space, in creating boundaries between diﬀerent groupings of nation- states and in the allocation of nations to groups. First, there was a deep division for four decades between nations embracing capitalism and those embracing state socialism. Second, within the former group, there was a split between those committed to parliamentary democracy and those (temporarily) characterized by dictatorship (Greece, Portugal, and Spain). Third, there is continuing competition between models of national capitalisms and varying relationships be-tween national economies and (welfare) states (Hudson and Williams 1999). There has also been competition between national states and interests and supranational interests represented in the emergent EU. The evolving postwar geopolitical map of Europe has thus been the product of highly contested processes.
2.2 New Multiscalar Geographies Of Governance And Regulation: Restructuring The National State
The changing architecture of governance and regulation within Europe has been a related focal point of study. In postwar Western Europe, there were strong pressures to check the spread of communism, prevent future wars between its major states, and create a more eﬀective political voice in the international arena. This led to the construction of supranational European institutions, beginning a process of redeﬁning the architecture of governance and regulation in Europe.
Within the EU, there has been an upward drift of power, a ‘hollowing out’ as part of processes of national state restructuring (Jessop 1997). The increased regulatory competencies of the EU have been interpreted in one of three ways. First, for some, shifting state regulation ‘up’ a spatial scale signiﬁes evidence of an emergent superstate. Second, it is argued that political changes in the 1980s and 1990s produced a complex hybrid form of decision-making processes in the EU, combining intergovernmentalism and cooperative federalism. Third, others view the EU as one element within a more complex multilevel and multidimensional system of governance. Whatever the interpretation, however, the EU is seen as weakened by a deep democratic deﬁcit (Painter 1999).
While the EU can be seen as the most elaborated example of an emergent multilevel system of governance and regulation, there are strong continuities with the past, especially in the continuing signiﬁcance of national states. Some new forms of economic and ﬁnancial globalization (‘stateless monies,’ for example) do take matters beyond the eﬀective control of many national states. However, the view that the signiﬁcance of the national state is being eroded via ‘hollowing out’ has been challenged on various grounds. In many respects, national states in the EU retain considerable powers (Anderson 1995), and these states are perhaps the paradigmatic case for ‘hollowing out’ theorists.
3. Europeanization, Globalization And The Impacts Of These Processes Within Europe
The development of the EU as a homogenized economic space, together with the extension of capitalism into Central and Eastern Europe, created new spaces in which companies can reorganize their activities. This has become another focus of geographic research in and on Europe (Hudson 1999a). The prospect of the Single European Market generated a surge in intra-EU foreign direct investment and enhanced cross-border acquisitions within the EU. These often led to rationalization, plant closure, and job loss. Investment by Western European companies in CEE also increased somewhat, although heavily spatially concentrated at national and subnational scales, further widening spatial inequalities.
Europe-wide strategies have frequently been part of broader corporate globalization strategies. Creating bigger European companies via acquisition or merger has often been necessary to enable the enhanced spatial scale of corporate organization. There has also been an increase in strategic alliances between these bigger companies, especially in manufacturing industries characterized by high entry costs, continuing importance of economies of scale and scope, rapidly changing technologies, and substantial operating risks (Dicken and Oberg 1996). Processes of acquisition, merger, and strategic alliance have also reshaped parts of the service sector, ranging from banking and ﬁnancial services to retailing, in response to competitive pressures and possibilities created by technological changes and deregulation (Hudson 1999a).
In the 1990s, transnationals based in the USA, Canada, and south east Asia increasingly entered strategic alliances with European companies. There was also a surge in acquisition activity by non-EU transnationals in Europe, along with increased direct inward investment in anticipation of completion of the Single Market. Inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the EU has been concentrated in banks and ﬁnancial services and in existing major metropolitan centers. Simultaneously, technological advances in computing and telecommunications, deregulation of previously nationally protected markets in services, and resultant pressures on companies to cut costs to remain competitive, led to decentralization of backoﬃce functions to peripheral locations. There was some further inward investment in manufacturing, but with a rather diﬀerent geography. Investment in activities such as European headquarters oﬃces and research and development (R&D) has been in major cities in economically strong core regions, but has been limited in extent. Most has been in routine production activities in consumer good sectors such as automobiles, electronics, and ‘white goods.’ It has involved both acquisition of existing companies and factories and inward investment in new ‘greenﬁeld’ manufacturing plants, the latter typically in peripheral locations in both Eastern and Western Europe (Hudson 1999a).
3.1 The Rise Of The Regional Economy And The Rediscovery Of The Urban Economy In Europe
Some researchers in Western Europe have increasingly identiﬁed the region as the crucial territorial and institutional framework for economic success, linked in part to debates about national state ‘hollowing out’ and regional devolution. There have been two strands to this work. First, stimulated by Bagnasco’s (1977) seminal study, there has been great interest in industrial districts, regionally concentrated monoindustrial production systems, producing a range of labor-intensive consumer goods (such as clothing, shoes, or ceramics). They are organized via relatively egalitarian horizontal networks of small ﬁrms, built around trust and linked into complex social divisions of labor. These districts are also characterized by cooperative capital–labor relations, and by supportive institutional structures in the local state and civil society. The net result is ﬂexible production systems, able to respond swiftly to changing tastes and consumer demands. Since the 1970s, there have been a number of studies of similar industrial districts in various parts of Europe (for example, see Maskell et al. 1998) while some scholars have conceptualized key ‘command and control’ nodes within global cities, such as the City of London, as a particular form of industrial district (Amin and Thrift 1994).
The second strand focuses upon a diﬀerent type of territorially clustered network structure, with close links between companies and the institutions of state and civil society, but based upon hierarchical and asymmetrical power relations between the constituent ﬁrms. These are production systems driven by major ﬁrms, with others linked to them in tiered supply chains, with Baden-Wurttemberg perhaps the ‘classic’ European example (Herrigel 1996). A more recent variant of this regional economic structure is linked with inward investment, especially from Japan and south east Asia, as assembly plants attract component suppliers to locate nearby. This has led to contested claims about a ‘new’ type of higher quality of investment in ‘embedded’ branch plants, more integrated into the surrounding regional economy than traditional ‘global outpost’ branch plants and so with greater regional developmental potential. Such new factories are also seen by some as bringing new, enriching, and more satisfying multiskilled jobs but by others as oﬀering intensiﬁed, multitasked jobs that further disempower workers (Hudson 1999a).
Emphasis on the importance of regional cultures and institutions in an associational economy underpinning regional economic success has led researchers to highlight the signiﬁcance of concepts such as regionally speciﬁc social capital, trust, untraded interdependencies, tacit knowledge, learning, and appropriate institutional structures. Important studies in this regard include Amin and Thrift (1994) and Storper (1995), although others are more skeptical about this ‘regional cultural and institutional turn’ (Gertler 1997, Hudson 1999b). Nonetheless, such ideas have also been increasingly inﬂuential in urban studies as geographers have developed new perspectives on cities (for example, see Amin and Thrift 2001).
4. Structural Economic Change, Service Sector Growth, And Feminization Of Labor Markets
Service sector growth as part of a changing social division of labor has been the most signiﬁcant structural change in the European economy and led to claims about the emergence of postindustrial and post-Fordist economies. There have also been important changes within the service sector. Initially, service sector expansion was closely linked with growing state involvement over much of Europe. More recently, the dominant pattern has been shrinkage of the public sector and expansion of private sector services. The most signiﬁcant feature of the latter has been growth of private sector business and ﬁnancial services, often linked to ﬁnancial product innovations and deregulation of ﬁnancial markets (Tickell 1999).
The increasing importance of the service sector has also been associated with three important changes in European labor markets. First, further ‘feminization’ of the labor market has led to some growth of well-paid, full-time secure professional employment for women but more generally growth has been in less desirable jobs. Second, women form a disproportionately large part of the ‘ﬂexible workforce,’ produced by the growth of new forms of employment contract and part-time and casual work (Perrons 1998). Third, service sector growth, especially in business and ﬁnancial services, has led to renewed focus on urban environments as key nodes of economic dynamism (for example, see Keil and Ronnenberger 2000). This has led to increasing interest in the characteristics of urban environments seen as conducive to high order service sector growth and the attraction of dynamic new services and cultural industries within an emergent ‘knowledge economy.’ Echoing earlier work on successful regions, this again emphasizes the signiﬁcance of ‘soft’ infrastructure and informal social relationships as well as the necessary ‘hard infrastructure’ of transport, telecommunications, and informatics networks (for example, see Amin and Thrift 2001).
5. New Geographies Of Identities
European identity and the criteria used to denote ‘Europeans’ have emerged as a focus of interest. EU member states have clearly become de facto multi- ethnic and multicultural societies, raising questions about cultural and ethnic variation and issues of (multiple) identities at national, regional, and local scales within the EU and about the character and location of the boundaries of the EU (Amin 2001). Boundary deﬁnition is closely tied to processes of ‘othering’ and the criteria by which ‘Europeanness’ is to be judged. As the EU expands, particularly east- wards into areas that border on or are part of Asia as commonly understood, these issues become more pressing.
One conception of a singular European identity would see it constructed through a process analogous to that involved in creating national identities. However, the project is now to transcend those identities. Previously the ‘imagined community’ was national; in the new imagination it is to be European (or perhaps more accurately EU). For many people, there is now undoubtedly greater awareness of other cultures and lifestyles elsewhere in Europe. Such shared activity and communication spaces do not necessarily translate into a shared European consciousness, however. The EU’s cultural and educational policy initiatives have sought to encourage the formation of a common consciousness and shared identity beyond existing local and national aﬃnities. This view of European identity and ‘Europeanness’ sits comfortably with the preferences of many members of political elites within Europe. However, it lacks a ﬁrm grounding in popular consciousness (Smith 1995).
There are pressures from national states and their citizens to resist further erosion of national identity and sovereignty. The Danish rejection of the Euro and the electoral success of extreme right-wing political parties in countries such Austria, Belgium, and France, for example, suggests the resurgence of more insidious and xenophobic nationalisms and racisms (White 1999). Furthermore, there are strong pressures from ‘suppressed nations’ seeking their own national states, so that territory corresponds with identity, as events in the Caucasus and the Balkans in the 1990s made painfully clear. At the same time, however, localist and regionalist movements challenge national states and seek greater autonomy from the center, asserting their particular cultural and territorial identities over the national. Often this builds upon past histories of national states suppressing subnational variation and culture in the process of building national identities (see, for example, Fernandez Rodrıguez 1985). Such tendencies are expressed widely over Western Europe (Anderson 1995). These regionalist and substate nationalist tendencies often emerged in a complex relationship to processes of globalization, Europeanization, and the emergence of the EU. Often they were seen as a way of resisting global forces via forging alliances between the regional and supranational EU levels, bypassing the national state. Thus complex geographies of hybrid identities were forged, with allegiance to territories at diﬀerent scales, which became a focus of interest for human geographers and social scientists (Amin 2001).
6. Geographies Of Social Inequality
One consequence of processes of political and economic restructuring is that Europe has become a more sharply divided place, characterized by deepened sociospatial divisions. Processes of economic restructuring have etched the contours of inequality more deeply into the European landscape, at several spatial scales: between countries, between cities, and between regions within countries; and within cities and regions (Bennett et al. 2000). There are growing divisions between the long-term unemployed— structurally excluded from the labor market—and the employed, but also within the employed workforce (in terms of wages and terms, conditions, and security of employment). There has been growing recognition of gender divisions (Perrons 1998) while issues of ethnic and racial divisions have often been exacerbated by EU expansion and by immigration and fears of ‘the other,’ especially those of diﬀerent skin color (White 1999). There has also been a growing recognition that spatial divisions intertwine in complex ways with those of class, ethnicity, and gender (Hadjimichalis and Sadler 1995).
7. Social Exclusion, Inclusion And ‘Third Sector’ Local Economic Initiatives
Growing unemployment, poverty, and inequality in the EU have led to growing concern—academic and political—with new ways of creating work and delivering services to disadvantaged communities. The focus of this attention has been on the social economy and ‘third sector’ economic initiatives, typically constructed at local level and designed to tackle social exclusion. While social exclusion encompasses a variety of dimensions beyond lack of waged employment, in practice attention has increasingly been focused upon tackling problems of unemployment, especially long-term and amongst the young, as these have become stubbornly persistent in Western Europe. The emphasis is upon creating new forms of socially useful work as an alternative to both private sector and state employment that will provide meaningful jobs for the unemployed and/or provide services that are no longer provided by state or markets to deprived communities (Lipietz 1995). There are concerns, however, that this may simply provide cut-price alternatives to public sector welfare services while reproducing inequalities from mainstream economy and society within the ‘third sector’ (Amin et al. 1999).
7.1 Sustainable Societies And Places
Sustainability in various guises—of natural environments, economies and societies, cities and regions— has become a further research focus within Western Europe, not least because it has become a pressing practical and political issue. Initially the emphasis was upon investigating ways of enhancing natural environmental sustainability but it was increasingly recognized that this must be situated in the context of transition to methods of production and transportation and lifestyles and consumption patterns with a lighter ecological footprint. This encompassed both technological innovation to generate materially more eﬃcient methods of production and movement and institutional and regulatory changes to increase the eﬃciency of resource use and reduce waste. Environmental and social justice were increasingly seen to be intimately linked. Such issues are likely to become more important on geographical and social science research agendas in Western Europe in the twenty-ﬁrst century, at a variety of spatial scales from the global to the regional and urban (Hudson 2001).
There were signiﬁcant changes in the practice of human geography in Western Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, in how geographers studied Europe and in what they studied as Europe itself changed. Furthermore, growing interest in the social sciences with relationships between society, space, and nature—geography’s established mainstream concerns—led to exciting developments across national and disciplinary boundaries in the study of Europe. These in turn had wider ramiﬁcations within geography and parts of the social sciences within and beyond Europe.
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