Regional dimensions of the knowledge economy : implications for the "new Europe"
This thesis examines the implications of the alleged rise of the `knowledge economy' for regional economic change in Europe. In particular, it is concerned with `postindustrial' trajectories of less-favoured regions, in both the Western and Eastern parts of the `New Europe'. In doing so, the thesis critically engages with the `new regionalism' economic geography approaches that draw on institutional/evolutionary economics, and on the `knowledge economy' or 'learning economy' discourses. These approaches invariably identify localised forms of knowledge production and learning and various supporting institutions as key factors behind regional prosperity. Considered as the most important organisational units of contemporary global knowledge-intensive capitalism, economically successful regions are understood as `learning regions' acting as collectors and repositories of knowledge, and displaying the ability to learn and innovate, while being supported by regional `institutional thickness'. Less-favoured regions are themselves claimed to have a capacity to improve their own economic fortunes by becoming `learning regions'. These claims are exposed to a theoretical scrutiny that reveals serious conceptual weaknesses in the `knowledge economy' and `learning region' paradigms and the thesis suggests an alternative conceptualisation of regional economic change. This alternative conceptualisation places emphasis on the `socio-spatial divisions of labour' and the accompanying `socio-spatial value chains/networks' as a useful prism through which increasingly uneven regional development in Europe can be understood. The case studies of two former industrial region-states are then presented - one in the `Western' periphery (Scotland) and one in the `Eastern' post-socialist periphery (Slovakia) of the `New Europe' - both attempting a transformation to the high value-added `knowledge-based' economy. The empirical evidence supports the view that, although institutions can play an important role in economic development of regions, their room for manoeuvre is nevertheless significantly constrained by their own historical legacies and the wider neo-liberal political economy.