Geography Regional Development
John Tomaney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0134


Regional inequalities of one kind or another have existed since the beginning of human history. The region has been a central concept of the development of geography as a discipline. Accelerating processes of (sub)urbanization and (post)industrialization have generated increased academic and policy attention in relation to regional development. During the 20th century a large body of research was created to explain patterns of regional development in the developed and developing world. Much of this literature informed policies aimed at addressing regional disparities, by increasing growth in lagging regions or managing the development of faster-growing regions. The sources of regional development, and the appropriate forms of public policy, remain the subject of debate and contention. Regional development reflects not merely the outcome of “market forces,” but also complex political, institutional, and cultural factors that shape how “economic” decisions are made. For this reason, economists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians, as well as geographers, are among those who have contributed to the study of regional development. The effort to understand regional development is a multidisciplinary (or even interdisciplinary) inquiry to which geographers make an important contribution. This bibliography therefore highlights primarily the geographical literature on regional development but also draws attention to key contributions from other disciplines when appropriate. Among the key issues in the study of regional development are questions of definitions, including defining the meaning of “region” and “development.” Also important are shifting theoretical and conceptual debates. Recently there has been a strong focus on the role of institutions, government, and governance in shaping patterns of development. Questions of policy and practice also figure in the geographical literature. Finally, despite processes of globalization, patterns of regional development remain highly diverse both between and within countries, suggesting the need for sensitivity to the context of theory, policy, and practice.

General Overviews

There are a number of key texts which provide useful overviews of research and policy developments in relation to regional development. The abundance of useful overviews reflects the persistence and prominence of the study of regional development in university curriculums around the world under the rubrics such as regional economics, economic geography, regional politics, and policy. Overviews have the potential to become dated as theories are challenged and replaced and polices are found wanting and are changed. Older contributions can remain important, nevertheless, as apertures onto the history of ideas in regional development. Pike, et al. 2016 presents a survey of local and regional development focused on definitions and values; theoretical and conceptual developments; the role of institutions, government, and governance; the evolution of policy and practice; and a set of detailed case studies of regional experiences. Other useful overviews include Chisholm 1990, an exploration of the link between theories and policies, albeit with a focus on the United Kingdom. Capello 2007 provides an analysis which focuses especially on the forces that structure economic space with a particular emphasis on questions of territorial competition. McCann 2013 provides an up-to-date survey of theoretical and policy developments drawing from both regional economics and economic geography. Keating, et al. 2003 provides an interesting analysis of regional development as a political and cultural process, examining forms of regionalism in several European countries and showing that regional actors shape diverse responses to globalization to produce models of development reflecting local understandings and social compromises.

  • Armstrong, Harvey, and Jim Taylor. Regional Economics and Policy. London: Macmillan, 2000.

    A still useful review of key ideas in regional economics and economic geography and their relationship to regional policies.

  • Capello, Roberta. Regional Economics. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.

    A wide-ranging examination of the forces structuring the use of economic space, focusing especially on questions of territorial competition.

  • Chisholm, Michael. Regions in Recession and Resurgence. London: Hyman, 1990.

    Although somewhat dated, this book remains useful for its exploration of the history of ideas in regional development and their relationship to policy.

  • Friedmann, John, and Yvon Forest. “The Politics of Place: Towards a Political Economy of Territorial Planning.” In Regional Economic Development: Essays in Honour of François Perroux. Edited by Benjamin H. Higgins and Donald J. Savoie, 115–130. London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.

    A relatively early attempt to rethink the objects and subjects of regional development policy and its philosophical underpinnings. It sets out an approach to regional development that gives primacy to the “politics of place” rather than the free play of market forces.

  • Keating, Michael, John Loughlin, and Kris Deschouwer. Culture, Institutions and Economic Development: A Study of Eight European Regions. Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar, 2003.

    Analyzes regional development as a political and cultural process and provides a corrective to economic analyses which see “non-economic” factors as distortions of “the market.” Employs case studies of a number of European regions.

  • McCann, Philip. Modern Urban and Regional Economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Examines contemporary theories of regional development. Draws from regional economics and economic geography; also covers regional policy debates.

  • Pike, Andy, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, and John Tomaney. Local and Regional Development. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2016.

    Systematically reviews the idea of local and regional development. Focused on definitions and values; theoretical and conceptual developments; the role of institutions, government, and governance; the evolution of policy and practice; and a set of detailed case studies of regional experiences.

  • Scott, Allen J., and M. Storper. “Regions, Globalization, Development.” Regional Studies 37.6–7 (2003): 579–593.

    Situates contemporary regional development in the context of processes of globalization, which are unleashing forces of urban agglomeration that are reshaping the conditions for economic growth.

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