Although rarely confronted directly, competitiveness is a central concept in economic geography. In location and regional development theories, and in their work on industrial restructuring, uneven development, industrial district formation, learning regions, and neoliberalization, economic geographers have asked what gives particular advantages to enterprises located in particular places. Far from unified in their approaches to this question, different authors have derived many and varied answers. Sources of competitiveness have been identified in access to resources or markets, labor qualities, agglomeration economies, transactions costs, firm or commodity chain organization, social institutions, and government policy and spending. Geographers have studied the spatialities of social relations of production, production networks, path dependencies, circuits of capital, political processes, and investment cycles. Others have instead subverted the language of competitiveness to promote alternatives to a capitalist space economy.
Economic geographers, then, have in many different ways sought the geographical source of competitiveness. This article traces the history of this engagement through to the emergence in recent years of relational approaches that reject the quest for a spatial essence of competitiveness. Relational approaches deploy less rigid frames of analysis for identifying and studying the complex of agents, calculations, imaginaries, rationalities, and acts of investment that define geographies of competitiveness. They suggest we study the spatial organization of economic agency, the spatial strategies of agents, and the constitution of spatial advantage across the boundaries of firms and in constituted spatialities such as production networks, nation brands, communities of practice, diasporic strategies, or Argonaut networks. The article begins by highlighting several contradictions that have characterized geographers’ engagements with competitiveness. These are used to sensitize a discussion organized into loosely periodized conjunctures of knowledge production, methodology, and policy interest. The article goes on to welcome the emergence of relational approaches and related concerns with diverse economies as opportunities to rework geographical insights about competitiveness.
Contradictory Geographies of Competitiveness
Geographers’ engagements with ‘competitiveness’ have been characterized by many contradictions in addition to methodological and theoretical differences in approach. Here six such contradictions are identified that frame the way that competitiveness has been understood and examined in the literature.
First, geographers have achieved only limited success in their quest to specify the geographical source of competitiveness – precisely and ironically because geography does matter, in all its relationality and depth. Geography guarantees that competitiveness remains irreducible to a stable, universal, measurable, replicable, or calculable essence.
Second, partly as a result, geographers have confronted competitiveness indirectly. It rarely features in the indexes of geography texts. Even neoclassical economic analyses emphasizing the costs associated with spatial fixity and distance have generally failed to study the sites (balance sheets) and moments (board meetings) of decision making where competitive advantage is actually conceived/calculated and evaluated. Such forensics might unlock the calculations of productivity, profitability, politics, and risk that give meaning to competitiveness in any particular case. Instead, geographers have theorized spatial advantages from either surface level features such as distance from markets or from more deeply contoured topographies of institutional space.
Third, they have also commonly examined competitiveness after the fact, and as equivalent to success or growth. Businesses and regional or national economies that thrive and grow are seen ex post to be the most competitive, productive, and efficient. Collapsing success, competitiveness, efficiency, productivity, and profitability to survival are growth risks imputing the roots of competitiveness to spatial logics. The danger of paying insufficient attention to particular investment decisions (perhaps with complementary balance sheet forensics) is that more subtle geographies may be lost.
Fourth, geographers have often worked with politically predefined scales (city, industry, region, or nation) to imagine concepts like regional or national competitiveness and specify objects of analysis. These are often the spaces for which data are routinely collected, but may not be (or may have ceased to be) meaningful objects or subjects of competitiveness. Geographers working with more relational, constituted spatialities (communities of practice, industrial ecologies, clusters, and production networks) have responded to the challenge of identifying meaningful subjects and objects but must struggle to identify who is acting and in response to what impetuses.
Fifth, economic advantage is very often particular, situated, and contingent. Innovation, social capital, political networks, and strategies that configure value chains to exploit geographical difference, each the subject of increasingly sophisticated relational inquiry, might all give short term competitive advantages that have little to do with efficiency or productivity as understood in neoclassical accounts. Indeed, in practice, they may manifest in or emerge from a capacity to forestall or hold off competition. What is seen as competitiveness is often that which is, in neoclassical economics, its other (monopoly) or the result of its antithesis (cooperation).
Finally, treatments of competitiveness are neither built nor deployed in a political vacuum. Neo Marxists have long criticized the capitalist relations of production subsumed within notions of competitiveness. Erica Schoenberger adds that the term itself performs as a powerful moral economy – in economic geography and in wider politics. Collapsing success, efficiency, competitiveness, and productivity, disguise the exploitative practices of capital and naturalize the brutal spatial politics of accumulation. The super profits and sweatshops of transnational capital (TNC) and the redundancies of industrial restructuring are neither virtuous nor necessary. Borrowing Gibson Graham’s terms, discourses of competitiveness ‘other’ cooperation and more diverse economic practices with different moral economies. They may foreclose on possibilities of thinking otherwise about the economy.
From Industrial Geography to Global Shifts
Early ‘industrial geography’ aimed to explain patterns in the landscape, as did much mid twentieth century geography. Generations of school children learned of the relationships between key resources such as coal and steel and the development of the industrial heartlands of the United States, Britain, and Europe. Geography was revealed to matter (location gave competitive advantages), even if space was largely assumed to vary only in terms of distance, transportation costs, the location of resources, and markets. Locational rents could be derived from either proximity to resources or markets and plotted out in different distance decay and bid rent curves for different commodities to map zonal patterns of land use. Geographers using quantitative techniques tested spatial patterns against the theories of Weber, Losch, Christaller, Von Thunen, and Alonso.
This spatial analytic phase of economic geography unfolded into greater interest in the actual location decisions of economic agents on the one hand, and a concern with structural conditions on the other. In mainstream approaches, hypothetical analyses gave way to empirical analysis of location. Although competitiveness was again studied indirectly via location, analysis of pattern became replaced with a greater emphasis on process. Contemporaneously, concern with path dependent or structural conditioning of process became registered in debates over whether development trickled down from growth poles or processes of circular and cumulative causation reproduced uneven development. These debates tied emerging concern with the fates of regions to the interests of geographers in ThirdWorld development. Geographers came to address notions of regional and national competitiveness via analysis of uneven development and the emerging evidence of decline in key industrial regions. While those influenced by neoclassical economics continued to work on firm location, critical geographers turned to dependency and world systems accounts of the structural conditions of competitiveness, and their own emerging theories of uneven development.
They asked questions about regional or national competitiveness, multinational corporations, industrial regions, and commodity chains. Armed also with Harvey’s insights, their commitment to grounded investigation, and sensitivity to questions of ‘where’, geographers became pivotal critics of the emerging shape of what McMichael later called the ‘globalization project’.
The 1980s were a high point in economic geography, or at least the critique of the spatialities of industrial restructuring, regional decline, and related questions of competitiveness. Harvey, Dicken, Schoenberger, Doreen Massey, Richard Walker, Michael Storper, Allen Scott, Neil Smith, and many others brought critical lenses to bear on the restructuring processes and the new spatial divisions of labor emerging from the collapse of Fordism and the spatial fix of post war Anglo American growth. With a Marxian sensitivity to capital–labor relations, Massey in particular deployed the language of spatial divisions of labor to place the labor relation and its geographies at the center of theories of competitiveness and social transformation. The move gave economic geography its critical mainstream.
With labor costs and conditions at the center of explanation, as Jamie Peck later argued, the (necessary) community based reproduction of labor ties places tightly into this equation. With labor tied to place, new technologies of production and organization were seen to free capital from it and to facilitate more flexible and dispersed accumulation. Spatial restructuring enhanced competitiveness and generated new spatial divisions of labor. Of course, as Harvey and Smith both demonstrated, capital is far from fully mobile, different capitals are differentially mobile, and labor markets are always differentially mediated by social, political, and cultural institutions. Logics of spatially uneven development inhere in capitalism. Investment continues to tie capital to place, at least temporarily, and place will always be a factor in the competitive advantages sought and experienced by capital. Decisions are made in complex and calculative matrices of competitiveness. Explanations assuming factor mobility and level playing fields had little hope of unlocking the secrets of geographies of competitiveness.
Armed with Harvey’s theorization of the spatiality of circuits of capital and geographical uneven development, economic geographers came early to reframe concerns with competitiveness as a political economy critique not just of capitalism but of development and globalization. Industrial decline and social dislocation in the former industrial heartlands of the West highlighted the geographical responses of increasingly concentrated and TNC to crises of competitiveness. Facilitated by regulatory changes, new technologies of production, finance, and corporate organization were being worked into a spatial fix to the crises. In the work led most notably by Peter Dicken in the language of ‘global shift’, studies of competitiveness became subsumed within efforts to capture and account for the new globalized terrain of capital concentration, TNCs and their outsourcing networks. Competitive advantage became to be seen as a function of the economies of scale and spatial dynamism of these corporations/networks in relation to labor costs and regulation of production (particularly around the labor relation).
‘Global shift’ was a dominant narrative, but could not be a singular story. It began to morph at its center into concerns with flexible manufacturing, commodity chain analysis, and production networks that linked TNCs to multiple other firms and organizational forms. These cut across and remade established and hierarchical scales of political and economic agency and analysis. Although clearly linked to other economic domains ‘global shift’ was (is) a story of large firms and their contracted partners in predominantly manufacturing industries – a narrative of ‘industrial geography’. Still dominant in geographical imaginations (appropriately, given the attention it directs to organization, power, and monopoly as sources of competitiveness), it is only one of several contemporary geographical narratives of competitiveness.
Industrial Districts and the New Regionalism
A chronologically parallel school of thought to ‘global shift’ built a new geography of competitiveness on the basis of ideas of flexibility and networked relations, but in relation to closely integrated small firm complexes and industrial district formation. Drawing on the experiences of the ‘Third Italy’ rather than ‘global shift’, other geographers focused on the achievement of flexible accumulation and competitiveness through social institutions.
By the early 1990s, a literature on industrial districts was theorizing away from the experiences of the Third Italy and Orange County. It connected directly with Michael Porter’s highly influential ideas of competitive advantage and industrial clusters in business studies. In Porter’s account, value chain linkages and complementarities tended to generate clusters of firms that provided competitive advantages for new entrants through access to immediately proximate interfirm relations. Technology and globalization had not overcome colocation which offered advantages associated with innovation, knowledge dissemination, and trust (replacing resource and market access). Industrial districts were explicable, virtuous, and could be encouraged through policy. Over the 1990s, theory began to merge with policy in a growing literature on clusters, their behavioral underpinnings, formation, durability, and policy relevance. Actual/emergent clusters became indistinguishable from imagined or planned clusters.
In a similar coupling with policy interest, institutional explanations of competitiveness were wedded to emerging theories of social capital. In the geographical literature this ‘new regionalism’ identified ‘institutional thickness’ as a localized source of competitive advantage. More and deeper social institutions produced greater trust, enhanced business connections, reduced transactions costs, promoted seamless flows of information, and stimulated collective learning environments. Although accused of failing to address wider production networks and fetishizing social institutions and place, the new regionalism contained critical elements. Its richer set of accounts of the relationships between place and competitiveness and their formation offered a critique of the Porter school, and provided a counter to the dominant ‘global shift’ narrative in scholarship. It accented cooperative sources of firm advantage by contrast with competitiveness.
In policy spheres, the new regionalism gave regional authorities an alternative to policies seeking to attract investment via tax breaks, regulatory exemptions, and deunionized and cheap local labor pools – those classic strategies of the race to the bottom. Encouraged by notions of institutional thickness, policymakers began to promote the new panaceas of social capital and good governance as a basis for new industrial policies and fixes to the failures of neoliberal development. This conjuncture of policy and theory became enhanced and extended in the creative cities discourse of the early 2000s. Stimulated by Richard Florida’s arguments about the creative classes, certain cities became held to have a competitive advantage in creative industries generated by their tolerance of difference, cosmopolitan vibrancy, civic amenities, and stimulating built forms. These ideas connect to new regionalist ideas of innovative milieux. Positively, they suggest alternative policy targets for competitive city strategies such as enhancing social institutions and tolerance. On the other hand, their foundational understandings of investment processes and competitiveness have been challenged by critics such as Peck.
Other economic geographies have linked evidence of the competitive advantage of spatial clusters with the ‘global shifts’ narrative in their work on ‘postindustrial’ industries. Gordon Clark has highlighted both the advantages of spatial clusters and globalizing financial circuits of capital and associated concentration of capital in the financial services industry. Colocation in apparently footloose activities still generates competitive advantages. These advantages mirrored those found in manufacturing – the significance of proximity and social institutions in facilitating knowledge transfer, learning communities, and the building of communities of practice across firm boundaries; and the hard edged locational decisionmaking and investment processes of spinningoff and positioning within specialized labor markets.
Geographers such as Allen Scott and Dominic Power also began to study cultural industries such as music, fashion, film, as well as other newer high tech creative industries. They again found distinct patterns of clustering in particular cities and locales within them related to social institutions, knowledge transfer, and interfirm connections. Geographers working with ‘cultural economy’, such as Louise Crewe and Wendy Larner, have pointed to the persistence of particular locales with value adding, culturally ingrained associations between place and activity embedded in historical trajectories and traditions. These associations give the areas and the firms within them particular cultural and political advantages and confirm that cultural features of place matter to economic subjects – consumers, investors, and workers (particularly, the highly skilled whose particular qualities, in the language of classical economics, generate economic rents). Where investors are also consumers and highly skilled workers become investors in spinoffs, these cultural features become instrumental in geographies of competitiveness. Although criticized for a narrow focus on ‘sexy’ industries and for decentering investment processes, these writers have directed attention to consumption and identity formation in circuits of capital.
In the policy language of the creative city inspired in part by Florida, these ideas are in turn linked to the notion of cultural vitality as a place based resource. New ideas are emerging about competitive cities and the ‘creative industries’. Although understating the significance of particular urban fabric and wider economic structures in generating these cultural hot spots, the creative city thesis adds new complexity to the ideas of competitiveness.
Social Networks Facilitating ‘Global Shifts’
Not all the stories of successful regions fall neatly into either the ‘global shift’ narrative or the largely European, new regionalism narrative. Regional success stories in the Asia Pacific have focused attention on cultural institutions and the way that these lubricate the transnational networks of exchange configuring commodity circuits. Anna Lee Saxenian’s work on the new Argonauts and transnational business relations within social networks between Taiwan and the USA and Henry Yeung’s later work on business networks within East Asia point to the way that cultural and social institutions become articulated to global production networks. In so doing, they give certain regions and economic agents competitive advantages, and/or facilitate arrangements not captured by established theories of competitiveness. This work has tracked the operation of circuits of capital (investment, trade, and commonly labor relations and flows) within diasporic communities framed by family and other culturally mediated relationships. Saxenian and Yeung are quick to distance their work from culturally essentialist accounts of ‘guanxi’ capitalism and simplistic notions of a cultural competitive advantage. Rather, they offer other bridges between ‘global shift’ narratives and the new regionalism that also connects with the work of historical economic geographers such as Gordon Winder who highlight global networks (often family centered) prior to the ‘global shifts’ of the mid late twentieth century.
While stopping short of understanding these networks as co constituted and emergent assemblages in post-structural terms, this body of work takes the literature forward in at least three directions. It directs attention to business networks and to the interplay of cultural and economic relations in their establishment. There are different ways to generate competitive advantages through business organization that are shadowed in ‘global shift’. Cultural knowledge, institutions, and experiences are differentially endowed assets (individual and collective), and agents extract competitive advantages by organizing their business to exploit them and their spatialities. The organizational charts of TNCs appear aspatial by contrast. Second, it reminds us that social institutions are always important, but need to be explored in articulation to circuits of capital that stretch beyond particular regions, product complexes, and cultural framings. With Indian diasporic communities now mobilized, the world is being influenced by another round of ‘global shifts’ that are built upon and seek to realize family and other cultural ‘who you know’ and ‘how you know’ advantages with geographical roots. Finally, the work confirms that old understandings of periphery and center have crumbled amid the emergence of Argonauts, TNCs, diaspora strategies, NICs, and the like.
Learning and the Sociality of Competitiveness
The new regionalism directed attention away from input costs (including labor) to the social organization (families and social networks) of circuits of production and the porous boundaries of the firm. Initial interest in cultural factors and the operation of social institutions in lubricating and organizing investment and production has given way to harder and more specific interests in innovation, learning, and knowledge transfer. The harder, commonly quantitative, edge of new regionalism sought to unpack in more mainstream economic language the competitive advantage afforded by social institutions, or what Gertler has called the ‘undefinable tacitness of being (there)’. This literature asks how exactly institutional thickness translates into competitive advantages, and how these effects might be measured. Efforts to produce typologies of trust shifted to concerns with thickness of economic exchanges, knowledge dissemination, local labor market movements, and necessary conditions for start ups. More recently and more relationally, concerns have shifted to questions of learning, tacit knowledge, and the value of face to face meetings – increasingly theorized as ‘buzz’.
Much of this work has been conducted in new, socalled knowledge intensive industries in ‘learning regions’ or innovative milieux. The literature has placed knowledge, its production, and its exchange at the center of competitiveness. It has gone beyond identifying knowledge asymmetries as a source of competitive advantage, to emphasize that knowledge is experiential, cognitive, temporary, contingent, and contextual, and therefore to some extent tacit and borne of social context. If the interest is in the spatialty of that advantage, it must lie in how tacit knowledge becomes produced, appropriated, valued, and shared. The literature points out that this has much to do with social context, proximity (material, virtual, and social), social and localized professional institutions, and social learning processes. These processes exhibit a powerful spatiality, but one that need not be simply territorialized or scaled. Rather, it is coconstituted in and with communities of practice which may have complex spatialities.
Political Economy and Political Agency
In all these narratives, competitiveness is at some level political. Geographies of competitiveness are constituted by and constitutive of political spaces. Economic activity takes place in political space and is in turn highly policied, while investment decisions have both political origins and consequences. Competitiveness owes much to struggles around the labor relation and increasingly the politics of environmental resourcing. States (national and local) alter competitive potential. Development agencies foster local, city, regional, and national competitiveness, while other agencies build social and physical infrastructure. Taxation, labor, welfare, education, cultural, and other policies mediate the constitution of social institutions and economic identities; while all manner of other agents and authorities from industry associations to trades unions, environmental groups, and indigenous peoples seek to advance all manner of political projects, either through state agencies or more directly. Geographers studying economic activities at all scales routinely consider competitiveness within political economy approaches.
Much recent economic geography has centered on a critique of neoliberalizing globalization. In the initial or ‘roll back’ phase of neoliberalism, to use Peck and Tickell’s terms, governments removed the subsidies, employment policies, price controls, welfare regimes, and cultural policies that configured the competitiveness regimes of Fordism and related social and spatial compacts. Marxian economic geographers traced the changing spatial divisions of labor of ‘global shift’ to the interplay of the political and the economic in the collapse of the Fordist space economy under the weight of its own contradictions and the ideology of neoliberalism. Neoliberal reformists saw competition as naturally and ideally perfect and space as naturally and ideally neutral. They claimed to be returning the game of capitalism to its natural state – a level playing field on which the most competitive win. In practice and in addition to dismantling welfare regimes, this meant marketizing flows of resources, money, labor, and goods, opening access to cheaper labor in less regulated conditions, and allowing certain fractions of capital greater control over the circuits of capital. Economic geographers, politically hostile toward, and intellectually critical of, such moves, dismissed notions of level playing fields and pointed instead to how neoliberal policy altered the conditions of competitiveness, and redistributed advantage across social groups and space.
Since the late 1990s, economic geographers have examined efforts to rebuild economic institutions at national, regional, and supranational scales, particularly in Europe where the European Union has refashioned regulatory space. Drawing on civic boosterism, the new regionalism, and competition state agendas, national and regional governments across the European Union, localities in the United States, cities in Australia and Pacific East Asia, and national states such as Finland, Singapore, India, and New Zealand, have launched programs to foster innovative milieux, learning regions, national systems of innovation, hubs, clusters, nation brands, diasporic investment communities, and creative cities. Tax breaks on research and development, the sponsorship of scientific research, innovation seminars and tours by celebrity academics, industry level market development assistance, immigration policies, and even income support schemes for workers have been deployed to build competitive knowledge economies. In this ‘roll out’ neoliberalism, states are deploying what Larner and colleagues have called ‘after neoliberal’ political projects to enhance competitiveness in a new race to facilitate run in parallel to the race to the bottom initiated by neoliberalism. These races frame Thrift’s ideas about a defining double moment of capitalist exploitation in which, alongside primitive accumulation strategies, managers are seeking to extract new value from the psychophysical powers of certain privileged human bodies by speeding up the rate of innovation.
While connected by the materialities of ‘global shifts’, traveling rationalities, and what Thrift and Olds label ‘cultural circuits of capital’, neoliberal programs of both ‘roll back’ and ‘roll out’ varieties have definitive geographies. They have taken different forms at different times and in different places, harnessed to different political projects and experiences of restructuring. In an edited volume by geographers confronting this diversity, England and Ward highlight again the discursive significance of competitiveness. Circulating among business people, government agencies, and experts of various types, commonsense understandings can background questions of efficiency, productivity, and profitability. The multiple actors in such circulations make decisions targeting pools of value that do not necessarily derive from micro calculations of profitability. Despite the globalization of capital, they may have particular temporal horizons, emerge from particular historical trajectories, or be subject to myriad political, cultural, or economic contingencies. Richard Le Heron and Wendy Larner have in response called for a post structural political economy in which assemblages of economic activity are seen to be politically, culturally, and economically coconstituted and to transcend prior territorial and analytical framings. Such approaches would signal a more open, partial, relational, and situated understanding of competitiveness, and a greater sensitivity to the temporality, contingencies, and social constitution of the frames through which we imagine and study it.
With this in mind, not all economic geographers have approached ideas of competitiveness from the direction of the conventional economy. Some have worked on various relocalizations of agro food chains such as farmers’ markets, fair trade movements, and organic or slow foods. These works demonstrate particular, localized, and normatively constructed notions of competitiveness, which can look very different to both the ‘global shift’ and ‘Third Italy’ conceptions. Others, such as Andrew Leyshon, have identified alternative conceptions of competitiveness in localized systems of exchange and the persistence of face–face transactions in facilitating capitalist exchanges. Gibson Graham point to the emergence of alternative community economies in Australian settings and remind us of the long history of work on informal or shadowed activities in development contexts in the Global South.
This work focuses on exchanges in localized and marginalized settings, organized in conventions beyond dominant economic models and neoliberal ideologies – albeit in settings articulated to the global capitalist space economy. Authors use the term ‘alternative’ to make visible forms of exchange that are often marginalized by the dominant circuits of global production networks and supermarkets/chain stores. They also highlight the sociality of exchange, and different ethics of economic practices, thereby challenging dominant capitalist practices and the regulatory order that argues there to be no alternative. They demonstrate that alternatives are possible and desirable. Further, as Gibson Graham argue, there are multiple capitalisms. Big ‘C’ capitalist practices are heterogeneous, ethically bound, and challengeable. By shifting attention away from workplace struggles around the employment relation to marginalized socioeconomic settings, the work on diverse economies highlights again the political performance of discourses about competitiveness. It challenges the hegemony of ‘competitiveness’ as the assumed universal basis of decisionmaking, and challenges economic geographers to think instead of viability and resilience.
Relational Geographies of Competitiveness
To conclude, three observations are made on the narratives outlined above. First, they suggest an uneven stumbling toward more relational understandings of competitiveness across economic geography. This movement is co constituted with a shift away from the study of manufacturing location in the industrial world to other industrial and postindustrial fields, and to more complex and open circuits of capital in a greater range of geographical settings. These shifts are in turn built on and from a collapse of positivist fundamentalism and a heightened sensitivity to the particular and ‘messy’ actualities of competitiveness and decisions made around investment. They also reflect an ongoing critique of the economic geographies written and actualized via policy or pivotal investment actors. Institutions, such as the World Economic Forum’s World Competitiveness Report and International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) global benchmarking project, or Standard and Poor’s ratings, continue not just to practice and facilitate in business studies an older style economic geography of competitiveness, but to actualize it by inscribing it into globalization policy and related circuits of capital. Economic geographers must continue to engage with competitiveness in many guises.
There is messiness in all of this, however, a promise of more methodologically diverse study of the constitution of each of the moments, sites, and agents of economy. The focus on buzz and learning, for example, is associated with geographers working in quantitative methodological traditions, but seems to me to encompass post structural aspirations and epistemology. It seems to necessitate analysis of the co constitutive relations among actors, institutional structures, material resources, spatio economic imaginaries, and processes of change. The ‘buzz’ literature takes up the challenge of identifying meaningful objects to study. It suggests an opening up of the political economy of competitiveness to both tighter case study analyses of actual investment decisions and more imaginative understandings of the relational spaces of competitiveness. At the same time, the application of the ‘ecology’ metaphor to particular configurations of actors and activities promises a new relational approach to competitiveness that recognizes more fully the challenges for the reproduction of competitiveness posed by economic exchanges with the environment.
Second, the term ‘competitiveness’ continues to be deployed politically, whether in ‘roll back’, ‘race to the bottom’ policies associated with free trade agreements or in ‘roll out’ or ‘after neoliberal’ projects seeking to build clusters of competitiveness at different scales. The spatiality of competitiveness remains prominent in the formation of national, regional, and city development in ‘roll out’ ism. This is particularly apparent in the economic nationalism of development states such as New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, and Thailand, the learning region policies of larger, advanced industrial nations, the knowledge strategies of Singapore, Dubai, and Bangalore, and creative city projects across the industrial world.
Third, the opportunity to connect new relational understandings of competitiveness to new relational understandings of the production of space and scale may invigorate in Gibson Graham’s terms a post capitalist politics of possibility. Such a politics may re imagine connections and help to establish new articulations between capitalist economies and the diverse alternative economies that are being imagined on the ground by communities in both the Global North and South. Destabilizing notions of competitiveness in this way might be accompanied by companion projects that examine the co constitution of wealth and consumption and labor and environment. Investigating such possibilities might reinvigorate a politics of economic geography eviscerated by neoliberalism. It might allow economic geographers, for example, to relate their critiques of cluster, creative city, or social capital development programs to conceptions of alternatives. That is, while the initial challenge is to recapture alternative understandings of competitiveness from the imagined singularities of global capital, the greater challenge is to identify conditions of possibility for reproducing small economic enterprises, families, and communities.