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Theorizing practice in economic geography: Foundations, challenges, and possibilities

Jones, A. & Murphy, J. T. (2011). Theorizing practice in economic geography: Foundations, challenges, and possibilities. Progress in Human Geography, 35(3), pp. 366-392. doi: 10.1177/0309132510375585


Over the last decade or so there has been an identifiable shift in the interests of many economic geographers towards a concern with practices: stabilized, routinized, or improvised social actions that constitute and reproduce economic space, and through and within which socioeconomic actors and communities embed knowledge, organize production activities, and interpret and derive meaning from the world. Although this shift has gained significant momentum its general theoretical significance remains somewhat unclear and the concept is vulnerable to criticisms that it is incoherent, too ‘micro-scale’ in emphasis, unable to provide valid links between everyday practices and higher-order phenomena (eg, institutions, class structures), and that, in some cases, it lacks a sound political economy. This paper argues that while it undoubtedly has limitations, the practice-oriented shift represents an ongoing development of a longstanding and heterodox field of social scientific interest from both within and beyond the subdiscipline. We first highlight the diverse strands of economic geography scholarship that have an explicit interest in practices and then propose an epistemological and methodological framework for a practice-oriented economic geography. The framework is based on the polemical argument that insight from both critical realist and actor-network perspectives can provide the basis to better demarcate practices in relation to their social and spatiotemporal dimensions. It goes on to outline a reformulated retroductive methodology to assess the impacts and theoretical significance of particular economic-geographical practices. The paper concludes that practice offers a potentially powerful, yet complementary, epistemological tool that can create conceptual space for the study of a wide range of socioeconomic and geographical phenomena.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: actor-network theory, critical realism, economic geography, epistemology, methodology, practice
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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