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Path dependence and regional economic evolution

Ronald Martin and Peter Sunley

Journal of Economic Geography, 2006, vol. 6, issue 4, 395-437

Abstract: In recent years, economic geographers have seized on the concepts of 'path dependence' and 'lock-in' as key ingredients in constructing an evolutionary approach to their subject. However, they have tended to invoke these notions without proper examination of the ongoing discussion and debate devoted to them within evolutionary economics and elsewhere. Our aim in this paper, therefore, is, first, to highlight some of the unresolved issues that surround these concepts, and, second, to explore their usefulness for understanding the evolution of the economic landscape and the process of regional development. We argue that in many important aspects, path dependence and 'lock-in' are place-dependent processes, and as such require geographical explanation. However, the precise meaning of regional 'lock-in', we contend, is unclear, and little is known about why it is that some regional economies become locked into development paths that lose dynamism, whilst other regional economies seem able to avoid this danger and in effect are able to 'reinvent' themselves through successive new paths or phases of development. The issue of regional path creation is thus equally important, but has been rarely discussed. We conclude that whilst path dependence is an important feature of the economic landscape, the concept requires further elaboration if it is to function as a core notion in an evolutionary economic geography. Copyright 2006, Oxford University Press.

Date: 2006
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