Sami Moisio is Professor of Spatial Planning and Politics in the Department of Geosciences and Geography, and in the Institute of Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland. His research interests include political geographies of Europeanization, politics of spatial planning, geopolitics of post-Fordism, state spatial transformation, and urban political geographies.
The term geopolitics is not often associated with the term knowledge-based economy. Yet, the air is full of political articulation and scholarly argumentation concerning how we are currently living in an era marked by the prominence of knowledge in all societal, economic and cultural developments, as well as pronouncements about the knowledge-intensive form of capitalism as an important subtext for inter-state relations and inter-spatial competition. Since the early 1990s, a narrative on the shift from natural resource-based national economies towards the so called knowledge-based or post-Fordist economies has thus gradually become pervasive and nearly dominant in the OECD-sphere, and partly beyond. This narrative has gained strength after the global economic turmoil that became evident in 2008. As a result, technopoles, clusters, creative cities, start-up cities, smart cities, learning regions, innovation centres, happy cities, innovation ecosystems, to name but a few, have been tirelessly debated in policy-making and examined in urban and regional studies as if they were a set of ahistorical “geoeconomic” unfoldings of teleological processes of capitalist “development”.
The fact that these spaces have not been treated as historically contingent geopolitical expressions of mastering space, or strategic spaces that are constitutive of the seemingly knowledge-intensive form of the capitalist economy, reveals the highly economistic and de-geopolitized nature of the contemporary context.
In my recent book Geopolitics of the Knowledge-based Economy, I excavate the interconnections between the purportedly knowledge-intensive form of capitalist economy and geopolitics from the late 1980s onwards. I argue that since the 1990s the knowledge-based economy took an increasingly geopolitical form and that particular hub and flow imaginaries of the world began to increasingly characterize policy-making at various scales.
I argue in my book that the contemporary geopolitical condition is characterized by two processes and related imaginaries. The first is centered on issues of territorial power and the associated purportedly old fashioned territorial power plays which take their motivation from military strategy, natural resources and territorially rooted identity politics. The second is structured around hub and flow imaginaries concerned with the state and world that seem to make state territory and military conquest increasingly obsolete. This latter process and related imaginaries touch less on natural resources and military calculation and conquest but also contain a significant amount of territorial politics: territories of wealth, power and belonging are produced also in these processes and imaginaries. The nodes and hubs of the global networks are thus constantly territorialized in political action.
In other words, inter-state territorial contestation and the purportedly liberal and spatially relational world of knowledge-intensive capitalism are not mutually exclusive but rather parallel developments that together constitute the contemporary geopolitical condition.
The fact that the knowledge-based economy has become an idea fixe in political debates within the past two decades does not give proof of its value as a scholarly concept. One may actually argue that the knowledge-based economy is a somewhat popular and hollow policy term and that the competition state, neoliberalism, global capitalism, financialization, information capitalism, or the like would work better in a geopolitical analysis of the contemporary political-economic condition.
My solution to this conceptual issue has been to think with the concept of knowledge-based economization. I thus shift attention from the economy towards the political and spatial constitution of societal forms without which the actual economic processes of the knowledge-based economy would not exist: the economy is socially, spatially and politically produced.
The concept of knowledge-based economization refers to the construction of territories of wealth, power and belonging, and to the crafting of valuable subjects for the conceived needs of the knowledge-intensive forms of capitalism. It is for this reason why I examine in my book the university as a geopolitical site, as well as the growing role of cities and urban spaces in various political actors’ strategies as important spatial elements of the knowledge-intensive form of capitalist economy.
Since the 1990s, the geopolitical discourse of national competitiveness, and associated discourses of the increasingly urban-centered nature of such competitiveness, have been pervasive elements of knowledge-based economization. However, what I also try to do in the book is to highlight that the process of knowledge-based economization has shifted qualitatively since the early 1990s. It first emerged in the form of late-Keynesian technopolization, and was produced in the strategies of the “entrepreneurial state” – strategies and associated investment patters which have been insightfully examined by Mariana Mazzucato.
Since the late 1990s, knowledge-based economization has manifested itself in all sorts of imaginaries and practices that are predicated on the idea of “smartness”. After the global recession in 2008, knowledge-based economization has again proceeded through new forms. Its latest phase has become increasingly salient in the constitutive imaginaries of the so-called start-up economy. I am currently working with my colleague Ugo Rossi to demonstrate the ways in which the rise of the start-up economy is connected to state restructuring, and how current state restructuring denotes a qualitative shift from the entrepreneurial state á la Mazzucato towards what we conceptualize as a start-up state. The concept of the start-up state seeks to disclose some of the ways in which the capitalist societies are witnessing an expansion in the process of entrepreneurialization, and how the urbanization of the nation-state occurs in the production of new economic forms.
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