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2018 RSA Global Conference in China Plenary Speakers

Regional Governance, Industrial Restructuring and Sustainable Development

Reconsidering Smart Specialization Policy

Professor Ron Boschma, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Boschma has been a Full Professor in Regional Economics at the Department of Human Geography and Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, University of Utrecht, the Netherlands since 2005. Since 2017, he has also been Professor at the UiS Business School of Stavanger University, Norway. Between 2013-2017, he was also the Full Professor of Innovation Studies at Lund University, Sweden, and between 2013-2015, he was the Director of the Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE), Lund University. Professor Boschma was a member of the Research, Innovation and Science Experts (RISE) High-Level Advisory Body to European Commissioner Carlos Moedas during 2015-2016. Professor Boschma has published works in several international journals, on topics as varied as evolutionary economic geography, the spatial evolution of industries, geography of innovation, structure and evolution of spatial networks, agglomeration externalities and regional growth, and regional diversification.

Plenary Presentation: Reconsidering Smart Specialization Policy

ABSTRACT: Smart specialization has become a hallmark of the EU’s Cohesion Policy. The goal of smart specialization is not to make the economic structure of regions more specialized, but instead to leverage existing strengths, to identify hidden opportunities, and to generate novel platforms upon which regions can build competitive advantage in high value-added activities. Smart specialization emanated from the idea that regions across the EU have different economic and institutional structures that shape possibilities for their future development. The result was a clear denunciation of the top-down ‘one size fits all’ policy. Smart specialization aims on building competitive advantage in research domains and sectors where regions possess strengths and leveraging those capabilities through diversification into related activities. However, the operationalization of smart specialization has been heavily criticized, as a ‘perfect example of policy running ahead of theory’ (Foray et al., 2011), lacking ‘evidence base’ (Morgan 2015; Unterlass et al., 2015), and building on ‘anecdotal evidence rather than the application of theoretically grounded methodologies’ (Iacobucci and Guzzini, 2016; Santoalha, 2016). To tackle the weak theoretical and empirical underpinning of smart specialization policy, I discuss a number of policy implications that build on the empirical literature on regional diversification. It will address, among other things, the following questions: can we identify opportunities for regions to move into new, promising and more complex activities, and if so how, what types of institutions are needed to enable such a transformation process, what role policymakers and other local stakeholders (as highlighted in the entrepreneurial discovery process) can play to enable that process, how can such a policy framework contribute to sustainability goals, and how can such a policy framework address disparities between and within regions in Europe.

Geographies of Creative Destruction

Professor David Rigby, UCLA, USA

David Rigby (Ph.D., McMaster, 1988) is a Professor with research interests in evolutionary economic geography, geographies of innovation and knowledge flow, technological change and regional economic growth. Dr. Rigby teaches classes on geographies of technological change and economic growth and on globalization.

Plenary Presentation: Geographies of Creative Destruction

ABSTRACT: U.S. patent data spanning the years 1836 to 2016 are used to explore geographies of creative destruction across U.S. metropolitan areas. The growth and the decline of cities are linked to the size and the structure of the knowledge stocks that they hold. These knowledge stocks evolve through the birth and death of ideas. We trace knowledge demographics, mapping the spatial and temporal distribution of patents located in different technology (sub-)classes. The introduction of new ideas is shown to reweight the value of existing technologies, driving some of them from the market. These dynamics operate unevenly over space. Cities that are fonts of technological novelty are able to lock-in new forms of knowledge and dominate emerging trajectories of growth. The degree of such lock-in is positively related to the complexity of new technologies.


Dr. Julie Tian Miao, University of Glasgow, UK

Julie Miao is a Lecturer in Urban Planning and Development at Glasgow University, and Glasgow-Nankai Postgraduate School in China. Her research interests are knowledge economy, innovation policy and knowledge-based city/regional development. Especially she is interested in knowledge spaces, such as science parks, innovation centre and incubators, and their effect on cities’ competitiveness. Previously (2013-2017), Julie worked as the Student and Early Career Representative for the RSA.

Territory, Politics, Governance Annual Lecture: Climate Change Politics and the Urban Contexts of Messy Governmentalities

Professor Vanesa Castan Broto, University of Sheffield UK

Vanesa joined the Urban Institute in September 2017, following her appointment as a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences. She has an interdisciplinary background in natural resources engineering and environmental sociology, having completed postgraduate degrees in Spain (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid) and the Netherlands (Wageningen University), and an engineering doctorate in the UK (University of Surrey). Prior to joining the Urban Institute Vanesa was a lecturer and then senior lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, in UCL (2011-2017) and a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Geography in Durham University (2009-2011). Her research has been funded by the British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, ESRC, EPSRC and the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 2016 she received the Philip Leverhulme Prize for contributions to Geography. In 2013 she received a United Nations Award for Lighthouse Activities that contribute to fight climate change with a focus on the urban poor.

Plenary Presentation: Climate Change Politics and the Urban Contexts of Messy Governmentalities

ABSTRACT: It is now a commonplace that cities and urban areas are at the centre of climate change agendas. The arguments around climate change and cities risk becoming increasingly circular. The scholarly literature is riding a wave of urban optimism. Such wave follows a moment of ‘discovery’ of cities as new sites for climate change action (Hughes, Chu, et al. 2018). This assumption downplays the historical development of the relationship between local action and global environmental policy. Thus, scholarly research tends to concentrate in global cities or exemplary initiatives. Such exemplars are repeated again and again in the climate change governance literature until they become simplified models of climate change governance (Hodson and Marvin, 2009).

The empirical evidence suggests that action and research are needed elsewhere. Population forecasts suggest that 60% of the urban growth until 2030 will take place in cities under a million inhabitants. Rapid urban growth rates in medium and small cities concentrates in certain areas of East, Central and West Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia. From Kandahar in Afganistan to San Pedro in Côte d’Ivoire, from Nampula in Mozambique to Hosur in India these are examples of cities that rarely feature in debates about the delivery of low carbon cities. These are all cities that are undergoing profound transformations and have immense demands for infrastructure. These are sites where climate change action is urgent.

Part of the invisibility of these ‘ordinary’ urban areas in climate policy relates to the theoretical approaches to study urban climate change governance. Robinson’s (2006) defense of ordinary cities was also an argument against urban theory’s focus on the experiences of global, wealthy cities which are perceived to be leading innovators in contrast to an indistinct mass of ordinary, underdeveloped cities. This is precisely what is currently happening in studies of climate change governance in urban areas. We lack both empirical evidence of the dynamics of climate change governance in ‘ordinary cities’ as much as suitable means to reimagine and challenge the dominant governance theorizations in climate change politics.

Foucault’s governmentality theory has contributed innovative ideas to the understanding of the urban climate change governance. In the context of climate change governance, governmentalities are the rationalities that facilitate ‘the art of government,’ a set of techniques to order climate change action and foster alignment between different actors (Bulkeley, Castán Broto, et al. 2014). Bulkeley (2015) builds an analysis of climate change ‘governmentalities’ on the redefinition of power as relational; that is, as emerging from the coordination and negotiation of actors whereby power is consented. The rise of climate change governmentalities is central to understanding the configuration of the international climate regime in the post-Copenhagen context (Bäckstrand and Lövbrand 2016). However, what happens when the notion of governmentality is re-examined in these ‘ordinary contexts’ of urban governance? Is there space for a notion of messy governmentalities that reflects upon the encounter between contemporary understandings of governance and the realities of infrastructure development in rapidly growing cities? The focus in this paper is to rethink governmentalities in messy contexts of governance. In particular, this approach challenges existing conceptualizations of climate change governance in urban areas including notions of ‘exemplars’ and ‘scaling-up best practices.’ The aim is to find alternative points of entry for a discussion that starts from the experience within ordinary cities and the analysis of actual possibilities within it.


Professor Chen Wen, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

More details to follow.

The Restructuring of Old Industrial Areas in East Asia

Professor Robert Hassink, Kiel University, Germany

Robert Hassink is Professor of Economic Geography at Kiel University in Germany and Visiting Professor in the School of Geography, Politics & Sociology at Newcastle University, UK. After receiving his PhD in 1992 from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, he has worked at several research institutes and universities in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and South Korea. Over the years he has published widely on theories and paradigms in economic geography, regional innovation policies, industrial restructuring, cluster evolution, creative industries and regional economic development in Western Europe and East Asia, particularly South Korea. Since December 2016, he is on the editorial board of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and from 2006 until 2011 he was editor of the Critical Surveys Section of the journal Regional Studies.

Plenary Presentation: The restructuring of old industrial areas in East Asia

ABSTRACT: The shift of manufacturing industry from Japan, the first industrializing nation in East Asia, to neighboring South Korea and China saw the emergence of restructuring problems and policies in traditional industries and regional economies depending on them. Based on a literature review on this topic in East Asia, this plenary presentation draws three conclusions. First, the resource endowments of the three countries differ greatly and consequently also the magnitude of restructuring problems. Second, governments in all three countries strongly affect restructuring processes, albeit with different policies and at different spatial scales. Third, although many studies have a strongly applied, policy-oriented character, recent research, particularly in China, has started to use evolutionary theories and to engage with debates of mainstream economic geography.


Dr. Cassandra C. Wang, Zhejiang University, China

Dr. Cassandra C. Wang is Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, Zhejiang University. She received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010; MA from Eastern China NormalUniversity, Shanghai, China, 2005; BSc from Central ChinaNormal University, Wuhan, China, 2002. Her research interests include the growth and upgrading of China’s ICT industry, industrial clusters, innovation and regional development in China as well as knowledge search and learning in both high-tech and low-tech industries etc.

Policy Mobility, Late-development Advantage and Politics of Scale: the Globalizing strategies of Small Inland Cities

Dr. Shenjing He, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Dr. Shenjing He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at The University of Hong Kong. Shenjing’s research interests focus on urban redevelopment/gentrification, policy mobility, housing differentiation and socio-spatial inequality, informal housing, and health geography. She is the Chinese editor of Urban Studies, and sits on the editorial board of Journal of Urban Affairs, Geography Compass (urban), International Planning Studies, Area Development and Policy, and Asian Geographers. She is also the lead guest editor of several special issues for Environment and Planning A (2012), Urban Studies (2015), Eurasian Geography and Economics (2015), Urban Geography (2017), Journal of Urban Affairs (2018) and Geoforum (2018). Shenjing has published more than ninety journal articles and book chapters in both Chinese and English.  She is the co-author of “Urban Poverty in China” (Edward Elgar, 2010), co-editor of “Locating Right to the City in the Global South” (Routledge, 2013), “Urban living: Mobility, sociability, and wellbeing” (Springer, 2016), and “Changing China: Migration, Communities and Governance in Cities” (Routledge, 2017). Shenjing was listed by Elsevier as one of the most cited researchers in mainland China (social sciences) for four consecutive years (2015-2018).

Plenary Presentation: Policy Mobility, Late-development Advantage and Politics of Scale: the Globalizing strategies of Small Inland Cities

Financing China’s Urban and Regional Development

Professor Fulong Wu, University College London, UK

Fulong Wu is Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London. His research interests include urban development in China and its social and sustainable challenges. He has recently published a book, Planning for Growth: Urban and Regional Planning in China(2015, Routledge). He was awarded 2013 Outstanding International Impact Prize by UK ESRC. He has previously taught at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton.

Bartlett Professor of Planning is a position previously held by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Sir William Holford, Lord Richard Llewelyn-Davies, Sir Peter Hall and, most recently, Mike Batty FRS. Professor Wu’s prestigious appointment since 2011 presents the opportunity for the Bartlett School of Planning to redefine the planning discipline in global terms for a new generation.

Plenary Presentation: Financing China’s Urban and Regional Development

ABSTRACT: This paper reviews the transformation of China’s strategy for urban and regional development through the perspective of changing capital accumulation. Rethinking the so-called China model and its land finance, which heavily depends upon land sales as a source of local public finance, this paper tries to understand how two explanations: land finance and the circuits of surplus capital are two sides of the same coin. From the notion of ‘state entrepreneurialism’ which is in essence based on planning centrality and market instruments, this paper reveals how recent financialisation of urban development is intrinsically triggered by the fiscal stimulus to cope with the global financial crisis in 2008. The concrete channels and operations are examined.

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