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2019 RSA Annual Conference Special Sessions

2019 Annual Conference Special Sessions – Pushing Regions beyond their Borders

The organisers encourage joining special sessions, themed workshops and innovative forms of networking and collaboration. As part of the 2019 Annual Conference, participants can submit their abstracts to Special Sessions listed below. Special Sessions are a great way to bring together presenters to discuss and highlight a particular topic and to develop or further extend your network.

There are two types of Special Sessions:

Open Special Session – the session organiser proposes the topic and provides a short description/ call for submissions. Delegates can submit their abstract for this session when they register for the conference. Closed Session – the session organiser proposes the complete session including all speakers. Other delegates may not submit their abstracts for this session.

Both sessions are open to all delegates to attend as an audience member.


SS1. The Social and Spatial Dynamics of Regional Energy Transitions

Session Organiser(s) Camilla Chlebna, Meike Löhr, Jannika Mattes and Sebastian Rohe, University of Oldenburg, Germany

Energy transitions are a complex phenomenon. They require the radical reorganisation of a multitude of actors and their interactions as well as the adaptation and change of seemingly stable institutional arrangements. This process unfolds in co-evolution with the emergence and diffusion of novel technologies.

Social dynamics are fundamental to energy transitions but still only partly understood: How and through which activities do actors influence the transition process, how do they interact with institutions, which networks emerge and to what extent do (pre-existing) institutional frameworks condition the transition dynamics? Which actor groups, constellations and activities drive the change process? What are the essential social mechanisms of energy transitions and how do they change over time?

Such a comprehensive reconfiguration of the socio-technical system occurs nested in a particular spatial logic we suggest considering in more detail. It is widely accepted that small-scale regions and localities do play a decisive role for energy transitions and their decentralised production and consumption logics. This necessitates a multi-scalar perspective which gives way to multiple research questions: How do energy transitions in particular locations relate to each other? How are they part of and influenced by national, European and global processes? How can this multi-scalar view be related to dynamic transition concepts such as the Multi-Level Perspective and Technological Innovation Systems, or to other suitable concepts for describing change dynamics (e.g. Strategic Action Fields, gradual institutional change)?

The session organisers invite contributions that draw on these two core dimensions, the social and/or the spatial, to elucidate regional energy transitions. We welcome both empirical and conceptual papers.

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 28th February 2019.

Please do not hesitate to contact Camilla Chlebna ( for more information about this session.

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SS2. Digital Technology: Regions, Business and Policy

Session Organiser(s) Max Munday and Dylan Henderson, Cardiff University, UK

Regions, businesses and individuals are experiencing the consequences of the rapid digitalisation of the economy and society. This transition is characterised by the deployment of digital networks and rapid adoption of digital technologies such as smart phones, cloud computing, artificial intelligence etc. Yet while the contours of these trends have begun to be explored by economic geographers, the spatial implications of digitalisation remain contested. This is reflected in tension between the enabling role of digital technologies for peripheral regions to engage in the global economy, and the tendency for digital infrastructure to be ‘thickest’ in core, urban areas.

National and regional policy makers have been active in facilitating the growth of digitalisation, and mitigating potential negative impacts, such as digital divides. This has seen support for the roll-out of broadband, entrepreneurship and innovation in the digital sector, and take-up and use of digital technologies by firms in the wider economy, related to digital promotion and e-commerce. In many regions these policies reflect complex multi-level dynamics, and are informed by a shared narrative of ensuring communities and regions are not left behind.

This Session invites contributions to literature in digital technologies, impacts and regional policies responses, including (but not limited to):

  • The spatial aspects of broadband roll-out and use in different regions
  • The social and economic impacts of broadband use in less developed regions
  • Differences in the diffusion of digital technologies across regions
  • Regional policies for broadband and digital technology use by SMEs
  • Evolutionary economic geography perspectives arising from digital technologies
  • How digital technology affects firm SME populations, formation and death rates
  • The role of digital technology in SME upgrade and foreign trade

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 28th February 2019.

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SS3. Disadvantaged Territories: From Oblivion to Renaissance. Implementing Territorial Strategies and Policies for Sustainable Development

Session Organiser(s)

  • Andrea De Toni, Università degli Studi del Molise, Campobasso, Italy (
  • Joan Noguera, Institute for Local Development, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain (
  • Paolo Di Martino, Università degli Studi del Molise, Campobasso, Italy (
  • Thomas Dax, Federal Institute for Less-Favoured and Mountainous Areas, Vienna, Austria (
  • Andrew Copus, The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom (

European and National strategies for regional development, and the associated academic discourse have in the past disproportionately focused on urban areas. More recently, however, both research and policy actors have shown increasing interest in disadvantaged territories (e.g. Cork 2.0 Declaration 2016[1], the World Bank Report 2018[2], EU H2020[3] and ESPON[4] calls, among others). These areas are mostly rural (Intermediate and Predominantly Rural in terms of the OECD classification) and they reveal several criticalities such as demographic decline (Shrinking rural regions[5], Gretter et al. 2017; Perlik et al. 2019), remoteness from centres (Brezzi, Dijkstra, & Ruiz, 2011) and lack of Services of General Interests (Inner Areas, Barca, Casavola, & Lucatelli, 2014), economic decline (Lagging Regions, Brown et al., 2017), natural handicap (Less Favoured areas, Dax, 2014) and social exclusion. In a more comprehensive approach all of these characteristics could be said to be forms of “peripheralization” processes (Inner Peripheries, Copus, Mantino, & Noguera, 2017). Territories affected by such development trends require concepts and policies to overcome these challenges and development limitations in order to engage in resilient pathways in a changing world. Such a shift could be enhanced by European (Cohesion and Rural Development) Policy and National funds support, particularly through place-based strategies fostering the Territorial Capital through e.g. networks building, relational proximity and cooperation development.

This Session encourages contributions aimed to analyse disadvantaged rural territories from a multi-scale, integrated or transboundary perspective, and to discuss their major criticalities and opportunities (e.g. in local development, creativity, innovation and growth, management of natural resources, etc.). This could be supported through the description of implemented or on-going development strategies, policies and territorial projects.


If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 28th February 2019.

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SS4. Distributive Politics and Regional Development

Session Organiser(s)

  • Xabier Gainza, University of the Basque Country, Spain
  • Felipe Livert, Alberto Hurtado University, Chile

Regional policy has traditionally been concerned with the allocation of public resources in the search for spatial equity or economic efficiency. However, in the recent past a burgeoning literature on distributive politics has documented how politicians use grants and transfers to secure their own electoral aims beyond equity and efficiency considerations. The underlying hypothesis is that politicians are motivated by their desire to retain office; hence, they will distribute public resources bearing in mind their electoral tactic. Some of the strategies displayed include supporting their co-partisan local strongholds, manipulating fiscal variables along the electoral cycle and over financing core or swing areas to back their results in the ballot.

This session welcomes theoretical and empirical contributions that address the effects of distributive politics on regional development. In the end, understanding the sources of arbitrariness in the allocation of resources is a key question for institutional performance, as long as it affects the fiscal capacity of localities and regions to develop their agenda.

Some research questions covered in this session include:

  •  How is distributive politics displayed in different social and institutional contexts?
  • Do political machines benefit core or swing constituencies?
  • How are incumbent politicians rewarded in the polls?
  • Does distributive politics benefit the central government or, conversely, is due to subnational governments’ capacity to put pressure on central policymaking?
  • Does decentralization and the local fiscal autonomy reduce the incentives for tactical distributions?
  • What are the territorial impacts? How is the equity/efficiency trade-off affected?
  • What institutional designs and regional policy responses can reduce the margin for electoral arbitrariness?

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 28th February 2019.

Please do not hesitate to contact Xabier Gainza ( for more information about this session.

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SS5. Cross-border Regions: Border Effect Impact of Persisting Legal Obstacles

Session Organiser

Ricardo Ferreira, European Commission – Directorate General Regional and Urban Policy, Belgium

Cross-border regions are territories in which the economic and social potential is hampered by the mere existence of a border. In spite of the implementation of the Single Market, in EU internal borders legal and administrative obstacles still prevent these regions from reaching their full potential. In a recent Communication – Boosting Growth and Cohesion in EU Border Regions (Com(2017)534) – the European Commission has highlighted the need to overcome such obstacles: if only 20% of the existing obstacles were removed, border regions would still gain 2% in GDP (…) with potential for over 1 million jobs”

In this Communication the Commission has also stated the need to building evidence of cross-border interaction to inform decision-making: “Collecting data and evidence on border obstacles is the first necessary step towards resolving them but only limited resources are invested in collecting and analysing information on border difficulties and complexities

Such border effect is illustrated in economic literature. However, its causes, implications and the impacts of Cohesion Policy in reducing such negative impact are not so thoroughly discussed. As such, in the framework of the Border Focal Point activities, following upon the Communication, the present session aims at promoting economic debate about cross-border legal and administrative obstacles and their impact on cross-border regions.

In this line, measuring and researching on cross-border interactions becomes also essential. Having a deep understanding of cross-border flows (in all domains) and to what extend these differ from similar flows in non-border regions, becomes essential to overcome the impact of existing obstacles.

The session invites for contributions in this field, namely including (but not limited to):

  • Identification of cross-border legal and administrative obstacles;
  • Quantification of obstacles’ impact on economic and social development of cross-border regions;
  • Modelling and estimating cross-border flows and assessing how they are hampered by the border;
  • Methodologies and practical applications of border effect estimations;
  • Assessing the root-causes of border effects and potential policy responses;
  • Impacts of Cohesion Policy on reduction of border effects.

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 28th February 2019.

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