Friday, November 27, 2009

Do networks exclude heirarchies?

Now this post is about an article I don't understand. Recently Peter Taylor has published an article "Urban economics in thrall to Christaller: a misguided search for city hierarchies in external urban relations" Environment and Planning A 2009, volume 41, pages 2550 - 2555 which confuses me.

He opens with:

In my particular intellectual cocoon, I had imagined that the spatial organisation and structure of cities were now generally agreed, crudely, to be a combination of two sets of materialist mechanisms: agglomeration processes creating economic clusters within cities, and connectivity processes creating economic networks between cities. The former has been a very strong research area over recent decades, contrasting with the latter, external urban relations, which has been relatively neglected. By my way of thinking, the two sets of processes are intertwined and between them generate successful, vibrant cities. But, it seems, my cocoon is not particularly encompassing. And it is the focus on networks with their inherent mutuality (horizontal intercity relations) that appears to be far from widely accepted. For some urban scholars, intercity relations can only be understood as hierarchical.

But does a network perspective exclude a hierarchical perspective, are they only merely horizontal?

The article is primarily a critique of the mathematical work of Masahisa Fujita and Jacques-Francios Thisse's (2002) Economics of Agglomeration: Cities, Industrial Location, and Regional Growth (along with the wider work of Krugman) whose agenda is the development of a model city agglomeration and location. There work primarily focusses on central place theory within a nation.

But as Taylor says, Globalisation makes this task more difficult. 'As well as this geographical scalar challenge, their focus on a simple hierarchical spatial structure privileges interurban competitive relations, which means that the inherent subtleties of urban external relations cannot be reached through their urban economics research agenda. Once it is accepted that cities are both competitive and cooperative, then the question arises as to the circumstances in which one intercity relation dominates the other' (p2554).

Then returning to his theme Taylor finishes with 'Breaking free from this pedagogic power, the initial decision in trying to understand cities is whether they are considered to be primarily organised as markets, hierarchies, or networks' .

I don't claim to be an expert in central place theory but what I find interesting about this view of networks is that avoids the issue that even in networks you can have power and hierarchy. Toyata uses a network of suppliers that are co-dependent but Toyota is itself the primary hub - the coordinator and architect. Work on Global Production Networks indicates that in Electronics one company has to be the 'flagship' (Ernst) that takes the lead in design the complex architectiure of the product. Networks don't exclude power relationships they just map them differently.

Anyway I thought this was an interesting recent article that was relevant to the blog. There is probably some nuiance in this paper and as I wonder about it in the earlier work of Taylor that I am missing.

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