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Ron Martin and Peter Sunley

In our turbulent and uncertain economic age, it is not hard to understand the appeal of resilience, a term invoked to describe how an entity or system responds to shocks and disturbances. Although the concept has been used for some time in ecology and psychology, it is now invoked in diverse contexts, both as a perceived (and typically positive) attribute of an object, entity or system and, more normatively, as a desired feature that should somehow be promoted or fostered. The notion of resilience has rapidly become part of the conceptual and analytical lexicon of regional and local economic studies: there is increasing interest in the resilience of regional, local and urban economies. Further, resilience is having a discernible impact on policy thinking: a new imperative of ‘constructing’ or ‘building’ regional and urban economic resilience is gaining currency. However, despite its popularity and influence, our understanding of the concept in economic geography still requires development. There is still considerable ambiguity about what, precisely, is meant by the notion of regional economic resilience, about how it should be conceptualized and measured, what its determinants are, and how it links to patterns of long-run regional growth. The aims of this chapter are to show how the meanings and explanation of regional economic resilience have changed and evolved, and evaluate the progress and limits of these debates. We thereby aim to outline the directions of a research agenda.

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Ron Martin and Peter Sunley

As is often the case with new ideas, both the notion of ‘regional competitiveness’ and regional economic ‘resilience’ have found currency among those interested in policy. Alongside the competitiveness concept, resilience has emerged as an imperative ‘whose time has come’ in policy debates around localities, cities and regions, propelling a new discourse of ‘constructing’ or ‘building’ regional and urban economic resilience. Indices of local and regional resilience have been compiled, akin to those for competitiveness. This chapter explores the issues that need to be meaningfully addressed before the concepts of local and regional resilience can be used in a productive manner within policy agendas and practices. Firstly there is a need for a clear definition, conceptualization and understanding of precisely what it is that the concept is trying to foster. In particular, there is as yet no theory of regional economic resilience, and relatively little discussion of how the notion relates to concepts such as regional competitiveness. Also, there is the issue of what determines the resilience of a regional or local economy: what is it that makes a local economy more or less resilient? Given these and other concerns, some economic geographers have questioned the applicability and relevance of the concept in regional and urban settings, and queried whether it adds anything new to our existing theoretical and explanatory schemas. These are all issues that need discussion and resolution before we can talk meaningfully about ‘building’ local and regional resilience.

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Ron Martin and Peter Sunley