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The Handbook of Service Industries

Edited by John R. Bryson and Peter W. Daniels

Service activities are now acknowledged as key players in economic development, societal change and public policy worldwide. This exciting Handbook not only contributes to ongoing conceptual debates about the nature of service-led economies and societies; it also pushes back the frontiers of current critical thinking about the role of service activities in urban and regional development and the important research agendas that remain to be addressed.
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Chapter 20: Embodied Information, Actor Networks and Global Value-Added Services

Barney Warf


Barney Warf Introduction The purpose of this chapter is to link analyses of globalized services, long dominated by empiricist and neoclassical economic understandings, to insights drawn from contemporary social theory and political economy, particularly actor-network theory. The analysis of services has often been overly sterile, reluctant to engage in questions of power, politics and social relations. Conjoining services and political economy allows for the effective integration of diverse topics under a broad, systematic line of inquiry in line with Harvey’s (2001) call for a holistic social science capable of synthesizing diverse aspects of global capitalism in a critical manner rather than offering an endless series of disconnected ‘hypotheses’. By invoking several strands of contemporary critical theory, this chapter attempts to demonstrate that the global service economy linked by telecommunications is not some teleological necessity, but the contingent outcome of actors situated in networks. This chapter takes as its point of departure the question of how and why some forms of service production are concentrated in a small handful of locales while other services freely roam the globe, creating a constantly changing kaleidoscope of new locales. High value-added services, using skilled labor and tacit forms of knowledge, are highly agglomerated in the world’s global cities. Such functions tend to be deeply embedded territorially and thus the competitive advantages of established centers are difficult to reproduce. In contrast, relatively low value-added service functions, such as back offices, call centers and offshore banks, are increasingly dispersed to the...

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