The Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography
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The Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography

Edited by Ron Boschma and Ron Martin

This wide-ranging Handbook is the first major compilation of the theoretical and empirical research that is forging the new and exciting paradigm of evolutionary economic geography.
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Chapter 3: The Place of Path Dependence in an Evolutionary Perspective on the Economic Landscape

Ron Martin and Peter Sunley


1 Ron Martin and Peter Sunley 1. Introduction: creating space for history in economic geography – the new focus on path dependence Since the notion of path dependence entered the economics lexicon in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly through the work of Paul David on the economic history of technology (David, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1994), and that of Brian Arthur on nonlinear, self-reinforcing economic processes (Arthur, 1988, 1989, 1994a, 1994b, 1994c, 1994d), it has assumed prominence as an evolutionary concept not only in economics itself, but also across a wide range of social, organisational, technological and managerial sciences.2 Some even see the concept of path dependence as a major building block of a new interpretative or epistemological paradigm. Economic geography has also been swept up in this wave of ‘path dependence thinking’. A number of leading theorists in the subject have argued that path dependence is one of the fundamental features of the economic landscape. For example, according to Richard Walker: One of the most exciting ideas in contemporary economic geography is that industrial history is literally embodied in the present. That is, choices made in the past – technologies embodied in machinery and product design, firm assets gained as patents or specific competencies, or labour skills acquired through learning – influence subsequent choices of method, designs, and practices. This is usually called ‘path dependence’ . . . It does not mean a rigid sequence determined by technology and the past, but a road map in which an established direction leads more...

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