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 4: Complexity Thinking and Evolutionary Economic Geography

Ron Martin and Peter Sunley


Ron Martin and Peter Sunley 1. Evolutionary economic geography: in search of conceptual foundations Over the past few years the outline of a new evolutionary paradigm has begun to take shape in economic geography (see, for example, Bathelt and Boggs, 2003; Boschma and Frenken, 2003, 2006; Boschma and Lambooy, 1999; Essletzbichler and Rigby, 2004; Hassink, 2005; Lambooy and Boschma, 2001; Martin and Sunley, 2006; Rigby and Essletzbichler, 1997). Although this paradigm is still in its infancy, certain concepts and approaches have already assumed a prominent role in geographic-evolutionary interpretations of the economic landscape. In particular, most of the work towards the construction of an evolutionary economic geography has drawn on a particular version of evolutionary economics, which blends Nelson and Winter’s (1984) evolutionary theory of the firm with neo-Darwinian (evolutionary biology) analogies and metaphors (especially variety, selection, novelty and inheritance).1 Without doubt, the neo-Darwinian approach has been a highly influential perspective within evolutionary economics, and it is therefore not surprising that it has served as a major source of inspiration for evolutionary economic geographers. But the neo-Darwinian framework is not the only possible one. Nor indeed, is evolutionary biology necessarily the most appropriate source of concepts, analogies and metaphors (Chattoe, 2006; Wimmer, 2006). In fact, there is debate within evolutionary economics itself about drawing on Darwinian concepts and the ideas of evolutionary biology.2 And this is not a new debate. On the one side, for example, Alfred Marshall once famously concluded that ‘the Mecca of the economist lies in...

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