Regional Science, Political Economy, and the Environment *

By Prudham, W. Scott | Canadian Journal of Regional Science, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Regional Science, Political Economy, and the Environment *


Prudham, W. Scott, Canadian Journal of Regional Science


Environmental change of unprecedented scale, scope and pace challenge the capacity of social inquiry to understand these changes and to inform responses. Regional differentiation of physical and biological environments, along with persistent differentiation in the space economy suggest the need for a regional approach. Regional science is well suited in some ways, yet placement of the politics and economics of environmental change at the forefront, and analysis of the broader social context in which economic production is undertaken--both necessary--are not the hallmarks of regional science as it has developed to date. Thus, I argue in this paper for a political economy approach to regional science and the environment, characterised by a commitment to both historical and geographical contextualism. In particular, I develop three analytical themes: (i) the importance of politics in the study of human-environment relations; (ii) the relationship between material processes of social and environmental change on one hand, and the social construction of nature and environment on the other; and (iii) issues of method. At the end of the paper, I suggest one possible application of these ideas in examining contemporary reconfigurations of environmental and natural resource policies against the backdrop of regulatory restructuring more generally using Regulation Theory. Although I offer political economy as a theoretical starting point, my goal is not to dismiss competing approaches, nor to advocate theoretical rigidity. Rather, I see this as a fruitful strategy for regional scientists to draw on existing strengths in the regional science community, and at the same time to more productively tackle the pressing issues that contemporary environmental change and its politics present.

Le changement environnemental d'une ampleur, d'une envergure et d'une taille sans precedents pose des defis a la capacite de la recherche en sciences sociales de les comprendre et de contribuer aux reponses. La differentiation des milieux physique et biophysique, de meme que la differentiation persistante de l'economie spatiale, souligne le besoin d'une approche regionale. Les sciences regionales sont de plusieurs points de vue bien placee pour le faire, mais mettre en avant les dimensions politique et economique du changement environnemental, et l'analyse du contexte general social dans lequel la production economique est poursuivi--toutes les deux necessaires--ne sont pas des caracteristiques marquantes des sciences regionales telles qu'elles ont evolue jusqu'a nos jours. Donc, je propose dans cet article une approche d'economie politique aux sciences regionales et l'environnement, caracterisee par un engagement a la fois aux contextes historique et geographique. En particulier, je developpe trois themes analytiques: (i) l'importance de la politique dans l'etude des relations societe-environnement ; (ii) le rapport entre d'une part les processus materiaux de changement social et environnemental, et d'autre part, la construction sociale de la nature et de l'environnement; et (iii) des questions de methodes. Pour terminer, je suggere une application possible de ces idees pour l'examen de la reconfiguration contemporaine des politiques environnementales et de la richesse naturelle dans le contexte de la restructuration de la regulation de facon plus generale en utilisant la theorie de la regulation. Bien que je propose l'economie politique comme un point de depart theorique, mon but n'est pas d'ecarter des approches alternatives, ni de proposer une rigidite theorique. Au contraire, je le vois comme une strategie productive pour que les specialistes en sciences regionales puissent se baser sur les forces existantes dans la communaute de sciences regionales, et en meme temps, aborder de facon plus efficace les enjeux urgents presentes par le changement environnement actuel et les politiques qui l'entourent. …

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