The Entrepreneurial City: Re-imaging Localities, Re-designing Economic Governance, or Re-structuring Capital?

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

‘The entrepreneurial city: re-imaging localities, redesigning economic governance, or restructuring capital?’, in N. Jewson and S. MacGregor, eds, Realising Cities: New Spatial Divisions and Social Transformation, London: Routledge, 28-41, 1997.

By: Bob Jessop[1]

 The principal forms, functions, and policy mechanisms of local and regional economic strategy in advanced western capitalist societies have undergone major changes during the last two decades. There have been major shifts in cities’ roles as subjects, sites, and stakes in economic restructuring and securing structural competitiveness. These shifts are reflected in increased interest in, and emphasis on, the ‘competition state’[2] at the national (and, at least in Europe, supranational) level and the ‘entrepreneurial city’ at both regional and local levels. The distinctive feature of ‘competition states’ and ‘entrepreneurial cities’ is their self-image as being proactive in promoting the competitiveness of their respective economic spaces in the face of intensified international (and also, for regions and cities, inter- and intra-regional) competition.[3] There is wide variety in understandings of the dynamics of such competition, sources of competitive advantage, and the most suitable strategies for securing such advantage. The timing and causes of these changes in understanding and policy also vary widely across nations, regions, and cities.

This chapter does not discuss specific cases.[4] Nor does it offer a much-needed typology of ‘entrepreneurial’ strategies or review their underlying views of competitiveness. Instead it examines four general aspects of recent changes affecting cities: a) the re-imaging of local economies and/or their states in and through discourses about the ‘entrepreneurial city’; b) the link between this re-imaging and re-design of urban governance mechanisms; c) the links between these twin changes and alleged trends towards globalization and triadization of the capitalist economy and the emerging primacy of geo-economics over geo-politics; and d) the general structural context in which these interconnected changes in cities’ overall economic role are occurring. Although my focus here is on their discursive aspects, these changes must also be related to material contradictions and tensions in existing forms of economic regulation and/or governance that help to sustain the resonance of the new discourses.[5] Moreover, although I note the seeming plausibility of these narratives, this does not mean that they are true (even if they are associated with ‘truth effects’) nor that changes in governance informed by them will be successful.


 My approach to the topics mentioned in the introduction is shaped by three main theoretical currents: the French regulation approach, neo-Gramscian state theory, and critical discourse analysis. I consider the economy in an inclusive sense, i.e., as an ensemble of socially embedded, socially regularized, and strategically selective[6] institutions, organizations, social forces, and activities organized around (or at least involved in) the self-valorization of capital in and through regulation. This approach has important implications for the analysis of competitiveness in so far as it shifts attention from comparative to competitive advantage and also radically extends the economic and extra-economic factors which are relevant to the latter. This in turn extends the scope for entrepreneurship as applied to cities as well as firms (cf. Benko and Lipietz 1994; Best 1990; Castells and Hall 1993; Porter 1994; Sabel 1989). The state is also considered ‘in its inclusive sense’ (or, as Gramsci also put it, ‘political society + civil society’). For present purposes it is considered as an ensemble of socially embedded, socially regularized, and strategically selective institutions, organizations, social forces, and activities involved in realizing the ‘collective will’ of an imagined political community.[7] Two key theoretical implications of this approach are the problematic boundaries of the state apparatus and the dependence of state power on forces beyond the state in the narrow sense. This suggests in turn that the political sphere can be seen as the domain where attempts are made to (re-)define a ‘collective will’ and to (re-)articulate various mechanisms and practices of government and governance in pursuit of projects deemed to serve it.

This chapter also emphasizes the constitutive role of discourse in all lived social relations. This has obvious implications for the re-imaging of economic spaces and local governance. Just as national states can be seen as but one specific form of imagined political community, so the ‘national economy’ is only one possible imagined space of economic activities. Accordingly, rather than seek objective criteria which identify the necessary boundaries of an economic space (on whatever territorial or functional scale), this issue is more fruitfully considered in terms of the imaginary constitution of the economy. This involves its discursive construction as a distinctive object (of analysis, regulation, governance, conquest, and/or other practices) with definite boundaries, economic and extra-economic conditions of existence, typical economic agents and extra-economic stakeholders, and an overall dynamic (cf. Barnes and Ledubur 1991; Daly 1993). Economies may be distinguished in different discourses for different purposes[8] and these discourses are always liable to contestation. Struggles to constitute specific economies as subjects, sites, and stakes of competition typically involve manipulation of power and knowledge in order to establish recognition of their boundaries and geometries.


A recent observation by Margaret Somers provides a useful entry point for making sense of changing urban and regional economic strategies from a discourse-analytic viewpoint. In a paper on ontological narrativity, she notes that

 it is through narrativity that we come to know, understand, and make sense of the social world, and it is through narratives and narrativity that we constitute our social identities. … all of us become to be who we are (however ephemeral, multiple, and changing) by being located or locating ourselves (usually unconsciously) in social narratives rarely of our own making.

(Somers 1994: 606; emphasis in original. Cf. White 1987)

From this perspective, the current consensus on the need for ‘entrepreneurial’ cities can be interpreted as a product of convergent public narratives about the nature of key economic and political changes affecting postwar Europe and North America — narratives which have been persuasively (but not necessarily intentionally) combined to consolidate a limited but widely accepted set of diagnoses and prescriptions for the economic and political difficulties now confronting nations, regions, and cities and their respective populations. Like all narratives, these have three key elements: (a) a selective appropriation of past events and forces; (b) a temporal sequence with a beginning, middle, and end; (c) and a relational emplotment of the events and forces and their connection to some overarching structure which permits some causal and moral lessons to be drawn (cf. Ewick and Silbey 1995: 200). Thus we find selective narrations of past events and forces which generate a distinctive account of current economic, social, and political problems — the resolution of which is now deemed to require decisive changes in the purposes, organization, and delivery of economic strategies focused on the urban and/or regional levels and infused with some kind of entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneurial city or region has been constructed through the intersection of diverse economic, political, and socio-cultural narratives which seek to give meaning to current problems by construing them in terms of past failures and future possibilities. These narratives are often connected with complementary discourses (both narrative and non-narrative in form) that are mobilized to contextualize these changes and reinforce calls for action. In sum, although the rise of the entrepreneurial city or region as subject, site, and stake in economic competitiveness was not pre-scripted in the overall dynamic of capitalism, nor has it been a pure accident or chance discovery. It has been constructed in and through public narratives.

The appeal of these narratives depends on their resonance with (and hence their capacity to re-interpret and mobilize) the personal (including shared) narratives of significant categories (or groups) of those who have been affected by the contingent development of the postwar economic and political order. For some, these personal narratives concern economic and social exclusion and experiences of unwanted market and/or state failures; others may have experienced unwonted economic and social success which they ascribe to their own entrepreneurial talents, risk-taking, flexibility, or self-improvement. Such experiences provide an important field of discursive intervention for ‘policy entrepreneurs’ in the private and public domains. The effectiveness of these public narratives in promoting governmentalizing or regularizing practices which support the ‘entrepreneurial’ city depends in turn on their links to wider cultural and institutional formations which, in Somers’s words, provide ‘a web of interlocution’ (1994: 614). In this context a central role is played by the discourses of the enterprise culture, enterprise society, innovative milieux, networks, strategic alliances, partnerships, governance, and so forth. And their overall plausibility depends on meta-narratives which reveal linkages between a wide range of interactions, organizations, and institutions and/or help to make sense of whole epochs (cf. Somers 1994: 619). The geo-economic meta-narratives of the crisis of Fordism and globalization-triadization have a key role here as do geo-political narratives about the end of the Cold War, communist collapse, and the economic threats to national survival from East Asia.

Given this linkage between meta-narratives and personal stories and their mediation by institutional narratives, the ‘entrepreneurial city’ has proved to be plausibly emplotted and is currently the dominant response to urban problems. Indeed, as Eisenschitz and Gough (1994) argue, there is a marked convergence among major political currents in Britain on endogenous local economic development initiatives. In this context it should be noted, of course, that such ‘bootstraps’ strategies need not be neo-liberal in form or content. For many alternatives have been proposed: besides property- or more general market-led initiatives dominated by business interests, we also find strategies which are more neo-corporatist, neo-statist, or even community-based in governance structure — albeit still more or less closely dependent for success on market forces. What these initiatives share is the entrepreneurial concern to create ‘new combinations’ of economic and/or extra-economic factors which will further urban and regional competitiveness.[9] Such ‘new combinations’ (or innovations) could aim to secure dynamic (or strong)[10] competitive advantages for a city (or region) or else to gain some static (or weak) comparative advantage. The former comprises economic, political, and social innovations intended to enhance productivity and other conditions of structural competitiveness;[11] the latter includes modifications in formal and substantive regulatory, facilitative, or supportive measures[12] aimed at capturing mobile investment (a deregulatory race to the bottom) as well as simple image-building measures with the same purpose (boosterism). Similar trends can be found elsewhere (e.g., Eisinger 1988; Ettlinger 1994; Fosler 1988; Gaffikin and Warf 1993; Harvey 1988; Hirsch et al., 1991; Keating 1993; Leitner 1989; Mayer 1994; Preteceille 1990; Przeworski 1986; Stewart and Stoker 1989; Stöhr 1989, 1990). The persuasiveness of this sort of entrepreneurial is closely linked in turn to the parallel discursive constitution of specific sites of economic activity as ‘natural’ (common-sensical, taken-for-granted) units of economic management, regulation, or governance. In the postwar boom years the tendency was for this site to be seen as the national economy; more recently views of ‘naturalness’ have bifurcated in the direction of the global and local economies — subsequently synthesized in some strategic contexts in the idea of ‘glocalization’.

The rise of the entrepreneurial city or region in the geo-economic space of Atlantic Fordism clearly depends on quite specific narrative accounts of the crisis of its postwar mode of economic growth and its social mode of economic regulation. The plausibility of these narratives depends in turn on their resonance with personal narratives rooted in experience and more general meta-narratives about the significance of long-run economic and political changes.  That these institutional and meta-narratives have such a powerful resonance at present does not mean, of course, that they should be taken at face value. All narratives are selective, appropriate some arguments, combine them in specific ways. It is important to consider what is left unstated or silent, what is repressed or suppressed in official discourse. Moreover, given that there are always various plausible narratives, one must also consider the differential capacities of their narrators to get their messages across and secure support for the specific lessons they entail. It is also important to consider how the plausibility of competing narratives is shaped by the structural biases and strategically selective operations of various public and private apparatuses of economic, political, and ideological domination. Public narratives do not compete for influence on an even playing field but are subject both to discursive and structural selectivities[13] as well as the need to establish some resonance with personal narratives. Such concerns take us well beyond a concern for narrativity, of course, into the many extra-discursive conditions of narrative appeal. A further set of important issues concerns the relevance of these various narratives to class, gender, and race; their implications for economic and social exclusion within cities and among regions; and their role in more general attempts to hegemonize public and private discourse in the interests of specific accumulation strategies or political projects. Unfortunately these issues cannot be addressed here (but see, for example, Bakshi et al., 1995; Beynon et al., 1989; Massey 1994; McDowell 1992; and Pollert 1991).


 narratives are constellations of relationships (connected parts) embedded in time and space, constituted by causal emplotment. … It is emplotment that permits us to distinguish between narrative on the one hand, and chronicle or annales, on the other. In fact, it is emplotment that allows us to construct a significant network or configuration of relationships.

Somers 1994: 616, 617

 The rise of the ‘entrepreneurial city’ has been variously emplotted. But two broad paradigms predominate: the geo-economic and geo-political — with the former, at least in this regard, being primary (cf. Altvater 1994; Luttwak 1990; Sum 1996).

Among the key themes in geo-economic meta-narratives are globalization and/or internationalization; the rise of new technologies; the crisis of the postwar mode of growth, its associated regional policies and growth pole strategies, and its characteristic mixed economy of welfare and social redistribution; the competitive threat posed by East Asian economies; and the increased salience of ecological problems whose scope does not coincide neatly with national boundaries. These economic, technological, and ecological factors are said both to have undermined the borders of the national state, thereby rendering it anachronistic, and to have exposed all national economies to greatly intensified global competition that is difficult to evade and thus exerts downward pressure on ‘unproductive’ public expenditure. The prime goals of postwar economic policy (full employment, stable prices, economic growth, and a sustainable balance of payments) can no longer be delivered in and through the national state. This in turn undermines the national state’s capacity to deliver redistributive social welfare and limit the degree of social exclusion. In this sense the postwar economic and political regime has failed and, if cities and regions are to escape the consequences of this failure, it is essential to modify economic strategies, economic institutions, modes of governance, and the form of state. These must be redesigned to prioritize ‘wealth creation’ in the face of international, inter-regional, and intra-regional competition since this is the prior condition of continued social redistribution and welfare. Such narratives lead, inter alia, to the discovery of the entrepreneurial city as a new phenomenon and its inevitabilization on practical, if not normative, grounds. In turn this forecloses discussion and debate over alternative ways of defining and resolving current problems.

Key geo-political themes bearing on the ‘competition state’ and ‘entrepreneurial city’ include the end of the Cold War, the approach of the Pacific Century, and the rise of so-called ‘tribal’ identities. The Soviet communist collapse and the end of the Cold War are said to have replaced the struggle between capitalism and communism as competing world systems by struggles between competing versions of capitalism. Thus competition between national states is redefined in favour of civilian economic and technological issues rather than military concerns; and security discourses are reoriented towards environmental risks, sustainable development, and control over transnational migration flows. This is reflected in the reorientation of foreign policy towards technological, economic, and ecological issues and the increased salience of foreign affairs in many fields of domestic policy. Such changes help to explain the rise of the ‘competition’ state at supranational (e.g., European) and national levels. Moreover, for reasons suggested in the dominant geo-economic narratives about the changing forms of competition and the importance of structural competitiveness, this discursive reorientation also requires a more active, supply-side oriented role for regional and local states. In this sense geo-political factors are also mobilized by the central state to promote entrepreneurial cities and regions as key contributory elements in securing the international competitiveness of national economies.  This is reinforced by reinvigorated ‘tribal’ identities which are oriented to regional rather than national identities. Furthermore, once the sovereign national state’s traditional role in defense is downgraded, many of its other functions may also be displaced to other political levels. In short, given these changes in geo-politics as well as the increased importance of geo-economics, the ‘region state’ (Ohmae 1991) and/or ‘transnational territory’ (Sassen 1994) are said to become more important for many purposes than the national state (cf. Horsman and Marshall 1994; Kennedy 1993; Luttwak 1990).


 On both geo-economic and geo-political grounds, the national state would seem, in Daniel Bell’s now classic aphorism, too small to solve the big problems, and too big to solve the small problems, in today’s world (Bell 1987). It is no longer so obviously the taken-for-granted primary actor in international or domestic politics. In turn this is prompting not only the expansion of supranational and subnational forms of government but also the search for new forms of governance able to overcome the problems linked to pure market or hierarchical, bureaucratic solutions. Experiments with new forms of economic governance for the new urban regimes are intelligible in this context.

Postwar forms of urban government are often ill-equipped for pursuit of the new entrepreneurialism and are increasingly interpreted as part of the problem of poor economic performance. This is reflected in continuing experiments to find new, more appropriate forms of articulation of regulation and governance in response to narratives which ascribe part of the blame for failure and crisis on previous models of urban politics and local economies. This can be illustrated from a recent paper by Fosler, an American local economic development adviser. He refers, as do many others, to the emerging local economic development paradigm which emphasizes the role of a reinvigorated, market-driven, private sector in securing economic growth in a Schumpeterian growth dynamic. But he also notes that this requires the development of institutions to shape and execute the state’s responsibilities in this regard. Thus he writes that:

 the new institutional capacities include a conceptual reorientation of the economic role of governance; the ability to generate and apply knowledge across a broad range of policy areas; fashioning new mechanisms and approaches to leadership and decision-making; redesigning systems and strategies for getting results; and creating more effective means of performance assessment and accountability.

(Fosler 1992: 4)

 He also notes that the range of these new state responsibilities cannot be satisfactorily handled within a single state agency: there needs to be a range of agencies. Nor can they be satisfactorily handled by the state alone. Instead the strategic reorientation of the state requires that (a) governance as an instrument of economic performance must combine a top-down, long-term strategic vision and bottom-up, market driven, performance-oriented action; and (b) a new generation of organizational intelligence and new mechanisms of organizational and agency coordination are developed with can display market features but also offer means of effective performance quality assessment and accountability. What is required, in short, is a strategy for institutional change (Fosler 1992: 9-13). These arguments illustrate the broad consensus which has emerged on the need for new institutional arrangements. But what precise forms of ‘re-inventing’ and/or restructuring local government are required to effect this change in governance is still unresolved (on re-inventing, see Osborne and Gaebler 1993). Some of the problems posed by the redesign of economic governance are considered in my concluding remarks.


 One way to interpret the rise of ‘entrepreneurial’ cities and regions is to relate it to other contemporary societal trends. Here it is certainly worth noting how this phenomenon corresponds to and reinforces other changes in the organization and exercise of economic and political power. As I have already indicated above some major geo-economic trends that help to contextualize ‘entrepreneurial’ cities and regions (see also Jessop 1993), the following comments focus on the broader political significance of the rise of such cities and regions.

The loss of taken-for-grantedness in the nature of the national economy and the national state is reflected in three often identified changes in the organization of the national state’s economic activities: (a) a shift from nationally-determined, locally relayed, welfare-oriented measures of economic and social redistribution to (supra-)nationally-facilitated, locally-determined, wide-ranging supply-side intervention in the local and regional economy in its most inclusive, socially embedded, socially regulated sense; (b) a shift in economic governance mechanisms from the typical postwar bifurcation of market and state to new forms of network-based forms of policy coordination which cross-cut previous ‘private-public’ boundaries and involve ‘key’ economic players from local and regional as well as national and, increasingly, international economies; and (c) an associated shift from an allegedly Fordist, Keynesian, welfarist policy paradigm to one stressing flexibility, innovation, and entrepreneurship. It is these changes in their combination at the local or regional level that are often condensed into the contested concept of the ‘entrepreneurial city’. I now consider them in more detail, noting their import for the changing nature of cities and regions.

First, there is a general trend towards de-nationalization of statehood. This structural trend is reflected empirically in the ‘hollowing out’ of the national state apparatus with old and new state capacities being reorganized territorially and functionally on subnational, national, supra-national, and trans-local levels. One aspect is the partial loss of de jure sovereignty by national states in certain respects as policy-making powers are transferred upwards to supranational bodies and their rules and decisions become binding on national states. This trend is especially clear in the European Union but is also visible under NAFTA and other intergovernmentally organized regional blocs. Another aspect is the decentralization of authority to subordinate levels of territorial organization and/or the development of transnational but interlocal policy-making.

Entrepreneurial cities or regions are significant in this context in two analytically distinct ways. On the one hand, there is the enhanced role of regional or local states in economic development and, on the other hand, the development of transnational linkages among regional or local authorities, involving what is sometimes called ‘paradiplomacy’ (Dommergues 1992) or ‘intermestic’ politics (Duchacek 1986). As the first aspect is amply covered elsewhere in the scholarly literature, I will focus on the second. Cities and regions now engage in their own forms of foreign economic policy in such diverse fields as industrial policy, research and development, technology transfer, market development, tourism development, labour markets, etc.. Such activities meet the Schumpeterian criterion of ‘entrepreneurial activity’ to the extent that they seek ‘new combinations’ to derive strong and/or weak competitive advantages. In Europe the authorities and agencies involved operate supranationally at the EU level as well as transnationally and often by-pass their national state when doing so, thereby reinforcing the tendency towards ‘hollowing out’. In seeking to strengthen their political influence in these regards they also aim to develop a critical mass of diverse agencies involved in economic decentralization at different administrative levels: the city, network of cities, administrative area, region, state, and the European Union level (cf. Dommergues 1992: 11-12). The European Commission itself has for some time been cultivating links with regional or local authorities as well as governance agencies to enhance its own power vis-à-vis national governments. It promotes the formation and consolidation of specific regions (including internal cross-border regions, ‘virtual regions’ based on similar interests rather than contiguity, and regions extending beyond the EU into Eastern and Central Europe) through its own direct interventions and its promotion of territorial and functional partnerships (cf. Murphy 1993; on virtual regions, see Boisier 1994). This can be seen in the ‘Europe of the Regions’ strategy in so far as the EC is currently allied with sub-national regions in identifying possible economic and political spaces for a new political settlement based on subsidiarity rather than sovereignty. Although the funds available for such EC-sponsored activities are small compared with national resources (let alone compared with the magnitude of the problems involved), they have a major symbolic import and wield significant political (if not economic) leverage (cf. Tömmel 1992).

Second, there is a general structural trend towards the de-statization of political regimes. This is reflected empirically in a shift from government to governance on various territorial scales and across various functional domains. Governments have always relied on other agencies, of course, to aid them in realizing state objectives or projecting state power beyond the formal state apparatus. At stake here is the reordering of the relationship between government and governance within the overall political system and, in conjunction with the first trend, major trans-territorial and international governance mechanisms at regional and local level. Thus this trend typically involves a movement away from the central role of official state apparatuses in securing state-sponsored economic and social projects and political hegemony towards an emphasis on partnerships between governmental, para-governmental, and non-governmental organizations in which the state apparatus are often little more than primus inter pares. Although this trend typically involves a loss of decisional and operational autonomy by state apparatuses (at whatever level), it can also enhance their capacity to project state power and achieve state objectives by mobilizing knowledge and power resources from influential non-governmental partners or stakeholders.

This trend is clear not only on the international and national level but also in the restructuring of regional or local governance. For example, local authorities in Britain are developing new initiatives for the promotion of endogenous economic development based on enhanced structural competitiveness at the same time as special purpose agencies have proliferated and there is growing separation between the commissioning and provision of local services (Clarke and Stewart 1994: 164-5). Likewise, turning from institutional arrangements to more substantive aspects of local politics, local states in Britain and elsewhere are becoming a partner, facilitator, and arbitrator in public-private consortia, growth coalitions, etc., and thereby losing their overall coordinating role for and on behalf of local community interests.

And, third, there is a general trend towards the internationalization of the national state and its sub-governments. This apparently paradoxical tendency refers to the increased strategic significance of the international context of domestic state action and the latter’s extension to a wide range of extra-territorial or transnational factors and processes. It involves a change, in short, in the overall balance of the state’s strategic orientations. This is reflected in economic and social policy, for example, in so far as the prime object of economic and social intervention by the national state has changed from the well-balanced domestic performance of the ‘national economy’ to its overall ‘international competitiveness’ understood in very broad terms. This can be seen in the tendential shift from the Keynesian welfare concerns of postwar European national states to less state-centred Schumpeterian workfare concerns in an emerging ‘post-national’ political regime. These concerns are reflected in diverse policies to promote permanent innovation, an enterprise culture, and labour market flexibility as well as to subordinate social policy more generally to the perceived imperatives of international competition. Neo-liberalism is, to repeat, only one empirical manifestation of this trend.

Whilst this trend is very clear in the transformation of the national state, it also applies to local states. For these, too, must take account of the changing international context of their economic activities. Inter alia this is reflected in the attempt to combine endogenous economic development with inward investment as well as to engage in export promotion and/or import substitution activities in a continually changing international economy. In addition, of course, intra- as well as international rivalries are involved in the inter-local competition for inward investment, reskilling, etc..


Clearly, in seeking to contextualize the re-imaging of the city and the redesign of urban governance, I have already begun to prepare an alternative (but not wholly dissimilar) narrative. The present section builds on this to provide a more general account of the discursive rise of the entrepreneurial city in two ways. The first involves expanding the account of the crisis of the national economy and national state; the second involves considering the possible competitive advantages of new forms of economic strategy and/or economic governance to the resolution of this crisis in the interests of capital. There is no obvious stopping point in regard to the first exercise and my expanded account is still far from complete. And the second exercise requires more detailed discussion of the limits of these strategies and governance mechanisms (and hence a discussion of possible causes of their subsequent fall) than can be given here. In both respects, therefore, the following comments must be seen as initial steps towards a research agenda rather than final conclusions.

Although most national economies have long been organized around major urban economies[14] and also integrated into pluri-national productive systems (such as colonial systems or Atlantic Fordism), the various urban and pluri-national economies associated with Atlantic Fordism were primarily managed in and through the national state. Thus, as objects of political management, the complex field of economic relations was handled as if it were divided into a series of relatively closed national economies. Urban and regional policy was primarily redistributive in character, pursued in a top-down manner, and concerned to equalize economic and social conditions within such national economies (cf. Chisholm 1990; Stöhr 1989). Likewise, international economic policy was oriented to cooperation to underwrite the smooth operation of national economies. In this sense the typical postwar national Keynesian welfare state can be distinguished from preceding state forms, such as the mercantilist, liberal constitutional, or imperialist state; and also from emerging state forms oriented to the management of recently rediscovered or newly formed regional economies on various sub- and supranational scales, including localized cross-border linkages. Thus the postwar national economy and its associated national state emerged as a specific historical moment in the changing dynamic of economic ‘reproduction-régulation’. It would be very interesting in another context to explore the narrative constitution of this state form.

With the continued internationalization of Atlantic Fordist economies and the emergence of East Asian economies, however, it became harder to achieve the national economic objectives of the postwar Keynesian national welfare state. Efforts were initially made to secure these objectives through resort to planning and/or corporatist concertation of national economies as well as to increased central and local government intervention in managing crisis-induced uneven economic development in various cities and regions within a national economic context. The general tendency for these policies to fail further undermined the taken-for-grantedness of the national economy as an object of economic management and heightened the resonance of new narratives of international competitiveness, economic flexibility, entrepreneurialism, and decentralized forms of governance. This tendential shift was reinforced in so far as regional and local economies were increasingly seen to have their own specific problems which could be resolved neither through national macro-economic policies nor through uniformly imposed meso- or micro-economic policies. This indicated the need for new measures to restructure capital in regard to these newly significant economic spaces. This prompted demands in turn for specifically tailored and targeted urban and regional policies to be implemented from below, with or without national or supranational sponsorship or facilitation. Another major phenomenon accompanying the economic crisis of Atlantic Fordism was the emergence of new social movements with strong roots in crisis-prone cities. These movements also helped, often unwittingly, to create the conditions for the emergence of the ‘entrepreneurial’ city or region. Thus, in some cases, the preferred means to roll back the state has been active sponsorship of the so-called ‘third sector’ (located between market and state) alongside other forms of decentralized public-private partnerships; in others, the central state has simply passed the buck to local government by requiring localities to solve their own problems by involving as many different local stakeholders and partners as possible.

It is this increasing pluralization that helps to explain the recent growth in experiments with different forms of governance in ‘entrepreneurial’ cities and regions. In broad terms governance can be defined in contradistinction to both the market and the state as a form of coordination involving the self-organization of inter-organizational relations. The most general case for this shift away from pure market exchange and government hierarchy can be couched in terms of the evolutionary advantage[15] of the self-organizing logic of inter-organizational relations where a plurality of interdependent but autonomous organizations, each controlling important resources, need to coordinate their actions to produce a joint outcome which is deemed mutually beneficial. The complex problems of economic regeneration in a turbulent environment mean that market solutions and formal, rational-legal solutions are deemed inadequate. In this sense the current expansion of networks at the expense of markets and hierarchies and of governance at the expense of government is not just a pendular swing in some regular succession of dominant modes of policy-making. Instead there has been a shift in the institutional centre of gravity (or ‘institutional attractor’) around which policy cycles operate due to real qualitative shifts in the basic problems which current regularizing or governmentalizing policies must address. For, given the major transition from Fordism to post-Fordism (linked additionally to new technologies, internationalization, and regionalization), there is increased importance attached to micro-level governance and the supply-side. Analogous trends are prompted by the crisis of the national state — with a proliferation of cross-border and multi-tier problems which can no longer be contained or controlled by individual national states nor resolved in and through neo-realist anarchy.


 The theoretical approach adopted here involves two related claims: first, there is a close link between economic strategies and economic discourses since it is only in and through the latter’s mediation that problems are identified, policies pursued, and crises resolved; and, second, an essential element of the regularization of economic activities within a given accumulation regime is an effective mode of meta-governance, i.e., a specific articulation of government and governance mechanisms able to (re-)regularize functional and territorial aspects of the imagined economy in question. Both  claims concern the restructuring of capital as well as the redesign of urban regimes. It is in this context, I suggest, that we can begin to make sense of the twin facts that (a) the city is being re-imagined — or re-imaged — as an economic, political, and cultural entity which must seek to undertake entrepreneurial activities to enhance its competitiveness; and that (b) this re-imag(in)ing is closely linked to the redesign of governance mechanisms involving the city — especially through new forms of public-private partnership and networks. This is evident in the wide range of self-presentational material emitted by cities and/or agencies involved in their governance. Rather than being competing accounts of what is happening in the contemporary city, therefore, the redesign of governance appears as an integral part of the re-imaging of the city as well as of the restructuring of capital. This also implies that the failure of such redesigned forms of governance has adverse consequences for the image of the ‘entrepreneurial city’ and its continued ability to compete in the ‘global market place’. In this regard it is important to note that, following the narrative of market failures used to justify the Keynesian welfare state and the narrative of state failures used to justify the revival and extension of governance, one can begin to see the emergence of problems of governance failure. For many current proposals intended to create and consolidate ‘entrepreneurial’ cities and regions lack the governance mechanisms needed to permit their effective implementation. Too often their main (if not sole) material existence takes such forms as consultants’ reports, outline proposals, non-binding agreements, glossy brochures, more or less regular conferences, meetings, or seminars, cultural exchanges, data bases, and information centres. In other cases there has been a proliferation of small-scale partnerships with limited coordination, insufficient resources, and, often, conflicting goals. There is greater emphasis on civic boosterism and deregulatory place-marketing than on public-private partnerships seriously oriented to structural competitiveness in a post-Fordist age and able to consolidate the socially-embedded, socially regulated conditions for dynamic competitive advantage. It is in this context that the issue of variant forms of capitalism (and their associated forms of governance) is returning to haunt the neo-liberal approach to regional and local economic development in Britain.


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[1] The present paper arises from an ESRC research project on local governance, grant number L311253032. It has benefitted from discussions with colleagues and students at Lancaster University; and with participants in the ESRC programme on local governance. The usual disclaimers apply.

[2] A term introduced by Cerny (1990).

[3] Elsewhere I describe this shift as the transition from the Keynesian welfare to the Schumpeterian workfare state (Jessop 1993, 1994). I refer here to ‘entrepreneurial cities’ because this term has entered lay accounts and is more readily related to narrative and discursive questions.

[4] Editorial constraints prevent inclusion here of case material on Britain. Results from my ESRC-sponsored research on the Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester will be published elsewhere.

[5]  I have attempted this elsewhere (Jessop 1993, 1995).

[6] In a regulationist context, strategic selectivity refers to the differential impact of the core structural (including spatio-temporal) features of a labour process, an accumulation regime, or a mode of regulation on the relative capacity of particular forces organized in particular ways to successfully pursue a specific economic strategy over a given time horizon and economic space, acting alone or in combination with other forces and in the face of competition, rivalry, or opposition from yet other forces. Cf. on the state, Jessop, 1990: 260 and passim.

[7] Anderson (1991) regards nations as ‘imagined’ communities; states, regions, cities, etc., are likewise ‘imagined’ entities.

[8] For example, there are marked differences between positive and negative place marketing, depending whether the aim is to attract inward private investment or mobilize public funds for urban regeneration.

[9] Entrepreneurship, according to Schumpeter, an emblematic thinker for contemporary capitalism, involves ‘new combinations’ to create new business opportunities.

[10]  Here I draw on Cox’s distinction between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ competition: the former refers to potentially positive-sum attempts to improve the structural competitiveness of a region through innovation, the latter to essentially zero-sum attempts to secure the re-allocation of existing resources at the expense of other regions. Whereas weak competition is socially disembedding, strong competition involves the territorialization of economic activity (cf. Cox 1995: 218).

[11]  For a discussion of the concept of structural competitiveness and its dimensions, see Jessop et al., 1993.

[12]  These terms are defined in Jessop 1982: 245-255.

[13] On discursive selectivity, see Hay 1996; on structural selectivity, see Jessop 1990.

[14] See especially Jacobs (1984).

[15] This evolutionary advantage should be understood in Schumpeterian terms: the capacity to innovate and learn in a changing environment.

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