3 Mar 2017



Sabine Dörry (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) and University of Oxford, UK)

Report on the Membership Research Grant (MeRSA) funded research project “The role of the state in building sustainable financial centres: Comparing London, Luxembourg and Singapore”
 
 
Introduction
This research is financially supported by an MeRSA Research Grant. It aims at systematising, conceptualising, and better comprehending the State and its role(s) as a key actor in building the financial centre of the future. Two factors informed this research project: 1) International financial centres (IFCs) as key ‘production sites’ of financial capitalism, and, 2) the State’s entrepreneurial actions to shape these production sites, especially, when finance is a key national industry. This project explores three case studies: Luxembourg, London, and Singapore.More profoundly, this research addresses the lack of a coherent discussion on the dynamics of and in financial centres more generally. Researchers have precious little understanding of how one of the world’s key industrial sectors alters spatio- and socio-financial patterns. Hence, this research takes a step back to understand some particular social fabrics of finance production.
Background
Literature on cluster economies and spatial innovation systems assigns a range of crucial roles to States’ attempts to boost a cluster’s international competitiveness and to create enabling environments for economic activity. Conventional scholarship explores the State’s role in developing and sustaining its key economic sectors. States typically accomplish this through funding innovation, designing appropriate regulations and development policies, among other things. Like manufacturing, or technological clusters, IFCs are clusters of highly particular characteristics. Yet, they pose a number of challenges to the conventional cluster understanding. The paradox between value and wealth creation is, perhaps, the most significant:
  • Many financial activities, capital market and brokerage services of the investment banking, hardly create value but accumulate financial wealth.
  • If credit creation – which is at the heart of investment banking – employs principles of economically futile yet profitable intermediation and leverage, and if this kind of credit growth fuels financial bubbles and destabilises the global financial system, a State’s intention to pursue regional development based on the finance sectors’ income – as in Luxembourg’s, London’s, and Singapore’s financial centres – justifies more in-depth scrutiny.
  • Further, using the appropriate conceptual framework, this research also suggests to explore points of political intervention distinct for finance clusters.

Yet, how, then, can we make sense of the empirical results that not least reflect these three IFCs’ distinct histories? This project introduces a novel approach to classify, decompose and conceptualise the socio-economic relationships between key financial and state actors. Geographers labelled such relationships (the dark side of) ‘strategic coupling’. Yet, this concept lacks the necessary analytical detail to capture and explain the underlying social processes in wealth-creating finance, which inevitably de-/stabilises also the spatial composition of financial clusters. We therefore probe the sociologically informed approach of strategic action fields (SAFs) and specifically focus on the power relationship revolving around finance-related state policies between a number of (competing) state authorities and financial actors, on which, in turn, regional development in and through finance hinges.

Method

So what are the State’s strategies in this perceived trade-off between promoting its financial industry to secure regional income and enforcing tight rules to protect consumers, while fearing to lose out on financial gains to global competitors? We employed an explorative research design and information from 13 interviews with representatives of the state, regulatory bodies, and the financial industries’ associations in Luxembourg (3), London (5) and Singapore (5) in addition to reviewing secondary sources, such as the grey literature, reports and work documents. Three major lines of inquiry regarding the state’s role/s informed the project’s initial research direction: 1) What is the state’s vision for its financial centre/s? 2) How does the state engage in regional institution building for financial economies? 3) To what extent does the state promote Schumpeterian entrepreneurial processes in finance?

Preliminary Findings

Only some key findings are discussed in the following. We started with the assumption that successful economic policies require a state’s strong vision/strategy regarding its finance sector. Singapore, specialised on the asset management industry, fundamentally altered its strategy and policies in this particular financial industry echoing the world’s changing institutional landscapes over the past years. Luxembourg, to the contrary, had been manoeuvring without vision and formal strategy for decades, which suggests the government’s long-standing lack in self-confidence towards a powerful international finance industry, on which Luxembourg’s economy has been depending so heavily. Initial findings suggest that there are significant changes underway in both places:
  • A massive, and quiet process of professionalisation of its key financial institutions helped Luxembourg to join the ranks of the world’s leading IFCs and to strive for attracting more sophisticated tasks in a Brexit-related financial environment in Europe.
  • One of Luxembourg’s successes can be clearly attributed to its innovative regulatory framing, which now contains a unique mix of common law and civil law elements. In contrast to London and Singapore who have always enjoyed the ‘advantages’ of a more financial innovation-oriented corporate common law.
  • A final emergent trend is for strategists to position the IFC of the future is the promotion of FinTech (the ‘disruptive’ force technology enters finance). London set a pioneering agenda that was later adopted – and profoundly adapted – by both Luxembourg and Singapore. Singapore’s set of economic policies in support of this new growth area, however, goes furthest by far compared to the policies and funding in London and Luxembourg.

Conclusion

Before concluding, we shall address an important research note here. The proposed research project had thoroughly assessed potential empirical obstacles for the three case studies. Yet, it failed to anticipate the Brexit-related shake-ups in London after June, 23, 2016. The event impacted heavily on a second round of scheduled interviews in the week following the Brexit-vote. A number of interviewees cancelled on shortest notice due to new job priorities; some of UK’s key finance bodies restructured instantly, which made some of our key informants redundant and inaccessible for an interview.

To sum up, although the effects of financial capitalism, financialisation, and financial crises (with the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses) are fiercely debated in social sciences, financial centres as the vital production sites of global finance remain little analysed and understood. IFCs will continue to exist and actively shape both global finance and related regional development. The purpose of this research has hence been to examine the (changing) roles and strategies of the state as a central actor in shaping the financial centre of the future. This research puts IFCs back on the regional studies research agenda, illustrates how a comparative approach can strengthen the conceptualisation of IFCs, and augments contentious debates in financial geography. Subsequently, we hope to address more profoundly how ‘sustainability’ can be incorporated in this ambitious IFC-focussed research programme.

1 Mar 2017



Michael Dunford, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Weidong Liu, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Qing Ren, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
ADP Editorial Team
 
ADP session at the International Geographical Congress (IGU)

Just as 1945 and the early 1980s were important turning points in global development so too is the present. These changes raise major challenges for scholarly research and for policy and politics. The objects of research and the research traditions of the recent past need to be interrogated and re-assessed. New foci of research and new perspectives are required to address contemporary problems and issues.

Amongst these changes is the end of the United States and NATO dominated unipolar world system established after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Eastern Europe. This change is a result of the relative decline of developed countries on the one hand and the rise of emerging powers on the other. And these two trends are associated with movements in the direction of a multi-polar world system which recognizes that this world is one of many civilizations.

These trends in global development derive in part from the wave of globalization that dates from the middle of the 1970s. Another cause was the generalization of neo-liberal economic ideologies. Yet another was the drive in a unipolar world to extend western values and western political systems to all parts of the globe with colour revolutions and in some cases war. These steps undermined the principles of sovereignty and balance of power that had underpinned the post-World War Two international order on the one hand and marginalised other voices on the other.

As Lakner and Milanovic’s ‘Elephant Chart’ suggests, the winners from this phase of development comprised two groups whose incomes grew strongly from 1988 to 2008. The first was the upper, middle and lower middle income citizens of emerging economies (China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia). The second was the super-rich who mainly reside in what CitiGroup in 2005 called plutonomies (developed countries defined by massive wealth and income inequalities) and offshore tax havens. The apparent losers were the world’s poorest mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and countries devastated by war on the one hand (around the lowest percentiles) and the working and lower middle classes in rich countries (North America, Western Europe, Oceania, Japan) who were around the 80th percentile. The causes were of course not just economic globalization: domestic deregulation, tax cuts, automation, an inability to create sufficient new stable, well-paid jobs, new technologies, economic migrants and refugees all played a role.


The rise in income in some developing countries reflects the way in which first Japan, the four Asian Tigers, and other developing countries including in particular China, India and a number of other Asian economies successively managed to exploit the advantage of backwardness, finally spurring demand for mineral exports from Africa and elsewhere.

These countries that grew were all countries that did not pursue the neo-liberal agenda of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Washington Consensus countries in Latin America, Africa and some transition economies were increasingly subjected to capitalist market logic. Transnational capital was granted increasing global economic and political power, and decision making was increasingly permeated by multinational companies, transnational media organizations, investment banks, hedge funds, credit rating agencies, accountancy firms, management consultancies and international organizations controlled by western powers and promoting western values.

More recently, to the secular slowdown in western economic growth, and the economic crisis that had opened with the western financial crisis was added a political crisis reflecting deep social and political divisions in developed countries, a lack of secure and evenly distributed living standards and the deficiencies of the western political order and political establishment. 

The stagnation of high income countries has depressed international trade, while investment also declined. The weakness of demand contributed to slower growth of many emerging economies. Chinese growth on which world growth increasingly depended has also slowed in a world in which low growth and high levels of inequality dominate political agendas.

A response in some quarters is a move in the direction of de-globalization. Globalization did not just involve increased economic interdependence which is moreover not easily unravelled. Globalization also involved increased ecological, political and social interdependence. Today many people and many things from diseases to dollars to news and greenhouse gases can reach almost anywhere in the world. As a result what happens in one place affects others, what one person does affects others requiring an operating system in which obligations to others are examined and negotiated.

At a time therefore when the neo-liberal globalist agenda is under attack, other countries such as China are attempting to map out a new model of inclusive globalization that is capable of serving the needs of everyone, that benefits all countries and people, addresses inequality and poverty and manages global risks. China has suggested a morality/justice-interest (Yi and Li - 义and 利) concept of international relations, and has proposed a Silk Road Economic Belt, a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and a national Silk Road Fund. India’s 2014 Project Mausam aims to re-establish maritime communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world, while a North-South International Transport Corridor from India via Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia and Europe is under development.

Aimed at Eurasian integration China’s Belt and Road Initiative is driving infrastructure (roads, railways, ports, airports, telecommunications networks, pipelines, development zones and cities) and economic development diversifying trade routes and reducing dependence on the Straits of Malacca. The US$ 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connects relatively underdeveloped southern Xin Jiang and neighbouring landlocked countries in Central Asia along the Karakoram Highway through northern Gilgit-Baltistan to the megaport of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea on the Indian Ocean rimland. Other corridors will connect western China with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and West Africa, while others will connect it westwards with the rest of Eurasia.

It was with these, amongst other, considerations in mind that, in 2015, the Regional Studies Association set up a new journal called Area Development and Policy, housed in the Institute of Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and published by Taylor & Francis. Prof. Michael Dunford and Prof. Weidong Liu are the Managing Editors. Ren Qing is the Editorial Assistant. A distinguished group of Editors from China, Russia, India, Africa, South Korea, Latin America and North America was established along with a distinguished international Editorial Advisory Board.

The journal was initially aimed at publishing research about and from the developing world in Eurasia and the global South. The intention was that the exchange of ideas would see the development of theories and interpretations reflecting the experiences of different countries in a world of many civilizations and contribute to mutual awareness and co-operation. The intention was also to reflect from these worlds on the relationships between them and the developed world. As change accelerates however the journal will pay more attention to the relations between all parts of the world.

The journal is entering its second year and has already published four issues, including research dealing with national, regional, urban, rural and local development trajectories of Brazil and Mexico in Latin America, Africa, India, Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia and East Asia. These articles have dealt with the geopolitics of Amazonia, industrialization, global value chains in the machine tools and IT sectors, urban-rural integration, land expropriation, infrastructure investment, and the politics of developmental states. Other articles have started to explore new macroeconomic geographies and the impact on global development of rising powers (see the Appendix).

The aim of this short article however is to invite you readers to rise to the challenge of analysing the different dimensions of these transformations that are reshaping the world in which we live and to read some of the articles already published. The papers so far published are listed in the Appendix which follows. Please also do submit your own research and contribute to debates about the transformation of our world.


Appendix
Volume 1, 2016 Issue 1
Area development and policy: an agenda for the 21st century
Michael Dunford, Yuko Aoyama, Clélio Campolina Diniz, Amitabh Kundu, Leonid Limonov, George Lin, Weidong Liu, Sam Ock Park & Ivan Turok
Geopolitics of the Amazon
Bertha K. Becker
Getting urbanization to work in Africa: the role of the urban land-infrastructure-finance nexus
Ivan Turok
Land acquisition in India: The political-economy of changing the law
Sanjoy Chakravorty
Regional cultural diversity in Russia: does it matter for regional economic performance?
Leonid Limonov & Marina Nesena
China’s evolving role in Apple’s global value chain
Seamus Grimes & Yutao Sun
Population growth, land allocation and conflict in Mali
Mark Skidmore, John Staatz, Nango Dembélé & Aissatou Ouédraogo
Urban–rural integration drives regional economic growth in Chongqing, Western China
Weidong Liu, Michael Dunford, Zhouying Song & Mingxing Chen

Volume 1, 2016 Issue 2
Brazil: accelerated metropolization and urban crisis
Clélio Campolina Diniz & Danilo Jorge Vieira
Repositioning Yunnan: security and China’s geoeconomic engagement with Myanmar
Xiaobo Su
South–south mobility: economic and health vulnerabilities of Bangladeshi and Nepalese migrants to India
Lopamudra Ray Saraswati, Avina Sarna, Ubaidur Rob, Mahesh Puri, Roopal Jyoti Singh, Vartika Sharma & Amitabh Kundu
The BRICS’ impacts on local economic development in the Global South: the cases of a tourism town and two mining provinces in Zambia
Peter Kragelund & Pádraig Carmody
Multifamily housing construction in Russia: supply elasticity and competition
Tatyana D. Polidi
Social inequality, city shrinkage and city growth in Khuzestan Province, Iran
Ahmad Pourahmad, Amir Reza Khavarian-Garmsir & Hossein Hataminejad

Volume 1, 2016 Issue 3
Rising powers and the drivers of uneven global development
Ray Hudson
Reorienting the drivers of development: alternative paradigms
Yuku Aoyama
Macroeconomic geographies
Jamie Peck
Inclusive globalization: unpacking China's Belt and Road Initiative
Weidong Liu & Michael Dunford
The Silk Road goes north: Russia’s role within China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Mia M. Bennett
Reflections on China's Belt and Road Initiative
Stanley Toops
Polycentric versus hierarchical tertiary centres: comparing San Diego and Tijuana
Tito A. Alegría
Innovation development of large companies in Siberia
Sophia Khalimova

Volume 2, 2017 Issue 1
Rethinking the East Asian developmental state in its historical context: finance, geopolitics and bureaucracy
Henry Wai-chung Yeung
The post-Soviet evolution of the Russian urban system
Evgeniya Kolomak
Land-use conflict and socio-economic impacts of infrastructure projects: the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam in Pakistan
Muazzam Sabir, André Torre & Habibullah Magsi
Districts and networks in the digital generation music scene in Mexico City
Alejandro Mercado-Celis
What matters for regional industrial dynamics in a transitional economy?
Canfei He, Shengjun Zhu & Xin Yang
Industrial upgrading and interaction between the advanced small south and China: the case of Taiwan’s machine tool industry
Liang-Chih Chen & Shiuh-Shen Chien

23 Feb 2017





 Etienne Nel; University of Otago; Dunedin; New Zealand
RSA Membership Research Grant Holder

Introduction
 Similar to the recent history of many OECD countries, Australia and New Zealand are experiencing the effects of significant population and economic change at the regional and local levels. Processes of selective rural depopulation and economic decline, the generally modest demographic and economic growth trends in the smaller and secondary centres and the stark reality of ‘shrinking towns’ exits in contrast with the significant growth of larger centres such as Brisbane, Wellington, Sydney and Auckland. This is occurring in the context of the significant ‘scaling back’ of the state which began in the 1980s, devolving, in many cases, the responsibility for managing change to local authorities, leaders and partnerships.

Demographic Change
The population of both Australia and New Zealand has grown significantly since census records started. In the case of New Zealand the population grew from 743 000 in 1896 to 4 242 048 in 2013, while in the case of Australia the population grew from 4 455 000 in 1911 to 22 340 024 in 2011.

In terms of where this growth is focussing, the large city bias in terms of both economic and population growth, particularly in Australia, is very well known, with the overwhelming bulk of the population living in the main coastal metropoles. The continued urban and large city bias in terms of where future growth will occur is evident in population projections. In New Zealand Auckland is expected to grow by 49% between 2013 and 2043, accounting for 62% of all projected population growth in the country. When combined with the other main cities, these centres account for 89% of all expected growth in the country. In Australia, while many smaller centres are not likely to experience significant growth and many will decline, Brisbane by contrast is expected to grow 48% between 2011 and 2031 and Perth by 77%.

The urban and large city movement of the population, parallels the rationalisation of farming operations, the selective loss of functions from smaller service centres, in favour of the centralization of service functions in larger regional centres – the so-called sponge effect, and the frequent crises experienced in mono-economy towns – such as in timber, fishing and mining towns. In the case of Australia current exceptions include the recent, by probably short-term growth of mining towns in Western Australia and Queensland in particular. Figure 1 shows annualised population change in Australia’s local government areas between 2005 and 2015. The low and even negative growth of larger swathes of the country, with the exception of mining areas (especially in Western Australia) and the coastal metropoles is clearly evident. In Figure 2 annualised change in the urban centres is depicted which starkly reveals the same profile but equally significantly the lacklustre performance of many of the country’s inland towns.


Figure 1: Australia: Population change by local government area: 2005-2015.
Source: www.abs.gov.au


Figure 2: Australia: Annual Urban Population Change: 2001-2011.
Source: www.abs.gov.au


In the case of New Zealand broadly similar patterns are occurring, but with some significant differences. Figure 3 shows the annualised population change in New Zealand’s local government areas from 2001-2013. What is striking about this figure is the seeming reversal in the long term decline of most rural areas in the South island, which was the norm for nearly 100 years, as new farming activities, tourism, recreation and retirement, and growth in the Christchurch hinterland following 2011 earthquakes have reversed this trend. By contrast many of the North Island’s rural areas are experiencing population loss. In Figure 4 annualised population change in the various urban centres is depicted. In this Figure the town symbols are scaled according to size, and show the evident grow of larger centres and the frequent decline of many smaller centres, including in the South Island. In many instances these shrinking towns are former mono-economy centres – industrial, timber and mining centres or smaller services centres.
  

Figure 3: New Zealand: Annualised population change according to local authority areas: 2001-2013
Source: www.stats.govt.nz
 


Figure 4: New Zealand: Annualised population change in the Urban Centres: 2001-2013.
Source: www.stats.govt.nz

In terms of urban growth and decline, census statics reveal the distinctive differences experienced between the different classes of settlement (see Table 1). While almost all the larger urban centres in Australia are growing - 116 out of the 118 larger settlements, in New Zealand nearly 20% of settlements in the two largest settlement categories are declining. Lower down the ranks, 40 % of the smaller centres in New Zealand and 28% in Australia are declining. In both countries, approximately 27% of local government areas are experiencing population loss.

Table 1: Urban Change by Size Category and Local Government Areas: New Zealand and Australia




NEW ZEALAND

1981-2013

 

 

 

Category of Settlement

No. in Class

Number Growing

% Growing

Main Urban Areas

(+ 30 000)

18

16

89

Secondary Urban Areas (+10 000)

15

9

53

Minor Urban Areas

(+10 00)

100

60

60

Rural Centres (- 1 000)

138

69

50

TOTAL

271

153

56.5

Local Govt Areas (2006-2013)

68

50

73.5

 

 

 

 

Australia

1996-2011

 

 

 

Urban Centres

No. in Class

Number Growing

% Growing

Capitals

8

8

100%

Significant Urban Areas (+ 10 000)

110

108

98%

Urban Centres

(+ 1 000)

565

408

72%

TOTAL

683

524

77%

Local Government Areas: 2005-2015

551

400

73%

Source:
www.stats.govt.nz ; www.abs.gov.au

Local and Regional Response

The preceding statistics and illustrative material clearly indicate the reality of significant regional and local divergence in both population trends, but also, by implication, economic well-being and growth potential. Both countries long-ceased to implement state strategies geared to address regional disparities and reliance on market forces is the norm. That said, at a Federal level in Australia there is legal provision to ensure equity in well-being and service provision across the country. In New Zealand, the largely self-funded nature of local government, potentially enhances the differences between stronger and weaker local government areas.

In Australia, local government affairs are largely a state matter, leading to not insignificant differences in levels of state policy and support for urban development and regional / rural issues. While support, particularly for smaller, declining centres is limited, policies in Western Australia are particularly interesting. The ‘Royalties for Regions’ programme has seen the investment of not insignificant revenues from the recent mining boom in that state back into non-metropolitan areas, with the ‘Supertowns’ programme seeking to support economic diversification and social provision in identified regional centres across the state. At the regional level a network of ‘Regional Development Agencies’ have been established across the country to serve as co-ordinating bodies, tasked to consult with communities, provide information and support informed regional planning. Typical interventions include developing economic strategies, supporting CBD renewal, investment attraction and responding to economic and demographic change.

In New Zealand aside, from government support for community development facilitators; various community development projects led by the Ministry of Social Development and selective support for industry and regional innovation, regional and local development tends to be a local / regional concern. The net result is significant variation in who takes the leadership role in promoting local and regional development. This can include comprehensive development interventions undertaken by Regional Development Agencies such as Venture Southland and Venture Taranaki, both of which undertake development on behalf of local government. Other responses include private sector led Regional Development Agencies such as in Tauranga and local interventions variously undertaken by local authorities or local partnerships groups. Project foci are wide-ranging and include efforts to cope with and encourage growth or to respond to population and economic loss. In areas experiencing decline, economic and social interventions have been undertaken to encourage rejuvenation, promote investment and training and encourage tourism, but they can seldom arrest or reverse long-term structural decline and population loss. Rather they can moderate the scale and its impact.

Conclusion
The significant demographic change which Australia and New Zealand are experiencing is reflected in selected patterns of growth and change, which in turn generally mirror patterns of economic change. Government, regional and local responses reflect state and local variations and the relevance of analytical lenses which seek to better understand institutional change and evolving economic geography.


Sources:
Australian Bureau of Statistics:
www.abs.gov.au
Beer, A. and Lester, L. (2015) Institutional thickness and institutional effectiveness: developing regional indices for policy and practice in Australia, Regional Studies, Regional Science, 2, 1, 205-228.
Eaqub, S. (2014) Growing Apart: Regional prosperity in New Zealand, BWB Texts: Wellington.
Nel, E.L., Recent trends in regional demographic and economic inequality in New Zealand and associated regional development implications, Local Economy, 30, 1, 12-20.
Paul, V. and Haslam MacKenzie, F. (2015) About time the regions were recognised: interpreting regional building in Western Australia, Australian Geographer, 46, 3, 363-388.
Statistics New Zealand:
www.stats.govt.nz


 

16 Feb 2017




Michael Taster, University of Sheffield, UK
 
At a time when the Regional Studies Association and its members are coming to terms with the fallout from Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Events, which have challenged the legitimacy of 'expert' academic knowledge and ushered in a supposed era of post-truth (raising the obvious question, was there ever an era of truth?). One might be forgiven for having overlooked a report innocuously entitled, 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication. However, what this research project describes, are a number of trends that are beginning to influence not only how academic research is communicated, but the ways in which academics create, share and value knowledge. In short, it provides a glimpse of how academics might reposition themselves and their knowledge in a changing world.

Before considering these innovations, it is important to clarify what is actually meant by the term scholarly communication. Broadly speaking, since the publication of the first scholarly journals in the 17th century, the term has often been bound up with the idea of scholarly publication, or the physical manufacture of books and journal articles and the transfer of knowledge via the medium of print. The act of scholarly communication has therefore often been associated with technical intermediaries, such as the publishers who make these products. However, an alternate definition sees scholarly communication as a much broader arc of written and non-written practices, ranging from informal conversations between academics, to the post-publication assessment and integration of research into an established corpus of knowledge. The ongoing development and application of digital communication technologies for scholarly research, especially those associated with the user generated content of web 2.0 platforms, such as YouTube and Wordpress, have made this range of processes increasingly visible and has drawn new actors into what was previously a closed relationship between academics and scholarly publishers.[1] For this reason, whereas, for previous generations, scholarly communication could simply mean delegated print publication, it now means scholars can engage personally with a host of new communication channels.

This shift is outlined by this report, which documents the results of a large scale international survey of over 20,000 academics focused on their use of digital tools for scholarly communication. The report not only highlights the sheer variety of tools that are now available to academics,[2] but also shows that these tools are being created by different service providers; from traditional academic publishers, scholar and government led initiatives, to new commercial entrants. A significant feature of the report, is its ongoing analysis of how these digital tools are used in relation to each other. To achieve this, the authors consider how tools are designed to meet the needs of different aspects of an academic workflow. This workflow is constituted of six stages: discovery, analysis, writing, publication, outreach and assessment. Thus, tools contribute to different elements of the academic workflow and can be combined, in ways the authors suggest could make scholarly communication more efficient, open and good.




These developments can be seen as an extension and augmentation of existing scholarly practices, merely doing the same things, but in a streamlined digital environment. However, they also raise fundamental questions about how academic research is undertaken and communicated. As Nietzsche remarked after adopting an early version of the typewriter, "our writing instruments contribute to our thoughts." In this instance, the implications of a wide ranging change in communication media and formats on academic thought is only beginning to be understood.

The need to examine the concepts of efficiency, openness and goodness and the tools that hope to achieve these ends is therefore imperative. Taking the first of these benefits, efficiency. Digital tools that speed up and improve the ability to cycle through the academic workflow of discovery, analysis, writing, publication and outreach are to be welcomed. However, it immediately raises the question of value. For, if the value of research outputs was unknown, it would be impossible to improve the efficiency of their production. The valuation of academic research is commonly achieved through the use of metrics, historically, through the use of measures based on academic citations, but increasingly through the use of altmetrics, which measure the uptake and usage of different research outputs as well as journal articles and their use by non academic audiences. Significantly, these metrics are often generated by the selfsame tools that offer greater efficiencies. Thus, ResearchGate, an academic social network that can be used to share and discover the research of likeminded scholars, provides users with an RG score, which measures your "leverage and standing within the scientific community".[3] Metrics are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, but their application by scholars and their institutions can have profound effects. In particular, the potential for new tools to shape incentives has led to a critique of metrics that highlights their role in the acceleration of academic life and the creation of a research culture focused on producing short term instrumental outputs that are easily quantifiable. Furthermore, in cases where the calculations underlying these metrics remain hidden for commercial reasons, as in the case of Academia.edu, it raises ethical questions regarding the undue influence of corporate interests on academic behaviours.

The second point of openness poses further important questions. In a time of alternate facts and contested truths, openness is presented as a potential cure. This point derives from two conceptions of openness, openness of research processes and openness of research findings. Thus platforms such as, F1000 and Publons make peer review processes public, SocArXiv allows researchers to publically share preprints of papers and FigShare and GitHub make supplementary datasets and code available. These tools serve to reveal research processes that were effectively concealed by traditional print publishing. On the other side of the equation, open access publishing is making research outputs increasingly available to audiences previously excluded by journal subscriptions. It is proposed, that the kinds of continuous dialogical exchanges enabled by these tools, will bring research closer to practice and flatten the intellectual hierarchies that have resulted in academics being painted as aloof and out of touch with wider society. However, by opening up the black box of academic research practices, it is unclear whether academic authority in the social sciences will be enhanced, or simply absorbed into public debate. What this entails for a society such as the RSA, which seeks to be a leading and impactful community that contributes to the body of expert knowledge available to regional policy makers is unclear. Although, it does suggest that current paradigms focused on the role of regional scholars in evidenced based policy making may need to updated and expanded in the face of new forms of communication.

This leads to the final point of goodness, or quality. The authors of the paper define good research, as research that is transparent and reproducible. These kinds of definitions are more suited to research in the natural sciences than to social science and regional studies. Regional knowledge in some instances can be judged by the effectiveness of its application to policy problems, although the ability to measure these impacts is limited and the potential for reproducing their results are next to impossible. More often, regional knowledge is judged as a social relation, or on its ability persuade and influence others. As we have seen, metrics can serve as proxy indicators for these kinds of relationships, but quality judgements in reality emerge from a richer variety of reciprocal relationships that occur throughout the academic workflow. Thus, conference presentations, peer review processes and editorial lines, all produce circuits of feedback that serve to establish judgements of quality and what constitutes good research. Whereas, traditionally, these lines of feedback have been largely contained within journal based academic communities, innovations in scholarly communications suggest the potential for creating much larger disaggregated and digitally networked communities for determining the overall quality of scholarly knowledge. This poses the question, are the two systems mutually exclusive?

The short answer seems to be not yet. Predictions for a revolution in scholarly communications have been in existence since at least the 1990s and change has proved to be incremental. However, the current trends demonstrated in this report suggest that the hybridization of different forms of scholarly communication is becoming more common. On an individual level, some scholars have adopted elements of digital communication to great effect, for instance Alasdair Rae's use of social media to demonstrate data visualization techniques @undertheraedar. Scholarly societies are also beginning to incorporate such platforms, as with the RSA's collaboration with Kudos. As the authors of the paper suggest, it is important for scholars to at least sensitize themselves to these innovations, partly to reap the potential benefits offered by new forms of communication, but also to ensure that the development of these tools is determined by the needs of scholars, rather than the needs of scholars being determined by the technology and the business models of their tools.




[1] A good example of this being the report itself, which collates outputs from across a range of platforms onto a Wordpress account.
[2] For the full list of over 400 such tools see here
[3] ResearchGate, RG score FAQ: https://www.researchgate.net/RGScore/FAQ