19 Jan 2015

We kick off this year with an anniversary joint guest post by our own RSA Chair Andrew Beer and RSA CEO Sally Hardy who wanted to express their reflective thoughts and hopes for the future regarding the Association, as this year we celebrate the 50th year of the Regional Studies Association.

Welcome to 2015, the 50th year of the Regional Studies Association!  

Since 1965 the Association has achieved a great deal in terms of fostering academic debate, engaging with policy agendas, building links with practitioners and encouraging the publication of high quality research.   The Association has moved from being a UK-focused entity to one with a truly global reach, and at the end of 2014 the RSA achieved its highest ever membership.  The launch of the China Division in September of 2014 was important at both a symbolic and practical level – reflecting a renewed commitment to engage with a global community of scholars working on regional issues.   

Where once we had a single major publication, now the Association runs a suite of four high-quality journals that place academic rigour at the forefront of their publishing efforts.  Our journals – Regional Studies; Spatial Economic Analysis; Territory, Politics, Governance and, Regional Studies, Regional Science are well regarded outlets about which we can feel justifiable pride.   Along the way there has been a great deal of innovation in the forms of publications we use – think, for example, of Regional Studies Regional Science our highly successful Open Access journal.  We also have an outstanding monograph series Regions and Cities that publishes high quality scholarship of relevance to our members. The monograph series serves us in two important ways: first it provides the teaching and research materials we need in our work; and, second, it provides an attractive outlet for our own scholarly activities.  We are always pleased to see the clustering of academics around Rob Langham – the Routledge Editor who frequently attends our conferences – as researchers pitch their ideas and look to disseminate their intellectual advances far and wide. 

As we have grown we have also been able to take a leading role in fostering the next generation of scholars, with our highly successful Early Career Researcher grants complemented by a very substantial commitment to assisting new scholars publish and to learn the craft of editing.  One of the remarkable features of the RSA is the relative youth of its membership.  Whereas many learned societies are dominated by those in the later stages of their careers, the RSA has a strong and vibrant cohort of younger members, contributing to the intellectual dynamism of the discipline and taking important roles in the management of the association. 

As an Association we have not endeavored to achieve growth for its own sake.  Instead, we remain deeply committed to our core goals of promoting regional research, debate and policy debate and, importantly, we recognize that regional issues do not acknowledge national borders.  We also accept that colleagues – and potential colleagues – working in other environments have important contributions to make to the issues we work upon.   For us, a larger debate around regional issues and policies is a better debate, as it is more inclusive, better informed and more likely to bring about positive change.  

The Association has been fortunate in being able to maintain many of its most attractive elements, despite change in academic life and policy environments.   There remains within the Association a commitment to intellectual life and the exploration of ideas, wherever they may lead.  There is also a focus on excellence, the importance of a good argument and a willingness to embrace a diversity of perspectives and methodologies.  Perhaps most importantly the Association has – as a cohort of colleagues – has been able to maintain its commitment to a sense of fun. Our conferences have been marked by both productive networking and engaging social events, including the formal dinners as well as the social/sporting events.   Who could forget the fierce competitiveness of some RSA staff members at the Tampere, Finland conference in the Floor Ball indoor version of hockey or the historic ten-pin bowling battles that have taken place at the Winter AGM?  I think the Association can take pride in the fact that we remain a human-focused organisation, with strong relationships between the members and our highly professional staff.  And I believe that an important part of that human orientation can be traced back to our regular newsletter – Regions – and Frank Peck and Gail Mulvey who orchestrate its production in an apparently seamless and effortless fashion. 

But a 50th year should not just be about looking back: there is much to anticipate for the coming year- and indeed the coming years – as the Association continues to evolve and develop.   In November last year the Board made a commitment to a number of new and exciting initiatives.  First, we will be working on the development on an exciting new journal focused on developing economies, this new outlet, entitled Area Development and Policy, will be led by Professors Mick Dunford and Wei Dong Liu based in Beijing.  Second, the Board has made a commitment to the introduction of two new grant schemes, one for Members of the Regional Studies Association and the other for Fellows of the Regional Studies Association.   Both initiatives were announced at the Winter Conference in London in November and those interested should check the website for details.  Third, we are moving toward the launch of our new Development Plan that will take us towards our 60th anniversary and into a new period marked by both opportunities and challenges. The Development Plan is already out for consultation, and we thank those RSA members who have already provided input.  Your thoughts and ideas have been very stimulating.  Fourth, in 2015 we will launch a major intellectual and policy initiative, that will both make clear the intellectual ambitions of the RSA and challenge policy makers to reprioritise their thinking. 

2015 promises to be an exciting year for RSA members in many ways.   The Piacenza Conference in May will be stimulating and an excellent opportunity to catch up with colleagues.  I encourage everyone to attend.  But in addition, we can also look forward to the Early Career Researcher Conference; an event in Melbourne, Australia in September and a major conference in Haungzhuo China, in November.   The year 2015 offers a cornucopia of opportunities to present your work, participate in academic debate and further develop your ideas.  We will of course, celebrate our 50th year in some considerable style, and there will be a major event associated with the Winter Conference in London in November. In 2014 the RSA returned the Winter Conference to a two day format, with considerable success, and we look to replicate that success this year.   Our Anniversary dinner is not to be missed.