The Cultural Economy of Cities: Essays on the Geography of Image-Producing Industries


Allen J. Scott

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  • Theory, Culture & Society

    Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It also publishes theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

    EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, Nottingham Trent University


    Roy Boyne, University of Durham

    Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen

    Scott Lash, Goldsmiths College, University of London

    Roland Robertson, University of Pittsburgh

    Bryan S. Turner, University of Cambridge


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    To the memory of

    Fred Palacio

    Boulevard St Germain/Rue de Buci, Paris

    19 August 1944


    This book is about the economic geography of cultural-products industries, and, in particular, about the ways in which these industries tend to materialize on the landscape in the form of dense spatial agglomerations. In parallel with this theme, I also develop an extended argument about how the economic and the cultural interpenetrate one another in modern society and how this relation makes its concrete historic and geographic appearance not only at the local but also at the global level of spatial organization.

    It is currently fashionable in some social science circles to claim that the economic is embedded in the cultural. This claim is true enough, but it tells only part of the story. The other part resides in the complementary claim that the cultural is embedded in the economic; and never has this been more the case than in contemporary capitalism. In the present book, I try to take both of these claims seriously. For one thing, I am at pains to show how local (urban and regional) traditions, norms, and sensibilities actively shape the structures and strategies of business operations in the cultural economy and the design of final outputs. For another, I hammer insistently at the theme that the culture we consume, both high and low, is to ever increasing degrees produced under capitalist conditions of economic order and is hence deeply imprinted with the marks of this moment of genesis.

    The argument is focused on the cultural economy as represented by a series of manufacturing and service sectors that are involved, in greater or lesser degree, in the production of images, symbols, and messages. This exercise involves three major analytical and descriptive maneuvers. First, I engage in an extended discussion of the spatial logic of the cultural economy, paying special reference to the ways in which locational concentration enhances both its competitive performance and its creative potentials. Second, I offer a series of industry studies focusing on the manner in which this spatial logic is played out in selected cultural-products sectors (jewelry, furniture, films, recorded music, and multimedia). Third, I provide detailed and synthetic accounts of the ways in which the cultural economy is organized in specific places, with an overwhelming focus on two cities which are characterized by exceptionally well-developed but also sharply contrasting cultural economies, namely, Los Angeles and Paris. In addition, I deal throughout the book with many different policy issues as they come into view, especially in so far as they relate to matters of local economic development and growth. The intended contribution of the book to the complex questions raised by all of these matters is to show how geography – in both its local and global dimensions – profoundly shapes the logic and dynamics of the modern cultural economy, and hence also influences the appearances and meanings of the cultural products that now enter world markets in ever rising quantities and varieties.

    It is no whim or accident that has induced me to focus here on questions of the cultural economy. Cultural products of all sorts constitute a constantly increasing share of the output of modern capitalism, and cultural-products sectors represent some of the most dynamic growth industries in the world at the present time. These sectors are also coming to constitute the central economic engines of a number of major city-regions across the globe. Moreover, a powerful convergence is occurring between the economic and the cultural spheres in contemporary society, and this is pregnant with consequences for both economic analysis and cultural theory. It is becoming more and more difficult to determine where the cultural economy begins and the rest of the capitalist economic order ends, for just as culture is increasingly subject to commodification, so one of the prevalent features of contemporary capitalism is its tendency to infuse an ever widening range of outputs with aesthetic and semiotic content. For better or worse, then, huge swaths of culture today are coming into the grip of capitalist supply and demand relations just like any other segment of the wider commodity system, and this state of affairs is working profound transformations on the manner in which we approach all issues of aesthetic and semiotic judgment, and on the ways in which we frame our understanding of the social significance of culture generally. In the final chapter of the book I attempt to establish the outlines of a political economy of the cultural commodity as a way of broaching some of the more difficult puzzles raised by these latter remarks.

    Much of the material presented in this book has been previously published in specialized academic journals. All of this material, however, has been extensively reworked for the purposes of the present volume, and considerable new analysis and information have been added. Previously published work incorporated into the present volume appeared in: the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Competition and Change, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Environment and Planning A, Geoforum, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Media, Culture and Society, the Monthly Labor Review, and Theory, Culture & Society. Also, much of Chapter 9 was originally published in H.-J. Braczyk, P. Cooke, and M. Heidenreich (eds) Regional Innovation Systems (UCL Press, 1998). I wish to express my gratitude to Chase Langford and Roberto Gimeno for drafting the excellent maps and diagrams that accompany this book.

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