Regional science

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Regional science is a field of the social sciences concerned with analytical approaches to problems that are specifically urban, rural, or regional. Topics in regional science include, but are not limited to location theory or spatial economics, location modeling, transportation, migration analysis, land use and urban development, interindustry analysis, environmental and ecological analysis, resource management, urban and regional policy analysis, geographical information systems, and spatial data analysis. In the broadest sense, any social science analysis that has a spatial dimension is embraced by regional scientists.

Social science is a category of academic disciplines, concerned with society and the relationships among individuals within a society. Social science as a whole has many branches. These social sciences include, but are not limited to: anthropology, archaeology, communication studies, economics, history, musicology, human geography, jurisprudence, linguistics, political science, psychology, public health, and sociology. The term is also sometimes used to refer specifically to the field of sociology, the original "science of society", established in the 19th century. For a more detailed list of sub-disciplines within the social sciences see: Outline of social science.

Urban area Human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment

An urban area or urban agglomeration is a human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Urban areas are created through urbanization and are categorized by urban morphology as cities, towns, conurbations or suburbs. In urbanism, the term contrasts to rural areas such as villages and hamlets and in urban sociology or urban anthropology it contrasts with natural environment. The creation of early predecessors of urban areas during the urban revolution led to the creation of human civilization with modern urban planning, which along with other human activities such as exploitation of natural resources leads to human impact on the environment.

In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics, human impact characteristics, and the interaction of humanity and the environment. Geographic regions and sub-regions are mostly described by their imprecisely defined, and sometimes transitory boundaries, except in human geography, where jurisdiction areas such as national borders are defined in law.



Regional science was founded in the late 1940s when some economists began to become dissatisfied with the low level of regional economic analysis and felt an urge to upgrade it. But even in this early era, the founders of regional science expected to catch the interest of people from a wide variety of disciplines. Regional science's formal roots date to the aggressive campaigns by Walter Isard and his supporters to promote the "objective" and "scientific" analysis of settlement, industrial location, and urban development. Isard targeted key universities and campaigned tirelessly. Accordingly, the Regional Science Association was founded in 1954, when the core group of scholars and practitioners held its first meetings independent from those initially held as sessions of the annual meetings of the American Economics Association. [1] A reason for meeting independently undoubtedly was the group's desire to extend the new science beyond the rather restrictive world of economists and have natural scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, planners, and geographers join the club. [2] Now called the Regional Science Association International (RSAI), it maintains subnational and international associations, journals, and a conference circuit (notably in North America, continental Europe, Japan, and South Korea). Membership in the RSAI continues to grow.

Economist professional in the social science discipline of economics

An economist is a practitioner in the social science discipline of economics.

Economics Social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Walter Isard was a prominent American economist, the principal founder of the discipline of Regional Science, as well as one of the main founders of the discipline of Peace Science and Peace Economics.

Seminal publications

Topically speaking, regional science took off in the wake of Walter Christaller's book Die Zentralen Orte in Sűddeutschland (Verlag von Gustav Fischer, Jena, 1933; transl. Central Places in Southern Germany, 1966), soon followed by Tord Palander's (1935) Beiträge zur Standortstheorie; August Lösch's Die räumliche Ordnung der Wirtschaft (Verlag von Gustav Fischer, Jena, 1940; 2nd rev. edit., 1944; transl. The Economics of Location, 1954) ; and Edgar M. Hoover's two books--Location Theory and the Shoe and Leather Industry (1938) and The Location of Economic Activity (1948). Other important early publications include: Edward H. Chamberlin's (1950) The Theory of Monopolistic Competition ; François Perroux's (1950) Economic Spaces: Theory and Application; Torsten Hägerstrand's (1953) Innovationsförloppet ur Korologisk Synpunkt; Edgar S. Dunn's (1954)The Location of Agricultural Production ; Martin J. Beckmann, C.B McGuire, and Clifford B. Winston's (1956) Studies in the Economics of Transportation; Melvin L. Greenhut's (1956) Plant Location in Theory and Practice; Gunnar Myrdal's (1957) Economic Theory and Underdeveloped Regions; Albert O. Hirschman's (1958) The Strategy of Economic Development; and Claude Ponsard's (1958) Histoire des Théories Économiques Spatiales. Nonetheless, Walter Isard's first book in 1956, Location and Space Economy, apparently captured the imagination of many, and his third, Methods of Regional Analysis, published in 1960, only sealed his position as the father of the field.

Walter Christaller, was a German geographer whose principal contribution to the discipline is Central Place Theory, first published in 1933. This groundbreaking theory was the foundation of the study of cities as systems of cities, rather than simple hierarchies or single entities.

Tord Folkeson Palander was a Swedish economist. His Ph.D. thesis, Beiträge zur Standortstheorie, completed in 1935 at the Stockholm University College, laid foundations to regional science.

August Lösch was a German economist, known for his seminal contributions to regional science and urban economics.

As is typically the case, the above works were built on the shoulders of giants. Much of this predecessor work is documented well in Walter Isard's Location and Space Economy [3] as well as Claude Ponsard's Histoire des Théorie Économique Spatiales. [4] Particularly important was the contribution by 19th century German economists to location theory. The early German hegemony more or less starts with Johann Heinrich von Thünen and runs through both Wilhelm Launhardt and Alfred Weber to Walter Christaller and August Lösch.

Location theory has become an integral part of economic geography, regional science, and spatial economics. Location theory addresses questions of what economic activities are located where and why. Location theory or microeconomic theory generally assumes that agents act in their own self-interest. Firms thus choose locations that maximize their profits and individuals choose locations that maximize their utility.

Johann Heinrich von Thünen German economist

Johann Heinrich von Thünen, sometimes spelled Thuenen, was a prominent nineteenth century economist and a native of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in northern Germany.

Wilhelm Launhardt German mathematician and economist

Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Launhardt was a German mathematician and economist.

Core journals

If an academic discipline is identified by its journals, then technically regional science began in 1955 with the publication of the first volume of the Papers and Proceedings, Regional Science Association (now Papers in Regional Science published by Springer). In 1958, the Journal of Regional Science followed. Since the 1970s, the number of journals serving the field has exploded. The RSAI website displays most of them.

Papers in Regional Science is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Regional Science Association International (RSAI). The journal was established in 1955. The journal covers topics in regional science such These topics include, but are not limited to, behavioural modelling of location, transportation, migration decisions, land use and urban development, environmental and ecological analysis, resource management, urban and regional policy analysis, geographical information systems, and spatial statistics.

Springer Science+Business Media or Springer, part of Springer Nature since 2015, is a global publishing company that publishes books, e-books and peer-reviewed journals in science, humanities, technical and medical (STM) publishing. Springer also hosts a number of scientific databases, including SpringerLink, and SpringerImages. Book publications include major reference works, textbooks, monographs and book series; more than 168,000 titles are available as e-books in 24 subject collections. Springer has major offices in Berlin, Heidelberg, Dordrecht, and New York City.

<i>Journal of Regional Science</i> journal

The Journal of Regional Science is a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Wiley-Blackwell. Established in 1958, it was the first journal in the field of Regional science. The current editors-in-chief are Marlon G. Boarnet, Steven Brakman, Mark D. Partridge and Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano. Contributors hold positions in a variety of academic disciplines: economics, geography, agricultural economics, rural sociology, urban and regional planning, and civil engineering. Articles are usually empirical, occasionally methodological or theoretical, but always quantitative.

Most recently the journal Spatial Economic Analysis has been published by the RSAI British and Irish Section with the Regional Studies Association . The latter is a separate and growing organisation involving economists, planners, geographers, political scientists, management academics, policymakers, and practitioners. [5]

Spatial Economic Analysis is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal covering the development of theory and methods in spatial economics. It is published by Routledge on behalf of the Regional Studies Association and the British and Irish Section of the Regional Science Association International. The editor-in-chief is Professor Paul Elhorst of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences at the University of Groningen. He succeeded the founding editor-in-chief, Prof Bernard Fingleton of the University of Cambridge in September 2016.

Academic programs

Walter Isard's efforts culminated in the creation of a few academic departments and several university-wide programs in regional science. At Walter Isard's suggestion, the University of Pennsylvania started the Regional Science Department in 1956. It featured as its first graduate William Alonso and was looked upon by many to be the international academic leader for the field. Another important graduate and faculty member of the department is Masahisa Fujita. The core curriculum of this department was microeconomics, input-output analysis, location theory, and statistics. Faculty also taught courses in mathematical programming, transportation economics, labor economics, energy and ecological policy modeling, spatial statistics, spatial interaction theory and models, benefit/cost analysis, urban and regional analysis, and economic development theory, among others. But the department's unusual multidisciplinary orientation undoubtedly encouraged its demise, and it lost its department status in 1993. [6]

With a few exceptions, such as Cornell University, which awards graduate degrees in Regional Science, [7] most practitioners hold positions in departments such as economics, geography, civil engineering, agricultural economics, rural sociology, urban planning, public policy, or demography. The diversity of disciplines participating in regional science have helped make it one of the most interesting and fruitful fields of academic specialization, but it has also made it difficult to fit the many perspectives into a curriculum for an academic major. It is even difficult for authors to write regional science textbooks, since what is elementary knowledge for one discipline might be entirely novel for another. [8]

Public policy impact

Part of the movement was, and continues to be, associated with the political and economic realities of the role of the local community. On any occasion where public policy is directed at the sub-national level, such as a city or group of counties, the methods of regional science can prove useful. Traditionally, regional science has provided policymakers with guidance on the following issues: [9]

  • Determinants of industrial location (both within the nation and region)
  • Regional economic impact of the arrival or departure of a firm
  • Determinants of internal migration patterns and land-use change
  • Regional specialization and exchange
  • Environmental impacts of social and economic change
  • Geographic association of economic and social conditions

By targeting federal resources to specific geographic areas the Kennedy administration realized that political favors could be bought. This is also evident in Europe and other places where local economic areas do not coincide with political boundaries. In the more current era of devolution knowledge about "local solutions to local problems" has driven much of the interest in regional science. Thus, there has been much political impetus to the growth of the discipline.

Developments after 1980

Regional science has enjoyed mixed fortunes since the 1980s. While it has gained a larger following among economists and public policy practitioners, the discipline has fallen out of favor among more radical and post-modernist geographers. In an apparent effort to secure a larger share of research funds, geographers had the National Science Foundation's Geography and Regional Science Program renamed "Geography and Spatial Sciences".

New economic geography

In 1991, Paul Krugman, as a highly regarded international trade theorist, put out a call for economists to pay more attention to economic geography in a book entitled Geography and Trade, focusing largely on the core regional science concept of agglomeration economies. Krugman's call renewed interest by economists in regional science and, perhaps more importantly, founded what some term the "new economic geography", which enjoys much common ground with regional science. Broadly trained "new economic geographers" combine quantitative work with other research techniques, for example at the London School of Economics. The unification of Europe and the increased internationalization of the world's economic, social, and political realms has further induced interest in the study of regional, as opposed to national, phenomena. The new economic geography appears to have garnered more interest in Europe than in America where amenities, notably climate, have been found to better predict human location and re-location patterns, as emphasized in recent work by Mark Partridge. [10] In 2008 Krugman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and his Prize Lecture has references both to work in regional science's location theory as well as economic's trade theory. [11]


Today there are dwindling numbers of regional scientists from academic planning programs and mainstream geography departments. Attacks on regional science's practitioners by radical critics began as early as the 1970s, notably David Harvey who believed it lacked social and political commitment. Regional science's founder, Walter Isard, never envisioned regional scientists would be political or planning activists. In fact, he suggested that they will seek to be sitting in front of a computer and surrounded by research assistants. Trevor J. Barnes suggests the decline of regional science practice among planners and geographers in North America could have been avoided. He says "It is unreflective, and consequently inured to change, because of a commitment to a God’s eye view. It is so convinced of its own rightness, of its Archimedean position, that it remained aloof and invariant, rather than being sensitive to its changing local context." [12]

See also

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Masahisa Fujita is a Japanese economist who has studied regional science and Urban economics and International Trade, Spatial Economy. He is a professor at Konan University and an adjunct professor at Institute of Economic Research, Kyoto University.

Regional economics is a sub-discipline of economics and is often regarded as one of the fields of the social sciences. It addresses the economic aspect of the regional problems that are spatially analyzable so that theoretical or policy implications can be derived with respect to regions whose geographical scope ranges from local to global areas.

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Brian Joe Lobley Berry is a British-American human geographer and city and regional planner. He is Lloyd Viel Berkner Regental Professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. His urban and regional research in the 1960s sparked geography’s social-scientific revolution and made him the most-cited geographer for more than 25 years.

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Regional Science Association International

The Regional Science Association International (RSAI) is a cluster of scholarly societies whose members engage in regional science.

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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to social science:

Manfred M. Fischer economist (WU Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien)

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  1. Isard, Walter. 1975. Introduction to Regional Science. New York: Prentice Hall.
  2. Isard, Walter. 1975. Introduction to Regional Science. New York: Prentice Hall, p. 6.
  3. Isard, Walter. 1956. Location and Space-Economy: A General Theory Relating to Industrial Location, Market Areas, Land Use, Trade and Urban Structure Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  4. Ponsard, Claude. 1958. Histoire des Théories Économiques Spatiales. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin (Translated in 1983 by Benjamin H. Stevens, Margaret Chevallier and Joaquin P. Pujol as History of Spatial Economic Theory. Springer-Verlag: New York.)
  5. Regional Studies Association – Home Archived 2008-12-19 at the Wayback Machine .. Retrieved on 2011-06-04.
  6. Boyce, David. 2004. "A Short History of the field of Regional Science," Papers in Regional Science, 83, 31–57. The source for a few dates in this paragraph.
  7. Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Department of City and Regional Planning: About Regional Science
  8. Scott Loveridge discusses the pros and cons of a multidisciplinary field. link Archived June 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine .
  9. Classical regional science questions. link Archived June 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine .
  10. Partridge, Mark D. "The duelling models: NEG vs amenity migration in explaining US engines of growth". Papers in Regional Science. 89: 513–536. doi:10.1111/j.1435-5957.2010.00315.x.
  11. Paul Krugman's Nobel Prize Lecture 2008. (2008-12-08). Retrieved on 2011-06-04.
  12. Barnes in Canadian J of Reg. Sci. 1 Archived March 10, 2005, at the Wayback Machine .

Further reading

"new economic geography" by Anthony J. Venables. Abstract.
"regional development, geography of" by Jeffrey D. Sachs and Gordon McCord. Abstract.
"spatial economics" by Gilles Duranton. Abstract.
"urban agglomeration" by William C. Strange. Abstract.