Economic geography, to what ends? From privilege to progressive performances of expertise
Recent Exchanges have focused on economic geography's purported 'decline' and its patriarchal and generational privilege, asking 'who speaks' for the subdiscipline. This Exchanges piece asks another kind of existential question: what ends does economic geography serve? And how is economic geographical expertise marshalled and performed towards such ends - especially beyond the British context, where much of the debate has focused? Drawing briefly upon collaborative research experiences in Sydney, Australia, I offer thoughts on progressive contributions arising from grounded empirical research within cities subject to profound transformation from speculative real estate, and hypercharged by global finance. Amid unsolicited plans for massive rezoning of industrial spaces and accompanying displacement of manufacturing, repair and cultural industries, credible economic geographical data assisted activists and sympathetic local decisionmakers by bringing to light the significance of existing spaces of work (especially in industrially zoned land) subject to rezoning plans. Contestation over massive real estate proposals continues in Sydney, but empirical research targeted at public debate has nevertheless already shifted the narrative. While academic privilege and expert status warrants intra-disciplinary critique, what also matters is whether, how and where economic geographers deploy expertise productively towards progressive ends. Hence, critically engaged economic geography flourishes in different forms beyond the discipline's imagined 'core' places, even via quite 'dry' empirical studies that on the surface do not declare radical intents. Economic geographers are key intermediaries circulating knowledges, active agents in making concrete manifestations of the economy known. And that is a crucial point of intervention.