Research

This biographical blurb submitted to Brock University in 2011 sums up my research interests:

As an economic geographer, Jeff Boggs is fundamentally interested in why some places are rich while others are poor. He currently researches how creative industries' policies shape the locations of Canada's book trade, examining the places it benefits and those it disadvantages. His key finding is that many activities in the book trade are still overwhelmingly concentrated in Toronto and Montreal. More generally, this suggests that creative industry policies disproportionately benefit metropolitan areas since those locations already house the vast majority of the book trade's workers and firms.
Before coming to Brock, he studied the economic factors prompting German reunification and regional specialization among Germany's book publishers. He has also completed contracts to compare Indiana's economy to its global competitors, determine which California industry would be the best candidate for workplace lead reduction, and identify job ladders for low-skilled workers in printing and telecommunications.
He is interested in lending his skills in labor market and industry analysis to public, private or non-profit partners. In particular, he would like to collaborate with the Niagara Region's digital media industries, including assessing how Brock's program in Digital Humanities places workers in local firms and also those in far-off locations such as Montreal and Los Angeles. Jeff is also interested in educating taxpayers and politicians on the practical importance of evidence-based policy making and a national census that uses random sampling to select long-form respondants.

If you are curious about my research interests, read further. If you are interested in attending Brock's Geography Master's program to work with me, read below first, and then visit my page on supervision. The present page should help you think about whether our interests align enough for me to be an appropriate supervisor or committee member.

Economic geography is fundamentally about growth and change

Like most economic geographers, my broad research interests center on the causes of regional economic growth and change. In this context, 'economic growth' refers to measurable expansions and contractions in the economy such as increased employment in the service sector, declining real wages or increases in the number of part-time workers. Likewise, 'change' refers to more qualitative transformations such as the impacts of adopting distance-shrinking technologies on how work is organized in a given industry or the role of nationalist rhetoric in motivating protectionist trade policy.

For circa the past decade, my scholarship on regional economic growth and change has taken the form of studies of the locational dynamics of the German and Canadian book trades. Within the larger literature on regional economic growth and change, cultural industries such as the book trade have fallen under increasing scrutiny since the early 1990s. In some quarters, cultural industries have been heralded as the next source of regional economic regeneration. Indeed, even in the Niagara Region we hear such claims and witness government funding for arts centers and digital media innovation centers. However, cultural industries collectively comprise a heterogenous group. Likewise, their locational dynamics --- where their mixture of humdrum (e.g., accounting) and creative tasks (e.g., writing screenplays) take place --- are not so easily characterized in pithy statements. The locational dynamics of any industry --- cultural or otherwise --- evolve in light of many factors, such as the presence of monopolists or oligopolists, scarcity or abundance of the factors of production needed in that industry, ease of acquiring skills in that industry, final demand for its output, and prevalence of revolutionary and incremental innovations. These factors do not take place in a spaceless vacuum. Instead, they take place somewhere, giving industries a geography. This geography manifests as inertia in the form of sunk costs in physical and social infrastructure. This geography also manifests in particular places being known for producing particular kinds of output. Examples include southern California's dominant role in the English-language motion picture industry, or New York City's and London's role in the English-language book trade. While my 2009 publication in Geography Compass reviewed this large body of literature and called into question the very notion that 'cultural industries' are objectively different from other kinds of industries, the concept of cultural industries is still a useful place-holder for discussing a group of industries with similar locational dynamics.

These locational dynamics shape which places do and do not receive the lion's share of the benefit from these industries. While not inexorable, these locational dynamics are powerful, often operating beyond the ability of local, sub-national and even national governments to manipulate through subsidies, training schemes and other economic development tools. Thus, the practical importance of economic geography is clear-cut: it provides us with knowledge of policies that might actually turn around decaying industrial regions or enable wealthy regions to maintain their dominance. It also arms us against the claims of glib regional development consultants who sell pie-in-the-sky schemes to uninformed regional governments, chambers of commerce and university boards.

With this in mind, since coming to Brock my research has unfolded along three axes: the locational dynamics of the Canadian book trade; the role of book fairs as sites of information exchange within a larger industrial system; and the labor market and innovation implications of Canada's immigration policy.

The locational dynamics of Canada's book trade

Since arriving at Brock, I have been investigating the locational dynamics of the Canadian book trade. Canada possesses relatively vigorous cultural policies targeting the book trade. This provides a natural experiment revealing the impact of such interventions on the book trade. These cultural policies --- like all government policies --- function as de facto economic and regional policies, as they influence not only which industries receive funding, but also which places receive funding. This funding --- the manifestation of policy --- has sectoral and locational ramifications, though these ramifications are often unintended and poorly understood. Underpinning these cultural policies are nationalist interests (further complicated in Canada by the dual official language communities), a small domestic market and relative proximity and enduring connections to the two largest English-language book trades in the world the UK and the US. Both Canada's English- and the French-language domestic book trade have faced intense competition from better-capitalized, better-organized foreign-controlled publishing houses specializing in popular titles from US, British or French markets. In light of this situation, Canadian book publishing policy can be viewed as an intervention that attempts to mediate the long-standing effects of first-mover advantage held by the book centers of New York City, London and Paris vis-a-vis Toronto and Montreal. My 2010 Publishing Research Quarterly paper examines these policy interventions over the last forty years. It finds that within Canada, while cultural policy is associated with the flourishing of domestic producers, it still privileges those in Toronto and Montreal at the expense of the rest of the country. While Canada's book trade policy has certainly shaped the locational dynamics of the industry, it has not done so in a vacuum.

Beyond NAFTA's cultural exception clause, which grants Canada free reign to implement trade-distorting cultural policies such as those operating in the book trade, the other factors most affecting the Canadian book trade are technological and organizational change. Technological change refers to improvements in production, inventory, transportation and communication technologies which drive down costs and transform the geography of work, such as RID inventory control coupled and online tracking systems. Organizational change refers to new ways of organizing the bundles of tasks that make up a firm and an industry, such as the emergence of Indigo/Chapters or online bookstores. Starting in January 2009, my research assistants have collected Statistics Canada occupational data at the scale of the census metropolitan area (CMA) and the census subdivision (CSD) to assess the impact of technological change on the geography of employment in the Canadian book trade. These data will allow me to determine if editorial and other publishing related activities have dispersed, remained unchanged or concentrated between 1996 and 2006.

Trade fairs: field-configuring events or periodic sites of intermediation?

While researching the locational dynamics of the German book trade for my dissertation, the book fairs of Leipzig and Frankfurt came to my attention. Within the European book trade, trade fairs played an important role in the dissemination of not just titles, but knowledge about the competitive conditions in various language markets. Likewise, trade fairs had once been a central object of analysis in geography under the guise of periodic markets. Within the last decade, economic geographers and other scholars have begun to examine trade fairs as sites of knowledge exchange within and between specific industries. Whereas older scholarship viewed trade fairs as means of binding together far-flung markets, contemporary work on trade fairs emphasizes their role as sites of information exchange between agents in the same industry. The shift in part reflects the changing nature of trade fairs. At one time, they were spaces of exchange in part for the public and in part for the wholesalers, acting as a point to break bulk. Instead, contemporary trade fairs are primarily focused on the needs of manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and other suppliers, but usually not the final consumer. Geographers and other scholars have begun to examine the role of trade fairs in providing information about competitive conditions in a given industry. However, it does not appear as if industry-specific trade fairs provide much of an advantage to local firms. In the case of the Frankfurt book trade, while my interviewees often touted the advantage of being located in the same city as the world's preeminent book fair, I found little convincing evidence for these claims. In light of these findings, I extended a common model of agglomerations drawing on transaction-cost analysis to understand why this might be and presented my findings at two European conferences in the summer of 2005. In 2006, 2010 and 2011, I presented additional work on trade fairs, periodic markets and periodic events at the AAGs.

Labor market and innovation implications of Canada's immigration policies

As an immigrant to Canada, I recognize my part as part of a larger international knowledge flow. In conjunction with my colleague Dragos Simandan, we have begun reading in this topic, drawing on my applied interest in local labor markets and his interest in the production of knowledge. Canada, like many industrialized countries, operates immigration policies that siphon off the youngest, most talented and most entrepreneurial workers from around the world. Given the central role of knowledge creation in underpinning Canada's continued prosperity, this broad topic is not only largely untapped but also of great policy relevance. In 2007, we made a well-received presentation on this topic at an international conference. Since then, we have been incorporating some of this material into our courses and M.A. supervision.

Future Work

While I would like to continue working on these topics, I will eventually refocus my interest in Canadian cultural industries to examine the Niagara Region. In doing so, I will align some of my research interests with Brock's 2014 Academic Plan. In particular, I will examine the local implications of national and provincial cultural industry policies on the Niagara Region. Toward this end, I have begun teaching two courses --- GEOG 3P93 Niagara's Changing Economic Geography and GEOG 3P69 Geographies of Cultural Industries --- as a means of gathering background material on (and cultivating possible M.A. students interested in) this topic.


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