Jamie Peck


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Socio-Economic Conditions
Economic geography

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Extended case methods


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

A global ethnography of the urban solutions industry: tracing "solutionism" across interurban terrain (2024)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Lives on the Line: the (re)making of uneven development on the United States - Mexico border (2021)

Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Paso del Norte region—encompassing the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez—this dissertation traces the evolution of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as a site of economic development built on the “comparative advantage” of low-wage labor and border enforcement. First, the thesis explores how recent restructuring pressures—such as the 2008 financial crisis—articulate with efforts of regional stakeholders to position the borderlands as a competitive node in the global economy. Key to this process is 1) the reproduction of the “maquiladora model of economic development,” built on the devaluation of labor and disinvestment in communities, and 2) the border itself, which emerges both as a key source of “comparative advantage” in development imaginaries, and as a limit to regional economic futures.Second, the dissertation demonstrates how borderland residents use cross-border livelihood strategies to make ends meet in a context of ongoing restructuring. Livelihood strategies are theorized as part of a geography of social reproduction: the range of practices used by individuals, households and communities to ensure their existence. Demonstrating how waged work and reproductive labor function in tandem to enable survival, the dissertation reveals how this relation 1) underpins the border region’s participation in the global economy, and 2) sustains the social relations of (racial, patriarchal) capitalism. It also argues that livelihood strategies, and relatedly the region’s economic development model, are inseparable from the facilitation of border crossing. This makes visible the ways in which borders give shape to an unevenly developed global capitalism.Third, this dissertation investigates the ways in which the U.S.-Mexico border, and immigration, enforcement are entangled with longer genealogies of incarceration as part of the region’s economic development model. Rooted in historic patterns of racial exclusion and terror, it 1) traces the Paso del Norte region’s political economic transformation into a carceral space, and 2) examines how borderland carcerality is experienced by borderland residents. In doing so, it argues that border controls, and systems of exclusion and containment in the name of bordering, need to be theorized as part of evolving racial-carceral regimes in the Americas.

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PACifying Alem?o: articulations of public security, market formalization, and autoconstruction in Rio de Janeiro (2018)

The complex of favelas known as Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has recently been targeted by two large-scale state projects: infrastructural upgrading via the country’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC, or “urbanization”) and military police occupation via the Police Pacifying Unit program (UPP, or “pacification”). In this dissertation I focus on the various regimes of power, profit, and discourse that constitute these state presences. Based on participant observation, interviews, policy analysis, and popular discourse analysis, I argue that a global urban research agenda requires theorizing in historically and geographically-situated ways. Inspired by the Gramscian tradition, by Brazilian urbanists, by modernity/coloniality scholars of Latin America, and by local activists, I develop a conceptual framework that integrates four different characteristics of urbanization projects. They are informed by historical processes; shaped by flows of capital, people, and policy; negotiated between civil society and state; and influenced by myriad regimes of power. Through this framework I make two related arguments. First, I argue that PAC and pacification strategies overlap in a nexus that I call PACification. PACification joins together marketization, the construction of racialized threats, and violent securitization. It manifests in strategies to attract international investment, extend microfinance, enroll people in mortgages, and foment entrepreneurial behavior, often informed by military police violence. Second, I argue that residents’ and activists’ modes of autoconstruction – in which people build their own communities often over generations – are central to the contemporary manifestation of PACification. Presently, residents are not only building communities out of bricks and mortar, but also through discourses, images, texts, and digital practices in order to safeguard their neighbours and to improve their daily lives.

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Schooling markets: the circulation, creation, and contestation of charter school markets in the United States (2017)

Despite being central feature of economic and social life, markets remain largely understudied within geography. Recently however, a geography of markets has emerged as scholars have begun to excavate the spatial dimensions of markets and their role in shaping the wider economy and everyday life. This dissertation contributes to this literature’s development through the study of charter school policies, which have been used to create markets for publicly-funded schooling in the United States. As argued throughout the dissertation, the study of these schooling markets, which have been the site of fierce political struggles, can help contribute to our understanding of the role markets play in wider sociospatial processes.Grounded in empirical fieldwork and utilizing a geographically-attuned approach to markets inspired by Polanyi and Gramsci, this dissertation approaches the study of charter school markets through case studies examining their functioning in two American states, Michigan and Oregon. It does so through asking the following questions: (1) How are market-making projects in American schooling being constructed, circulated and contested? (2) How have ideologies specific to schooling and education shaped the functioning of charter school markets? and (3) How are market-making 'projects' in education articulated with other sociospatial dynamics?In answering these questions, I argue that, contra to their most common depictions, charter school markets cannot be understood through a narrow focus on the decisions made by actors within them. Instead, the exchange that takes place within these markets is structured by the institutions constructed around them, including struggles over their form and the wider power structures these struggles occur within. This understanding of markets has ramifications beyond schooling and offers new insights into how geographers can understand the role of markets within wider sociospatial relations.

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Adaptation ecologies: circuits of climate change finance, policy, and science in the Pacific Islands (2015)

In order to address the expected impacts of climate change, international development institutions have instigated adaptation projects and policies. These efforts promise to mitigate anticipated harms in vulnerable-to-climate-change social and ecological systems. This dissertation examines the operation and dissemination of adaptation projects and policies in the context of small island states in the Pacific region. It also explores the important role that the pre-eminent development institution, the World Bank, plays in programming adaptation. The research questions explored here are: i) How do finance, policy and science circulate in the name of adaptation? ii) What do the circulation of finance, policy and science achieve for adaptation in Kiribati and Solomon Islands? and iii) Why is the World Bank invested in adaptation, or what does adaptation do for the World Bank and other developmental actors? In answering these questions, I draw from multi-sited primary fieldwork, participant observation, and documentary analysis: at the World Bank in Washington, DC and Sydney, within the public bureaucracies of Australia, Kiribati, and Solomon Islands, and with regional organizations and development partners in the Pacific region. This dissertation posits the emergence of a Pacific Adaptation Complex. The analytical concept of the Pacific Adaptation Concept recognizes the vast institutional arrangements, configurations of expertise, and project technologies that come together to make adaptation happen. Within the Complex, experimental nodes are key, as are multi-directional flows. Yet, I find that, overwhelmingly, flows and investments for adaptation are dogged by persistent stickiness, and a rhetorical attention to mobility and success that is indifferent to practical outcomes. However, the promise of adaptation finance, policy, and science works through failing development institutions and imaginaries, allowing reinvention in an era of development crisis.

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State rescaling, experimental reforms and institutional continuity : the shifting spatial logics of socioeconomic regulation in post-1949 China (2014)

Drawing on the literature on state rescaling, this dissertation investigates how post-1978 layers of policy shifts interact with regulatory logics of Mao Zedong-era policies, and in turn how this reproduces what the Chinese state now deems to be ‘necessary’ forms of uneven development. It proceeds on the premise that the shifting regulatory geographies of the Chinese state constitute a prism through which to evaluate socioeconomic change in China. The analysis is presented in two parts. First, it questions the logics and implications of designating specific territories – Hengqin and Qianhai in the Pearl River Delta and Liangjiang in Chongqing – into “nationally strategic new areas” after the 2008 global financial crisis. These logics were assessed through triangulating three primary empirical sources: policy documents, published comments by state actors and interviews with planners and scholars in China. The contemporary cases are presented in two segments, each comprising two chapters (Chapters 6 to 9). The first chapter of each segment explores how the geo-historical context and key actors enabled the national designation, the second examines the implications of key policy experimentation in the areas. Working from these empirical findings, the dissertation revisited historical sources (memoirs from different state actors of the Mao era, statistics extending back to 1949, academic articles in China, etc.) and developed a geographical-historical narrative that evaluates how the spatial logics of socioeconomic regulation have evolved during and after the Mao era (Chapters 4 and 5). The outcome is a two-pronged, mutually-reinforcing attempt to theorize the past from the lens of the present, and to conceptualize the present through ascertaining the impacts of policies inherited from past regimes. In so doing, the dissertation problematizes simple ‘transition’ models that portray a unidirectional, epochal change in the post-1978 Chinese political economy, a change characterized by decentralized governance and intensified economic-geographical inequality. It emphasizes, instead, a more deeply sedimented pattern of development that is marked simultaneously by significant (and enduring) forms of uneven socioeconomic development and experimental (and capricious) attempts to transcend these forms.

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Transforming commodification: sustainability and the regulation of production and consumption networks (2014)

This thesis analyzes the emergence in the 1990s and 2000s of novel forms of ‘green goods’ or ‘sustainable commodities’. Particular goods come in many forms and include fair trade coffee, certified wood, ethical investment funds, or higher density housing. They represent examples of how sustainability has emerged as a paradigm for the regulation of production and consumption networks. The thesis provides a survey of geographical and interdisciplinary work in commodity studies and suggests sustainable commodities challenges traditional geographical theories of commodification and commodity regulation. The thesis offers a survey of theories of regulation that can apply to global and local production and consumption networks and suggests the use of Strategic Relational Cultural Political Economy as a theory of regulation. The thesis includes four case studies that vary as to type of commodity and type of regulation. The first considers one of the first global certification systems -- the dolphin-safe label for tuna and which linked Thailand to California. The second concerns corporate social responsibility in foreign direct investment in bauxite (a core component in aluminum), linking a Montreal based aluminum company to mine sites in Orissa, India. The third case study concerns a domestic commodity under traditional state regulation -- that of inner city housing under urban sustainability and Smart Growth zoning initiatives in Vancouver, Canada. The fourth case study also considers housing in Vancouver but concerns the relationship between housing, neighbourhood change and rezoning initiatives outside of the urban core. The thesis concludes by showing how the case studies show the applicability of Strategic Relational Cultural Political Economy: Each study indicates a way in which environmental policies and sustainability contribute to a spatio-temporal and institutional fix for a production and consumption network.In each of the case studies, the expansion of capitalist processes involved a contradictory and conflict laden relationship with extra-economic, non-capitalist social and environmental processes. While this created societal pushback, the result was a process of negotiation and compromise which modestly incorporated civil society concern but was also protective of existing economic processes and firm market position.

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Consumption city: Precarious labour and capital in Vancouver, British Columbia (2013)

Vancouver is increasingly being recognized as a model of urban development in the 21st century. While much of the attention paid to Vancouver has focused on ‘Vancouverism’ as an urban planning and design approach that encourages high-density, amenity-rich, mixed-use development to reenergize urban cores, this dissertation examines the exceptional economic development trajectory underlying Metro Vancouver’s urban transformation since the early 1980s. The central claim in this research is that changes to the built form of the city over the past three decades represent a fundamental shift in the orientation of the local economy away from export-oriented resource activity and business services towards local consumption in real estate and tourism which is driven by inward international investment and immigration. The single most important outcome of this largely unplanned shift in urban economic development has been the unprecedented increases in local housing prices. Instead of a healthy ‘diversified’ economy, this reorientation of Vancouver as a consumption city has created a dysfunctional ‘hybrid’ economy characterized by significant job losses in key local economic sectors, below average levels of productivity and exports, and relatively low incomes. Through a set of comparative sectoral case studies exploring food and beverage services, legal services and digital media services, this dissertation seeks to understand what impact the rise of Vancouver as a consumption city has had on local workers and firms. This research complicates a variety of conceptual frameworks used by human geographers such as precarious employment, global and creative cities, firm competitiveness, and entrepreneurial governance. Above all, the many paradoxes of Vancouver’s contemporary economic development trajectory are exposed in the words of local workers, firms, commentators and industry experts: Vancouver is simultaneously the most livable and unaffordable city in the world; Vancouver is a leading creative city in which creative firms and workers alike struggle under conditions of precariousness; Vancouver is mythologized as a healthy, sustainable, lifestyle city while these very qualities often must be sacrificed by working Vancouver residents. Tracing the underlying story and challenges of Vancouver’s emergence as a global consumption city provides important insights into 21st century urban development.

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Neoliberalizing violence : (post)Marxian political economy, poststructuralism, and the production of space in 'postconflict' Cambodia (2009)

In spite of a United Nations sponsored transition to democracy and peace in the early 1990s, violence remains a ubiquitous feature of the Cambodian landscape in the posttransitional era. Contra the commonplace Orientalist renderings that suggest an inherently violent and authoritarian culture underpins Cambodia's failure to consolidate democracy and its ongoing encounters with violence, this study advances an alternative interpretation. Combining (post)Marxian and poststructural theoretical approaches, this study proceeds as a (post)anarchist critique through a series of distinct yet thematically connected chapters that examine the intersections between neoliberalism and violence, and the (re)productions of space that both result from and contribute to their entanglement. This critical approach reveals how neoliberalization plays a paramount role in the continuation of violent geographies in Cambodia's contemporary political economy. The first half of this study theorizes the geographies of neoliberalism and violence through an analysis of the discursive procession of neoliberalism and the imaginative geographies that position it as the sole providence of nonviolence. In orienting itself as a 'civilizing' project, neoliberalism as discourse actively manufactures the misrecognition of its violences. Struggles over public space are viewed as a necessary reaction against such symbolic violence, allowing us to relate similar constellations of experiences across space as a potential basis for emancipation, and thereby quicken the pace at which neoliberalism recedes into history. The second half of this study examines the violent geographies of neoliberalism in 'postconflict' Cambodia, bringing empirical focus to the (re)visualizations, (re)administrations, and (re)materializations of space that have informed the neoliberalization of violence in the country. The pretext of security under which marketization proceeded, the asphyxiation of democratic politics through ordered productions of space, the discursive obfuscations of the 'culture of violence' thesis, and Cambodia's ongoing encounters with primitive accumulation are all revealed to inform the exceptional and exemplary violences of neoliberalization. Ultimately, this study illuminates the multiplicity of ways in which the processes of neoliberalization are suffused with violence. A critical appraisal of neoliberalism's capacity for violence can open geographical imaginations to the possibility of (re)producing space in ways that make possible a transformative and emancipatory politics.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

A democratic science of rational control: the Chicago Program of Research and Education in Planning, 1946-1956 (2024)

From 1946 to 1956 at the University of Chicago, the Chicago Program of Research and Education in Planning—or the Chicago Planning Program, as its members often called it—operated as a degree-granting program whose faculty aspired to train future urban and regional planners in the social sciences, and also to develop a basic, unified approach to planning. Charles Merriam initially conceived of the program as an extension of the work of the New Deal in 1945. Rexford Tugwell, one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Brain Trusters, helmed the program and many of the faculty members had worked in Roosevelt’s federal government. By 1956, however, to both its proponents and detractors, the approach to comprehensive planning developed and promoted in the Chicago Planning Program appeared largely indistinguishable from military operations research techniques. In the furnace of the Chicago Planning Program, New Deal planning was melted down and refashioned in a narrower mold, which redefined planning as the rational direction of a discrete entity towards the future by a group of trained and prudent decision-making experts. In the Chicago Planning Program, parts of the comprehensive approach that Tugwell envisioned, such as the model of Taylorist scientific management, were preserved, while others, such as the hopes of the emergence of a unified and coordinated public, were cast aside. In this way, the story of the Chicago Planning Program shows how trends often attributed to the military research agenda and ideological exigencies of the early Cold War in the United States—from the emergence of “public choice” theory and its critiques of the Keynesian state to the narrowed domain of planning as inappropriate for a state but appropriate for a university or a city—have alternate origins in the continued efforts of former New Deal social scientists to reckon with the project of coordinating the relationship between expert knowledge, the public, and the administrators of the state.

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Theorizing economic Japanification in the post-2008 conjuncture (2021)

Since Marco Polo’s adventures through Asia, Japan has occupied a special place in the west’s consciousness—representing an exotic “topsy-turvy” alternative to western ways of life. In the post-WWII period, mythology about Japan’s political economy inspired a rethinking of the western approach to economic governance. During its unprecedented economic expansion, Japan’s experience of vigorous success redefined the boundaries of western economic orthodoxy, testing the limits of the supposedly universal tenets of liberal development. Now, as its economic miracle transitions into prolonged stagnation, Japan provides a cautionary tale and model for what (not) to do when faced with the prospect of decline. This thesis examines the rise of “Japanification”—the imagined threat of economic decompression characterized by stalled growth, deflation, low interest rates, fiscal deficits, and debt deleveraging—after the 2007-08 global financial crisis in the west to advance three propositions. Firstly, in tracing its recurring role as a comparator in the west, Japan is conceptualized as a “Goldilocks imaginary” and “universal particular” for the late capitalist conjuncture—one which is concurrently, if paradoxically, exotic yet familiar. Representations of Japan serve as effective vectors for reformist imaginations of the economy in times of uncertainty and crisis, providing enough ideational antagonism to agitate (liberal western) norms without disturbing the universal morality of capitalism as a mode of production. Secondly, Japan provides insight into the future institutional composition of the western political economic contexts it is invoked in; it reveals frictions in present systems of accumulation and their possible future logics. Japanification is conceptualized as a signifier for a war of positions waged by sympathizers of Keynesian thought against prevailing monetarist, neoliberal, and Smith-Ricardian sensibilities, suggesting a future system of economic regulation characterized by monetary discretion, fiscal intervention, and industrial policy. Thirdly, albeit more conjecturally, Japanification telegraphs a shift away from neoliberalism, the liberal international order, and its constitution by advanced western industrial economies—and prospectively away from the norm of economic growth. These propositions are argued by reviewing representations of Japan in the social sciences, industry and state agency reports, and liberal financial media from the 1950s to the present day.

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Capital ownership in contemporary financialization: theorizing the new regime of property relations (2020)

The past four decades have seen a significant re-organization in the underlying structure of capitalism, characterized in part by the ascendance of finance. This thesis examines financialization ontologically and epistemologically and suggests that one of the most noteworthy yet understudied outcomes of financialization in the United States has been the establishment of a class of financiers as the new owners of capital. In the introduction, I demonstrate that the share of US corporations directly owned by American finance has grown from 3 percent in 1945 to at least 62 percent in 2018 and propose that US-based financialization should be understood as a new regime of property relations, where financiers increasingly own the means of production rather than extend credit to industrial capitalists. As finance has become immensely powerful, Chapter 2 examines how the discipline of human geography has approached financial questions since the 1980s. Through the analysis of Web of Science bibliometric data and oral histories conducted with 23 key actors in the field, Chapter 2 illustrates the enduring dominance of the UK as a center of knowledge creation and dissemination for the subfield. It also describes how financial geography underwent five distinct intellectual turns, evolving into a polycentric and pluralist sub-discipline. Finally, this chapter emphasizes the lasting influence that the 2008 financial crisis had on the subfield by popularizing financial topics in geography and amplifying geographical scholarship on financialization within the broader social sciences. Chapter 3 shifts the mode of inquiry to examine how the US financial sector was transformed in the past four decades to attain its immense profitability. To do so, the chapter systematically examines the changing sources of income and the composition of assets held by US financial firms. Through the analysis of US macro-economic data, this chapter documents that American finance has grown immensely profitable because it abandoned lending as its primary activity in favour of asset management and ownership. The conclusion discusses how the shift of US finance from a lender to an owner of capital deprives the real economy of interest-bearing capital, which consequently undermines the future basis of profit in finance.

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Reframing reform: positioning the Chinese economy in the World Bank (2020)

The rise of China as an economic power is one of the defining economic trends of last forty years. There has been considerable academic and policy controversy over the extent to which China’s political economy can be classified as capitalist, resulting, in many instances, in a problematic apriori distinction and separation between state and market. This thesis explores how development economists have managed this distinction through an extended case study of the World Bank. Through a critical discourse analysis of the Bank’s corpus of reports on China, along with a historical analysis of archival material, speeches, and academic journals, this thesis traces the Bank’s policy diagnoses, prognostications, and prescriptions since the late 1970s. Chapter 1 introduces the thesis by situating the role of the World Bank in the international development sector in general, and in China, in particular. Chapter 2 examines the first decade of the World Bank-China relationship. I argue that the Bank deployed the discursive technology of ‘transition’ to reduce the complexities of managing economic policy formulation within a state-socialist framework. Through an examination of industrial, labor, and financial policy discourses, I claim this ‘transition imaginary’ was predicated upon an ascendant hegemony of a neoliberal policy nexus within the Bank, coupled with the use of market-based policy instruments in Chinese economic statecraft. In the 1990s, however, the posited teleology from ‘central planning’ to ‘market economy’ grew unsustainable in the face of post-Soviet collapse and the continuation of state-backed credit provisioning to state-owned enterprises, weakening the dominance of the transition imaginary. Chapter 3 examines the introduction of the ‘gradualist model’ of economic reform in the World Bank in the uncertain geopolitical-economic context of the late 1980s. I argue the contested acceptance of ‘gradualism’ as a distinctive reform model challenged the Bank’s extant ‘shock therapy’ model, but was subsequently articulated into a unified post-Washington Consensus paradigm. Chapter 4 concludes by highlighting the significance of shifting discursive and institutional boundaries between market and plan in the global political economy.

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From Risky Business to Common Sense: Sustainability, Hegemony, and Urban Policy in Calgary (2015)

Recent years have seen the City of Calgary adopt a suite of sustainability policies in a bid to shift its received trajectory of sprawling urban development towards eco-conscious alternatives. But where sustainable urban development is typically rendered as a consensus-driven project portending mutual benefits for a given locality, the historical adoption of sustainability policies in Calgary has been characterized by waves of conflict and controversy which have allegedly watered down the City’s policy objectives. Rather than evaluating the technical merits of individual policies against ‘best practice’-type standards, this thesis argues that the meanings and implications of particular policy paradigms – such as Calgary’s move towards sustainability – must be found in both the specific institutional configurations in which policies are formed and the political-economic conditions to which they respond. This thesis explores these institutional pressures and conjunctural forces through a historical analysis of several key moments in the emergence and evolution of sustainability-oriented policy in Calgary. Chapter 1 establishes context for this inquiry, while Chapter 2 formulates a theoretical framework by synthesizing neo-Marxian interpretations of local environmental policy and recent innovations in the field of ‘policy mobilities’ with the work of Antonio Gramsci, particularly related to his conception of hegemony. Building upon this edifice, Chapter 3 comprises a historical overview of the City’s first attempts at sustainability-oriented policy, which I argue are best viewed as a ‘fix’ for several tensions and contradictions surrounding Calgary’s hegemonic development model, which I term ‘developer-led suburbanization’. Attempts to reformat and restructure this model through consensual community ‘visioning exercises’ and ‘systems’-based rationalities are considered in Chapter 4, which I explain as a manoeuvre by the City to restore political legitimacy and wrest control over development matters from private sector actors. These narratives converge in my central argument: the historical formation of sustainability policies in Calgary has not been a process of incremental rationalization or evolutionary refinement, but has instead reflected a series of struggles for political leadership within an arrangement that can be best understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony.

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