Economic and social spatial analysis

Space and place play a key interaction and relational role in society and often understanding of contemporary economic and social phenomena, structures and processes, demands the adoption of a spatial perspective. In recognition of the growing significance of space and place, economic and social spatial analysis focuses on businesses, societies and environments at different spatial scales. It therefore aims to generate and enhance knowledge and understanding of economic and social problems, patterns and processes that occur globally, nationally, regionally or locally, and within urban, rural and coastal areas by employing pure and applied analyses of geographic behaviour.

Our wide-ranging interests include:

  • economic performance
  • multiple deprivation and social exclusion
  • crime
  • economic linkages
  • business associations and networks
  • economic restructuring.

Research has been undertaken in partnership with a number of European, national, regional and local public and private sector institutions and organisations, with specific projects undertaken including:

  • the determinants of rural economic performance
  • market towns
  • global-local interactions in English coastal resorts.

Case study: Market towns

Researcher: Professor Sheela Agarwal
Industry partners: Centre for Agricultural Strategy of The University of Reading (UK)
Date: 2005

Rural Europe has to find and promote appropriate forms of economic development to maintain and improve the vitality of rural areas as they adjust to the changing demands of society and the market economy.


Small and medium-sized towns could be important to Europe’s rural regeneration as they potentially enable the concentration of support initiatives that can take advantage of economies of agglomeration while allowing income and employment benefits to spread out into the surrounding countryside. They may also contain concentrations of human and institutional capacity required for ‘bottom-up’ initiatives.

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Case study: The determinants of economic performance in rural areas

Researcher: Professor Sheela Agarwal
Industry partners: DEFRA
Date: 2009

There has been growing interest amongst policy-makers and researchers in the distinction between ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ rural areas. Various studies undertaken in the UK, Europe and Canada, for example, the Dynamics of Rural Areas (DORAs) (Bryden and Hart, 2001), Rural Employment (RUREMPLO) (Terluin and Post, 2000) and the ‘New Rural Economy’;(Reimer, 2003), have sought to distinguish ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ areas and to compare their characteristics.


However, despite these studies, there was still a dearth of knowledge of the underlying factors that explained the uneven geography of economic performance across rural England, and of the most appropriate mechanisms and policies to foster improvements. This was surprising in light of Defra’s (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK) Public Service Agreement (PSA 4) commitment spanning 2001-2004 and 2005-2008 to ‘reduce the gap in productivity between the least performing quartile of rural areas and the English median by 2006….’.

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