Thinking State/Space Incompossibly

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

Martin Jones and Bob Jessop

 ‘Thinking state/space incompossibly’, Antipode, 42 (5), 1119–1149, 2010. 

Abstract: This paper develops multi-dimensional analyses of socio-spatial relations. Building on previous research, we identify some tensions associated with different dimensions of sociospatiality and introduce the theme of compossible and, more importantly, incompossible sociospatial configurations. Two short studies are deployed to highlight the socio-spatial implications of the principle that not everything that is possible is compossible. The first shows the power of thinking varieties of capitalism compossibly (via the concept of variegated capitalism) and then examines the successive strategies adopted by the European Communities and European Union to address the significance of changing patterns of variegation for approaches to European integration, spatial strategies, and economic and social policies. The second case discusses some related problems for state spatial projects, starting in the 1980s with spatial planning, promotion of a Europe of the Regions and/or of Europe and the regions, and then turns to examine city-regional development strategies.

Keywords: TPSN, compossibility, incompossibility, variegated capitalism, regions


This paper starts from recent attempts to develop a more complex, multi-dimensional analysis of socio-spatial relations (Jessop 2009a; Jessop, Brenner, and Jones 2008, cf Brenner 2009; Leitner, Sheppard and Sziarto 2008; Sheppard 2002). It elaborates this through two short studies of the European Union (EU) and regionalism.[1] To address these issues, we extend and deepen an earlier account of socio-spatiality, developed with Neil Brenner, by identifying some basic tensions associated with different dimensions of socio-spatiality and introducing the new theme of compossible and, more importantly, incompossible socio-spatial configurations.[2] We present this approach in three steps: a brief account of the state, a more elaborate account of the territory-place-scale-network schema of socio-spatiality, and two cases at different scales to indicate the geographical value-added of these concepts.

The most general feature of the state as a political form (pre-modern as well as modern, pre-capitalist as well as capitalist) is its grounding in the territorialization of political power. Note that the territorial as a distinctive political form should not to be conflated with the terrestrial[3] as a general substratum of this and other forms of socio-spatial organization. This suggests that states comprise historically variable ensembles of technologies and practices that produce, naturalize, and manage part of terrestrial space as a relatively bounded container within which political power is exercised to achieve various, more or less well integrated, policy objectives. This involves the intersection of politically organized coercive and symbolic power, a clearly demarcated core territory, and a population on which political decisions may be made collectively binding (such as the exercise of law and order, and the collection of taxation and other sources of revenue). The range of policy objectives compossible with this political form is, as Weber (1948) noted for the modern state, very large and typically involves other types of socio-spatial organization too.

The variability of the territorialization of political power is reinforced when we consider the inter-state system.[4] This involves more than the Westphalian order, which evolved in phases from the 17th to 20th centuries and is still far from universal. Other modes of territorializing political power have existed (eg chiefdoms, feudalism, empires, suzerainty, tributary relations), some co-exist with the Westphalian system (eg city-states, warlordism, despotic rule, informal empires); new expressions are emerging (e.g. the EU, which has been interpreted as a rescaled “national” state, a revival of medieval political patterns, a post-sovereign form of authority, or a new type of empire); and yet others can be imagined (eg a world state or global governance oriented to perpetual peace). At the same time, there are terrestrial spaces that are not subject to formal state control – these have been designated as terra nullius – that are nonetheless socially organized in various ways. These include stateless polities and nomadic communities, linkages between places and/or scales, or rhizomatic networks. Such patterns raise important state-theoretical issues such as: (com)possible articulations among forms of territorialization; the adjudication of claims over terra nullius broadly conceived; and the ability of some states to exert extra-territorial rights.[5] But here we address territorial questions and their connection with place, scale, and network.

Introducing Compossibility and Incompossibility

For this issue of Antipode, we aim to capture some of these complexities by elaborating some socio-spatial implications of the crucial principle that not everything that is possible is compossible. This principle was introduced for very different purposes in natural theology and later deployed in process metaphysics (see Rescher 1967, 1975) but we will integrate it into the critical realist approach deployed elsewhere in our discussions of socio-spatiality (Brenner et al 2003; Jessop, Brenner and Jones 2008). Critical realism distinguishes the real, the actual, and the empirical.[6] In these terms research on compossibility goes beyond what is possible by virtue of real causal mechanisms and tendencies considered individually to focus on what is compossible at the level of the actual as diverse causal mechanisms and tendencies interact in a given socio-spatial field. More importantly, it invites questions about what is incompossible by virtue of such causal interaction. In complex fields where multi-causality and equifinality operate, the number and range of incompossible combinations commonly far exceed compossible ones. This may result from the operation of counter-tendencies to an otherwise possible event or chain of events but the more interesting cases for our purposes concern real opposition, antagonism, or contradiction among events that are possible when seen in isolation but incompossible when taken together. This argument has major ontological and epistemological implications.

Its ontological significance is captured, of course, in the basic proposition that not everything that is possible is compossible. This is one way to define the relative structuration of a given social field in its wider context, ie the higher the ratio of incompossible to compossible combinations, the more the structuration (cf Massey 1984). More generally, while this proposition could be read in purely logical terms, it is more fruitful to explore (in)compossibility in terms of the contingently necessary variation, selection, retention, and institutionalization of given sets of social relations over space-time. Epistemologically, this proposition implies that a certain type of social relation that appears feasible when considered without regard to its articulation with other social relations within a given spatio-temporal field may prove infeasible when viewed in its articulation with different sets of relations. Thus our analytical grasp of possibility and impossibility, compossibility and incompossibility will shift as research proceeds and becomes more concrete and complex. We illustrate these propositions below through studies of the socio-spatial aspects of variegated capitalism and the new regionalism but they have a much wider significance.

Taken together these remarks suggest that, in examining compossibility in terms of the real, the actual, and empirical, attention must shift from elements to moments, from events to ensembles, and, a fortiori, from flat ontologies to depth ontologies.

  • The critical realist distinction between real and actual already implies that what is possible at the level of a given real mechanism may not be actualized when several real mechanisms are activated.
  • While individual elements are possible insofar as they exist or have existed, not every element is compossible with all other elements. This invites us to consider possible “worlds” within a specific socio-spatial field. Thus, whereas elements can be regarded as pre-given materials (albeit typically pre-interpreted and socially constituted), they can be seen as moments when combined with other elements to produce sedimented blocs, ensembles, etc (see Dodgshon 2008).
  • Compossibility involves more than fleeting co-existence due to chance variation: it depends on the actual scope for co-selection, then co-retention, and, later, co-institutionalization based on the structural coupling of compossible processes and their social supports. This requires a shift from individual events to emergent ensembles that have a relative coherence that is reproducible for significant periods. For the actualization of specific socio-spatial possibilities depends on interaction among different elements of co-evolving socio-spatial configurations.
  • This requires careful theorization and study of stratified compossibilities and, further, of the dynamics initiated by potentially incompatible, opposed, or contradictory socio-spatial processes connected to one or more other socio-spatial dimension. Thus, in contrast to singularity, individuality, “flat ontologies” (Jones III, Woodward and Marston 2007) and “onto-analytic sites” (Woodward, Jones III, and Marston 2010), we argue for analyses of the contingent articulation of relata in specific, and potentially asymmetric, ensembles that have distinctive emergent properties and causal powers. In the case of the state, for example, we are interested not only in the “state effect” (ie the institutional integration of the state) but also the effectivity of the state as a focal point of territorialized political power.

Three further features of this compossibilist approach can be identified. First, given our critical realist framework, we highlight the significance of contradictions, dilemmas, and tensions at the level of the real and the actual. It follows that we emphasise mechanisms and tendencies rather than base our arguments on a playful use of metaphors (cf Sheppard 2008:2604). Thus we will introduce some basic tensions involved in socio-spatial organization and explore their implications for the dialectics of territory, place, scale and network. Second, in distinguishing elements and moments, we aim to avoid the problems of origins insofar as what matters for our purposes is the condensation of elements into the moments of a specific socio-spatial configuration and the subsequent re-articulation of that configuration. And, third, we stress, on various grounds, the incompleteness of all attempts at totalization and hence the impossibility of fully formed totalities. This requires attention to coherence and incoherence, zones of stability and instability, deferrals and displacements, etc. This implies, inter alia, the need to broaden the notion of “constitutive outside” to include the structural as well as subjective-agential conditions of possibility of a given socio-spatial configuration and its actualization.

Taking compossibility seriously suggests three protocols for analyzing states:

  1. Do not analyze states purely in territorial terms – particular forms of territorialization of political power typically depend on their articulation with compossible multidimensional socio-spatial matrices;
  2. Do not assume the homogeneity and fixity of states but examine the scope for polymorphy and flexibility; and
  3. Where possible, look beyond individual states to explore how they shape and are shaped by compossible interstate systems.

These protocols can be applied to, among other issues, the role of states in securing spatio-temporal fixes (Jessop 2006). For states contribute to the relative stabilization of society by managing economic and social contradictions, strategic dilemmas, and their repercussions within the state system. This role is inherently spatial, and always provisional, and involves not merely state intervention in territorial terms but also in regard to place, scale, and networks (see below). This has been discussed elsewhere (Brenner 2004; Jessop 2002; Jones 2009) for the state in Atlantic Fordism and its crisis and we will not repeat these arguments here. Analyses of what follows the Keynesian welfare national state have been equally productive, highlighting various tendencies that affect the territorial, place-related, scalar, and networked dimensions of the state (compare Allen and Cochrane 2007; Büchs 2009; Harrison 2008, 2010; MacLeod and Jones 2007) and the changing importance of the state qua territorialized political power relative to other modes of governing conduct (for example, Arts, Lagendijk and van Houten 2009; Jones III, Woodward and Marston 2007). This includes a shift of focus from government to governance, as these new arrangements involve diverse social partners and stretch beyond formal state structures, and an associated turn from government to meta-governance (see below). These changes can be explored productively, as we show below, with a dynamic concept of (in)compossibility that is concerned with variation, selection, retention, and institutionalization.

On the Limits of Possibilist Socio-Spatial Analysis

Informed by recent trends in the socio-spatial restructuring of states and as argued elsewhere (Jessop, Brenner, and Jones 2008), four main spatial turns have occurred during the last 30 years and, while each turn highlights different themes, they also have close theoretical and empirical connections. They are concerned with territory, place, scale, and network respectively and have typically been generated by concerns to interpret and explain major changes in socio-spatial organization in the postwar world. Referring readers to Jessop, Brenner and Jones (2008), here we simply note that these debates tended to focus on fine-tuning concepts relevant to the theoretically privileged dimension of socio-spatiality and/or on over-enthusiastic deployment of one or other turn in empirical analysis. This is seen in all four turns, albeit unevenly and in diverse forms, especially in more theoretical work. Each lends itself to the metonymic conflation of a part (territory, place, scale or networks) with the whole (the totality of socio-spatial organization), whether due to conceptual imprecision, an overly narrow analytical focus, or the temptations of an untenable ontological (quasi-)reductionism that treats space as if it had only one dimension (cf Jessop 2009a). Indeed, the scope for variation in socio-spatial forms is maximized in such one-dimensionalist work because it ignores the constraints on actualization of any given dimension arising from its articulation with other dimensions in a given socio-spatial configuration. In contrast, for us, to repeat, not everything that is possible is compossible. The distinction between ontology and epistemology is helpful here. For, while examining a single dimension of socio-spatiality may be justified as a simple entry point into a complex research field, one should not confuse what is possible at this step in the analysis with what is compossible when other dimensions are introduced (cf Jessop 2007a; 2009b). Conversely what seems impossible on one socio-spatial dimension may prove possible when potential obstacles are overcome through the intervention of other dimensions.

During the last decade, this initially possibilist approach has been applied to various forms of socio-spatial restructuring, and, in turn, some central categories of this approach – such as strategic selectivity, accumulation strategies, state projects, state strategies and hegemonic projects – have already been spatialized (Brenner 2004; Jessop 2007a; Jones 2008). These advances can be developed by including all four structuring principles and associated strategies and practices and, additionally, taking account of relevant second-order concepts (see below); investigating their implications for specific spatio-temporal fixes or other types of TPSN configuration; and examining the compossibility and/or incompossibility of particular sets of spatio-temporal fixes and the respective substantive relations that are being fixed. One could thereby study socio-spatiality as a heterogeneous series of contradictory, dilemmatic, strategically selective, spatio-temporal, discursive-material ensembles; and, on this basis, explore how these ensembles (or particular elements within them) interact in particular conjunctures to reconfigure socio-spatial relations in ways that may lead to compossible outcomes but also to problems generated by incompossibility (cf Jones 2009). Two commentaries have noted some of this regarding our recent work (Mayer 2008; Paasi 2008) but have neglected the scope for a more dialectical analysis of socio-spatial path-dependency and path-shaping and, especially, their implications for changing forms of statehood.

A Compossibilist Revision of the TPSN Framework

Our response to these challenges is a further development in the heuristic perspective that, due to its focus on territory (T), place (P), scale (S) and networks (N), we termed the TPSN framework (Jessop, Brenner, and Jones 2008). Table 1 presents these structural principles, specifies their consequences for the patterning of those relations, and, most importantly, identifies basic tensions associated with each. While the first three columns, reproduced from Jessop, Brenner, and Jones (2008), serve mainly definitional and pedagogic purposes, column 4 introduces a new element into the discussion. Specifically, this column identifies sites of tension and dilemmatic terrains that introduce: a dynamic element in the study of socio-spatiality; an entry point for analyzing compossibility and incompossibility in strategic-relational, critical realist terms; a means of undertaking periodization and more robust comparative analysis within and across TPSN configurations; and a chance to bring strategic agency into analyses of socio-spatial transformation.

Ontologically, each dimension identifies a real socio-spatial structuring process principle and object of socio-spatial structuration and, epistemologically, it offers an abstract-simple entry point into more concrete-complex socio-spatial analysis. When the latter remains isolated as research continues, however, whether through conceptual inflation, essentialism, or fetishism, this will result in one-dimensional approaches to analysis, interpretation, and explanation. However concrete the analysis becomes, it stays rigidly within the theoretical horizon of the privileged entry point. Ontological complexity thereby disappears from the research horizon. For example, when territorialization as a structuring principle is applied only to territory as the product of territorialization, the analysis will neglect the limits on possible forms of territorial organization rooted in other dimensions of socio-spatial analysis (or other structuring principles). Similar arguments apply to place-, scale-, and network-centrism (Jessop, Brenner and Jones 2008).


Table 1. Revisiting Sociospatial Relations

Source: Modification of Jessop, Brenner and Jones 2008:393

The problems of one-dimensional possibilism can be avoided through more systematic investigations of the interconnections among the four spatial dimensions of social relations – ie the mutually constitutive relations among their respective structuring principles and the specific practices associated with each principle (cf Casey 2008). Such inquiries would facilitate studies of spatial complexity based on the elaboration of sufficiently rich concepts for each dimension of socio-spatial relations and their typical forms of tension and dilemmas; the development of more complex categories reflecting types of (dis)articulation and (in)compatibility among them; the effective introduction of agency as a crucial factor and force in socio-spatial dynamics and transformation; and their deployment in ways that permit observers to explore more precisely their weighting and articulation in a given spatio-temporal context. Applying these general protocols to statehood, for example, scholars could adopt different entry points whilst still ending with complex-concrete analyses in which each moment finds its proper descriptive-cum-explanatory weight (for some methodological foundations, see Bertramsen, Thomsen and Torfing 1991:122-141; Jessop 2007a:225-233; Jessop 2009b; Sayer 2000:86-96, 108-130).

It follows that focusing on one-dimensional possibilities is especially inappropriate for phenomena as complex as the state or inter-state system, which involve all four first-order dimensions of spatiality as well as many second-order features (such as positionality or mobility, which, we will argue, are best defined in terms of the combination of first-order principles). Starting from the latter, we can develop a more complex understanding of the contradictions and dilemmas involved in second-order features too. Thus the potentially endless spiral movement from abstract-simple to concrete-complex analyses must consider the logic and dynamics of compossible TSPN combinations, understood in terms of the dialectic of path-dependency and path-shaping in broader sets of spatio-temporal and discursive-material constraints.

To avoid misunderstanding, we do not claim that territory, place, scale, and territory are the only dimensions of socio-spatiality. There are certainly second and, indeed, n-th order emergent socio-spatial relational properties (mobility and positionality are second-order examples) and other first-order dimensions may exist. Likewise, first- to n-th order configurations cannot exist[7] apart from other features of the natural and social worlds. They are always articulated with other substantive natural and social relations and these constrain the form, shape and trajectories of compossible TPSN combinations – especially when account is taken of potential contradictions and dilemmas within and across first- and n-th order dimensions – and the socio-spatial relations through which they are mediated, produced and transformed (on other forms of contradiction from a political economy perspective, see Jessop 2002).

A Compossibilist Strategic-Relational Approach to Statehood

To show the potential of this approach, Table 2 cross-tabulates each socio-spatial dimension seen as a structuring principle with the other three dimensions viewed as fields of operation of that principle. This indicates that structuring principles do not just apply to themselves – a route to mutually isolated forms of one-dimensionalism – but affect other socio-spatial fields too. This matrix shows that each spatial concept can be deployed in five ways. This extends Jessop, Brenner, and Jones (2008: 396), which identifies only the first three applications. For example, territory can be explored:

  • In itself as a product of (re)bordering strategies that operated on the existing terrestrial landscape (this involves reading the matrix diagonally, hence territory        territory);
  • As a structuring principle (or causal mechanism) that impacts other already structured fields of socio-spatial relations that may be undergoing restructuring in other respects too (this involves reading the matrix horizontally, hence: territory ➙ place; territory ➙ scale; territory ➙ network).
  • As a structured field, produced in part through the impact of other socio-spatial structuring principles on territorial dynamics (now reading the matrix vertically, focusing on the territory column and considering the linkages from: place ➙ territory; scale ➙ territory; and network ➙ territory).
  • As a site of structural tensions specific to each dimension, taking us beyond typology [and beyond what, in the worst case, as noted by Mayer (2008) and Paasi (2008), is mere taxonomic fury] towards a potentially more dynamic analysis. For example, the territory territory cell raises the issue of the formally and substantively adequate balance between the extremes of hermetic closure and a borderless world; likewise, for the territory ➙ place cell, we find tensions facing global cities, city-regions, gated enclaves, free cities.
  • As a terrain of strategic dilemmas associated with these tensions and, a fortiori, of agency that makes a difference. The intersection of tensions linked to different dimensions of socio-spatiality requires specific types of action to resolve, displace, or defer the contradictions and crisis-tendencies associated with a given socio-spatial configuration – one key aspect of which would be
    specific forms of spatio-temporal fixes and their compossibility. Thus the territory-territory cell invites consideration of issues of multi-level territorial governance, federalism, confederalism, inter-state consortia (or consociation), and so forth (cf Blatter 2003; Schmitter 1996). This requires an analysis that rejects a purely self-referential account of the governability of states as discrete political territorial units and, accordingly, examines their formal and substantive adequacy for providing compossible spatio-temporal fixes for problems generated within and beyond the state system. Likewise the territory ➙ place cell could be analyzed in terms of the specific spatio-temporal fixes associated with global cities and global city-regions (expanding at the cost of national states and hinterland regions with strong centre-periphery dynamics as well as at the expense of the “third world” inside the global city). Or, turning to other territory-place configurations one could ask how gated enclaves displace their costs into the social and political environment or, again, how free cities expand at the cost of the natural environment and exploited subaltern classes (eg Kohn 2004). An interesting issue relevant to (in)compossibility is how far a TPSN configuration can be organized around analogous poles of the respective tensions of the TPSN schema, eg bordered, contained, monoscalar, and characterized by closed networks or whether, conversely, the stability of a given socio-spatial configuration require some differentiation in this regard.

Apart from the final remark, these five guidelines remain stubbornly two-dimensional, indicating the need for further work. Three-dimensional concepts are found and four-dimensional concepts are certainly feasible, although their diagrammatic representation and practical testing pose serious problems (see Jessop, Brenner, and Jones 2008: 392). In addition, Sheppard (2002) and Leitner, Sheppard and Sziarto (2008) have recently proposed “positionality” and “mobility” as important socio-spatial concepts. Nicholls (2009) advances this in his work on “social movement space”, which explores how networks are forged in places. Whilst affirming their importance, we see these as second-order concepts that presuppose the first-order concepts introduced above.

Treating the four dimensions self-referentially and in terms of their interactions, including their implications for potential contradictions, crisis-tendencies, and dilemmas, is central to our proposed research programme. This enables interactions among the four dimensions to be understood as expressions of diverse attempts at strategic coordination and structural coupling in specific spatio-temporal contexts in the face of various TPSN-specific tensions (eg Gough 2004; Jessop 2009a, 2009b; Jones 2009; Kramsch 2002; MacLeod and Jones 2007; Painter 2008).


Table 2. Beyond One-Dimensionalism: Conceptual Orientations

Source: Jessop, Brenner, and Jones 2008:395

Research into these socio-spatial configurations can be undertaken from compossibilist and/or incompossibilist perspectives. The former would address the relative coherence that comes from a variable combination of similarity across socio-spatial forms and complementarity among functions. However marked the similarity among forms, forms nonetheless problematize function and may not contain social conflicts. This is where spatio-temporal fixes become critical in terms of their differential ability to displace and/or defer crisis-tendencies, contradictions, and conflicts. Complementarity is also significant here because it can provide requisite variety and a repertoire of responses for crisis-management, including flanking and supporting mechanisms to compensate for the typical propensities to fail associated with the primary structuring forms and principles (cf Jessop 2006; see also Crouch 2005). An incompossibilist approach would focus in turn on the ways in which similar forms in contradictory social formations eventually generate mutually reinforcing crisis-tendencies and/or in which different but non-complementary forms can produce blockages, impasses, and stalemates. Excess similarity has been evidenced recently in the increasingly one-dimensional pursuit of neo-liberalism on a global scale, leading to a crisis in global neo-liberalism and a crisis of the finance-led accumulation regime in the case of economies that underwent neo-liberal regime shifts (compare Jessop 2010b; Birch and Mykhnenko 2010; Saad-Filho and Johnston 2005). The latter cases are illustrated in market, state, and governance failure (for differing perspectives on this, see Chesterman, Ignatieff and Thakur 2005; Jones and Etherington 2009; Jones and Ward 2002).

Rethinking State/Space Compossibly and Incompossibly

We now offer two brief studies: the changing socio-spatiality of the European Union as a state in the process of formation and English regional policy. The first shows the power of thinking varieties of capitalism compossibly (via the concept of variegated capitalism) and then examines the successive strategies adopted by the European Communities and EU to address the significance of changing patterns of variegation for approaches to European integration, spatial strategies, and economic and social policies. The second case discusses some related problems for state spatial projects, starting, for present purposes, in the 1980s with spatial planning, promotion of a Europe of the Regions and/or of Europe and the regions, and then turn to recent city-regional development strategies. The case study material is drawn from UK experience (but for similar trends occurring in cities and regions elsewhere, see Beer et al. 2005; Brenner 2004; Crouch et al. 2004; Pike, Rodríguez-Pose, and Tomaney 2010).


Thinking Varieties of Capitalism Compossibly

While the topic of varieties of capitalism (VoC) might seem unconnected to changing state spatialities, this is due to the firm-centredness of much of the relevant literature or, more generally, its focus on industry-finance relations or business models. A common distinction between liberal market and coordinated market economies fails to differentiate adequately among modes of coordination. In response, Schmidt has suggested the notion of “state-influenced” market economies for cases outside the usual binary contrast (2009). While this might suggest that the state is important only in “exceptional” cases, she also shows that its forms and functions, albeit variable, matter in all cases. We build on this argument to propose three steps to overcome the state-theoretical deficit in VoC analyses: first, interrogate their socio-spatial assumptions; second, consider the changing socio-spatial articulation of different sets of varieties proposed to date (eg Amable 2003; Becker 2009; Coates 2003; Hall and Soskice 2003; Hancké, Rhodes and Thatcher 2007; Streeck and Yamamura 2001; Whitley 1999) and their insertion into the world market; and, third, investigate the links between varieties of capitalism and state forms. This will reveal the limitations of the main accounts and explanations proposed in the 1980s and 1990s[8] for varieties of capitalism and also show the intimate connection between these varieties and their respective state forms.

From a compossibilist perspective, previous work on varieties of capitalism can be criticized on five grounds. First, it fetishizes national territory in focusing on (families of) national models, treating them as rivals competing on the same terrain for the same stakes, and ignoring potential complementarities among different varieties within a wider international or global division of labour. This is, of course, a form of methodological nationalism in which national states and their boundaries serve to define the scope of different models. This focus on territorial logics clearly conflicts with the logic of the networked space of flows entailed in the organization of the world market (cf Arrighi 1990; Harvey 2003; for a critique of Harvey, Jessop 2006). It also conflicts with the hierarchies of places and/or core-periphery relations that exist within and across national territorial states.

Second, there is often wide variation within any individual national economy across its different sectors and/or regions, casting doubt on the national economy as an analytical unit and raising questions about divisions of labour defined in terms of place and/or scale, both within national frontiers and across them in transnational networks. This problem cannot be solved by invoking the key role of national states in shaping institutional and regulatory frameworks for all economic players in a national economy – especially as state formations on other scales and networked international regimes also have increasingly important roles.

Third, and relatedly, a focus on national economies ignores alternative socio-spatial configurations such as emerging supranational blocs, global city networks, or global commodity chains. Interestingly, such cross- and intra-national variations are connected to the socio-spatial configurations associated with different forms of capitalism as well as to the changing dynamic of the world market.

Fourth, concern with varieties of capitalism may lead to neglect of the market-mediated competitive pressures and political initiatives that encourage convergence among them, whether through European integration and harmonization and/or US-sponsored expansion of networked, world market-friendly international economic regimes. In this regard, states, the inter-state system, and international regimes are critical factors in shaping VoC dynamics.

Fifth, the emphasis on “horizontal” comparisons and/or competition among national or regional varieties of capitalism diverts attention from the “vertical” relations between core and periphery (Radice 1999) and ignores important asymmetries in the competition and co-evolution among varieties of capitalism due to differences in their capacities to shape the world market. For, to paraphrase a revisionist principle in Animal Farm: “all varieties of capitalism are equal but some are more equal than others” (Orwell 1945).[9]

The growing integration of the world market makes it especially inappropriate to study “varieties of capitalism” in isolation. The idea of compossibility is fruitful here because it suggests the existence of a single variegated capitalism (cf Jessop 2007b; and, for different reasons, Peck and Theodore 2007). There are five main grounds for this, corresponding to the five criticisms outlined above.

First, rejecting methodological nationalism, a focus on the changing global division of labour suggests a tendentially emerging single variegated capitalism within a self-organizing, emergent ecology of varieties of capitalism rather than a more or less enduring set of national varieties that occupy distinct niches that are potentially independent of each other. This has major implications for changing forms and functions of states viewed as specific mechanisms of government and governance.

Second, rather than describing and interpreting them as if each variety occupied a separate silo, it would be better to explore the scope for rivalry, competition, antagonism, complementarity, or co-evolution across different models of capitalism and their spatio-temporal fixes (cf Crouch 2005). Focusing on variegated global capitalism involves identifying and explaining zones of relative stability in terms of their changing complementarities, asymmetries, contradictions, and crisis-tendencies in a complex “ecology” of accumulation regimes, modes of regulation, and spatio-temporal fixes; and, importantly, noting their respective capacities to displace and defer contradictions and crisis-tendencies into the future and/or elsewhere into zones of relative incoherence, instability and even catastrophe.

Third, interpreting conventional varieties of capitalism in this way highlights the need to relate comparatively successful performance in certain economic spaces not only to their external as well as internal conditions of existence but also – and crucially – to the costs that such success imposes on other spaces and future generations.

Fourth, in this context, neo-liberalism is not just one variety of capitalism among others that has proved more or less productive and progressive (or more or less inefficient and exploitative) and could be adopted elsewhere with the same positive (or negative) results, as if the whole world economy could be organized along these lines. We must reject, as Radice (1999) argues, claims about the suprahistorical superiority of one or another disembedded model of capitalism. For example, not all economies can establish their national money as the world currency and run massive and growing trade deficits, not all national states can be military masters in a unipolar world, and so on. This is not just a matter of logical compossibility. It also concerns discursive-material, spatio-temporal compossibility, that is, the substantive fit (or otherwise) among varieties of capitalism. This involves not only the economic competitiveness of a given form of capitalist organization but also the capacity of its political regime(s) to promote this form in and beyond its territorial and extra-territorial contexts in relations among places, interscalar relations, and networks.

Fifth, examining the world market in terms of centre-periphery relations rather than simple national differentiation raises important socio-spatial questions about state capacities. This has long been recognized in geo-economic and geo-political studies and highlights the need to explore different forms of structural coupling and co-evolution among political economic spaces. In these terms, for example, the US model entails many co-evolved relations with other economies subordinated to its logics. Within a changing world market ecology there is enormous scope for variation and variegation and, where this exceeds the limits of compossibility, the resulting crises may reimpose relative unity, produce “mutual ruin”, or generate state failure and social stagnation.

In short, rather than considering varieties of capitalism in isolation, we should explore their structural coupling, co-evolution, and mutual compossibilities. This also requires us to consider the contradictions and mutual incompossibilities among varieties of capitalism and their implications for the future dynamic of “variegated capitalism” at the level of the world market. This is critically related to questions about the state and its changing socio-spatial configurations, abilities to promote one or another variety of capitalism, and secure spatio-temporal fixes appropriate thereto. Varieties of capitalism can be explored in terms of their responses to the contradiction between the economy considered as a pure space of flows and the economy as a territorially and/or socially embedded system of resources and competencies. The liberal market economy is linked in ideal-typical terms to a liberal state – a type of state that nonetheless intervenes significantly in the organization of the market and, in the current period, promotes policies of promote liberalization, deregulation, privatization, resort to market proxies in the public sector, internationalization, and cuts in direct taxes. The Rhenish version of the coordinated market economy is linked to a neo-corporatist mode of state intervention, which involves the state in modulating the balance of competition and cooperation, de-centralized “regulated self-regulation”, a widening of the range of private, public, and other “stakeholders” in the pattern of corporatist negotiation, an expanded role for public-private partnerships, policies to protect the core economic sectors in an increasingly open economy, and efforts to maintain high levels of taxation to finance social investment. Dirigiste (or statist) coordination of market economies resorts in the after-Fordist period to regulated competition, state-guided national strategies rather than top-down planning (indicative or prescriptive), increased governmentalized audit of private and public sector performance, the expansion of public-private partnerships under state guidance, neo-mercantilist protection of the core economy (extending in the current global economic crisis to so-called financial mercantilism), and the development of new collective resources to facilitate economic security and global competitiveness. The East Asian export-oriented model involved a Listian developmental state that guided economic growth, initially for national security, then catch-up development, and, most recently, innovation-led competitiveness. Despite neo-liberal policy shifts and imposed structural adjustment policies, a post-developmental neo-mercantilist state still engages in meta-guidance, in part through networks, of the economy, privatization measures are selective and tied to state strategies (or the interests of state managers), liberalization of collective consumption (under GATTS) has been limited, free trade under WTO rules has been imposed gradually (outside of the IMF crisis) and protection continues in the name of national security, and the tax system is still largely developmentalist.

Thinking Varieties of Capitalism and EU State Formation Incompossibly

We now apply these general arguments to European state formation, where economic and political forces oriented to a more productivist concept of capital have been seeking to restructure national states and economies in the hope of solving the long-standing structural “problems” of competitiveness within regions, national economies, and the wider European economic space. The resulting policies and their sequencing can be studied in terms of the principle that not everything that is possible is compossible. Central to our analysis is a focus on the potential for incompatibility, antagonism and contradiction within and between the four first-order socio-spatial structuring principles of territories, places, networks, and scales (and, by extension, possible second- or third-order principles) and their implications for the compossibility of different state spatial strategies and state spatial projects.

The six founding members of the European Economic Community (EEC) – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands – had modes of growth and regulation belonging to one or another of the regulated varieties of capitalism as well as one or another form of conservative-corporativist welfare regime or, in Italy’s case, a clientelist Mediterranean welfare regime (cf Ruigrok and van Tulder 1996; Hantrais 2000). The initial steps towards European integration aimed to integrate Western Europe into Atlantic Fordism; and the “Monnet mode of integration” was concerned to create a “Keynesian-corporatist” (sic) form of statehood on the European level favourable to different national Fordist modes of development (Ziltener 1999). At this stage, rather than involving a principled commitment to economic liberalism at almost any cost, market integration was expected to have spillover effects that would consolidate regulated capitalism on a wider scale and also lead to deeper political integration. For this reason, the early stages of integration encouraged the development and coherence of the European Communities as instances of variegated regulated capitalism.

The situation changed as the European Community expanded to include members with different modes of growth, patterns of regulation, and welfare regimes. Initially the United Kingdom was relatively isolated as a liberal market economy (and this in part motivated the French veto on earlier entry) but still served an important intermediary role in spreading the influence of de-regulated international finance into the Continental heartland.[10] The growing incompossibility of different varieties of capitalism during this period was aggravated by the emerging crises of Atlantic Fordism and its differential impact across national models in Europe – with some making neo-liberal regime shifts and some making neo-liberal policy adjustments, thereby increasing the economic and social heterogeneity in the original core, intensifying the crisis in European integration, and prompting the search for a new mode of integration. It became correspondingly harder to re-scale state planning from the national to the European level and/or establish a tripartite Euro-corporatism (on Euro-corporatism, see Falkner 1998 and Vobruba 1995; on its limits, Streeck 1995). The Monnet mode of coordinated market integration was replaced from 1973 onwards (Ziltener 1999) by the more liberal internal market project, creating conflicts among neo-liberal, neo-corporatist, and neo-statist policy approaches. Eastwards expansion of the European Union has further weakened the coherence of the EU – an effect that is far from accidental but was promoted by neo-liberal forces (more oriented to the money concept of capital) within and beyond the European Union (cf. Bohle and Greskovits 2007). There was far greater emphasis on market integration than policy integration as capital movements and trade in services were liberalized and little regard was paid to the potential problems this might create. This was aggravated by the formation of the Eurozone in 1999, which removed exchange rate adjustments from the armoury of national governments and limited the scope for deficit spending, and by the inclusion of new member states from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004 and 2007. This is most obvious in the apparent polarization between the Rhenish and Southern European economies in the Eurozone and in the exposure of major European banks to problems in several new member states.

Returning to our more general account, the governance problems resulting from incompossibility intensified in the 1990s and encouraged a turn to the open method of coordination (OMC) in the same decade, which was officially consolidated in 2000 in the Lisbon agenda with its 10-year timeframe. The Lisbon Agenda had strong support from the founding members of the EEC and from Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and Sweden. It combined a commitment to international competitiveness with retention of the European social model and can be seen as a compromise between neo-liberal and social democratic variants of capitalism. The Lisbon project was closely tied to the shift from a Keynesian-welfarist mode of integration to a more Schumpeterian-workfarist mode. In ideal-typical terms, this involves the de- and re-territorialization of the state, the de-statization of crucial economic and social policies, the re-scaling of state power, and an increasing emphasis on networked power. Retaining older forms of national and European statehood would have been incompatible with the changes in accumulation and regulatory regimes associated with the growing emphasis on the knowledge-based economy and/or finance-led accumulation. Yet the OMC has failed significantly on an EU scale in regard to these rival accumulation strategies: the knowledge-based economy project has faltered and finance-led accumulation has crashed.

The growing incompossibility of an increasingly variegated European economic space with the Monnet model of integration helps to explain the shift away from policies of harmonization and the development of the OMC as one among several examples of “multi-scalar meta-governance conducted in the shadow of post-national hierarchy” (Jessop 2007a). In contrast to the earlier pursuit of various measures of positive integration alongside the pursuit of negative integration, growing incompossibility has produced a bias in economic and, to a lesser extent, social policy towards negative integration and collibration. Pursuit of measures that tend to eliminate restrictions on “the four freedoms” (the free flow of goods, services, capital, and labour) tends to weaken the coherence of the respective national cores of coordinated market economies and to advantage mobile capital (on the neo-liberal bias of negative integration, see van Apeldoorn 2002; Altvater and Mahnkopf 2007).

The OMC is a distinctive form of collibration, ie the judicious mixing and remixing of market, hierarchy, networks, and solidarity to improve overall outcomes, that can be read in part as a response to the growing incompossibility of distinct varieties of capitalism within an increasingly integrated economic and political space that has been subject to growing pressures from an increasingly integrated (and, more recently, crisis-stricken) world market. From one viewpoint, given the ecological dominance of neo-liberalism on a world scale from the 1980s onwards (cf Jessop 2007a), the pursuit of neo-liberalism within the EU appeared to be the line of least resistance given the co-existence of several “varieties of capitalism” with their complex contradictions. One indicator of this is the changing position of the European Round Table, which is an important site of compromise between contending fractions of capital, oriented to the productive and money concepts of capital respectively, and a major vector of the interiorization of external constraints as well as intra-European conflicts and contradictions (cf van Apeldoorn 2002). The OMC helps to mediate the resulting variegation without relying purely on negative integration and without imposing a one-size-fits-all economic and political programme. The underlying principle is that states are allowed to pursue different approaches to shared EU objectives, thereby facilitating the extended reproduction of a variegated capitalism based on the structural coupling and co-evolution of different modes of growth and regulation with different modes of insertion into the European and wider world markets.

This emerging trend in institutional restructuring and strategic reorientation can be contrasted with the usual alternative accounts of the rescaling of the traditional form of sovereign statehood or the revamping of liberal intergovernmentalism inherited from earlier integration rounds. The emphasis is on efforts at continuing collibration in a changing equilibrium of compromise rather than on systematic, consistent resort to a single method of coordination to address a fixed pattern of complex interdependence. Effective collibration depends in turn on “super-vision” and “supervision”, ie a relative monopoly of organized intelligence combined with overall monitoring of agreed governance procedures (Willke 1996). Thus we have seen repeated rounds of constitutional debate over the design of the Europolity as well as growing resort to and expansion of comitology, social dialogue, public-private partnerships, mobilization of non-governmental bodies and social movements, etc., as integral elements in attempts to guide European integration and steer European Union policy-making and implementation (Scott and Trubek 2002). The recent and continuing crisis over the European constitution and its validation through national referenda and/or legislative decision-making indicates the problems of economic and political incompossibility in an expanding European Union that is itself located in an increasingly heterogeneous world market and polity.

Even more significant in this regard is the crisis in the Eurozone that followed the global financial crisis as the uneven development of the Southern European economies relative to the economies of the original “Rhenish” member states has been aggravated by a growing fiscal crisis and crisis-tendencies of sovereign debt. Not only is it evident that the EU economies were not de-coupled from the world market and resulting contagion effects but it is also clear that current policy responses are likely to fail on the rocks of incompossibility. This reflects the complex position of the European Union within a variegated capitalism that is not confined to European economic space but extends to the world market, EU meta-governance has become a crucial site for contending political forces both within and beyond the EU as they seek to shape its overall strategic direction and/or specific economic and social policies (cf Ziltener 1999; van Apeldoorn 2002). Thus the European Union has been a vector for American neo-liberal pressures to redesign the world order and for attempts to promote an alternative European model. While the initial compromise position was embedded neo-liberalism, the current economic crisis illustrates how the balance of forces has shifted against neo-liberalism within the European framework. Even before this volte face, however, the tendential Europeanization of economic and social policy had been closely linked, in line with the principle of subsidiarity, to the increased role of subnational and cross-national agencies, territorial and/or functional in form, in its formulation and implementation. In this regard there has been a significant scalar division of labour between the EU, national states, and sub-national tiers of government linked to different forms of networking and efforts at governmentality. The current struggle concerns the most appropriate response to the global crisis of neo-liberalism that was “made in America”, first emerged there, and has since spread to Europe with a vengeance. This has revealed significant differences once again between the economies that undertook the most marked neo-liberal regime shifts (Eire, Iceland, the UK, Spain, the Baltic Republics, and several Eastern and Central European economies) and those that inclined more to neo-liberal policy adjustments (notably the Benelux economies, Scandinavia, and Germany) and the limits to their compossibility within the current constitutional, institutional, and meta-governance arrangements. The position of the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) in this context is complex, reflecting a mix of poor growth, neo-liberalism, fiscal crisis, political corruption, and real-estate bubbles that has been aggravated by the global financial crisis.

The European Central Bank acted swiftly and massively in May 2010 to rescue banks by money market interventions to solve liquidity problems; and Stability and Growth Pact rules that set a 3% ceiling on public sector deficits were relaxed. But the underlying and growing incompossibility of the EU economy remains evident in the contradiction between, for example, the German and Dutch export-led growth models and the austerity policies imposed in economies with large trade and public sector deficits. On the one hand, export markets will decline and, on the other hand, debt deflation risks aggravating fiscal problems in the weaker economies. Indeed, the austerity policies required by the leading Northern European economies and EU institutions are highly likely to rebound on them. The recently agreed European Stabilization Mechanism will not solve the underlying problems of incompossibility but will serve at best to defer them. At the time of writing, it seems that neo-liberal policy solutions have won out and, if so, the incompressible structural problems of an incompossible variegated capitalism will remain. The current impasse in European political reform makes it unlikely that the tension between neo-liberal market-led integration and effective EU governance can be overcome. Watch this space (and its TSPN dimensions).[11]

Thinking Regional State/Space in Europe Compossibly

While this narrative exemplifies the dynamics and limits of compossibility, we do not want to encourage the belief that all that is required is just one more turn, this time compossibilist in nature, as if all theoretical and practical problems could be solved by a single-minded turn in this direction. Indeed, since this turn is premised on the territorial, place-centric, scalar, and network turns, single-mindedness is especially inappropriate. Thus we recommend looking at compossibility and incompossibility in terms of the differential scope for loose and tight coupling among socio-spatial dimensions in different contexts and in terms of variation, selection, retention, and institutionalization. Thus our second case is more compossibilist than incompossibilist in our new interpretation. It explores the scope for apparently contradictory or even incompossible policies to be pursued regionally through a combination of muddling through, mutual limitation, uneven development. This pattern has nonetheless proved incompossible with economic and social performance that matches obvious competitors, leading to gradual economic decline and weak capacities to respond to the global crisis in neo-liberalism and the national crisis in finance-led accumulation.

Our approach can be deepened by revisiting the hotly contested concept of “region” and the roles played by regions in economic governance and socio-economic development. There is growing recognition that regions are necessarily contingent historical geographical accomplishments with many possible natural and/or social bases (MacLeod and Jones 2007). This opens them to a compossibilist analysis in terms of their multiple individual bases and the compossibility of different regions within and across space-time. Such an analysis would examine inherited TPSN landscapes and the shifting balance of forces mobilized behind different past, present, and future socio-spatial configurations. The strategically selective terrain on which regional projects are pursued is crucial. As Paasi notes:

Regions are always part of this action and hence they are social constructs that are created in political, economic, cultural and administrative practices and discourses. Further, in these practices and discourses regions may become crucial instruments of power that manifest themselves in shaping the spaces of governance, economy and culture (2001: 16, our italics)

The “new regionalism” project is the most durable political and policy manifestation of such constructs regarding state spatiality in the after-Fordist period. Over the last decade, it has been re-shaping the meaning of political space and encouraging new forms of political mobilization and action (see Keating 1998; Scott et al. 2001). In stark contrast to the “encagement” and “entrenchment” state strategies of Atlantic Fordism that rested on the regulatory primacy of national territory and domestic place (cf Brenner 2004; Jessop 2009a), it promises sound post-national governance through the regulatory primacy of post-national scalar divisions of labour and connectivities among different social fields mediated through multiple networks. This political strategy began in the 1980s with the “Europe of the regions” discourse, which promoted inter alia spatial planning based on regions to apply European structural funds and cohesion policies (Haughton et al 2009). This is now shaping efforts to build “competitive city-regions” across Europe based on economic clusters, knowledge-based economy strategies, and growing self-awareness of localities as socio-political entities (see Hall and Pain 2006; Harrison 2007). Power and responsibility are being shifted from the national to lower tiers of government and governance, reflecting the relativization of scale that destabilized national space as well as an expanded role for rhizomatic networks of networks that cross-cut conventional territorial forms (Blatter 2003; Veltz 1996).

This helps to explain why decentralized approaches, tailored to sub-national, regional and local circumstances are considered better able to address the continuing problems caused by entrenched territorial inequalities in growth, income and employment (cf Dunford and Perrons 1992). Decentralized structures are also expected to deliver an enhanced, democratized, political settlement that renders economic development institutions more open and accountable to local, regional and sub-national territorial circumstances (see OECD 2001). Nonetheless to secure relative coherence among these multiple forms and sites of decentralization, network forms of organization are considered necessary (for an early UK example, see EC 1996). Such multi-scalar meta-governance informs not only UK regional policy but also, more significantly, emerging TPSN configurations like the EU (Jessop 2007a). Finally, decentralization allegedly offers a territorial shape capable of nurturing culture, developing social and political imaginaries, and promoting regional distinctiveness (Paasi 2009).

Yet these processes do not operate in a spatial vacuum: geography matters. This poses the question whether the new regionalism is not only a possible (ie abstractly feasible) state project but also compossible with the inherited institutional landscape, the balance of forces, and any other projects in play. Some factors favouring the initial selection of the new regional imaginary are its productive fuzziness, its resonance across such diverse fields as identity, culture, economics, politics and policy, and its adaptability to different contexts and conjunctures. In addition, it promises to address the imperatives of economic competition, the institutional and legitimacy crises of the (after-)Fordist state, and pressure for devolution and constitutional change within the regions themselves. Factors favouring its effective integration into state spatial strategies include its compatibility with the shift from a spatio-temporal fix that prioritizes territory-place to one organized around scale-network, its coherence with the open method of coordination, and its promise of addressing the congestion of local economic initiatives associated with numerous rounds of spatial planning and economic governance (Harrison 2010). But it is worth asking whether the new regionalism involves more than a short-term coincidence of diverse elements of regional policy and could be retained and institutionalized into a socio-spatial configuration that is compossible in the longer-term. For not only would its retention depend on its capacity to promote economic competitiveness and social cohesion but also on its capacity to secure decentralization, open up the state apparatus, and empower sub-national governing communities. Experience to date is very uneven and probably negative because only partial successes have been recorded (compare Goodwin, Jones and Jones 2005; Haughton et al. 2009; Keating, Cairney and Hepburn 2009; Pike and Tomaney 2009; Rodríguez-Pose and Gill 2005; Rossi 2004).

England is certainly a site of competing TPSN spatial strategies and illustrates the role of muddling through in coping with combined and uneven development. Since the late 1990s the Government has pursued economic and political strategies based on decentralization (eg new economic governance through city-regions, devolved policies for the “skills society” and knowledge-based economy) and others that concentrate economic, political, and state power in similar fields (e.g. through the Review of Sub National Economic Development and Regeneration and subsequent Single Regional Strategies as multi-level “coordination points” to provide a “clearer set of objectives and responsibilities” – see Communities and Local Government and Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform 2008).

Yet the decentralization/devolution initiatives counteract others that involve new territorial projects, place-based initiatives, scalar reshuffling, or networked opportunities (Etherington and Jones 2009; MacLeod and Jones 2007; Morgan 2007). Here we see TPSN state strategies responding to problems created by state intervention itself – a crisis of inherited forms of TPSN crisis-management (cf Offe 1984). These problems were acknowledged in attempts to build networked governance through Local Area Agreements and Multi-Area Agreements. These involved cross- and inter-territorial alliances (in terms of their geography and policy remits) and built on experiments such as Local Strategic Partnerships. All three projects exemplify multi-scalar meta-governance (Jessop 2010a). Nonetheless coordinated implementation is hampered by an inherited inflexibility of the state apparatus, due to the fragmented legacies of individual departments and policy initiatives and their scalar interpenetration and/or interference (see Fuller 2010). This has led one of us to identify an “impedimenta state”, ie a trend for the state to become the medium and outcome of a series of economic development rationalities, which are being implemented through multiple spatial strategies and projects, but their apparent incompatibility and baggage-like polity is reproducing irrationality (Jones 2010).

We would suggest that exit from these crises requires adequate responses to the socio-spatial contradictions of the neo-liberal model without regenerating the older problems that neoliberal state spatial restructuring was meant to resolve. While efforts are being made to support and flank neo-liberalism (a form of “neo-neo-liberalism”), this model is already showing its limitations. A new synthesis is clearly required that not only moves beyond present blockages within national territorial and economic space but also addresses the problems emerging from the wider reorganization of the inter-state system within a rapidly changing world market and global social formation. Currently, however, state policy offers more of the same, albeit shifting the scale of intervention. As part of a “new-new localism”, the UK Coalition Government intends to abolish the Regional Development Agencies, the Regional Government Offices and Regional Spatial Planning. In a letter to Local Authority Leaders and Business Leaders, ministers invited local groups of councils and business leaders to meet and form Local Enterprise Partnerships. These will seek to provide strategic leadership in their areas by setting local economic priorities and creating the right environment for business and growth. Their discourse invokes decentralizing power as far as possible, putting communities in charge of planning, and increasing accountability (BIS and CLG 2010). Nonetheless, rather like the Training and Enterprise Councils launched with a similar “can-do” business and community empowerment bravado two decades ago, LEPs are likely to fail. Their modus operandi involves rolling forward existing centrally-orchestrated policy regimes, deploying limited levers and mechanisms to influence the business community, and ultimately being unable to correct deep-rooted market failures.


In response to several acknowledged weaknesses in socio-spatial theorizing over the last 30 years, reflected in diverse theoretical deficits, methodological hazards and empirical blind-spots, we have suggested some ways to expand the TPSN scheme introduced by Jessop, Brenner, and Jones (2008). Although we have illustrated this through two case studies in particular fields, the compossibilist approach has wider significance. In our concluding remarks, we return to these bigger issues. One proposal, little developed here, is to link the TPSN scheme to tensions and dilemmas, opening space for recognition of agency; another proposal, more elaborated but still provisional, is to explore compossibility and, more significantly, incompossibility. The latter is central to such analyses because, to reiterate, not everything that is possible is compossible. This affects the general deployment of socio-spatial concepts (what seems possible from a one-sided concern with territoriality, for example, may prove impossible when its articulation with other socio-spatial dimensions is considered). It also underlines the significance of variation, selection, and retention: what seems possible for short-term co-existence of elements or events may prove impossible – in other words, incompossible – in the medium- or long-term or, alternatively, may require changes elsewhere to make it compossible. In this context we suggest that:

  1. The relative weight of the four first-order dimensions of socio-spatiality introduced above varies with different types of socio-spatial fix – sometimes territory, sometimes place, sometimes scale, sometimes network, and sometimes combinations (see below) matter more in securing the coherence of spatio-temporal relations
  2. Crises can be explored in terms of the growing incoherence of these four socio-spatial dimensions as previously organized under the dominance of one (or two) such dimensions
  3. Crisis resolution often depends on the emergence of a new spatio-temporal fix that reorders the relative importance of territory, place, scale, and network
  4. Territory-place were important during Atlantic Fordism and, after the crisis of its primary spatio-temporal fix, scale-network have become more significant; and
  5. With a focus on absence and co-absence[12] as well as presence and co-presence, and inviting inquiries into the possibility, impossibility, compossibility and incompossibility of specific sets of socio-spatial relations, “geographies of compossibility and incompossibility” is a valuable addition to the conceptual vocabulary of socio-spatial inquiry.

Finally, we suggest that, when located in a broader strategic-relational framework sensitive to possibility and compossibility, the TPSN schema is useful in refining socio-spatial theory and, a fortiori, in analyzing socio-spatial transformations.


[1] The TPSN schema derives from debate among Neil Brenner, Bob Jessop, Martin Jones and Gordon MacLeod (see Brenner et al., 2003; Jessop, Brenner and Jones 2008). Its compossibilist framing was developed by the current authors. Martin Jones thanks The Leverhulme Trust for support through a Philip Leverhulme Prize.

[2] For an analysis prefiguring some of these arguments, see Gough (1991).

[3] The terrestrial includes earth, water, and sky considered as first nature and as built environment. Even the telematic is emergent from the terrestrial insofar as it provides the conditions and medium for cyberspace (Luke 1994).

[4] In principle, a solitary state could exist if it turned part of terrestrial space into a territorialized area non-contiguous with another territory controlled by another state.

[5] These extra-territorial rights include a given state’s claim to immunity from the sovereign jurisdiction of other states and/or a right to impose its domestic law on residents, organizations, or other entities in territory formally controlled by another state.

[6] Critical realists distinguish the real as the deep layer of underlying causal mechanisms, tendencies, and counter-tendencies, the actual as the level on which real forces are actualized, and the empirical as the level of evidence for this effect.

[7] They might be fruitfully studied in such terms in certain contexts.

[8] Analyses vary across periods: Shonfield’s classic work, for example, highlighted the state’s significance for the dynamic of post-war capitalism (Shonfield 1965).

[9] See also McMichael (1990) on “incorporated comparison”, in which one model strongly influences the structural environment in which comparator models operate; and Konings (2008) on the influence of asymmetrical intermediary capacities in global circuits of finance.

[10] Konings (2008) notes that continental banks also exploited the separation of industry and finance in the Anglo-Saxon model to move some of their international financial activities to the City of London, which, in turn, modified the way in which the liberal financialization model operated.

[11] These questions are being explored by Bob Jessop as part of an Economic and Social Research Council research professorship, Cultural Political Economy of Crisis-Management, from  April 2010 (Grant number: RES-051-27-0303).

[12] Co-absence occurs when absenting some x removes the possibility of some y.


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