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disciplines. I argue that Harrison never reified the region, as regional scientists did before him and many new regionalists1 are doing today, but saw regions as loci of conflict and change. I demon- strate the centrality of class conflict in his work, a particularly important contribution in the Ameri- can context where class is muted or absent in most analyses. Even his interpretations of the firm were strongly shaped by his normative concern for workers and his considerable skills at analyzing the occupational and income consequences of corporate decision making. Harrison (1984) gave center stage to competition between firms, which he interprets differently from the neoclassical model of pure competition, and he consistently acknowledges the powerful role of the state at all levels:

The future development of the newly emerging economic base depends on the interplay between the forces of competition among firms on the one hand and the antagonism between managers and workers (both inside the workplace and in the community) on the other, all mediated by the policies and regulations of governments at the local, state, and, especially, federal level. (p. 50)

The focus on the state permitted him to engage in a relatively sophisticated way in regional policy analysis and economic development prescription. He was a consistent advocate of the public sector and its ability to intervene on behalf of working people.


Harrison’s work on regions was so successful, I believe, because his unapologetic advocacy of working people and communities was accompanied by a method that placed great stock in data, scientific methods of testing, and historical specificity. In his first full-length assessment of New England’s relatively unique regional economy, “Regional Restructuring and ‘Good Business Cli- mates’: The Economic Transformation of New England Since World War II” (1984), Harrison adopted a historical framework. Here, Harrison offered a careful and unconventional interpretation of the origins of the 1970s wave of growth in New England. He devoted the first portion of the chap- ter to an extensive and synthetic discussion of the industries (textiles, machining, aircraft engines), key firms (General Electric, Pratt & Whitney), and occupations (the shift from a disproportionately large blue-collar to white-collar distribution). The richness of this discussion is the result of Harri- son’s ability to synthesize historical literature with emerging radical as well as conventional social science concepts. In subsequent accounts of New England, he took care to insert historical argu- ment when it was important to demonstrating context and causality (Harrison & Kluwer, 1989).

Similarly, in his critiques of the Italian and Silicon Valley literatures, which painted relatively static pictures of networked production among relatively small and cooperative producers, Harri- son strove to place each region in historical context, showing how earlier periods of district forma- tion gave way to the present and probing the new forces eroding and altering each district’s character (1994a, 1994b). In these efforts, his work was chiefly synthetic, relying on secondary lit- erature and deftly confronting overly simplistic accounts with solid evidence of missing actors, contingency, and change.

Harrison’s ability to weave in original and secondary data in support of his arguments gave his work considerable weight. In another relatively unusual article, written with Maryellen Kelley and Jon Gant (1996), the authors take on the hypothesis, embedded in the new industrial districts and clustering literatures, that localization economies are stronger determinants of innovation and eco- nomic development than are urbanization economies. Using sophisticated statistical techniques on a large survey data set and controlling for a number of other explanatory factors, they found that urbanization economies continue to be strong and dominant in explaining innovation.

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