A Time and Place for Agency

Abstract: If places indeed matter, as economic geographers believe, then it must matter most to the people who live their everyday lives in these places and experience the world materially and socially through it. When a crisis hits and uncertainty ensues, it affects people who call these places home the most. So much so, that some of them might be willing to stake a claim on its recovery, and development through purposeful actions. Some of these actors and these actions have helped places overcome wicked developmental challenges, while other places continue to be beset with protracted economic decline where local actors find progress in development continually elusive. This raises the main research question of this dissertation: how and why do responses of local actors to economic crises vary across time and place? In answering this question, this dissertation seeks to examine and understand the role of human actors in the transformation of places undergoing local economic adversity. In order to do so, it explores and joins together the conversations on resilience, agency, and place leadership to find missing puzzle pieces in explaining why and how actors act and engage in transforming places. Empirically, it conducts a comparative case study on the closures of two large R&D facility in Lund and Södertälje as well as uses 56 cases of place leadership and policy engagements from metadata in order to apply the novel method of QCA. This dissertation has found that responses of local actors vary because different actors face varied sets of contexts that underpin their reflexivity, decision-making, and strategies for action. These contexts also matter in shaping the constraints and available opportunities to collectivize with other actors for launching policy actions.Furthermore, across the three articles, this dissertation finds that actors can have profound influence on the processes of transformation in places that matter to them. They can take up roles and positions that push for local economic development policies that reflect their aspirations for themselves and for the places in which they live. These roles give actors access to resources to mobilize and the impetus to launch collective action in order to actualize policy initiatives in response to economic adversities like plant closures. In order to manage inter-temporal changes to their access to resources, they engage in activities that attempt institutional changes. Some of these actions and policies succeed and some are less successful. Actors need to navigate the contexts in which they find themselves because actions are enabled or constrained by structures with which they interact. This is what makes the process of agency contingent and why the responses of local actors to economic crises so varied.This dissertation has contributed to understanding the role of actors in local economic transformations and the context that constrain and enable their actions by interrogating how actors respond to place specific economic adversities as well as their involvement within place-based policy processes. Moreover, this dissertation has also engaged in further conceptualizing institutions in the agency perspective by looking at micro-level institutions that directly link actors with structures. These links allowed this dissertation to explicate generative processes on how micro-level institutions affect and enable the decisions of actors in policy intervention and resource mobilization, and how actors maneuver these institutions when collaborating with other actors.