Pacifying Babel's Tower: Using Scientometric Analysis to De-Stretch the Concept of Polycentricity
37 Pages Posted: 26 May 2015
Date Written: May 26, 2015
The degree of polycentricity of an urban region is often claimed to influence the region's competitiveness. However, due to widespread use and policy relevance, the underlying concept of polycentricity has become a ‘stretched concept’ in urban studies rendering academic debate on this topic to situations reminiscent of Babel’s Tower. We trace the conceptual stretching of polycentricity by a meta-study of the scientific literature using scientometric methods and content analysis. All published works that either use the concept themselves or cite a work that does, are collected from the Scopus bibliographic database. This results in a citation network with over 9.000 works and more than 20.000 citations between them. Network analysis and clustering algorithms are used to find the most influential papers in different citation clusters within the network. Subsequently, we employ content analysis to systematically assess the mechanisms associated with the formation of polycentric urban systems in each of these papers. Based on this meta-analysis, we argue that the common categorization of polycentricity research in intra-urban, inter-urban and interregional polycentricity is somewhat misleading. Different methodological traditions and geographical contexts in which the research is conducted are more apt categorizations to understand the origins of conceptual ambiguity surrounding polycentricity. Nonetheless, across clusters, a firm relation between assessments of polycentricity and different kinds of agglomeration economies is observed. The paper concludes by proposing a re-conceptualization of polycentricity based on an explicit acknowledgement of the variable spatial impact of these different kinds of agglomeration economies.
Keywords: polycentricity, urban systems, network analysis, scientometrics, conceptual stretching, agglomeration economies, mixed method research
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