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geography of retailing


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The study of spatial patterns of retail and consumer behaviour. This includes the analysis of retailing within a city; hierarchies of retail centres based on central place theory, and the relationship between out of town malls and city shopping centres. Models are used to forecast retailing and consumer decisions, mostly at the intra-urban scale. These methodologies treat space as neutral, or independent.

In contrast, the ‘new economic geographies of retailing’ (N. Wrigley and M. Lowe eds, 1996) view the relations between space and retail activity as mutually constitutive. In this way, retail capital can structure spaces, defining our urban spaces with shopping streets, markets, and malls, but is also configured by socio-spatial processes. Key themes include: the reorganization of working corporate structures, retailer–supplier interfaces and labour; the social relations of production; the organization and technology of retail distribution; and the workings of retail capital. ‘The potential of retail geography is that categories such as “economy” or “culture” are constantly being shattered. The two seem mutually implicated’ (Nick Blomley, Simon Fraser University).

In the developed world, it has becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between consumption and entertainment: ‘not only is shopping melting into everything, but everything is melting into shopping’ (S. T. Leong2001). Retailing is now part of the expression, construction, and contestation of identity; consumption may define who we are. At the same time, much of current thinking is that consumption is intrinsically evil, and morally corrupting.

Perhaps the supreme incarnation of shopping as leisure is the out-of-town shopping centre/shopping mall. Malls were built on a large scale and pioneered by Victor Gruen (1973), who aimed to ‘restore the lost sense of commitment and belonging…[to] counteract the phenomenon of alienation, isolation and loneliness and achieve a sense of identity’. Shopping malls offer consumers a safe and climate-controlled alternative to the perceived dangers and unpredictability of city centre shopping, transforming our public spaces into sanitized, privatized, serially reproduced zones. G. Ritzer (2004) argues that ‘these malls, corridors, consumers and shops could be almost anywhere—Los Angeles, Singapore, Moscow, Rio or Johannesburg’, and M. Sorkin (1992) claims that ‘the globalisation of retailing is creating the ageographical city, a city without place attached to it’. ‘The mall is essentially a pseudoplace which works through spatial strategies of dissemblance and duplicity’ (J. Goss (1991) AAAG81, 1). See Birkin, Clarke, and Clarke (2002).

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography.


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