Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography—Rethinking Regional Path Dependence: Beyond Lock-in to Evolution


  • The Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography was established to honor the late Professor Howard G. Roepke, who served on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1952–1985. The original lecture series ran at the annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) from 1986–1994. Economic Geography, the University of Illinois, and the AAG Economic Geography Specialty Group decided to resurrect and cosponsor the lecture series in 2007.


This article argues that in its “canonical” form, the path dependence model, with its core concept of lock-in, affords a restrictive and narrowly applicable account of regional and local industrial evolution, an account moreover that is tied to problematic underpinnings based on equilibrist thinking. As such, the canonical path dependence model actually stresses continuity rather than change. The article explores recent developments in political science, in which there have been active attempts to rethink the application of path dependence to the evolution of institutions so as to emphasize change rather than continuity. These developments are used to argue for a rethinking of path dependence ideas in economic geography.