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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Tony Chapman

Chapman, T. (2011). Smoke and Mirrors The Influence of Cultural Inertia on Social and Economic Development in a Polycentric Urban Region. Urban Studies 48(5): 1037-1057.

Author(s) from Durham


This article explores the potential of employing the concept of ‘cultural inertia’ to explain why areas are slow fully to recover from a period of industrial restructuring in polycentric urban regions. Cultural inertia produces and reproduces tolerances and intolerances to change. It is shown that taken-for-granted assumptions about what constrains progress in achieving recovery (in comparison with other areas) may actually be false. This article draws on a study of social and economic change in Tees Valley, a sub-region of North East England. It reports on 28 two-hour interviews and three focus groups with key stakeholders. It is concluded that catalytic change could come about in industrial restructuring areas, but only if stakeholders build on strengths. The danger lies in polycentric areas’ attempts to emulate metropolitan areas because of a fundamental lack of belief in existing strengths which can be exploited.