Conceptualisations of Space in IRS Research

The constructivist approach is fundamental to the conceptualisation of space within IRS research: actors or social groups shape and construct spaces through their selective perceptions, symbolic attributions, and by discursively constituting spatial qualities and material designs. A characteristic feature of these processes is that they combine physical with social elements. As such, the materiality of space matters just as much as the way it is perceived, appropriated and assessed by different individuals or groups.

IRS research is characterised by a relational understanding of space. This suggests that the proximity or distance to other actors or elements is decisive for the spatial agency of actors. This distance is understood not only in physical terms, but also, and in particular, in terms of cognitive, institutional and organisational divergence. Moreover, the IRS adheres to a process-based perspective on space. The interactions between space and time analysed in IRS research range from everyday processes of appropriation of space to historical trends stretching over several decades. Intrinsic logics inherent to innovation or planning processes are examined as well as the impact of unique events.

A distinguishing feature of IRS's spatial concept is the definition of space as a resource in development processes and not only as an object or context. Spatially dispersed resources and actors can be mobilised and integrated. Existing resources can thus become opportunities for or barriers to spatial development. Places imbued with different symbolic meanings can bring development ideas and therefore consequences of learning processes to life.

Finally, IRS research makes use of different meanings of space and place. "Space" refers to a rather abstract system in which points are located, distances measured and spatial units can be delimited from one another using different rationales. "Places", however, refer to concrete, tangible, and specific qualities which distinguish one point in space from others.