Cities, Jobs and the Knowledge Economy - 6

Cities, Jobs and Economic Change

We argue for a move away from the neo-classical economics framework which dominates policy-making, towards consideration of market failures and the importance of planning.

Professor David Soskice

III Research theme from 2019 to 2022 led by Professor Neil Lee


The information technology revolution has led to huge changes in society, reshaping social relationships, the type of work we do, and patterns of consumption. Many countries have seen a decline in mid-skill, mid-wage jobs, with polarisation between high skill, high pay employment and low skill, low pay (and often precarious) work. There is often an increasing divide between the experiences and prospects of those who enter the labour market as university graduates and those who do not.

One striking feature of economic change has been its tendency to concentrate economic prosperity in selected locations. In high income countries the loss of industrial employment has been a feature of all major cities and towns, but the knowledge-based service economy has flourished in only a small number of these places. Other once-thriving urban areas are ‘left behind’, struggling to replace their historical economic purpose. As concentrations of skilled workers and high-wage industries in prosperous cities increasingly become the driver of national economic prosperity, geographic divides in education, employment opportunities, political attitudes and cultural values have been thrown into sharp relief. Discontent with this uneven geography of opportunity is manifest in the rise of populist politics across Europe and the United States, challenging the stability of democratic societies.

Our research theme ties together LSE academics who are interested in developing an internationally comparative, cross-disciplinary and multidimensional approach to these issues. Other strands will investigate the institutional responses to technological change, such as the failure of education systems to meet the increased demand for high skilled labour and sub-optimal investment in research and development. We will engage quantitative and qualitative researchers to understand both broad economic processes and everyday lived experiences. 

The theme is organised around four core problems:

1. First is the problem of managing growing spatial economic inequality. Central governments have policies to manage the national economy, but what can help poorer cities and towns?  

2. Second is strengthening the link between increased aggregate demand and quality employment. Some of our fastest-growing, most ‘successful’ cities also contain the most precarious and poorest workers. How do ‘good’ jobs get created, and how can labour market inequalities between men and women or across ethnic groups be reduced?  

3. Third, how can successful, growing urban areas ensure a strong link between economic growth and individual human welfare? This will include investigating the relational aspects and lived experience of inequality in urban areas, and the relationship between inequalities and social mobility.  

4. Finally, to what extent is growing spatial inequality leading to social division? In particular, processes of selective migration are both a cause and a consequence of political divisions between richer and poorer places. We are working to unpick the implications of these processes and how they can be understood. 

Professor Neil Lee is a Professor of Economic Geography at LSE. He is also Director of the BSc in Geography with Economics. He joined the Department in 2013, having previously been Head of Socio-Economic Research at The Work Foundation, a think-tank. He holds a PhD in Economic Geography from LSE and was a visiting scholar at TCLab, Columbia University. He has also been Visiting Professor at Science Po Toulouse.

His research considers economic development, innovation, public policy, and inequality. Recent studies have considered the impact of high-technology sectors on low-wage labour markets, access to finance for SMEs in cities across the world, and new forms of innovation policy. Current projects include an investigation into innovation in Kuwait, a comparative study of innovative clusters in East Asia, and research on the geography of populism. He is also working on inclusive growth and inclusive innovation policy. He has worked with public and private sector organisations including NESTA, the World Bank, the OECD, the European Commission, and the UK government.  


Theme members

 Theme members from LSE:

Dr Mark Fransham

Visiting Fellow at III


Dr David Hope

Lecturer in Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy, King’s College London, and Visiting Fellow at III


Dr Tom Kemeny

Senior Lecturer in Economic Development in the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London and Visiting Fellow at III

Andrew McNeil bio pic

Andrew McNeil

III Doctoral Programme

Picture of Frieder Mitsch

Frieder Mitsch

Research Assistant and III Doctoral Programme

Professor Kirsten Sehnbruch

Professor Kirsten Sehnbruch

Distinguished Policy Fellow, III

Professor David Soskice

Professor David Soskice

School Professor of Political Science and Economics, Department of Government, LSE, and Research Director, III

Dr Susanne Wessendorf

Assistant Professorial Research Fellow, III

Professor Chrisanthi Avgerou

Professor Chrisanthi Avgerou

Professor of Information Systems, Department of Management

Beatriz Jambrina Canseco

Beatriz Jambrina Canseco

III Doctoral Programme

Professor Simona Iammarino

Professor Simona Iammarino

Professor of Economic Geography, Department of Geography and Environment

Gareth Jones

Professor Gareth Jones

Director of Latin America and Caribbean Centre, Department of Geography and Environment

Professor Michael Storper

Professor Michael Storper

Professor of Economic Geography, Department of Geography and Environment

Professor Nicola Lacey

Professor Nicola Lacey

School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy Department of Law

Professor Catherine Boone

Professor Catherine Boone

Professor of African Political Economy and Programme Director, African Development, Department of International Development

Dr Pawel Bukowski

Research officer – Labour Markets at Centre for Economic Performance, Department of Government

Dr Chiara Cavaglia

Research Officer, CVER Centre for Economic Performance

Dr Charlotte Haberstroh

Dr Charlotte Haberstroh

LSE Fellow in Public Policy /Comparative Politics, Department of Government

Professor Sara B Hobolt (FBA)

Professor Sara Hobolt

Sutherland Chair in European Institutions, Department of Government

Professor Stephen Machin

Professor Stephen Machin

Professor of Economics, Director – Centre for Economic Performance

Professor Sandra McNally

Programme Director – Educationand Skills, Centre for Economic Performance

Professor Sandra Jovchelovitch

Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science

Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington

Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science


External theme members:


Jo Blanden (@JoBlanden) | Twitter

Dr Jo Blanden

Reader in Economics, University of Surrey

Professor Wendy Carlin

Professor of Economics at University College London (UCL) and Research Fellow, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Sumaiya Rahmana

PhD student, University of Surrey


Research Projects

Ethnographic solutions to inequalities in South Asian advicescapes

This project led by Professor David Lewis is part of the Atlantic Equity Challenge organised by the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity.

The provision of business advice is an important, yet little studied, aspect of contemporary social and economic change in the Global South, with important implications for the reproduction of rural-urban and social inequalities. An extensive industry of business advice-giving exists in South Asia, involving public and non-governmental sectors, and increasingly, private firms. This shift reflects a growing private sector emphasis in development, towards economic growth driven initiatives, entrepreneurship, and a focus on small and medium enterprises. This transformation has altered streams of business advice and finance: steering microfinance into business finance, and shifting informal lending towards formal debt.

The context for this study is the expanding un- and under-employed youth demographic that exists against the backdrop of business and entrepreneurship that is increasingly central to development initiatives. The focus of the study is the practice of giving business advice to young people aged 18 to 25 as potential entrepreneurs. Such advicescapes are more complex than they appear to formal advice-delivery agents, and entangle kin, religious leaders and elders as informal advice agents as well. The presence of discriminatory practices in advicescapes are less visible to these formal advice providers, who may be unwitting perpetrators of bias. Attitudes and other subtle aspects are neither monitored nor measured. These issues lend themselves to the ethnographic approach to be taken in the proposed research. The project’s overarching research question is: “Can entrepreneurial advice-giving address inequalities of access and outcome for young people in rural and urban south Asia?”

Read more about the project here

Social media and the crisis of urban inequality: transnational analyses of humanitarian responses across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa

This project led by Dr Romola Sanyal is part of the Atlantic Equity Challenge organised by the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity.

Spanning three sites in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, this project will examine how social media is used to navigate the terrain between humanitarianism and inequality in the Global South. Inequality should not only be studied in humanitarian crisis settings, but should itself be seen as a humanitarian crisis, especially in cities. The inequality of the social and legal conditions of the urban poor, migrants and refugees, which limit their access to jobs and housing, are multidimensional, produced vertically through income/wealth, horizontally through ethnic identity, migration status, gender and age, and through space and institutional practices.

The project will consider how social and communications media play a key role in alleviating and exacerbating inequalities. Social and communications media are tools of self-organisation that help displaced people and migrants arrive in cities, and access housing, jobs and transportation. But they also entrench inequalities, with a disconnect between the kinds of information that migrants, displaced and other community members receive and that are available to civil society, state and humanitarian actors. Thus information and communication can shape support and livelihoods, and also continue the exclusion of people as surplus populations. This role of social media as both enabler and excluder in conditions of crises remains underresearched, and is an area requiring policy development to improve rapid responses to urban shocks.

Read more about the project here