Between Researchers and Users: The Regional Studies Association as a learned society, 1965-2005

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The thesis presents a history of the Regional Studies Association (RSA) from its formation in 1965 to its fortieth anniversary in 2005. The existing literature on learned societies focuses on those established before the twentieth century and the majority of studies on these organisations after the Second World War tend towards narrative, anniversary histories. The thesis attempts to address this gap by adding to the literature a critical history of a learned society in the social sciences. In addition, it analyses the function of, and change within, these organisations through the case study.The structure of the thesis is chronological. Chapter four traces the RSA’s formation in its 1960s context and how disagreement over the organisational structure and epistemology shaped its eventual manifestation. Chapter five examines the Association’s attempts to establish itself as a viable organisation and its field as an interdisciplinary focus for regional research from 1965 to 1979. Chapter six covers the period 1980 to 1997 and considers how the Association and its field adapted to a less hospitable environment for regional research in the UK, and its attempts to secure its organisational future within its changing context. Chapter seven concludes the RSA’s history from the election of the Blair administration in 1997 until its fortieth anniversary in 2005. Each empirical chapter charts the interaction of ideas, policies and practice within the field of regional studies and how the Association has sought to maintain itself as a vibrant learned society within its evolving context.Through examining the Association’s history, the thesis answers its questions concerning the function of, and change within, this learned society. It argues that the RSA’s function has been a connecting structure that has inverted the disciplinary, geographical and institutional divides of other research structures to form a community of knowledge exchange and dissemination. In doing this, it has added value for participants and advanced knowledge in its field by linking individuals and knowledge that would otherwise be disconnected. In order to perform its function effectively, the thesis argues that the Association has had to actively engage a range of different actors into its network and adapt as their motivations and the context in which it operated changed. It has also needed to sustain itself as a financially viable organisation, which has influenced the organisational model pursued. As a nexus of interaction, the Association has sought to perform different functions in different environments which has seen it evolve from a British and Irish hybrid cause group-learned society model to an international, member-focussed learned society.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Manchester
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • regional studies
  • learned societies
  • history of social sciences
  • organisations


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