I began graduate school with the goal of becoming a specialist in the
very narrow subject of free-trade agreements. I did my best to learn
more and more about less and less – at least for a while. In time,
however, it dawned upon me that the most interesting areas to work in
are usually between disciplines and that the essence of human creativity
is putting together different types of knowledge that have hitherto
My interest in "exotic" topics – at
least from the perspective of mainstream economics, political science and
management studies – eventually led me to get a Ph.D. in geography, a discipline
that gave me more freedom to combine ideas and insights from a wide range
The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins once described interdisciplinary
research as "the process by which the unknowns of one's own subject are
multiplied by the uncertainties of some other sciences." But like him, I
believe that the benefits of interdisciplinarity outweigh the dangers –
as long as you are willing to submit your work to the merciless scrutiny
of various specialists.
As much as I would like to pretend that there is a method to my
selection of research topics and my discovery of forgotten
historical evidence, in retrospect it all boiled down to serendipity.
I have explained in a few interviews how I came to work on too many
topics for my own good and how I made connections between seemingly
And thanks to
Google scholars, I know that I do no write serious stuff
(entirely) in vain!
– Pierre Desrochers
1. The Geography of Innovation
I am particularly interested in how geography, or physical spatial
relationships, affects the transmission of ideas and the role of tacit
knowledge in economic development. My main contribution so far has been
to document how close physical relationship of diverse economic
enterprises leads to greater creativity and economic growth through the
cross fertilization of ideas across differing industries. I argue that
local specialization, especially that produced by public planning, tends
to be less creative and productive in the long run than a geography of
I have also examined the impact of research
universities on local economic development and various geographically-based
"Rethinking 'Jacobs Spillovers,' or How Diverse Cities
Actually Make Individuals more Creative and Economically Successful" (with
Samuli Leppälä). In Stephen A. Goldsmith and Lynne Elizabeth (eds), What We See. Advancing the
Observations of Jane Jacobs, Oakland (CA): New Village Press,
2010, pp. 287-296.
"Diversity and the Case Against Specialized Clusters." In Handbook of Research
on Cluster Theory, Charlie Karlsson (editor), Edward Elgar, 2008,
"Urban Diversity and the Processes of Intersectoral
Diffusion: Some Insights from the Study of Technical Creativity." In
Institutions and Systems in the Geography of Innovation, Maryann
Feldman and Nadine Massard, editors, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001,
> Book Reviews
Review of The Wealth and Poverty of Regions, Why
Cities Matter by Mario Polese (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2010), Regional Studie, vol. 44, no. 8 (October 2010), pp.
Review of Knowledge in the Development of
Economies: Institutional Choices Under Globalisation - Edited by
Silvia Sacchetti and Roger Sugden (Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2009),
Economic Geography, vol. 86, no. 3 (July 2010), pp. 325-326.
Review of The Learning Region. Foundations, State
of the Art, Future by Roel Rutten and Frans Boekema (eds) (Edward
Elgar Publishing, 2007), Regional Studies, vol. 42, no. 7 (August 2008),
Review of Globalisation, systèmes productifs et
dynamiques territoriales by Régis Guillaume (éditeur) (L'Harmattan,
2005), Canadian Journal of Regional Science, vol. 28, no. 2 (Summer
2005), pp. 403-404.
2. Industrial Symbiosis
and Inter-Industrial Recycling Networks
My other main research interest in the last few years has been
industrial symbiosis, a concept within the broader perspective of
industrial ecology that analyzes some similarities between industrial
networks and ecosystems. Industrial symbiosis occurs when one company's
waste becomes another company's feedstock. I have argued that, in an
effort to wring maximum productivity out of any given resource base,
market enterprise has always naturally developed an ecology of recycling
it Pay to be Green? Some Historical Perspective," Journal of Private
Enterprise, vol. 17, no. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 20-36. Reprint in Sustainable
Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, Julian Morris,
editor, Profile Books, 2002, pp. 44-54.
"'Business as Usual' in the Industrial Age: (Relatively)
Lean, Green and Eco-Efficient" (with Karen Lam).
Industrial Ecology: Concepts and Practices, Asis Kumar Pain and
Somnath Hazra, editors, ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts
of India) 2008.
"Ordre spontané et recyclage industriel: un survol
historique." In Les déchets. Droits de propriété, économie et
environnement, Max Falque, Henri Lamotte et Jean-François Saglio
(editors), Bruylant, 2006, pp.
"Eco-Industrial Parks: The Case for Private Planning." In Re-Thinking
Green. Alternative to Environmental Bureaucracy, Robert Higgs and
Carl P. Close, editors, The Independent Institute, 2005, pp. 297-324.
"Eco-Industrial Parks: The Case for Private Planning." In Incentives
and Conservation: The Next Generation of Environmentalists, Dan
Benjamin, editor, The Property and Environment Research Centre, 2004,
Review of Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W.
Ayres' A Handbook of Industrial Ecology (Edward Elgar, 2002) and
Penny Allen, Christophe Bonazzi and David Gee's Metaphors for Change. Partnerships, Tools and Civic Actions for Sustainability (Greenleaf
Publishing, 2001), Knowledge,
Technology & Policy, vol. 16, no. 1 (Spring 2003), pp. 130-134.
Review of Ivory Tower and Industrial Innovation.
University-Industry Technology Transfer Before and After the Bayh-Dole
Act by David C. Mowery, Richard R. Nelson, Bhaven N. Sampat, and
Arvids A. Ziedonis (eds) (Stanford University Press, 2004). Canadian
Journal of Regional Science, vol. 28, no. 2 (Summer 2005), pp.
Review of Tibor R. Machan's Liberty
and Research and Development (Hoover Institution Press, 2002), Knowledge,
Technology & Policy, vol. 16, no. 2 (Summer 2003), pp. 103-107.
of Terence Kealey's The Economic Laws of Scientific Research
(St Martin's Press, 1997), Knowledge, Technology & Policy, vol.
13, no. 4 (Fall 2000), pp. 117-120.
4. The Life and Work of Jane Jacobs
Author and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) played
a major role in my intellectual development. As I wrote for the "Books
that Inspire Faculty" exhibit of UofT's Robarts Library (October-December
Jacobs was the antithesis of the type of
professional intellectual I was planning to become as an
undergraduate student: highly specialized and writing only for a
small audience of similarly trained individuals. Because she had no
professional credentials, Jacobs had no compunction to borrow, break
down and recombine ideas and insights from an incredibly wide array
of individuals, perspectives, and disciplines in order to understand
why some cities grow while others stagnate and decay. While her lack
of expertise did lead her astray on some issues, she was able to
shed new light on old problems and suggest highly original
departures from the then conventional wisdom among experts. Jacobs's
book eventually led me to that most interdisciplinary of academic
homes, geography, where I was given a free rein to borrow and
contribute to a wide variety of disciplines.
"The Death and Life of a Reluctant Urban Icon." A Review Essay on Jane
Jacobs: Urban Visionary by Alice Sparberg Alexiou (Toronto:
HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). Journal of Libertarian Studies,
vol. 21, no. 3 (Fall 2007), pp. 115-36.
"Rethinking 'Jacobs Spillovers,' or How Diverse Cities Actually Make
Individuals more Creative and Economically Successful" (with Samuli
Leppälä). In Stephen A. Goldsmith and Lynne Elizabeth (eds), What We See. Advancing the
Observations of Jane Jacobs, Oakland (CA): New Village Press,
2010, pp. 287-296.
My wife Hiroko and I with Jane Jacobs, Spring 2004.
5. Energy and Environmental Issues
Although most of my research on energy and environmental issues has so
far fitted under the eclectic intellectual perspective known as
industrial ecology, I am increasingly moving towards a broader analysis
of the role of institutions in promoting what is now referred to as
Spring at 50" (chapter 1) (with Roger Meiners and Andrew P. Morriss)
in Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson, Cato
Institute (September 2012) (with Roger Meiners and Andrew P. Morriss).
"The Intellectual Groundwaters of Silent Spring: Rethinking Rachel
Carson's Place in the History of American Environmental Thought" (with
Hiroko Shimizu). In Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers and Andrew Morris
(editors). Silent Spring at 50. The
False Crises of Rachel Carson. Cato Institute, pp. 37-60.
"Does it Pay to be Green? Some Historical
Perspective." In Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or
Perpetuating Poverty?, Julian Morris, editor, Profile Books, 2002,
"Prices, Property and Sustainability: Toward a More Positive Assessment
of Past Practices and Institutions." In Debating Environmental
Regimes: Looking Forward, Looking Back, Patrick Hayden, Tom Lansford,
Bryan Hilliard and J. L. Walsh editors, Nova Science Publishers, 2002,
"The Archipel Project: A Missed Opportunity?" (with Éric Duhaime). In
Practising Sustainable Water Management: Canadian and International
Experiences, Dan Shrubsole and Bruce Mitchell, editors, Cambridge,
Ontario: Canadian Water Resources Association, 1997, pp. 155-166. [in
Review of Electric Choices. Deregulation and the
Future of Electric Power by Andrew N. Kleit (ed.) Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc and Independent Institute, 2007, Canadian
Geographer, vol. 51, no. 4 (Winter 2007), pp. 501-502.
Review of Wilfred Beckerman's A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable
Development and Economic Growth (Independent Institute, 2002),
The Canadian Geographer, vol. 50, no. 2 (June 2006), pp. 265-266.
Review of Car Nation: An Illustrated History of Canada's
Transformation behind the Wheel by Dimitry Anastakis (Toronto: James
Lorimer and Company, 2008), Ontario
History, vol. 101, no. 2 (Autumn 2009), pp. 265-266.