What are the spatial patterns of development of research? At the level of a given country, to what extent is the distribution of research activities dependent on the urban hierarchy? Is there a relationship between the size of cities and the type of scientific activities that develop there?
These three apparently simple questions do not admit of any stabilised answers in the current academic literature.
This is due, firstly, to differences in definitions, since it is necessary to agree on what is meant by 'research activities' and on the methods and data that make it possible to measure their distribution. This can also be explained by the impossibility of providing answers that are valid at all times, in all places and for all types of scientific research, especially since the geography of research that can be observed today on the scale of a given country is the result of location logics that may have varied over time and space. As the urban hierarchy is not stable over time either, the co-evolution between research geography and urban geography must be taken into account. Finally, it reflects the limited communication between historians, economists, sociologists, and geographers interested in research activities - leading to seemingly irreconcilable positions in understanding and explaining the spatial logics of this sector of activity.
By considering existing knowledge on this subject, by working to unravel the terms used and by taking the case of contemporary French and British national research systems as a case study, this presentation offers to shed light on the spatial determinants of research and the reasons for the overrepresentation of these activities in certain categories of cities. It thus highlights the factors that explain, at the national level, the gap between the hierarchy of cities in terms of their research and the urban hierarchy expressed by the distribution of the urban population at a given date.