There is gathering academic and policy momentum, although not without challenge, critique and ferocious debate, that an apparent ‘place-based’ mode of activity has emerged. Such a paradigm shift may in part be explained as a response to the deficiencies of ‘people-centred’ models, active regional development and space-blind policies. This article critically reviews some of the primary literatures relating to these competing, contradictory and also complementary methods of development. The place-based mode of working can be conceptualised as potentially offering the scope, through supportive institutional frameworks and collaborative means of governance, for developing embedded, multi-scalar and multi-annual strategies that are tailored to the complex geographies, capabilities, knowledge-sets, assets and resources of particular places (and networks of places). Whilst appearing to offer a panacea for securing economic growth in a sustainable and socially inclusive manner that releases the potential, creativity and knowledge of local actants, the dominant narrative associated with the place-based approach has not escaped critique and controversy. It is our contention that place-based thinking reflects the continual search for solutions to address territorial, social and economic inequalities and development capacities. Whether it provides a workable policy solution will be contingent on a number of factors, not least spatial context in terms of social, cultural, economic and institutional characteristics. Reflecting the multiplicity of places, place-based approaches, in raising questions about the relationship between scales of operation and institutional structures, are a subset of broader debates and issues concerning not only what works but also where.