Exploring the historical contingencies of policy circulation: the case of Montreal’s innovation district

Authors: Patrick Kilfoil*, McGill University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Geography
Keywords: Policy mobilities, innovation districts, urban revitalization, economic development, role of experts, policy studies, Montreal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Galerie 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Much of the policy mobilities literature focuses on the role of experts in transmitting policy knowledge. Little attention is given to the role of local actors tasked with implementing circulating knowledge as policy measures on the ground. The power dynamics of policy sharing are thus assumed to be highly unbalanced, reifying a linear understanding of policy circulation in which policies are implemented without much friction by local technocrats who simply translate policy ideas in new contexts to facilitate a process of global neoliberalization. This contribution disputes this reading by examining the uptake of the innovation district policy idea in Montreal, Canada. We find that Montreal borrows elements of a policy discourse from other places, particularly Barcelona, but the policy measures actually implemented on the ground are quite different. The choice of Barcelona as an aspirational antecedent is not trivial, but based on local understandings of what the good city is as well as historical and cultural similarities between Montreal and Barcelona. Using a genealogical approach, we highlight the importance of pre-existing inter-urban relationships to explain the transatlantic circulation of the innovation district idea. We also argue that research on policy circulation requires a more rigorous and complex conceptualization of policy, one that disentangles policy discourse and policy measures. This would allow for a qualification of the claims to expertise purportedly sustaining policy circulations and open onto a less deterministic understanding of the motivations of local actors partaking in policy circulation.

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