Tracing policy mobilities: methods of actually doing comparative urbanism

Authors: Astrid Wood*, Newcastle University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: comparative urbanism, policy mobilities, tracing, methodology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper locates itself within comparative urbanism by employing the concept of ‘tracing’ as the starting point through which to think across a range of urban experiences. The paper first considers the way in which ‘tracing’ has been employed within both historical and contemporary understandings of comparative urbanism. From there, it refines its focus to ‘policy mobilities’ reasoning that ‘tracing’ is one method of actually doing comparative urbanism. Within this section, the paper examines the conceptual arguments of ‘tracing’, rather than other comparative methods, for the policy mobilities. This terminology allows a range of similar and dissimilar urban encounters to be understood both topographically by tracing policy knowledge as it physically moves in the hands of international consultants and their paraphernalia, and topologically through the relational comparisons made in city rankings and league tables. Taking this argument forward, the paper then considers one case of policy mobilities, the bicycle-share scheme, a popular model of sustainable transport that provides short-term bicycle rental in over 200 cities worldwide. This final section is an empirical example that demonstrates how the tactics of ‘tracing’ can be used to understand policy mobilities and comparative urbanism. In so doing, the paper presents a fine-tuned analysis of ‘tracing’ as both a conceptual foundation as well as a process for doing comparative urbanism. As the argument unfolds however, it becomes apparent that ‘tracing’ is not without limitations, especially because it can be difficult to pinpoint the precise origins of a policy or its imprecise movements.

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