Policy mobilities I: where next?

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group, Economic Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Jamie Peck, Eugene McCann
Chairs: Shenjing He


“Policy mobilities,” once little more than a locus of substantive interest, has since morphed into something like an approach, an analytical orientation, maybe even a method. What has been learned along the way? What (and where) next? These are the motivating questions behind these panels.

Recent years have witnessed the growth of a new interdisciplinary field, critical policy studies., motivated in part by critiques of positivist, decontextualized, and rational-actor models of the policy process but animated also by new objects and foci of analysis, including the circulation of ideas, knowledge, and models for innovation in policy-making. As especially active front in this burgeoning research field is the policy mobilities approach, which is characterized by: (a) an understanding of policymaking processes and practices as irreducibly social and deeply contextual in nature; (b) an attention to how this condition of (local) embeddedness is co-produced in complex ways through extensive networks and “inter-referencing” effects; and (c) a conviction that policies, techniques, and program designs never travel intact from place to place but are transformed in transit, (re)making the relations between policymaking sites, actors, and institutions along the way.

The sessions are motivated by a sense that the time is right to take stock of what has been achieved in policy mobilities research over the past decade and to explore what might be the most productive next steps. While urbanists and geographers have been particularly active in the discussion, they occupy but one part of what has been a dynamic and interdisciplinary field of critical policy studies, one that reaches into anthropology, sociology, development studies, education studies, and political science. This interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approach has been positive and productive but in some respects the conversation is just beginning. Sessions convened at the AAG in Washington, DC will initiate conversations that will be continued at the AAA meetings in Vancouver in November, 2019 and elsewhere. In addition to the need to extend and deepen the interdisciplinary dialogue among researchers, there are normative and political reasons to reflect critically on the phenomenon-cum-syndrome of trans-urban policymaking and global-local experimentation too, in light of the circulation of fast-traveling, prescriptive, and often preemptive policy models, the rise of a new generation of peripatetic experts and urban gurus, and the ascendancy of alternative policy networks and alt-models that seek to produce and circulate counterhegemonic approaches in the face of entrenched orthodoxies.

Two paper sessions and a panel discussion will address two overarching questions: “what next?” and “how?” The first question could involve some taking stock of what has been achieved so far, but perhaps more importantly, we would hope that contributors would look forward to address what might be some of the remaining challenges, constructive next steps, and so forth. The second question would again mix a retrospective glance with a prospective orientation to address how we theorize and research policy mobilities, with particular attention to matters of methodology and research design. What are the limitations of extant approaches? How might methodological approaches in the field be productively deepened and diversified? How might policy mobilities studies “speak back” to theories and concepts? How have questions of positionality, ethical responsibilities, situation, and context been addressed in policy mobilities studies?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Gianpaolo Baiocchi*, , Urban Democracy Beyond Borders: Ambiguous Devices, Publics, and the Ethnographic Account 20 1:10 PM
Presenter Eugene McCann*, Simon Fraser University, Narrowing and broadening the study of policy mobilities 20 1:30 PM
Presenter Nathan McClintock*, Portland State University, Urban policy ecologies? Bringing policy mobilities research and urban political ecology into closer conversation 20 1:50 PM
Presenter Kevin Ward*, University of Manchester, Making up policy through comparison 20 2:10 PM
Discussant Wendy Larner Victoria University 20 2:30 PM

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