Policies Travel Uneasily: The Comparative, Relational and Translative Work Of Making Urban Policy In a Global Context

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Eugene MCCANN , Geography, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Kevin WARD , University of Manchester, United Kingdom
This paper intervenes in a conversation between two emerging literatures in urban studies: that which questions the generalizability of urban theory and methods developed in, and with reference to, a small number of Global North cities and the literature on ‘urban policy mobilities’ that conceptualizes the circulation of ‘best practice’ policy models.  Both literatures focus on forms of theory-development, associated method-making, and questions of comparison, learning, mobility, translation, and travel.  The former seeks to push academic urban studies to more fully account for the provincial (mostly Global North) character of its concepts and methods, while the latter seeks to shed light on how policy communities and institutions are involved in similar intellectual work as they also develop generalizations, concepts, and methods to understand, govern, and manage cities.  A key problematic in both urban theory-building and in urban policy mobilization is the historical-geographical specificities of supposedly universal, or transferable, theories and models.  Discussion therefore revolves around whether the experience of a few cities should form the basis for theorizing the entire urban system or how ‘successful’ policy models that are developed in certain places become defined as universally-applicable.  This paper is based on ongoing research into the political, intellectual, and practical work policy actors (e.g., consultants, politicians, city government staff, and activists) perform in order to identify, compare, and translate, best practice policy models and then implement them in specific, differentiated locations.  The paper will discuss examples of policy-mobilizing work that span global North-South divides and the concepts and methods that are inherent to them.  By outlining the uneasy travels of these policies, the paper will reflect back on the similarly uneasy travels of concepts in academic urban studies and how the decentring of the global North in policy circulations might shed light on similar attempts in academia.