Friday, 17 October 2014


Situating the Local in the Neoliberalisation and Transformation of Urban Governance

Ismael Blanco (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Steven Griggs (De Montfort University, UK)
Helen Sullivan (University of Melbourne, Australia)

The rise of the urban has quite rightly turned our attention to the role of cities as spaces of creative destruction. It has brought to the fore the logic of the urban as a key determinant in the constitution of place-specific regimes of neoliberalisation. This logic of the urban, it is argued, has spread beyond the confines of the city itself, part of a wider urbanisation of social relations in and beyond the boundaries of the city. But, in elevating this logic of the urban, do we run the risk of pushing to the margins the alternative logic of the local?

The governance of cities remains conditioned to a greater or lesser degree by the proportion of public service spending channelled through local institutions. Local government continues to act as an important mediator of conflicts and strategies across cities because of its horizontal connections to other local stakeholders within and beyond the state, and its vertical connections with upper tiers of government. Locality is also tied to demands for democracy and citizenship politics, framed in part by narratives of proximity and of the relationship between decision-maker, service deliverer and citizen. In fact, the local conjures up the immediacy of the shared physical space within which citizens live and interact, articulating a chain of demands in which proximity equates with the democratic, community and common interests, active citizenship and public dialogue.

Extending the analysis of the processes of urban neoliberalisation to incorporate alternative logics of the local opens up new windows on the politics of place and neoliberal localization. It shifts our attention to how these different logics of the local and the urban interact in the arenas of cities, constituting one another such that the size and scale of cities shapes the ambition, capacity and influence of local institutions in the city and in surrounding areas, and the values of the local inform how cities are governed and services organised. With this in mind, how the logic of the local interacts with the logic of the urban, and with crisis narratives, and how articulated together the local and the urban, and other alternative logics, constitute the spaces that we call cities has to be pivotal, we suggest, to any inquiry into neoliberal regimes.

Meeting the demands of such an inquiry requires taking into account the study of local practices, in ways which recognise the multiple logics at play in different historical contexts, the role of ideology and affect, and the spaces such ambiguities and messiness open up for different forms of situated agency. Indeed, we set out five focal points for the exploration of the local: understandings and dynamics of crisis; politics, meaning and affect; the role of agency and regulatory intermediaries in forging local responses to crisis; the turn to practice; and the role of place and comparison. By introducing the logic of the local as foil to investigate the urban, we thus seek to trigger new forms of inquiry into the everyday politics of cities.