Governing Urban Crises of Welfarism: Reflections from our Eight-Case International Study

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderIn today’s blog Jonathan Davies introduces a series of eight further blog postings outlining the findings from our research in the cities of Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal, Nantes and Sydney.  These will be posted one-by-one over the next few weeks.  The research is funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council (Ref: ES/L012898/1)as part of its Urban Transformations Network.  The official project title is Collaborative Governance under Austerity: An Eight-case Comparative Study.

The first phase of our research, reported in our first series of blog-posts last year, explored what we called the “collaborative moment”.   This term refers to the global wave of enthusiasm for network governance among intellectuals, policy makers and activists during the 1990s and 2000s: its capacity to join-up government, foster partnerships between state and non-state actors, and revive participatory democracy.  Given the relative proximity of citizens and governing institutions at the urban scale, cities were viewed as particularly fertile arenas for building network governance.  Our question was how far the zeitgeist of network governance – the spirit of the collaborative moment – survived the crash and austerity. We wanted to know, in other words, whether the “collaborative moment” was durable, or a transient phenomenon associated with long-gone “good times”.

The exploratory phase revealed that the terms “austerity” and “collaboration had very different meanings. The perceived economic and political significance of the crisis varied widely.  So did the politics of collaboration.  It is clear that while it has not disappeared entirely, the politics of the collaborative moment did not survive austerity, and had highly variable salience to start with.  Consequently, we decided to broaden the research to take in wider conceptual and temporal horizons and bring our case study cities into a better conversation with one another.  The research we are now reporting takes as its core problematic the urban governance of rolling crises of welfarism: the waves of dislocation and restructuring experienced in different ways and at different times in all our cities, since the heyday of the welfare state in the 1950s and 60s – including but not only the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  What configurations of social forces are mobilised, to what ends and with what impact on the course of our eight cities?

In the final phase of the study, we will begin exploring comparisons and contrasts between the cases, to be discussed on this blog later in 2017 and thereafter.

Jonathan Davies is Principal Investigator on the Austerity and Collaborative Governance Project, as well as Director of CURA and Professor of Critical Policy Studies at De Montfort University

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