Rethinking the city

Patrick Le Galès, CNRS research director at Sciences Po’s Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics (CEE), dean of the Urban School and Fellow at the British Academy, has just received the prestigious CNRS silver medal. The distinction recognizes the quality of his research in political science and sociology, as well as his participation in the creation of the CEE, a leading laboratory for the social sciences in Europe, and the creation of Sciences Po’s Urban School three years ago.   

From Brittany to Sciences Po and beyond

Patrick Le Galès left Saint-Brieuc to pursue his studies at Sciences Po with Henri Mendras, whom he joined at Nanterre for his thesis in sociology with Odile Benoit-Guilbot. He was then admitted to the prestigious Nuffield College at Oxford, where he obtained a Master of Letters (MLitt) in political science comparing British centralization and French decentralization. His thesis advisor, the brilliant and non-conformist Vincent Wright, was then one of the first comparative European researchers in public policies and political economy. He became both a friend and mentor. Patrick Le Galès was recruited by the CNRS at Sciences Po Rennes in 1992. He joined Sciences Po and CEVIPOF in 1998, and helped create Sciences Po’s Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics (CEE) in 2008. His comparative work draws on research visits to the European Institute in Florence, King’s College (where he taught for three years), UCLA, Northwestern, Helsinki, the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, the Colejio of Mexico, the University of Sao Paolo and Oxford, his second home, as well as constant exchanges with leading French research centers, especially regional ones. 

"Cities are back in town"

He is part of the generation of social science researchers who in the 1980s saw the limitations of research focused on one country; he has used comparisons to study the dynamics of urban European societies (with Olivier Borraz and Marco Oberti) and of major global metropolises.

His thesis compared urban economic development policies in France and in Great Britain, emphasizing the role of new leftwing, middle-class elites. He then compared local economic governance and the limitations of territorial-based strategies in Great Britain, France and Italy, and developed new research on European cities (“The return of European cities”), urban anti-poverty policies in Mantes-la-Jolie and regional policies in Europe. This led him to focus on metropolitisation, a movement that turns cities and regions into actors of European governance, but deepens the divide between neighborhoods and territories in crisis on the one hand and dynamic regional capitals on the other. 

In line with his focus on governance issues, he is currently leading a new research program called “WHIG: What is governed and not governed in large metropolises” with Tommaso Vitale. The research is to be pursued over 10 years, the goal being to understand the limitations of political regulation and the governance of major global metropolises: Greater Paris, Greater London, Mexico and São Paulo. This research also covers the darker side of governance – corruption, clientelism, non-decisions and exclusion. In effect, large metropolises have become major political actors on climate change, transportation, social mobility, infrastructure and inequalities. However, governance failures are patent. Complementarily, the program of the Urban School’s chair on “Cities and digital technology” helps analyze the production and processing of all kinds of data with the goal of fostering democratic participation, rationalizing public policies and increasing surveillance. 

"Globalizing minds, roots in the city": French or European social classes? 
Globalization processes have major social and political implications. They generate new forms of inequalities and change class relationships within nation-states by giving rise to new social differentiation processes based on mobility. Some groups are not very mobile, and even trapped within certain territories, while others travel, work and have networks abroad. Yet the study he conducted with Alberta Andreotti in Milan and Francesco Javier Moreno Fuentes in Madrid on European senior executives shows that while the latter are highly globalized in their heads, they are much less so in practice. What emerges is a kind of social class of senior European executives who share values, forms of mobility, education and urban lifestyles (see Un monde à la carte, les cadres supérieurs des villes européennes [A world à la carte, the senior executives of European cities], Paris, PUF 2016). This reflection is currently continuing in work on French people in London and English people in Paris – a subject that is even more topical in the aftermath of Brexit…  

This issue of contemporary inequalities is at the heart of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s program on “Successful societies: inequalities”, led by Michèle Lamont, Peter Hall and Paul Pierson. Since 2012 Patrick Le Galès has been participating in the program – an exceptional forum of collective intelligence for thinking in interdisciplinary ways. 

"Reconfiguring European states in crisis"

After pursuing research on governance and public policy networks, Patrick Le Galès will initiate a ten-year program on the state’s activities and tools on the basis of an analysis of the instruments and instrumental use of public action, along with his research and teaching partners Pierre Lascoumes and Charlotte Halpern. This work is inspired by Max Weber, Christopher Hood and Michel Foucault in its focus on public policy instruments: How to govern? To what end? The instrumental use of public action is a means of shaping relationships between political society (via the administrative executive) and civil society (via administered subjects) through intermediary measures combining technical components (measurement, calculation, rule of law, procedures) and social ones (representations and symbols).

His research on the limitations and reconfigurations of the state were primarily inspired by the neoliberal revolution initiated by Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, and the invention of new modes of governments: government from a distance, performance indicators, sanctions and rewards, regulatory agencies, permanent change, privatizations and public spending cuts. New Labor governments proposed a new version of this model, with an activist state organizing markets while also developing public investment. Great Britain remains an exceptional laboratory of innovation, of the worst and best kind, but it is not Europe… and it is not over (Brexit!).   

The research on the reconfiguration of the state (with Desmond King at Oxford and Philippe Bezes) reflects on the limitations of political regulation by considering states as producers of public policies that are transnational, interdependent and structured/constrained by the development of globalized financial capitalism. States have lost their monopoly over the exercise of political authority. They act together with other public and private organizations but bring a particular legitimacy and resources, serving as a “manager of political authority”, so to speak (Reconfiguring European states in crisis).

Disseminating knowledge, teaching and experimenting  

Patrick Le Galès has taught general courses at Sciences Po on European societies, cities and public policies, as well as courses at the Doctoral School. He has enjoyed supervising around twenty theses. At the request of Frédéric Mion, he created the Urban School with Brigitte Fouilland and a team, after creating several masters programs and research groups at Sciences Po (MPA, STU, GLM, MAXPO, “Cities are back in town”). He has also experimented with online courses – “Urban sociology for a globalizing world” and a new course for the general public jointly developed with students: “In search of Greater Paris”.

He is also passionate about knowledge dissemination, the challenges of academic publishing, and publication in different languages and on different platforms. He was editor of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and serves on the editorial board of many academic journals. He co-edits three collections of books: “Governances” at Presses de Sciences Po (with Pierre François), "U Sociologie" at Colin (until 2018 with Marco Oberti) and “Urban and Social Change” at Wiley/Blackwell. He is an active member of French academic institutions (AF Science Politique) and international ones (AIS, Council of European Studies), and has presided the Society for the Advancement of Socioeconomics (SASE).

More information

Recent works

  • LE GALÈS (Patrick), Le Retour des villes européennes ? Sociétés urbaines, mondialisation, gouvernement et gouvernance, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, deuxième édition, 2010, Prix Stein Rokkan UNESCO/ISSP/ECPR
  • FAUCHER-KING (Florence) et LE GALÈS (Patrick), The New Labour Experiment, Stanford University Press, 2010
  • HALPERN (Charlotte), LASCOUMES (Pierre), LE GALÈS (Patrick), dir., Instrumentation de l’action publique, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2014
  • ANDREOTTI (Alberta), LE GALÈS (Patrick), MORENO FUENTES (Javier Francesco), Un monde à la carte, les cadres supérieurs dans les villes européennes, Paris, PUF, 2016
  • KING (Desmond), LE GALES (Patrick), 2017 eds., Reconfigurating European states in crisis, Oxford, Oxford University Press
  • UGALDA (Vicente), LE GALÈS (Patrick), dir., 2018  Que se Gobierna ? El caso de la ciudad de Mexico, Mexico, Colejio de Mexico
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