171214 - Governance, Crisis and Disorder in the 21st Century Metropolis

14 Décembre, 2017 - 09:00 - 15 Décembre, 2017 - 18:00


International CIFAR Workshop "Governance, Crisis and Disorder in the 21st Century Metropolis"

Organizers: Julie Anne Boudreau (UNAM Mexico, INRS Montréal), Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po, Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, CNRS and Sciences Po, Urban School), Michael Storper (UCLA, Luskin School, L.S.E, and Sciences Po, CSO)

14 - 15 December 2017, Sciences Po, Room H405, 28 rue des Saints-Pères, 75007 Paris

Closed workshop, only on registration

Contact: Patrick.legales@sciencespo.fr


Thursday, 14th of December

9 am

Welcome coffee

9.15-11 am

Session 1: Introduction

Julie Anne Boudreau, Patrick Le Galès, Michael Storper

The Aim of the Workshop

The Themes and Questions of the Workshop

11-11.15 am

Coffee break

11.15 am-1 pm

Session 2: Seeing like a City Versus Seeing like a State? Rethinking the Fundamentals of Governance and State Theory

Chair: Patrick Heller (Brown University)

Introductory discussion: Warren Magnusson (University of Victoria), Mona Harb (American university of Beirut)

1-2.30 pm

Buffet lunch

2.30-4 pm


Session 3: The Governance of Urban Public Life: by whom and how are Forms of Order Generated? Is "Disorder" a Meaningful Term? Are these Oppositions Valid? Illegal-Legal; Formal-Informal; Regulated-Unregulated

Chair: Veronica Crossa (El Colegio de Mexico)

Introductory discussion: Dennis Rodgers (University of Amsterdam), Laurent Fourchard (Sciences Po, CERI)

4-4.15 pm

Coffee break

4.15-6 pm


Session 4: Socialization, Modernity, Lifestyles, Attitudes, Citadinité: New Forms of “Cityness”?

Chair: Alberta Andreotti (University of Milan Bicocca)

Introductory discussion: Harvey Molotch (New York University), Bart Wissink (City University of Hong Kong)



 Friday, 15th of December

9-10.45 am

Session 5: The Digital Skin of the City: how does the Digital World Change Governance? Methodological Challenges of using Big Data

Chair: Thomas Orgorzalek (Northwestern University)

Introductory discussion: Maarten Hajer (University of Utrecht), Max Nathan (University of Birmingham)

10.45 am

Coffee break

11 am-12.30 pm

Session 6: Access to and Production of Public Services, Public Goods, Public Space

Chair: Eduardo Marques (University of São Paulo)

Introductory discussion: Diane Davis (Harvard University), Jeremy Seekings (University of Captown, Centre for Social Science Research)

12.30-2 pm

Buffet lunch

2-3.30 pm

Session 7: Development, Finance, Migration

Chair: David Ley (University of British Columbia)

Introductory discussion: Bruce G. Carruthers (Northwestern University), Adrian Favell (University of Leeds)

3.30 pm

Coffee break

3.30-5 pm

Session 8: Formal Informal: Planned or not: the Governance of Housing and Risk

Chair: Julie Anne Boudreau

Introductory discussion: Yue Zhang (University of Illinois), Tommaso Vitale (Sciences Po, CEE)


Session 9: Conclusions

Major Empirical Priorities; Major Theory Development Priorities for the Next Ten Years


CIFAR Workshop "Urban Governance: the Production of Alternative Forms of Order in the Contemporary Metropolis"

Keywords: urbanization, metropolitan areas, governance, order and disorder, urban sociology, urban economics, politics, urban geography, urban anthropology

Venue and dates: Sciences Po, Paris, the 14th and 15th of December, 2017

Organizers : Julie Anne Boudreau (UNAM Mexico, INRS Montréal), Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po, Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics and Urban School, CNRS), Michael Storper (UCLA (Luskin School) LSE (Geography), Sciences Po, Sociology) 


Objective of the workshop

The Paris workshop is funded by CIFAR (the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research). The workshop brings together 20 scholars from different continents and disciplines (see list below) in order to identify themes, research questions, methods, and set up a research agenda that would be amenable to significant empirical and theoretical progress in a five- to ten-year horizon. CIFAR has funded a number of workshops in various fields, and a second stage will involve the selection of some workshop outputs to submit proposals for long-term working group activities.


Cities and their functional regional scale (metropolitan area) have often been seen as ungovernable, chaotic, violent, and corrupt (“wild cities”). They are represented as places of disorder, inequality, segregation, planning failures, environmental disasters, and predatory elites. In contrast by economists, they are mostly seen as centers of innovation and engines of growth, from contexts as different as India as the US. Sociologists show cities to be escalator regions for social mobility and concentrations of poverty and inequality. They are major catchment areas for skills and the creation of skills. They have a social fabric consisting of the day to day interactions and experiences of different groups. They are hubs of networks of firms, transportation, capital flows, and all manner of civil society organizations as well as illegal organizations such as mafias and gangs. Metropolitan areas are also centers of prosperity, and many are at the avant-garde of innovating policies against climate change, reinventing forms of solidarity, local democracy, and social policy, with some evidencing greater than average tolerance towards and integration of migrants and foreigners. Metropolitan areas can be understood in part in relation to their national institutions, but also but also through their connections with other cities (in urban systems), in which urbanization processes and long-distance flows of goods, people, capital and knowledge (globalization) are mutually influential. Cities accumulate formal and informal resources and institutional capacities that work interdependently.

Out of this extreme complexity, a central scientific problem emerges, which concerns the generation, functioning and effects of different forms of social, economic, cultural and political order -- whether formal or informal --- at the metropolitan scale. This can be labeled by the short-hand term as the problem of metropolitan or city-regional “governance.” In this workshop, we will identify the empirical and theoretical dimensions of a research program on metropolitan governance. 

As a first step, we need to exhaustively survey, describe and inventory the domains in which such order emerges (as we note above, an extremely wide range of social, economic, cultural and political and physical domains, but also ranging from informal to formal, legal to illegal), a task which might be thought of, as Magnusson has suggested, as learning to “see like a city.”  This task is something like understanding our empirical universe in the widest sense.

             A second starting principle is a comparative perspective (henceforth, we will use the neologism “comparativism” for convenience), requiring a truly global scan of governance. This is necessary to survey the terrain of possible governance domains and forms that exist in the world today. But we are looking for a form of urban comparativism that goes beyond the simple cataloguing of best practices.  

Indeed, a third task, which is also necessarily comparative, is to engage with the outcomes and subsequent feedback loops of governance. Of particular concern are the forms of authority that are embodied in processes of governance, their distributional effects, their functional effects, and the principles of justice they represent or injustices they create.  

The key question for the group is: "On which themes can we build a comparative urban research agenda on urban governance?” Such an agenda should go beyond the descriptive tasks mentioned above, envisioning a way to apply the latest theoretical breakthroughs and empirical methods to seeking convincing ways to make progress on generating insights in the third task.  CIFAR is specifically interested in insights that contribute to fundamental science. The “urban” is a fruitful domain and area of inquiry, inherently important because we live in an urban world. But it is also a ground in which fundamental social, economic, technological, geographical, and cultural processes unfold, and by understanding them we can contribute to the development of social science more generally. In other words, we suggest that the urban is simultaneously a geo-historical set of conditions characterizing the contemporary period (the context), and an opportunity for epistemological reflection on how, why, and for whom we conduct social scientific inquiries. 

  1. The urban question: Then, now, and 10 years hence

As a locus of analysis the city or the metropolis is represented in highly contrasting ways. Sometimes, it is characterised through the emphasis on fragmentation, strangeness, encounters with foreigners, the mosaic of variety, contingent interactions, moving borders, and the kaleidoscope of everyday life. Another perspective focuses upon integration, domination, assimilation, social order, control, inequalities, unity, models, patterns of economic development, structures, and systems. From Babylon, Athens, Rome, and later Florence, to the present era’s most prominent cities comes the idea that cities are places where culture flourishes, where civilization reaches its highest point of complexity and sophistication. The density and diversity of interactions are thought to stimulate innovations in all sorts of ways, to free urban inhabitants from traditional cultural constraints. Cities are therefore presented by social scientists, historians, and literary writers in a progressive way as centres of innovation and culture, even if civilizations first developed without or beyond cities as, for instance, in the case of Egypt. By contrast, the city is also portrayed as the place of darkness, chaos, violence, riots, exploitation, marginal life and deviance, destruction, and oppression.

At the end of the 19th century, in Europe, the rise of the industrial national rational state together with the emergence of world metropolis (London, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, New York, Buenos Aires often within colonial empires) led a generation of pioneering German sociologists in particular, Max Weber, Werner Sombart, and Georg Simmel, to think about the relationship between cities, culture, arts, technological developments, capitalism and domination. They asked questions about the influence of a particular set of structural social, economic, political, and cultural conditions (such as capitalism) on cities or on individual and collective behaviour, modes of thinking, ways of life, cultural creation, and imagination. Simmel in particular has conceptualized the rise of modernist mentalities in the metropolis, evoking the constant excitement of change, the embrace of diversity in relation to the fear of the unknown or of foreigners. These thinkers developed comparative methodologies to identify the specificities of the European city, and reflected upon its subsidiary position in relation to states and modern capitalism in historical terms. It seems urgent to reconsider these classical questions.

From time to time capitalism is marked either by major crisis or by a surge of innovations (possibly both) that reshuffle the deck of activities and organizational forms and ways of life. This invariably leads to major transformations of political authorities (states, international organizations, regions, metropolitan governments), the spatial concentration wealth creation centers and poor areas, the structuring of inequalities. This applies to the early commercialism during medieval times, the creative destruction of the industrial revolution and the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Arguably, we may be living in such a period.

            Since the 1980s, geographers and economists speak of the “great inversion.” Compared to the middle of the 20th century, when cities grew more slowly than national economies in the developed West, and when developing world cities were engaged in rapid peripheral expansion, by the late 20th century, a world-wide trend toward urban concentration began to take shape. In the developed West, it involves the re-attracting of the highly-skilled into the core of metropolitan areas; in many developing countries, the same phenomenon occurs, along with increasing density, as peripheral expansion reaches its limits and the costs of infrastructure extension rise dramatically. A key feature of the world today, then, is a rise in urban property prices, especially in urban cores, and increased competition for urban locations that are well-served by access to employment, consumption and amenities.

Well into the 21st century, the urban question is more central than ever, as urbanization proceeds in Asia and Africa, and large cities dominate older urban systems more than ever. These cities concentrate elites, who in turn command human, material and monetary resources as well as legitimacy, capacity to govern, that enable them to shape urban policies in their interests. In China, in Africa, in Latin America, in India, large high-income metropolitan areas have become desirable places to visit and to live, with their concentrations of amenities including transport, elite education, the best hospitals, and telecommunication networks (and – as everywhere, in the near future more high tech services and objects like connected cars and smart grids). They are also places of consumption with specialized commerce and malls, prestigious cultural institutions such as museums to theatres, high-quality restaurants and so on. In this, they mirror their developed-world counterparts.

            The economic strength of metropolitan areas is also intimately tied into specific urban forms of inequality, social and spatial, which are the flip side of the wealth-creating and social mobility advantages of the metropolis. Of particular concern today are the spatial concentration of the skilled and resulting inter-regional divergence of income and opportunity, and at the intra-metropolitan scale, the rise of new forms of spatial segregation through the urban property market, and especially housing.

This has led to a re-appearance of the role of landed property in economic inequality today.  There are arduous politics of urban housing construction, with existing residents doing all they can to protect their quality of life, and leading generally to a steeping of the urban rent curve. In concert with increasing income inequality, a potent phenomenon of spatial sorting has arisen. As certain groups are “pushed out,” they suffer serious impacts on life chances, since structures of social advantage – access to elite education, social networks, employment and the acquisition of cultural capital – are geographically concentrated. In part, we are seeing the reinforcement of a hierarchy of opportunity – highly unequal opportunity – through property ownership and especially property location. Scholarly debates about the role of property markets and urban politics in generating urban gentrification but also urban spatial sorting are very active in many disciplines today and the politics of housing have become a major element of national politics in many countries, as prosperous cities are increasingly considered to adopt housing policies that discourage “moving up to opportunity” on the part of the less-skilled who live in other regions. 

  1. Governing and ordering: Where, when, and what?           

Le Galès and Vitale (2011, 2017) argue that “cities and metropolis are sites of intense political activities that are progressively structured by governance mechanisms, policies implementation and policy failure, including in cities of the global South. Governance is about collective action, institutions, collective actors, protest, implementation. It requires to articulate the question of what is governed – and not governed- and how, with the question of when and who is governed in large metropolis, because issues related to governance discontinuities as well as the so-called dark side of governance, e.g. corruption, clientelism, violence, are foundational for a sociology of urbanisation.” Urban sociologists, political economists, anthropologists, geographers, and planners have been asking:  in what ways do governance practices become politicized and re-politicize (Magnusson 2011, Boudreau, 2017)? Understanding this politicization, however, requires reconsidering who does what in governance and how they stabilize and de-stabilize political rules and procedures.

To begin with, in any urban setting (regardless of the legal status of land tenure), many and sundry groups are in competition for land and space, for the simple reason that the fundamental nature of the city is to be a dense space of interaction and communication.  By its very nature, the city is a system where different groups have to compete and/or to agree about rules to live next to each other, implicitly or deliberately including or rejecting other people. In this context, moreover, there is a common need to make the city work, by providing essential services and by managing the ever-present generation of negative externalities. This key challenge is present in cities, no matter what the type of political system at hand (e.g. authoritarian regimes, electoral democracies, social democracies, electoral plutocracies, theocratic authoritarianism, oligarchies). Moreover, even if there are widespread functional challenges, governance is not an outcome of functional imperatives, but rather of contestation and politics, in light of changes in technology that create new possibility sets for human organization (the city is a large-scale technical artifact with strong feedbacks to individual and collective action in it).

 The process of contestation and possibility give rise to two shifting parameters of governance:   the populations involved; and the emergence of practices around the margins of formal authority and rules, which is an ongoing process of politicization.  Let’s consider each of these briefly. 

Much depends upon the population that is governed. In many of the world’s most dynamic cities, governance concerns a population that is fluid, divided along many lines, mobile and where different populations have different types of opportunity and constraint – economic, social, spatial.   This is why we must ask the question:  who is governed?

As the participants in governance change, so do their practices. Citizen participation in the political process consists of a mix of formal and informal activities and inevitably involves interaction with, inter alia, organized interests, technocracies, large formal organizations such as firms, and informal networks of all kinds. There is an ongoing tension between formalization and institutionalization on the one hand, and the rapid, unstable and often unpredictable evolution of organized action, which can easily provoke social conflicts. In turn, though these tensions ultimately often make their way to formal politics, it is challenging for the analyst to identify where and when the political process is deployed. The social scientist seeking to understand the “political” in governance must therefore be aware that s/he is in a cat-and-mouse game with political reality and forms of organization and configuration of groups of actors on the ground.  

Therefore, urban governance necessarily must be mapped out using both the bottom-up and the top-down. It necessitates the study of street practices (the micro level) in tension and interaction with institutional policy-making (the meso-level). It also requires a thorough understanding of structural economic and cultural forces (the macro level). In the early 21st century, old forces of ordering seem to be regaining authority and power where they had lost considerable legitimacy to the benefit of the modern Weberian state: religions, clientelist or corporatist chains of loyalty, rearranged family forms. Illegal and informal forms of “order” are also becoming global. Global criminal networks are related to local gang outposts in long global commodity chains for drugs and other services.

Asking these questions about who is governed and the types of institutions, organizations, and actor-networks that may participate in governance processes leads to consideration of the supply or output side of governance. All the outputs of governance are unequally distributed, as reflected in school segregation, housing segregation, accessibility to city centres, inequalities in access to key infrastructure, as well as very different exposure to public order. The latter includes, for example, frequent lack of access to services for undocumented migrants, neighbourhoods where legality and police control are weak, or where there is police violence and arbitrary law enforcement. These are examples of functional and spatial areas where governance goes well beyond the formal. And yet there are routines, rules, sanctions and power. The organized actor-networks that rule in these spaces are many and sundry. They can include, for example, corrupt elite networks, churches, illegal organizations (such as gangs) that “run” neighbourhoods, at least in part.

A major theoretical question to tackle, in the face of these phenomena, is whether they amount to “governance,” and hence, the wider question about whether there is any distinction between governance and institutions in general.  This problematic concerns how we interpret the fact that in some neighbourhoods, community-based organisations arise to plug the gaps in what formal institutions can provide in the way of welfare.  Governance is, then, some kind of over-arching process that emerges from the practices of a wide variety of institutions and networks, with contradictions between inclusion and representation. The literature is unclear about the use of these various terms (governance, institutions, formal, informal) and about their use to cover process versus outcomes. A major task for any project on governance is, therefore, to re-assess the empirical material in light of a major theoretical clarification that would be valuable across the social sciences and specifically to clarify the “who, what, when, how and why” of governance.

  1.  The importance of social science, and of disciplines

The fundamental commitment of this workshop is to anchor our reflections in the social science disciplines, such as sociology, political science, history, geography, economics, anthropology, or socio-technical studies.  

This statement runs counter to frequent claims made today in urban studies that it needs to go beyond traditional disciplines (often, we might add, inspired by dead French philosophers, and often with mistaken Anglo-Saxon readings of them). We believe that, though the urban ultimately can be studied from the perspective of all the social sciences and humanities, there is no such thing as a separate “urban science” that somehow abolishes the distinctiveness of the disciplinary contributions. The urban is an object and a domain of distinctive spatially-anchored social, economic, cultural, and technical processes.  We can recognize and theorize what is distinctively urban, but this in no way “goes beyond” the disciplines. The same can be said for attempts to reject the “science” in social science, such as radical claims to post-modernist relativism or so-called “post-positivism.” Though ideas and beliefs contribute to human social life in a variety of important ways, purely constructivist approaches may not be the more fruitful way to understand urbanization processes. Overly-normative approaches often cloud good social science, and we therefore commit to mobilizing the best of social sciences in this research program where specialists from various disciplines will interact and exchange based on these distinct standpoints. This does not in any way exclude social sciences committed to improving the world, but rather strengthens its ability to do so.

Thus, the premise of this workshop is that we do not need to have a separate “urban theory” that dissociates itself from fundamental social theories and insights, and instead we want to build on social scientific disciplines and encourage dialogue between them. Our twofold objective is to develop research questions that will contribute both to a concrete empirical field and to theory in one or more social science disciplines.

Possible empirical and theoretical domains for discussion (to be amended or revised by the working group):

  • Rethinking the fundamentals of governance and state theory (e.g. what has worked or not worked in sociology; political science; and economics). Is there a better framework? From the classic works on power and interests; to local public choice; principal-agent; network-based; and other frameworks, what we can we say about the state of knowledge and prospects for thinking forward? On the empirical front, the digital city and governance: digital technologies clearly are beginning to dis-intermediate some conventional relationships between people and states/regulatory agencies/local authorities. What are its implications for governance theory and governance research?
  • The governance of urban public life: police, security, violence, social organization of neighborhoods and public life. How, by whom, are these currently produced?
  • The governance of housing: housing is the central problem of cities everywhere. The ultimate private + public good with interdependencies, neighborhood effects, externalities, social-spatial sorting, and feedbacks to urban social life. Running through debates about housing (and land use more broadly) are questions about gentrification/exclusion/NIMBYs/segregation/distributive justice. Yet debates over it are strongly polarized between liberal economic approaches (“all market”) and “struggle and justice approaches” (“all State”). Certainly this is unsatisfactory, both from positive and policy/normative sides. Is there a way to carry out rigorous (large sample-size, qualitative or quantitative) work that would discover more about how housing markets are governed and with what different kinds of results?
  • Access to and production of public services, public goods, public space:  water, transport, education and many other such services. Who and what represents the public or the collective? How do forms of self-provision (informal) interact with state public and market private forms?
  • Socialization, modernity, attitudes, citadinité: From the classics of urban sociology and modern liberal thought (which emphasize the progressiveness of the city) to other schools of thought that emphasize segregation, oppression, hierarchy and domination. What are the best ways forward in research on questions in this area? Does the split in results and visions stem from real differences in governance from place to place and time to time? What does it mean to live in a world where urban cultures are dominant? How do non-state forms of authority such as religion or clientelistic chains, shape and order urbanity?
  • Major changes in urban form? It is said that we have recently transitioned (in the developed economies) from the manufacturing to the post-manufacturing city. In emerging economies, this transition is only just beginning for some middle-income countries, accompanied by a major wave of suburbanization, and accompanied by ongoing socio-spatial polarization. In still lower-income countries, informal urbanization continues to rise. Each of these major changes is, at one and the same time, economic-social-architectural-infrastructural and cultural. Historians describe these changes. Economists model the effects of “shocks” in technology and changes in income levels. Sociologists tend to look at how social networks and practices shape changes in city form and function. Can an interdisciplinary, comparative and historical perspective do better, especially with more global data? Given the wave of urbanization sweeping the world in the 21st century, but the different nature of the transitions occurring in different places, having a global vision that accounts for both similarity and difference seems more important than ever, especially for validating comparisons that “compare what is comparable but not what is not comparable.”
  • Data and methods: Big Data and the “digital skin of the city” are here and growing exponentially.   As with previous phases in the development of technologies of life and ways to measure and categorize them, social scientists and other actors are inventing “on the hoof” the categories that will be used to take advantage of these data. The promise held out by these sources of data is that they will be more (a) agent-based rather than spatially-or socially-aggregated; and that (depending on anonymity and access) there might be (b) an explosion of panel-longitudinal data.  If we think about how such data might be applied to the substantive areas of governance that we identify as most important, how will they alter the ways we study the city? 

To return to our introductory section, for each of these domains, three fundamental tasks can be envisioned: (1) surveying the forms of governance and types of issues involved, through (2) a global comparative perspective mobilizing qualitative and quantitative methods operating at the micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis, with (3) the goal of understanding authority, functionality, distributional effects, and tropes of justice and injustice (forms of politicization and re-politicization).

References to the organizers’ work that is drawn upon in this document:

Boudreau, J. A. 2017. Global urban politics: informalization of the state. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Le Galès, P., & Vitale, T. (2013). « Governing the large metropolis. A research agenda. Working papers « cities are back in town », Paris: Sciences Po.

Le Galès, P., 2017, « The political sociology of cities and urbanisation processes: social movements inequalities and governance », in R.Burdett, S.Hall, eds, The Sage Handbook of the 21rst century city.

Magnusson, Warren. 2011. Politics of Urbanism: Seeing like a City. Abingdon: Routledge.

Storper, M. 2013.  Keys to the City.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Storper, M. 2014. « Governing the large metropolis ». Territory, Politics, Governance, 2(2), 115-134. 


Alberta Andreotti (University of Milan Bicocca)
Julie Anne Boudreau (UNAM Mexico, INRS Montréal)
Bruce G. Carruthers (Northwestern University)
Veronica Crossa (El Colegio de Mexico)
Diane Davis (Harvard University)
Adrian Favell (University of Leeds)
Laurent Fourchard (Sciences Po, CERI)
Maarten Hajer (University of Utrecht)
Mona Harb (American university of Beirut)
Patrick Heller (Brown University)
Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po, Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics and Urban School, CNRS)
David Ley (University of British Columbia)
Warren Magnusson (University of Victoria)
Eduardo Marques (University of São Paulo)
Harvey Molotch (New York University)
Max Nathan (University of Birmingham)
Thomas Orgorzalek (Northwestern University)
Dennis Rodgers (University of Amsterdam)
Jeremy Seekings (University of Captown, Centre for Social Science Research)
Michael Storper (UCLA (Luskin School) LSE (Geography), Sciences Po, Sociology)
Tommaso Vitale (Sciences Po, CEE)
Bart Wissink (City University of Hong Kong)
Yue Zhang (University of Illinois)

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