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Local and Urban Politics

E14 - Innovations in Urban Political Thought

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 03:45pm to 05:15pm | Location: SWING 409

Chair/Président/Présidente : Stewart Prest (Simon Fraser University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Warren Magnussen (University of Victoria)

Deliberative Utopianism: Increasing Citizen Engagement and the Effectiveness of Municipal Democracy in Canada: Thilo Schaefer (University of Toronto)
Abstract: In addition to distortions of truth, contemporary political discourse is characterized by increased cynicism and the marginalization of political ideals. This is particularly problematic in light of the motivational function of the utopian imagination. Recent research in social psychology supplements a wealth of historical evidence indicating the influence of utopian visions on political practice: when people are primed to imagine their ideal society before considering existing conditions, they are more likely to display increased levels of societal engagement and reflective criticism (collective self-regulation). This paper considers the relevance of these findings for Canadian cities. Urban scholars and municipal politicians have long suggested that Canadian cities need more political and financial autonomy to meet a mounting array of challenges, including housing insecurity, aging infrastructure, and increasing diversity. This paper argues that more municipal autonomy is not alone sufficient. In order to better motivate social action on large and complex urban challenges, it is also necessary to re-centre municipal political discourse on the articulation and criticism of ideal cities. This paper examines the methodological approaches and legacies of the early twentieth-century utopian planners Le Corbusier, Frank Llyod Wright, and Ebenezer Howard to develop a theory of "deliberative utopianism" that takes seriously the contingency and partiality of all utopian visions. The relevance of this paper extends beyond the urban context by suggesting an explanation for why dystopian narratives have become so pervasive in recent years and illustrates the importance of constructing alternative utopian imaginaries to challenge their influence.


Re-Founding Political Order Through the City: The State and the Social Order of Everyday Urban Life: Martin Horak (University of Western Ontario)
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the social organization of everyday urban life contains powerful but latent potential for the re-founding of democratic political order. Political science has tended to see the state or the market as the two dominant organizational responses to the problem of social order. Yet, as Magnusson (2011) argues, urban societies continually self-produce order at the micro level through spontaneous mechanisms of self-governance. Building on Magnusson’s work, I argue that the fundamental problem of order in contemporary societies lies in their over-reliance on the superstructures of state and market as ordering principles. However, Magnusson’s work does not address the question of how this problem can be addressed given continued state and market dominance. Drawing on social network theory (eg Granovetter 1971), recent social psychology research on the micro-foundations of social order (eg. Lawler, Thye and Yoon 2015), and work on community as social practice (Blokland 2017), I argue that the state need not serve only as a top-down guarantor of social order and/or a facilitator for market capitalism. Instead, I propose that all scales of the state – from local to national – can play a critical role in supporting the bottom-up reproduction of social order through policy interventions that shape the social infrastructure for everyday life, and support self-governance autonomous of both state and market. The paper is part of a larger project on the same theme.

Clarifying the Resilience Concept in Policy Theory and Practice: Zack Taylor (University of Western Ontario), Carrie Mitchell (University of Waterloo), Joanne Fitzgibbons (University of Waterloo)
Abstract: The concept of “resilience" has gained widespread popularity within both academic and practitioner communities, yet its meaning is contested and its abstraction renders it difficult to operationalize in policymaking. We compare and synthesize alternative understandings of resilience with the aim of developing a practice-oriented definition: the capacity of governance to anticipate and manage risks in an environment of uncertainty. We suggest that this definition potentially constitutes a policymaking paradigm that is ontologically and epistemologically distinct from dominant approaches, which we characterize as the normative and the projective. These minimize the scope of uncertainty, and therefore risk, because they identify and deterministically plan for a singular future state. While normative planning engages the public in identifying a desirable future, projective planning identifies the most likely future on the basis of trends. Risk management, by contrast, seeks to identify interventions that will function under a broad range of potential futures, both probable and improbable, and both desirable and undesirable. We then apply this normative-projective-risk management heuristic in a discourse analysis of a global sample of 30 local government resilience policies supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s influential 100 Resilient Cities program. We conclude that, despite its rhetorical attention to socio-economic-environmental holism, most 100RC plans and policies likely underspecify future risks because they remain normative or projective in their orientation.