CFP AAG 2018: Displacing policy mobilities, displacing the ‘expert’

Emma Colven (UCLA) and I are organizing a session on urban expertise, broadly conceived, for next year’s AAG meeting in New Orleans, LA. More details:

American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting

New Orleans, Louisiana. April 10-14 2018. 

Disrupting policy mobilities, displacing the ‘expert’

Organizers: Rachel Bok (UBC) and Emma Colven (UCLA)

Discussants: Katie Meehan (University of Oregon), Natalie Oswin (McGill University), Cristina Temenos (University of Manchester)

Sponsored by the Urban Geography Speciality Group and the Cultural and Political Ecology Speciality Group

In recent decades, as private sector, state, and non-governmental actors have sought to develop various ‘solutions’ to the challenges of urbanization and global environmental change, urban policy has come to be dominated by discourses of the sustainable, smart-, eco-, and resilient city. Global networks of expertise, old and new, such as the OECD, the C40 Cities Group, and the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, have supported the circulation of these discourses.

Geographers have examined the mobilities, mutations, and adaptations of expert knowledge as it traverses space and time. While research in development geography has long problematized ideals of ‘expert’ knowledge, such questions have found new relevance in ‘the urban’. A growing body of work in urban geography has sought to understand the phenomenon of cross-border policy networks of knowledge, together with its transformative implications for urban policy, politics, and governance. This literature has explored the contingency of policy knowledge for localized conditions, but it has also remained focused on the mobility of policies and projects, sometimes regardless of their failures (see Chang 2017; Webber 2015) and the role of formally recognized elites and ‘experts’ (see Bunnell and Marolt 2014; McCann 2008).

In this session, we seek to question this focus on experts and the dominant discourses they promote. What (pre-existing) forms of knowledge, policy efforts, and programs that address urban and urban-environmental issues are hidden from view? How can the policy mobilities literature learn from feminist science studies, postcolonial urban studies, and political ecology?

We invite empirical, theoretical, and methodological papers that address one or more of the following questions:

  • How have the social, environmental and economic challenges of urbanization and environmental change opened up space for different forms of expertise/knowledge (e.g. Indigenous, experiential, non-scientific, community, citizen science)?
  • How can we reimagine relationships between technocratic expertise and these alternative forms of knowledge? What frictions or alliances are formed between different forms of knowledge?
  • How do non-experts insert themselves into/subvert/resist the production, circulation, and implementation of ‘best practice’ urban policies at multiple spatial scales?
  • How are representations of expertise (statistics, models, etc.) taken up in localized contexts and attributed new meanings?
  • What is the genealogy of categories such as ‘the technocrat’ and ‘expertise’ in urban policy and governance? How do experts and expertise come to be legitimized in state governance?
  • What does the expanding influence of global technocratic actors/organizations (e.g. consultancies, gurus) indicate about the changing dynamics of urban governance, municipal state power, and non-expert forms of knowledge?

Interested presenters should email their abstract of no more than 250 words (along with their affiliation, phone number, and email address) to and by October 14, 2017. Presenters will be notified by October 21, 2017 and asked to register their abstracts by October 25, 2017.


Bunnell, T., Marolt, P. (2014) Commentary: cities and their grassroots. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32, 381-385.

Chang, I-C., C. (2017) Failure matters: reassembling eco-urbanism in a globalizing China, Environment and Planning A, 49(8), 1719-1742.

McCann, E. J. (2008) Expertise, truth and urban policy mobilities: global circuits of knowledge in the development of Vancouver, Canada’s ‘four pillar’ drug strategy, Environment and Planning A, 40, 885-904.

Webber, S. (2015), Mobile Adaptation and Sticky Experiments: Circulating Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Climate Change Adaptation. Geographical Research, 53, 26-38.

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