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The Politics of Structural Change

Mittwoch, 18.01.2023

Paradigms, Instruments and Conflicts of Transforming the Economy.

Session Proposal for the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers, 29-31 August 2023, London

Organisers: Andreas Exner (University of Graz, Austria) and Matthias Naumann (Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development, Germany)

Structural change of cities and regions is a major focus of urban and regional studies. On the one hand, analysing transformations of local and regional economies, their drivers, discourses, materialities and various uneven outcomes are key questions of human geographers across different subdisciplines. On the other hand, urban and regional policies aim to manage structural economic change, providing conditions for the attraction of investments and jobs from growing parts of the economy in order to replace the loss of jobs in traditional sectors and enhance regional cohesion. More recently, structural change has been associated with terms such as “Smart Cities”, “Smart Villages”, “Platform Urbanism” or “Green Economies”. Furthermore, and beyond traditional approaches to structural policies, “Degrowth” as well as socio-ecological “transformations” such as “Transition Towns” or “Edible Cities” became alternative orientations for reshaping local and regional economies. This applies also for the debates “foundational economy”, “socialisation” or “municipalism”. While structural change provides an important keyword for research and politics, its ontologies, its conceptual and instrumental varieties as well as the conflicting interests of various actors within processes of structural change and adjustments deserve further investigation. From the angle of critical human geography there is the need to unpack structural change as inevitable, linear and irreversible. This leads us to questions regarding the paradigms and beliefs, ideologies, concepts, instruments, technologies and practices of “making” structural change, and which contradictions and conflicts form around them – how politics of structural change are perceived, rationalised and implemented, but also which alternative visions exist for transforming urban and regional economies.

The session invites contributions addressing different geographical scales and contexts, economic sectors and heuristic perspectives. We want to address, but are not limited to the following questions:

  • Ideologies, Paradigms and Discourses of Structural Change. Which are the fundamental beliefs of the transformation of economies, cities and regions structural change is based upon? Which issues do the notions of “structural” and “change” include or exclude, and how do they relate to each other, e.g., in view of debates around “agency” and “structure”? Which expectations – hopes, fears and utopias – relate to the idea of “managing structural change”, how are they expressed in academic and political debates? And how did these paradigms and discourses change over time?
  • Concepts and Instruments of Urban and Regional Structural Policies. How are urban and regional policies addressing the management of structural economic change? Which concepts, programs and instruments have been applied, what have been the results, critiques and recent adaptions?
  • Technologies and Everyday Practices for Transforming Economies. Which technologies are involved in the transformation of urban and regional economies, e.g. in the realm of digitization? How do urban and regional policies address and shape everyday practices? How do everyday practices stabilize the status quo or contribute to structural change?
  • Contradictions and Conflicts around Transformations. Who are the winners and losers of structural change? What conflicting aims of structural change exist? What are progressive interventions and alternatives to processes of structural change as we knew it?

We welcome contemporary as well as historical case studies, conceptual and theoretical considerations, empirical studies, or methodological observations. Abstracts of 250 words are invited by 24th February 2023, decisions will be communicated by 10th March 2023. Please send abstracts to andreas.exner@uni-graz.at and Matthias.Naumann@BBR.Bund.de

Please indicate if you plan to attend in person or virtually. We aim to publish the contributions to the session in a special issue of an international journal.

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