Putting urban government in its places. On actor-network theory as a framework for the study of urban governmentality

Mathias Rodatz | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Vor­trag am 16.4.2011 im Rah­men der AAG 2011 in Seattle

Dis­course ana­ly­sis has become cen­tral for stu­dy­ing the gover­nance of urban spaces. For approa­ches that ope­ra­tio­na­lize Foucault’s broad sense of governing and power, it has led to the inclu­sion of a variety of fields, docu­ments, arti­facts and prac­tices to be ana­ly­zed focu­sing power effects pro­du­ced by for­mal or mate­ria­li­zed poli­ti­cal know­ledge: e.g. aut­ho­riza­ti­ons, nor­ma­liza­ti­ons, sub­jec­tifi­ca­ti­ons, spa­tia­liza­ti­ons. We will argue that for under­stan­ding these power effects, espe­cially wit­hin the spe­ci­fic dyna­mics of urban space, ano­ther aspect of ana­ly­sis should be added: the ques­tion of how exactly poli­ti­cal know­ledge is crea­ted, trans­por­ted and trans­for­med through time and space.
We pro­pose the use of actor-network theory to describe rhi­zo­ma­tic net­works of gover­nance, focu­sing on the (mate­rial) means and costs of trans­por­ta­tion of poli­ti­cal know­ledge. In this per­spec­tive, dyna­mics of urban govern­ment can be con­cep­tio­na­li­zed as attempts to sta­bi­lize net­works of hete­ro­ge­neous actants – human actants as well as non-human actants such as pro­gram­ma­tic docu­ments or other arti­facts trans­porting pro­grams, ideas, norms or cate­go­ries (e.g. pos­ters, came­ras, street bumps, etc.). By reconstruc­ting these actor-networks, i.e. fol­lo­wing the trans­for­ma­ti­ons that are pro­du­ced by the mate­ria­liza­ti­ons in dif­fe­rent forms, as well as the inter­ac­tions of hete­ro­ge­neous actants in spe­ci­fic spaces, it is pos­si­ble to study the fine mecha­nics of governing in their local con­texts, and to iden­tify instan­ces of resis­tance and trans­for­ma­tion. Actor-network theory as a frame­work for the study of urban govern­men­ta­lity may thus help to prevent rash con­clu­si­ons on con­tem­porary power effects and help to bet­ter under­stand urban dyna­mics of governance.

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