Conference Theme

Interpreting Politics, Governance, and Space.

The interpretive turn in political science has profoundly shaped our appreciation of how practices, beliefs and traditions shape the meaning of politics and policy. However, a consistently under-explored dimension of the interpretive turn relates to how interpreting politics is inextricably linked to understanding political space: how political struggles and governance practices are simultaneously localised and globalised, and how politics is practiced by mobilising meanings of place, scale, and territory.

The relationship between politics and space is essential to understanding the current political conjuncture. Cultural clashes around race, class, and social justice in urban contexts have laid bare the territorialised boundaries within which social inequalities are co-produced. The unequal capacity of communities and regions to respond to global climate change is demonstrating how the global climate emergency will profoundly shape the nature of social inequality. The explosive expansion of urban centres presents a major global governance challenge, with unparalleled pressure being placed on cities as well as many rural areas having to deal with being ‘left behind’. Public health measures linked to Covid-19 have raised concerns about the restrictions placed on the use of public space for democratic expression, and debates around the acceptable level of state encroachment on private spaces have polarised policymakers and citizens alike. Moreover, the adjustment to the ‘new normal’ has generated new questions and concerns about the social implications of virtual spaces for issues ranging from democratic dialogue, political decision making, education, and social care.

An interpretive approach to the production and enactment of policy is undoubtedly central to addressing these urgent questions society is currently facing. But to exercise its full analytical potential, IPA scholarship needs to give greater consideration to the relationship between politics and space, something which would involve opening up new cross-disciplinary dialogues with political geography, regional studies, and urban planning.

The conference invites scholars from the IPA community and beyond to collectively shape this new agenda. Possible questions to consider include:

  • Policy and territory. Why do particular spaces grip? How do citizens make sense of their relationship with territory? How do these meanings create the political boundaries of territories? How and why do publics and policymakers identify with particular spaces and territories (such as the local or national) and not others?
  • Democratic spaces. What do debates and movements such as those relating to the commons reveal about the democratic politics and the social organisation of space? What kinds of challenges and opportunities does the explosive rise of virtual spaces present for deliberative practice?
  • New municipalism. How do we critically engage with the emergent belief across political systems in the capacity of local spaces to generate novel democratic responses to the challenges of austerity, climate change, and political disaffection? What are the opportunities and challenges of this ‘new municipalism’ and its capacity to generate alternative political spaces and democratic forms of citizenship? 
  • Knowledge & space. What kinds of technologies and calculative practices are involved in ‘rendering technical’ the multiple spaces of policy knowledge? How do quantitative indicators and qualitative best practices make complex, diverse places commensurable and comparable?
  • Moral spaces. Certain urban or regional areas are associated with moralized communities, such as red light districts, theatre districts, LGBT neighbourhoods, and urban areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities. How are moralized meanings attached to these spaces, which communities are involved in negotiating these meanings, and how are these meanings contested?
  • New methods. What kinds of methodological tools can policy scholars use to understand, map, and conceptualise political spaces?

While panel and paper proposals are invited to consider this theme, the conference also welcomes proposals that relate to issues and topics spanning the diversity of IPA approaches.