Collaborative Governance Under Austerity: An Eight-case comparative study

De Montfort University is leading is an ESRC-funded international study of austerity governance in cities (Ref: ES/L012898/1).  The project, funded from April 2015 until March 2018 is exploring austerity governance in eight cities: Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes.  Finding ways to collaborate with citizens has always been important for central and local governments. Our study will tell academics, politicians and public officials about the different ways in which cities construe austerity and attempt to create coalitions to govern and resist the spatio-temporally differentiated crises they experience. The project is part of the ESRC's Urban Transformations portfolio, seeking to assess critically and understand the impact and significance of transformations for the welfare and wellbeing of urban citizens across the globe. 

The first phase of our research, reported in our first series of blog-posts last year, explored what we called the “collaborative moment”.   This term refers to the global wave of enthusiasm for network governance among intellectuals, policy makers and activists during the 1990s and 2000s: its capacity to join-up government, foster partnerships between state and non-state actors, and revive participatory democracy.  Given the relative proximity of citizens and governing institutions at the urban scale, cities were viewed as particularly fertile arenas for building network governance.  Our question was how far the zeitgeist of network governance – the spirit of the collaborative moment – survived the crash and austerity. We wanted to know, in other words, whether the “collaborative moment” was durable, or a transient phenomenon associated with long-gone “good times”.

The exploratory phase revealed that the terms “austerity” and “collaboration had very different meanings. The perceived economic and political significance of the crisis varied widely.  So did the politics of collaboration.  It is clear that while it has not disappeared entirely, the politics of the collaborative moment did not survive in cities severely afflicted by austerity, and had highly variable salience to start with.  Consequently, we decided to broaden the research to take in wider conceptual and temporal horizons and bring our case study cities into a better conversation with one another.  The research we are now reporting takes as its comparative pivot the urban governance of rolling crises of welfarism: the waves of dislocation and restructuring experienced in different ways and at different times in all our cities, since the heyday of the welfare state in the 1950s and 60s – including but not only the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  What governing coalitions and what configurations of social forces are mobilised, to what ends and with what impact on the course of our eight cities?

You can follow the project’s progress on the “Austerity Governance” page of our blog.

Project team:

We have a diverse multi-disciplinary team of eleven investigators working on the project encompassing geography, political science, public policy, sociology and social theory. 

Dr Ismael Blanco, Autonomous University of Barcelona 
Case Study: Barcelona. 

Dr Ioannis Chorianopoulos, University of the Aegean
Case Study: Athens

Professor Jonathan Davies, De Montfort University (Principal Investigator)
Case study: Leicester

Dr Niamh Gaynor, Dublin City University 
Case study: Dublin

Professor Brendan Gleeson, University of Melbourne
Case Study: Melbourne (with Helen Sullivan)

Professor Steven Griggs, De Montfort UniversityCase Study: Nantes (with David Howarth)

Professor Pierre Hamel, Université de Montréal 
Case study: Montreal (with Roger Keil)

Professor David Howarth, University of Essex
Case Study: Nantes (with Steven Griggs)
Professor Roger Keil, York University, Toronto 
Case Study: Montreal (with Pierre Hamel) 

Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive, Association for Public Service Excellence
External Consultant and Impact Advisor
E: PO'  

Dr Madeleine Pill, University of Sydney 
Case Study: Baltimore

Professor Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne 
Case Study: Melbourne (with Brendan Gleeson)


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