Circuits of knowledge and practices in global urban mobilisations: experimentations and critical approaches

In her 2013 paper “Circuits of Knowledge and Techniques: the Transnational Flow of Planning Ideas and Practices” Healey inaugurated a critical reflection on the ways knowledge and techniques circulate in the global urban planning arena. She identified a developmentalist phase, a post-colonial or post-structuralist phase and a current phase which she describes as characterised by a shift in interest towards micro-practices and empirical research, supported by theoretical underpinnings referring to ANT theory (eg. Latour 1987, 2005) and Interpretive Policy Analysis (eg. Wagenaar 2011).

This session seeks to expand this debate and look at whether, and how, a similar reading is valid not just for formalised planning ideas, but specifically for practices and experiences of protest, advocacy and mobilisation in cities across the world, and how these eventually interact with and influence formal planning ideas.

In particular, the session proposes to look at the currently emerging transfers of knowledge, approaches, techniques and practices which are happening, or have the potential to happen, across different groups struggling to be recognised in formalised urban planning arenas, but are not necessarily excluded by them: urban social movements fighting gentrification and tourism, advocacy groups promoting environmental and social justice, local NGOs advocating for rights to housing, security of tenure and access to services for the urban poor, etc.

  • How are these political mobilisations around urban rights, environmental justice issues, social issues being shaped by new connections?
  • How are wider alliances and networks being structured around local struggles?
  • How are political (and policy) discourses shaped by these exchanges?
  • What are the political and practical shortcomings inherent to these processes?

 The session particularly welcomes contributions structured as single or comparative case studies, showing how local experiences are incorporated into vaster circuits of knowledge and practices in concrete terms – data collection, network formation, discourse transfer, etc. – and how micro-practices offer new critical perspectives for South-South, North-South, South-North knowledge exchange across the globe. Potential papers could tackle some of the following vital critical questions, but should not be limited to them:

  • What is the role of travelling ideas, concepts and approaches in shaping political struggles in urban mobilisations? Are they enriching or homogenising local approaches?
  • Which role are techniques (eg. bottom-up data collection, deliberative methods) playing in local practices and new networks? Are techniques a terrain of political confrontation for these groups? For instance, is there a political struggle between small scale, locally produced and owned data (which we propose to call Small Data) and Big Data?
  • What is the role of NGOs? Do they represent a professionalization of political dissent and enable the failure of State welfare, or facilitate effective advocacy by means of their technical support?
  • How are western formal practices of participation and mobilisation (eg. neighbourhood and community planning), influenced by the current shifts? Is the use of the concept of “community” a fruitful one? How could it be problematized?


Dr. Michele Vianello, University of Westminster