The political life of public policy instruments: graphic artifacts, technologies and legibilities in urban governance

Governance studies and urban policies have received important contributions from anthropologies of the State and document ethnographies, incorporating the materiality of the State to understand power in cities, disputes over legibility and the policy process. These approaches complexify the classical weberian conception of bureaucracy, shedding light on issues of unpredictability and uncertainties in state action. In addition, they point to the need to rearrange analytical models that mechanically relate production of information and implementation of new technologies to the improvement, for example, of legibility, state capacity and the intensification of social control.

 Some argue that the vision a panoptic State, as regarded by part of the literature, portraits only the passive face of the bureaucratic artifacts, pointing out to the importance of understanding how instruments relate to people, places and things. They are produced, used and modified by means of procedures, discourses, negotiation and contestation strategies, frequently becoming autonomous in relation to its enforcers. In a comprehensive approach to what the State governs and to whom it governs, there’s a need to incorporate this complex network around modern technologies and include the notion of governance as a material practice.

 We look for studies that analyze the production, circulation and usage of information throughout the State, materialized in different types of artifacts. We also encourage the submission of papers with a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches, specially, ethnographies and in-depth case studies to understand the local and urban implications of policy instruments. Some stimulating questions:

  • How production and circulation of bureaucratic artifacts affect production of public policy and the urban?
  • What is the role of instruments in creating and solving injustices and inequalities? How these interact with the issues of uncertainty and unpredictability within State action?
  • How can urban studies incorporate material practices that follow multiple and global dynamics and, at the same time, affect each urban context in specific ways?


Telma Hoyler, Center for Metropolitan Studies – CEM/USP

Marcos Campos, Center for Metropolitan Studies – CEM/USP