[URBANTH-L] CFP: Sustainable Development and the City (Saint-Etienne, France)

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Sun Dec 9 11:18:34 EST 2007

You will find below the call for papers of an international symposium on the 
question of sustainable development and the city
Abstracts should be sent to organizers by January 31st, 2008.


Vincent Béal
Université Jean Monnet Saint-Etienne
Sustainable urban development seen by social
International Symposium
29 and 30 May 2008

Call for papers

Symposium programme :
Duration : 2 days
Venue : Saint-Etienne (France)

We expect contributions from various field of research (urban planning, 
geography, political
science, sociology, etc.) based on fieldwork but also including a 
theoretical dimension
respecting the above-defined research questions. Contributions may be 
written and presented
in French or English.

Please send an abstract (less than 500 words) of your proposed paper to 
Vincent Béal
(bealvincent at yahoo.fr) by January 31, 2008.

Sustainable development is generally defined as "development that meets the 
needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their 
own needs"
(Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1988). This notion - which attempts 
to link three
main pillars (the economy, the environment and social issues) and to renew 
the way in which
public policies are produced - first appeared on the international scene as 
the new remedy
which guaranteed the continuity of our current model of development. Its 
success can largely
be explained by the hazy nature of its definition. In the same way as other 
terms like "nature"
or "environment" (Williams, 1983; Harvey, 1996), the significance of 
development varies according to the temporal and spatial contexts, to such 
an extent that for
some it is a true catch-all word, whose success is due above all to its 
ability to produce an
artificial consensus.
During the 1990s, local authorities - and more particularly cities - were 
identified as relevant
levels in the implementation of the principles of sustainable development. 
Today, the
presence of sustainable urban development (SUD) on the political agendas of 
cities is very
strong. SUD has become the main approach in term of urban environmental 
policies and it has
also been integrated in some other areas of public policy such as transport, 
housing and
regeneration. SUD seems omnipresent to such a point that it appears as a 
"pre-requisite" for
local authorities and especially local elected officials.
This diffusion of the theme of sustainability in urban policies has been 
accompanied by many
calls for research from state funded bodies for social sciences in several 
countries such as
France (CNRS, PUCA-Ministry of the Equipment, etc), the United Kingdom 
(ESRC), Quebec
and so on. These calls for research have made it possible to link 
environmental issues with
urban studies (Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2000). They have also contributed to 
imposing SUD
as an analytical category in understanding the changes in urban public 
policies. Thus, for
these funding bodies - and also for some researchers - sustainability has 
become a pertinent
analyser of such changes, which include the transformation of political 
agendas to integrate
the interests of "future generations", the transformation of the work of 
local government
administrations towards better inter-sector coordination, the transformation 
of the forms of
public debates by increasing the forms of participation and deliberation, 
etc. Finally one can
wonder whether the introduction of the analytical category of "sustainable 
development" or
"sustainability" does not lead researchers to anticipate a change which is 
just starting to
happen in certain fields of public policy and which is non-existent in 
What we would like to do here is to reverse our focus and to question the 
public policies, the
rhetoric, the strategies and the political mobilisations which assert the 
principle of
sustainability by using categories which have long been established by the 
social sciences. In
other words, rather than starting from the principle that SUD impels change 
because of its
simple rhetorical force, we are seeking to test the efficacy of this change 
in various spheres of
political activity.

>From this point of view, we propose to call for contributions relating to 
the following aspects:

1- Sustainable urban development and urban policy making
Over the last twenty years or so, urban public action has undergone a 
thorough transformation
(Le Galès, 2003). New actors have appeared. New ways of doing things and new
temporalities have also emerged. This transformation is generally tied to 
the shift from local
government to urban governance (Andrew and Goldsmith, 1998) and can be 
explained by the
change in the overall environment of cities. Indeed, since the industrial 
crisis and the erosion
of the Keynesiano-Fordist compromise, cities have been confronted with a 
complex, and
above all, uncertain environment. The globalisation of the economy, the 
structuring of a
standard-setting European political space, the restructuring of states, the 
fragmentation of
urban societies, the growing complexity of urban problems, etc., have 
imposed a climate of
uncertainty on urban policy making. However, sustainability is often 
presented as a process
which integrates uncertainties into policy making (Lascoumes, 2005; Pinson, 
2006b). Faced
with these uncertainties, the stakeholders are invited to build collective 
action frameworks, to
work out a provisional consensus of action. Put differently, they have been 
invited to create
less vertical systems of action, leaving more space for exchange, 
controversy and
What has been the outcome? Has there been a radical transformation of the 
processes of
choice in the sense of widening access to decision-making? Has there been an 
evolution of
public policy instruments marked by the generalization of incremental and 
instruments such as contracts, projects, charters, local agendas 21, citizen 
forums, etc.? Are
we concurrently seeing the development of inter-sectoral coordination 
practices and the
adoption of more flexible framework for action within urban administrations?

2- Sustainable urban development and political scales
Many works in various fields of research have identified the question of 
political rescaling as
a relevant notion with which to understand the restructuring of states. This 
literature often
echoes neo-Marxist works on the post-Fordist transition (Harvey, 1989; Amin, 
1994) and
considers that political rescaling is a strategy used by states to adapt 
themselves to the
changes in the capital accumulation (Brenner, 2004). Thus, according to 
these works, the
privileging of certain scales (e.g. cities) rather than others should be 
understood as a means
for states to adjust to the increased mobility of capital by instituting a 
new "spatial fix".
Contrary to work in France, a whole Anglophone stream of research has 
attempted to
establish links between these questions of regulation, of rescaling, of 
post-Fordist transition
and the question of SUD (Gibbs, 2002; While and al., 2004; Whitehead, 2003). 
conference could provide the opportunity to make up for this lost time by 
questioning the
relationship between cities and states through the prism of SUD. Thus, one 
could examine
what the relationship is between the national and urban SUD policies and the 
preoccupation with the competitiveness of different areas. Do SUD strategies 
established on a
national level favour certain scales (metropolitan scale, neighbourhood 
scale, etc.) rather than
others? Are these same strategies, while trying to improve the quality of 
life and amenities by
developing themes generally associated with the countryside - like nature, 
the village, the
community - being used to promote a new "urban idyll" (Hoskins and Tallon, 
2004; Colomb,
2006), with the aim of organizing and encouraging the return of the middle 
classes to cities
(Lees, 2003)? Another series of questions could relate to the nature of the 
between cities and states. Are the national SD policies taking part in a 
shift to public policies
more focused on procedural aspects (Lascoumes, 1996) by trying to lay down 
not just the
contents but also ways of doing things (Epstein, 2005)? Does this evolution 
lead to forms of
multilevel governance involving a multiplicity of actors from different 
levels of government?

3- Sustainable urban development and democracy
The model of state-centred democracy seems increasingly called into 
question. Indeed, the
last twenty years have seen the emergence of new procedures for involving 
citizens in public
decision-making (Blondiaux and Sintomer, 2002). Whether it be the 
introduction of public
debates, the installation of participative and deliberative processes, 
attempts at empowerment
of certain segments of the population, etc., the state/society relationship 
seems to have
undergone a thorough transformation (Swyngedouw, 2005). In this process, the 
local levels
and more particularly the cities, play an increasingly important part 
(Jouve, 2005). They
appear to the eyes of the experts as the relevant scale for the 
implementation of these new
democratic structures. Once again, SUD philosophy covers these concerns. By 
trying to renew
democratic practices, to institutionalise citizen participation and to make 
citizens more
responsible, SUD is taking part in this overall movement.
We would like to ask whether SUD is a driving force or whether it just 
follows the change.
Does it allow a revalorisation of the role of controversies likely to enrich 
the public debate?
Has its diffusion been accompanied by the development of a deliberative 
style of making
collective choices around forums which give scope to civil society and 
dispose of majority
decision-making systems? Can one say that SUD has introduced new 
articulations between
representative democracy and participative or deliberative democracy? On the 
contrary does
SUD lead to a de-politicisation of urban public policies?
In a different connection, one can also ask whether the emergence of SUD has 
brought about
an evolution in state/society relations. In the same way as is happening 
around social policies
in Anglo-Saxon countries, does SUD contribute to an individualization of 
urban policies,
aiming at building individuals as "the cause" and thus consequently "the 
solution" to
environmental problems? Can one link the diffusion of SUD with the 
propagation of the idea
of "active citizenship"?

4- Sustainable urban development and the sociology of public policy 
The professions of public action have evolved, for some at least, to adapt 
to the new
frameworks of action which have appeared in the last twenty years. Today, 
officers with a
legal profile seem to have been replaced by those with a "political" 
profile, blurring more and
more the clear-cut separation of tasks between design and execution 
inherited from the Fordist
regulation mode. More important still, the occupation of local councillor 
has been profoundly
changed. The role of elected officials seems to have moved from 
decision-making to
coordination (Borraz and John, 2004). The resources at their disposal have 
also evolved, in
particular those concerning legitimisation, which appear to be more and more 
linked to
outputs, that is to say to the implementation of public policies (Borraz and 
Negrier, 2006;
Pinson, 2007). This evolution has also caused upheavals in political 
temporalities (Pole Sud,
2006), which today no longer appear as being determined only by the 
short-term electoral
It is thus important to consider the link between SUD and these changes. Do 
the themes of
sustainability offer new opportunities in terms of political legitimisation? 
What place does the
political discourse of urban leaders give to the mention of SUD? In a more 
concrete way, does
sustainability modify the idea that elected officials have of their role? 
Does it lead them to
conceive the place of participative and deliberative democracy in a more 
serene way? Is the
role of the urban elected officials reconfigured whilst going from the 
figure of the decisionmaker
to that of the facilitator of the process of collective action? Lastly, does 
taking the longterm
into account through SUD modify political temporalities?
We also need to understand whether the topic of sustainability has allowed 
the development
of new professional responsibilities in urban administration (municipal, 
inter-municipal, local
authorities, etc.)? If so, what place do these new professions occupy along 
with the traditional
professions of local government? Apart from urban administration, it would 
be interesting to
know if figures of experts are emerging in militant networks and managing to 
influence the
making of urban policies. Is a market of consultancy and/or expertise in SUD 
growing up
around urban administration?

5- Sustainable urban development and organisations of collective action
The evolution which we have already referred to has also had consequences on 
action and the way in which it is organized. The restructuring of states has 
had many effects
on the role of pressure groups, social movements and also on that of 
political parties. It seems
interesting here to consider the weight of the emergence of SUD on two 
The first concerns the appropriation of SUD themes by political parties. How 
do political
parties take over the essential issue of SUD? Do they make it a strong 
element of their
election programmes? How is the theme vested outside election times? The 
campaigns of 2007 and 2008 in France could be used as a basis for the study 
of the place
which the parties give to these themes. At the same time, we can ask whether 
SUD has the
capacity to transcend existing cleavages and to provide a new type of 
cleavage which gives
structure not only to the partisan offer but, beyond it, to public opinion. 
Conversely the
question of the loss of ideology of the partisan offer around SUD could also 
be posed.
The second level relates to the attitude of social movements with regard to 
SUD. The
emergence of the ecologist movements in the 1970s, in particular through 
urban struggles, had
had a strong impact on the nature of the social movements. It seemed then 
that new social
movements (Touraine, 1978) marked by an inter-class composition and by 
claims were about to be born. What has happened with the emergence of SUD? 
Is a specific
sector of social movements in the process of constituting itself around 
development and more particularly around SUD, or does the topic remain the 
prerogative of
the environmentalist movements? Has the vogue for SUD within urban 
institutions opened up access to decision-making to certain social 
movements, and conversely
has it stopped this access for the traditional environmentalist movements? 
Is the topic of
sustainability inducing a transformation of the scope of collective action 
in favour of a
growing recourse to the supply of expertise to institutions, to the 
detriment of more radical
and less institutionalized instruments of action? Lastly, can we consider 
the link between the
idea of sustainability and the adoption of a self-limited stance (Arato and 
Cohen, 1992) which
seems to affect certain social movements?

6- Sustainable urban development and urban policies
The nature of urban policies has changed dramatically. It would seem that we 
have gone from
sectional policies modelled on the organization of the state, department by 
department, to
much more horizontal and integrated policies aiming at resolving problems in 
a more holistic
way. At the same time, the manner of elaborating and implementing these 
policies at the
urban scale has changed. The era of planning seems well behind us, and today 
the project
seems to be the preferred method of elected officials and officers (Pinson, 
2006a). This
evolution can apply to SUD. In public speeches, this notion is coupled with 
many sectional
policies. The actors of urban policies multiply the references to 
sustainable mobility,
sustainable planning, sustainable housing, sustainable neighbourhoods or 
even sustainable
cities (Haugton and Hunter, 1994). At the same time, while placing itself 
against the current
of functionalist urbanism (Emelianoff, 2002) and by promoting the method of 
the project as
the central objective (Da Cunha, 2004), SUD explicitly aims at a deeply 
change in the
contents and the action frameworks of urban policies.
What has happened in practice? How does sustainability succeed in modifying 
the various
urban policies? For example, has the increasingly strong rapprochement 
between urban
renewal/urban regeneration and the objectives of SUD helped to modify some 
practices or to
integrate new objectives? Has there been an increase in the importance of 
issues in urban policies, or rather their dilution in the blur of the 
concept of SUD? What are
the concrete consequences of these new practices? We can ask, for example, 
up to what point
certain central objectives of SUD, trying to preserve the urban environment, 
(the struggle
against urban sprawl, construction in conformity with environmental 
standards such as the
HQE standard), can foster certain processes like the social polarization of 
cities, the spatial
relegation of certain social groups or the gentrification of city centres.
7- Sustainable urban development and values
Recent studies in local economic development insist more and more on the 
importance of
human capital. Some of this work has found a very strong echo among urban 
as is shown by the success of Richard Florida's essay (2003) and his 
concept, much
debated in the scientific world (Peck, 2005), of a creative class. Few 
empirical works have
taken an interest in these new "social groups", while at the same time they 
seem to be the
subject of close attention on the part of urban decision-makers, to the 
detriment of other
groups like the working class or ethnic minorities. Among the values 
conveyed by these
groups, SD is prominent, so much so that one could think that SD is for 
these groups what
ecology was for the new middle class which emerged in the 1970s (Inglehart, 
It will thus be interesting to examine the reconfigurations of the systems 
of values and sociopolitical
alliances around SUD. In cities, can we note a transformation of the systems 
values (for example, combining acceptance of the established economic order 
and concern for
protection of the environment but also sensitivity to democratization of the 
processes) which could synthesize the idea of SUD? Is the diffusion of the 
themes of
sustainability in cities the product of the rise to power of new social 
classes ("creative class",
"Bohemian middle-class", "chic radical") carrying new systems of values and 
a new political
In the same way, we can wonder, starting from these new systems of values, 
processes of realignment/misalignment of certain social groups are taking 
place? This
question, which is close to the research agenda of Urban Political Ecology 
(Swyngedouw and
Heynen, 2003), could make us think about the fact of knowing who benefits 
from SUD,
understood here as one of the possible ways (but not the only way) to define 
and deal with the
"urban environment issue"?


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