Geography Policy Mobilities
Nik Theodore
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0205


How do “ideas from elsewhere” shape local policy debates? Over the last decade or two, the policy mobilities approach from the emerging field of critical policy studies has taken up this question by problematizing conventional understandings of policymaking. Whereas traditional approaches to studying policy transfer tended to describe the prudent selection of proven models and policy protocols by worldly decision makers, policy mobilities research has troubled common depictions of the smooth diffusion and adoption of best practices and other “ideas that work” that have been selected from a global marketplace of policy solutions. By focusing on the global, or translocal, circulation of ideas and expertise, as well as policies, programs, plans, and problem statements and related discourses, this research has advanced a geographically sensitive approach to studying policymaking that is attentive both to the constitutive role sociospatial context plays in the development and authorization of “successful” policy solutions (as well as those policies that are deemed to have failed) and to the relationality of policymaking sites (whether as sites of emulation, implementation, or contestation). With its focus on the sociospatial embeddedness of policymaking processes, policy mobilities research is especially concerned with models (how policies, programs, and plans come to have extra-local salience), connections (how places and policy domains become interlinked through networks and epistemic communities), movement (how policies are transformed and adapted through the circulation of expertise, ideas, and models, as well as the reasons some policies fail to generate a wider audience of learners and emulators), institutions and actors (including local and national governments; diverse institutional arrangements in sites of policy implementation; international organizations, such as the World Bank and OECD; various cross-border networks, such as those involved in global health policymaking; and consultancies and other policy entrepreneurs); and techniques for learning (such as study tours, conferences, best practices reports, and evaluation science). But the policy mobilities approach offers far more than just a set of categories for describing aspects of the policymaking process; through the study of these aspects of policymaking, the policy mobilities approach seeks to be attentive to the ways in which decision-making is laden with power relations. In this sense, the policy mobilities approach offers a critical lens through which the translocal dynamics of policymaking can be investigated.

General Overviews

Although the policy mobilities subfield is relatively young, several excellent edited collections and monographs have been published, with many offering significant theoretical and methodological interventions along with examples of sustained empirical fieldwork. Strong edited collections by Roy and Ong 2011 and Shore, et al. 2011, while not fitting squarely within the policy mobilities rubric, have become staples among researchers and students of policy mobilities. Likewise, Clarke, et al. 2015 emerges from a parallel project that, like the policy mobilities approach, seeks to problematize conceptions of policy development that are largely linear, spatially bounded by the nation-state, and based on the prudent adoption of best practices. Within the policy mobilities subfield itself, McCann and Ward 2011 contains several chapters on the circulation of urban policies. Peck and Theodore 2015 presents a social-constructivist approach to studying policy mobilities and contains an extended discussion of theoretical concerns and methodological reflections, while McFarlane 2011 examines processes of policy learning at the urban scale. Temenos and McCann 2013 provides a highly readable introduction to policy mobilities research.

  • Clarke, John, David Bainton, Noemi Lendvai, and Paul Stubbs. Making Policy Move: Towards a Politics of Translation and Assemblage. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2015.

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    With a focus on policy circulation as active processes of translation and assemblage, this monograph is a theoretical and methodological intervention in the field that charts the movement of policies in several domains (social welfare, the governance project of Europeanization, higher education, and secondary education) across borders, including those of nation states and of organizations.

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  • McCann, Eugene, and Kevin Ward, eds. Mobile Urbanism: Cities and Policymaking in the Global Age. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

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    This edited collection explores the territorial and relational geographies of urban policymaking and calls attention to some of the key actors engaged in the construction and dissemination of mobile policies. Chapters by Jennifer Robinson, Jamie Peck, and the two editors will likely be of interest to students of policy mobilities.

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  • McFarlane, Colin. Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444343434Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Places learning at the forefront of urban politics and explores how policy learning helps shape urban imaginaries, political agendas, and the contestation of power at the urban scale.

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  • Peck, Jamie. “Geographies of Policy: From Transfer-Diffusion to Mobility-Mutation.” Progress in Human Geography 35.6 (2011): 773–797.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132510394010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Critiques rational-choice approaches that focus on policy transfer occurring within global “markets” for policies that work and proposes a post-positivist, social-constructivist orientation that problematizes the politics of policy knowledge, globalizing expertise, and the mobility of best practices models.

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  • Peck, Jamie, and Nik Theodore. Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816677306.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the social worlds of policy development, highlighting a key dimension of globalization: the increasingly interconnected nature of policy development. Critically analyzes the increasing connectivity between policymaking arenas and modes of policy development and assesses the implications of these developments for contemporary policymaking.

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  • Roy, Ananya, and Aihwa Ong, eds. Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

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    The authors in this edited collection chart the emergence of Asian cities as key sites of policy experimentation, metropolitan imaginaries, and models of urbanization. Through postcolonial critique, this volume theorizes and documents the circulation of ideas, visions, and models of possible urban futures.

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  • Shore, Cris, Susan Wright, and Davide Però, eds. Policy Worlds: Anthropology and the Analysis of Contemporary Power. New York: Berghahn Books, 2011.

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    This edited collection presents chapters from across a range of policy fields exploring the varied spaces of policymaking (policy worlds). The chapters suggest methodological approaches to studying decision-making processes and offer important insights into the ways policies are constructed and contested.

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  • Temenos, Cristina, and Eugene McCann. “Geographies of Policy Mobilities.” Geography Compass 7.5 (2013): 344–357.

    DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12063Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Reviews key strands of policy mobilities research as well as their conceptual underpinnings and makes the case for policy mobilities researchers to constructively engage with literatures on post-politics.

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Methodologies for Studying Policy Mobilities

Geographers have been at the forefront of developing methodologies for studying the circulation of policy ideas through networks and the forms of expert knowledge that underpin these ideas. Prominent among these are assemblage approaches (Baker and McGuirk 2017; McCann and Ward 2012) that focus attention on the material construction of policies and policy imaginaries (as aspects and elements from elsewhere), as well as the actors who set them in motion, and “follow the policy” frameworks (Peck and Theodore 2012) that regard policy actors as being constitutively embedded within translocal networks of expertise through which policy ideas and models travel. The potentially open-ended nature of policy mobilities research has led many authors to reflect on the potential pitfalls of this approach, including Baker, et al. 2016 and Cochrane and Ward 2012. Moving from methodology to methods and techniques, McCann 2011, Prince 2012, and Wood 2016 offer useful suggestions for conducting fieldwork that borrow from ethnography, critical discourse analysis, and in-depth interviewing.

  • Baker, Tom, Ian R. Cook, Eugene McCann, Cristina Temenos, and Kevin Ward. “Policies on the Move: The Transatlantic Travels of Tax Increment Financing.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106.2 (2016): 459–469.

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    Highlights a number of conceptual and methodological commitments within the nascent policy mobilities approach and draws links to similar concerns within the fields of anthropology and urban planning.

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  • Baker, Tom, and Pauline McGuirk. “Assemblage Thinking as Methodology: Commitments and Practices for Critical Policy Research.” Territory, Politics, Governance 5.4 (2017): 425–442.

    DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2016.1231631Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Proposes a set of methodological practices—adopting an ethnographic sensibility, tracing sites and situations, and revealing labors of assembling—that can be used by policy mobilities researchers who are working with concepts of assemblage to understand the social worlds of policymaking.

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  • Cochrane, Allan, and Kevin Ward. “Researching the Geographies of Policy Mobility: Confronting the Methodological Challenges.” Environment and Planning A 44.1 (2012): 5–12.

    DOI: 10.1068/a44176Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This introduction to a special issue on policy mobilities makes the case for studying the cross-jurisdictional circulation of ideas, models, policies, and programs while also highlighting some the challenges that must be confronted when conducting this research.

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  • McCann, Eugene. “Urban Policy Mobilities and Global Circuits of Knowledge: Toward a Research Agenda.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101.1 (2011): 107–130.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2010.520219Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Advances an analytical approach and research framework for studying the cross-jurisdictional circulation of policy ideas and models and deploys this framework through a situated study of Vancouver that explores how urban actors act globally.

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  • McCann, Eugene, and Kevin Ward. “Assembling Urbanism: Following Policies and ‘Studying Through’ the Sites and Situations of Policy Making.” Environment and Planning A 44.1 (2012): 42–51.

    DOI: 10.1068/a44178Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers some of the methodological issues involved in researching the circulation of mobile policies through networks and webs of actors and offers a set of research techniques. Recommends that, in addition to following policies, researchers can follow places (urban models) and situations (how sites are relationally situated).

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  • Peck, Jamie, and Nik Theodore. “Follow the Policy: A Distended Case Approach.” Environment and Planning A 44.1 (2012): 21–30.

    DOI: 10.1068/a44179Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Borrowing from “follow the thing” research, the extended case method, and global ethnography approaches, this article proposes a methodology for studying the movement and mutation of policies across borders.

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  • Prince, Russell. “Policy Transfer, Consultants and the Geographies of Governance.” Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 188–203.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132511417659Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Calls for the use of ethnographic techniques within geographical research to study the operation of actors engaged in policy development. It is argued that ethnographic methods are especially well suited to understanding how these actors construct and mobilize policy networks.

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  • Wood, Astrid. “Tracing Policy Movements: Methods for Studying Learning and Policy Circulation.” Environment and Planning A 48.2 (2016): 391–406.

    DOI: 10.1177/0308518X15605329Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Building on earlier methodological interventions, this article offers an approach to studying policy mobilities that relies on following policy actors, materials, and meetings to document how policy learnings travel.

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Policies in Motion

Policy mobilities frameworks and methods have been used to analyze the dynamics and outcomes of policymaking processes in a wide range of policy fields. A core focus is on how a given policy (or set of policies) travels between jurisdictions under the monikers of “ideas that work” or “best practices,” even in cases where there is little, if any, evidence of the effectiveness of policy proposals (Swanson 2013). Policy mobilities methodologies have been applied to a range of policy domains, including financial instruments (Baker, et al. 2016), education policies, Ball 2016), urban redevelopment initiatives (Gotham 2014), climate policies (Mattissek and Sturm 2017), social welfare programs (Peck and Theodore 2010), and policing (Swanson 2013). Research has been conducted at multiple spatial scales, though an urban focus is evident across this literature.

  • Baker, Tom, Ian R. Cook, Eugene McCann, Cristina Temenos, and Kevin Ward. “Policies on the Move: The Transatlantic Travels of Tax Increment Financing.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106.2 (2016): 459–469.

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    Investigates the coalitions and networks that have advocated for the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific adoption of municipal tax increment financing policies. Shows how, in addition to discursive and representational aspects of policy learning, policymaking is shaped by actors’ interactions with places, facilities, and other physical materials.

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  • Ball, Stephen J. “Following Policy: Networks, Network Ethnography and Education Policy Mobilities.” Journal of Education Policy 31.5 (2016): 549–566.

    DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2015.1122232Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using a network-ethnography approach, this article investigates how a given (national) policy domain can be influenced by external actors, agendas, and discourses. It also includes an impressive mapping of a global policy network in the field of education policy, though rather than being an end in itself, this mapping is understood to be a starting point for exploring the dynamics of policy mobility.

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  • Gotham, Kevin Fox. “Mechanisms of Mutation: Policy Mobilities and the Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone.” Urban Geography 35.8 (2014): 1171–1195.

    DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2014.960166Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Uses a policy mobilities framework to examine how the movement and mutation of a policy model led to the reshuffling of local power relations and engendered intense political struggle, thus underscoring the often-contested nature of policy mobility.

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  • Mattissek, Annika, and Cindy Sturm. “How to Make Them Walk the Talk: Governing the Implementation of Energy and Climate Policies into Local Practices.” Geographica Helvetica 72.1 (2017): 123–135.

    DOI: 10.5194/gh-72-123-2017Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focusing on the translocal circulation of energy and climate policies within Germany, this article delves into how policy discourses and other technologies of government are shaping policy adoption, in part by presenting certain policies as fitting and appropriate while others are cast as wrongheaded and illogical.

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  • Peck, Jamie, and Nik Theodore. “Recombinant Workfare, Across the Americas: Transnationalizing ‘Fast’ Social Policy.” Geoforum 41.2 (2010): 195–208.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2010.01.001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Traces the south to north travels of a model social welfare program and examines how technocratic expertise is mobilized through networks by epistemic communities of practice. What is publicly portrayed as pragmatic policy learning is revealed to be occurring within quite narrow ideological parameters centered on approved forms of design and experimentation.

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  • Swanson, Kate. “Zero Tolerance in Latin America: Punitive Paradox in Urban policy Mobilities.” Urban Geography 34.7 (2013): 972–988.

    DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2013.799369Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the diffusion of zero-tolerance policing from New York City to a number of Latin American countries, where this form of policing has taken an even more punitive turn and has been used to legitimate state violence against the poor.

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Urban Models and Imaginaries

In addition to focusing on specific policies and programs, policy mobilities researchers have also trained their analyses on the mobilization of models of urbanism through spatial imaginaries (Baker and Ruming 2015; González 2011), as well as on forms of ranking and auditing (Bunnell 2015). The abstraction from local context that is required in constructing mobile models of urbanism has been widely critiqued (Chua 2011; González 2011; Pow 2014; Roy 2011; Zhang 2012), as has the wider discourse on global cities (Baker and Ruming 2015; Bunnell 2015; González 2011; Hoffman 2011; Pow 2014; Roy 2011). Several studies have used the concept of inter-referencing (Bunnell 2015; Phelps, et al. 2014; Roy 2011) to analyze the global ascendency of particular models of urbanism.

  • Baker, Tom, and Kristian Ruming. “Making ‘Global Sydney’: Spatial Imaginaries, Worlding and Strategic Plans.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39.1 (2015): 62–78.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12183Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Through an examination of strategic spatial planning documents and the various metropolitan elite stakeholders who promote “global city” standing, this article considers the making of an urban imaginary as a form of worlding practice.

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  • Bunnell, Tim. “Antecedent Cities and Inter-Referencing Effects: Learning from and Extending Beyond Critiques of Neoliberalisation.” Urban Studies 52.11 (2015): 1983–2000.

    DOI: 10.1177/0042098013505882Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With a focus on intercity referencing, this article considers the development of prototypical and paradigmatic models of urbanism, including through hierarchical rankings of global cities, and how discourses of urban success frame popular imaginaries.

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  • Chua, Beng Huat. “Singapore as Model: Planning Innovations, Knowledge Experts.” In Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global. Editing by Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong, 29–54. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

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    Argues that, because of Singapore’s uniqueness as an authoritarian city-state, the Singapore model is deployed as a set of disaggregated elements and best practices that are rendered mobile precisely because they are untethered from their specific national/local context.

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  • González, Sara. “Bilbao and Barcelona ‘In Motion’: How Urban Regeneration ‘Models’ Travel and Mutate in the Global Flows of Policy Tourism.” Urban Studies 48.7 (2011): 1397–1418.

    DOI: 10.1177/0042098010374510Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article examines the processes through which policymakers selectively learn about “successful” models of city-making through “policy tourism” (short fact-finding trips) conducted in the name of evidence-based policy development. It highlights the role of local actors in building consensus around “what works” and translating local experiences for international audiences.

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  • Hoffman, Lisa. “Urban Modeling and Contemporary Technologies of City-Building in China: The Production of Regimes of Green Urbanisms.” In Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global. Editing by Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong, 55–76. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444346800.ch2Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the displacement of Western models of urbanization through the rise of a particular “Asian model” of green urbanism. Argues that globalizing models of this sort constitute an emerging mode of urban governance.

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  • Phelps, Nicholas A., Tim Bunnell, Michelle Ann Miller, and John Taylor. “Urban Inter-Referencing Within and Beyond a Decentralized Indonesia.” Cities 39 (2014): 37–49.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cities.2014.02.004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers the phenomenon of inter-referencing (which is most straightforwardly seen in emulation of urban policies and models) in Indonesia, but with implications for the Asia-Pacific region. Reflects on the progressive possibilities of inter-referencing and suggests that shared urban visions may be constructed through such practices.

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  • Pow, Choon Piew. “License to Travel: Policy Assemblage and the ‘Singapore Model’.” City 18.3 (2014): 287–306.

    DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2014.908515Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that lessons from the much-lauded Singapore model are absorbed in piecemeal fashion based on highly selective readings of this city-state as a paradigmatic example of an Asian success story of urban governance.

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  • Roy, Ananya. “Urbanisms, Worlding Practices and the Theory of Planning.” Planning Theory 10.1 (2011): 6–15.

    DOI: 10.1177/1473095210386065Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Advances the concept of “referenced urbanism” to account for the ways in which urban imaginaries derived from other jurisdictions are mobilized by elites to remake local power relations, often leading to deepening sociospatial inequality.

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  • Zhang, Jun. “From Hong Kong’s Capitalist Fundamentals to Singapore’s Authoritarian Governance: The Policy Mobility of Neo-Liberalising Shenzhen, China.” Urban Studies 49.13 (2012): 2853–2871.

    DOI: 10.1177/0042098012452455Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Shows how political ideology strongly conditions the jurisdictions from which lessons are drawn as well as the types of lessons that influence policymaking. Deliberations informed by experimental, trial-and-error practices occur within prestructured politico-institutional frameworks.

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Technocracy, Authority, and Expertise

A core concern among policy mobilities researchers is the authorization of policy expertise. Not only is expert knowledge central to the design and validation of “best practices,” it plays an important role in structuring the political landscapes across which policies travel (or, depending on prevailing assessments, do not travel). Researchers have examined the actions of a range of policy entrepreneurs and other actors, including private consultancies (Bok and Coe 2017; Lauermann 2014; Vogelpohl 2017), engineers (Larner and Laurie 2010), urban planners (Rapoport 2015; Vidyarthi 2010), and other “knowledge workers” (Larner 2007). Forms of technocratic decision-making are investigated (Prince 2016), and notions of expertise and authority are critiqued (Kothari 2005).

  • Bok, Rachel, and Neil M. Coe. “Geographies of Policy Knowledge: The State and Corporate Dimensions of Contemporary Policy Mobilities.” Cities 63 (2017): 51–57.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cities.2017.01.001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Shows how a wide range of private sector entities, across sectors and networked through interfirm alliances, participate in varied stages of policy development. These entities often are deeply engaged in local policy implementation and thus are key relays of policy mobility.

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  • Kothari, Uma. “Authority and Expertise: The Professionalisation of International Development and the Ordering of Dissent.” Antipode 37.3 (2005): 425–446.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0066-4812.2005.00505.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focusing on the rise of the “international development expert,” this article critiques notions of Western expertise, colonial ways of knowing, and technocratic forms of authority.

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  • Larner, Wendy. “Expatriate Experts and Globalising Governmentalities: The New Zealand Diaspora Strategy.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32.3 (2007): 331–345.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2007.00261.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Takes the case of a country with a large diaspora of highly educated professionals and explores the ways in which expatriate experts are enrolled into national economic development projects. Tapping expatriate expertise is seen as a type of “diaspora strategy” to access the human capital of émigrés.

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  • Larner, Wendy, and Nina Laurie. “Travelling Technocrats, Embodied Knowledges: Globalising Privatisation in Telecoms and Water.” Geoforum 41.2 (2010): 218–226.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2009.11.005Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Interrogates the role of private sector actors in disseminating policy-relevant advice, thus widening the field of experts typically considered in policy mobilities research and broadening the range of experts that is usually examined to include mid-level professionals operating within, but also outside, hegemonic institutions.

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  • Lauermann, John. “Competition through Interurban Policy Making: Bidding to Host Megaevents as Entrepreneurial Networking.” Environment and Planning A 46.11 (2014): 2638–2653.

    DOI: 10.1068/a130112pSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Charts the formation of inter-urban networks for the circulation of planning expertise, which can take the form of “policy commodities” that local coalitions add to their portfolio of urban competitiveness initiatives. Includes a network mapping of consultancies involved, over a twenty-year period, in various city/country proposals to host the Olympic Games.

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  • Prince, Russell. “The spaces In Between: Mobile Policy and the Topographies and Topologies of the Technocracy.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34.3 (2016): 420–437.

    DOI: 10.1177/0263775815618401Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Posits that technocracy, as a form of expert practice, and cross-border technocratic assemblages constitute key pathways through which mobile policies travel. In addition, technocracy gins up a competitive drive among jurisdictions to replicate forms of “best practice.”

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  • Rapoport, Elizabeth. “Globalising Sustainable Urbanism: The Role of International Masterplanners.” Area 47.2 (2015): 110–115.

    DOI: 10.1111/area.12079Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines how a small number of architecture, engineering, and planning firms based in North America and Europe are disseminating models of sustainable urbanism. But rather than being a purely pre-packaged ensemble of planning ideas, the resultant models undergo fundamental change based on the expressed interests and concerns of those who commission them.

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  • Vidyarthi, Sanjeev. “Inappropriately Appropriated or Innovatively Indigenized? Neighborhood Unit Concept in Post-independence India.” Journal of Planning History 9.4 (2010): 260–276.

    DOI: 10.1177/1538513210384457Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Tracks how urban planners in post-independence India appropriated the concept of the “neighborhood unit” from the United States, and how over time plans centered on the neighborhood unit were modified by local stakeholders.

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  • Vogelpohl, Anne. “Consulting Completed: Temporal Aspects of Expertise in Urban Development During Times of Fast Policies.” Geographica Helvetica 72 (2017): 65–76.

    DOI: 10.5194/gh-72-65-2017Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the role of private consultants in accelerating cycles of policy development, serving as they do as platforms for the mobilization and implementation of fast-moving mobile policies.

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Multilateral Organizations

Multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank, United Nations, and World Health Organization, play key roles in convening, and even orchestrating, epistemic communities and their translocal policy networks. Researchers have highlighted how such organizations are involved in the construction and naming policy of models (Bakker 2015; Montero 2017), in shaping the wider debate around policy problems and their solutions (Theodore and Peck 2012), and in the circulation of best practices (Montero 2017; Webber 2015).

  • Bakker, Matt. “Discursive Representations and Policy Mobility: How Migrant Remittances Became a ‘Development Tool.’” Global Networks 15.1 (2015): 21–42.

    DOI: 10.1111/glob.12055Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores how expert networks cultivated by multilateral organizations advocated a remittances-to-development agenda that seeks to make a virtue of mass migration, mainly from the Global South to the Global North. This entailed improving metrics and data collection techniques for measuring flows of remittances, suggesting that such technocratic priorities often accompany the pursuit of policy goals.

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  • Montero, Sergio. “Worlding Bogotá’s Ciclovía: From Urban Experiment to International ‘Best Practice.’” Latin American Perspectives 44.2 (2017): 111–131.

    DOI: 10.1177/0094582X16668310Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Though mainly focused on the creation of a local best practices model, this article also sheds light on how a transnational network of sustainable transportation and public health advocates, including international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization, facilitated the recognition of a bicycle promotion program in Bogotá as an example of world’s best practice.

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  • Theodore, Nik, and Jamie Peck. “Framing Neoliberal Urbanism: Translating ‘Commonsense’ Urban Policy across the OECD Zone.” European Urban and Regional Studies 19.1 (2012): 20–41.

    DOI: 10.1177/0969776411428500Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Discursively tracing several decades of urban policy advice, this article unpacks the role of the OECD as a multilateral mediator of policy that uses forms of “soft” power to forge consensus around problem statements and (neoliberal) policy norms.

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  • Webber, Sophie. “Mobile Adaptation and Sticky Experiments: Circulating Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Climate Change Adaptation.” Geographical Research 53.1 (2015): 26–38.

    DOI: 10.1111/1745-5871.12102Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the construction and mobilization of best practices in global climate change by the World Bank and how policy lessons travel between sites of implementation. But rather than simply documenting examples of successful policy mobility, the author instead emphasizes that local institutional arrangements can significantly impede the circulation of policies by powerful organizations like the World Bank.

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South–South Policy Learning

Although much of the literature on policy mobilities examines the circulation of policies developed in the Global North and radiated outwards from sites of hegemonic power, often as part of processes of neoliberalization, a few studies have explored the dynamics of South–South policy learning. Through case studies of international (Harrison 2015; Montero 2017; Peck and Theodore 2015; Wood 2015a) and intranational (Phelps, et al. 2014; Wood 2015b) policy learning, this research explores “alternative” sites of policy development and the evolving political alliances and policy networks that are responsible for mobilizing policies.

  • Harrison, Philip. “South–South Relationships and the Transfer of ‘Best Practice’: The Case of Johannesburg, South Africa.” International Development Planning Review 37.2 (2015): 205–223.

    DOI: 10.3828/idpr.2015.16Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Posits that discourses around South–South collaboration, along with the creation and maturation of South–South networks, can disrupt dominant patterns of North–South mobility and perhaps lead to more effective and appropriate exchanges of policy ideas.

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  • Montero, Sergio. “Study Tours and Inter-City Policy Learning: Mobilizing Bogotá’s Transportation Policies in Guadalajara.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 49.2 (2017): 332–350.

    DOI: 10.1177/0308518X16669353Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article casts elite study tours as both a vehicle for policy learning and a mode of governance, while also examining a case of South–South policy diffusion. By showing how study tours are sites within which legitimacy of certain policy choices is cultivated, the article adds to our understanding of how public opinion is shaped by local practices and experiences in other countries.

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  • Peck, Jamie, and Nik Theodore. Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816677306.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the transnational and translocal circulation of two policies that were first implemented in the Global South—conditional cash transfer programs and participatory budgeting. The case studies situate the actors and networks involved in policy mobility and explore the power relations that set, and keep, policies in motion.

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  • Phelps, Nicholas A., Tim Bunnell, Michelle Ann Miller, and John Taylor. “Urban Inter-Referencing within and beyond a Decentralized Indonesia.” Cities 39 (2014): 37–49.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cities.2014.02.004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the movement of policy ideas between Indonesian cities through the concept of inter-referencing, and contrasts policy mobilities within the Asia-Pacific region to earlier trans-Atlantic movements of neoliberal policies.

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  • Wood, Astrid. “Competing for Knowledge: Leaders and Laggards of Bus Rapid Transit in South Africa.” Urban Forum 26.2 (2015a): 203–221.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12132-014-9248-ySave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines a case of competitive emulation as South African cities vied for the opportunity to be an early adopter of bus rapid transit policies.

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  • Wood, Astrid. “The Politics of Policy Circulation: Unpacking the Relationship between South African and South American Cities in the Adoption of Bus Rapid Transit.” Antipode 47.4 (2015b): 1062–1079.

    DOI: 10.1111/anti.12135Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Questioning why certain cities are drawn into international debates on forms of best practice, this article assesses the role of political ideology in helping forge transnational alliances between policymakers in the Global South.

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Policy Mobilities and Immobilities

One of the most common criticisms of the nascent subfield of policy mobilities research is that it suffers from a selection bias in that researchers tend to privilege the “successful” movement of policies, programs, and models while largely ignoring policies that do not travel widely. Perhaps a sign of the maturation of this subfield is the publication of numerous studies that seek to address gaps in the literature by highlighting the ways, and circumstances under which, the circulation of policy ideas is frustrated. A number of studies analyze how local political contestation and local politico-institutional arrangements can stymy the extra-jurisdictional borrowing of policies and models (Koch 2013; Müller 2015; Stein, et al. 2017; Weller 2017; Wood 2015). Other studies argue that local elites may ignore (Malone 2018) or actively steer clear of particular policy models (Koch 2013). Still others confront cases where policy failures circulate through cross-border networks and inform policymakers in what could potentially have been sites of emulation (Chang 2017; Lovell 2017). Most studies underscore the indeterminacy and open-endedness of policy learning, particularly Lim and Horesh 2016 and Ward 2018.

  • Chang, I-Chun Catherine. “Failure Matters: Reassembling Eco-Urbanism in a Globalizing China.” Environment and Planning A 49.8 (2017): 1719–1742.

    DOI: 10.1177/0308518X16685092Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Shows how even when they experience failures of implementation, urban models can nevertheless produce lessons, policy frameworks, design features, and techniques that are circulated through transnational networks.

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  • Koch, Natalie. “Why Not a World City? Astana, Ankara, and Geopolitical Scripts in Urban Networks.” Urban Geography 34.1 (2013): 109–130.

    DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2013.778641Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study in comparative urbanism explores why some elites steer away from Western “world city” discourses while at the same time seeking to legitimize policy choices by appealing to both historical geopolitical relationships and alternative, politically consonant discourses that reinforce national autonomy and statehood. The article calls into question prevailing arguments that government leaders of countries regarded as being on the “periphery” of the world system strive for economic and cultural inclusion in the “core.”

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  • Lim, Kean Fan, and Niv Horesh. “The “Singapore Fever” in China: Policy Mobility and Mutation.” The China Quarterly 228 (2016): 992–1017.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741016001120Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that post-Mao reforms in China, rather than being a tightly scripted agenda of government-to-government policy transfer from Singapore, remain an open-ended, and contested, process of policy learning, experimentation, and adaptation.

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  • Lovell, Heather. “Are Policy Failures Mobile? An Investigation of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure Program in the State of Victoria, Australia.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 49.2 (2017): 314–331.

    DOI: 10.1177/0308518X16668170Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With a focus on “negative lesson drawing,” this article considers both how the failure of a policy can be discursively framed and how even failed policies might be mobile. It suggests that policy failures might travel differently than policy successes, while also drawing attention to elements that remain immobile as a result of selective readings of success and failure.

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  • Malone, Aaron. “(Im)mobile and (Un)successful? A Policy Mobilities Approach to New Orleans’s Residential Security Taxing Districts.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37.1 (2018): 102–118.

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    Uses a policy mobilities framework to examine the intralocal diffusion of residential security taxing districts, as well as the why this policy model has not yet been taken up in other cities.

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  • Müller, Martin. “(Im-)Mobile Policies: Why Sustainability Went Wrong in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.” European Urban and Regional Studies 22.2 (2015): 191–209.

    DOI: 10.1177/0969776414523801Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Proposes a three-part framework of transportation, transformation, and translation to analyze the circulation and adaptation of mobile policies. Shows how sustainability policies were bundled for quick replication in another jurisdiction (transportation); how ineffective governance arrangements caused them to mutate (transformation); and how, as a result of governance failures, policy goals were not met (translation).

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  • Stein, Christian, Boris Michel, Georg Glasze, and Robert Pütz. “Learning from Failed Policy Mobilities: Contradictions, Resistances and Unintended Outcomes in the Transfer of ‘Business Improvement Districts’ to Germany.” European Urban and Regional Studies 24.1 (2017): 35–49.

    DOI: 10.1177/0969776415596797Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Seeking to counteract what the authors refer to as the “success bias” in policy mobilities studies, this article focuses on a case of policy transfer failure, that of frustrated efforts to implement business improvement district policies in Germany.

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  • Ward, Kevin. “Urban Redevelopment Policies on the Move: Rethinking the Geographies of Comparison, Exchange and Learning.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 42.4 (2018): 666–683.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12604Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article considers how policymakers combine ideas, evidence, and information from a range of locales to construct putatively coherent proposals, while also questioning the temporal horizons of policy mobility and immobility, “success” and “failure.”

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  • Weller, Sally. “Fast Parallels? Contesting Mobile Policy Technologies.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 41.5 (2017): 821–837.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12545Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article examines a case of stalled policy mobility, showing how local political contestation stymied attempts at policy diffusion and highlighting the importance of local politico-institutional configurations for enabling or constraining the translocal movement of technocratic policy fixes.

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  • Wood, Astrid. “Multiple Temporalities of Policy Circulation: Gradual, Repetitive and Delayed Processes of BRT Adoption in South African Cities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39.3 (2015): 568–580.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12216Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Presents a case study examining the varying temporalities of policy mobility, examining gradual learning and delayed processes of adoption in the movement of Bus Rapid Transit policies. Highlights the important role of local actors in determining the pace of policy implementation.

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