Ethnographic Explorations of Urban Policy-Making and Implementation Processes

Aidan Mosselson and Cansu Civelek

This session aims to explore the political contests, competing agendas and variety of actions which shape urban policy-making processes. In recent years scholars from a variety of disciplines and approaches have begun to examine questions relating to the making and circulation of urban policies and the strategies through which they are implemented. Within this field there is a need to draw attention to the importance of local histories, experiences and actors and the contributions these make to shaping policy formulation and implementation processes. Beyond this, what needs to be investigated are the gaps between what urban policies promise and what they deliver, during both the formulation and implementation stages. For instance, although many policy-making processes promise to be based on “democratic” or “participatory” principles, many fail to meet the expectations of local populations or provide platforms for meaningful participation. Furthermore, during implementation phases, projects often do not meet the initial proposals due to several reasons, such as rent-seeking orientations, budgetary limits or conflicting agendas. As researchers with ethnographic orientation, instead of simply noting the mismatch between what is said and what is given (Abram and Weszkalnys, 2013), we would like to invite papers which open debate about and investigate the range of forces which shape how policies are formulated, altered, legitimated and contested. We are also particularly interested in local perceptions and reactions to policies and the strategies communities use to navigate, make sense of, benefit from or resist them. We therefore welcome applications – especially ethnographic enquiries – which address some of the following questions which could apply to housing, transportation, and other urban policies:

  • What is the role of local histories and political traditions in shaping urban policies and how are they perceived by authorities and local populations during conflict times?
  • What are the gaps between planning and governance ideas/ideals and lived practices? How do local populations respond to and make sense of these?
  • What factors facilitate and/or hinder citizen participation in planning and redevelopment processes? What strategies do locals develop to participate in or shape decision-making processes?
  • How do locals perceive and react to planning decisions? How do they live with and navigate the different desires which policies are shaped by and the outcomes which they give rise to?
  • What mechanisms do authorities use to legitimate policies, particularly in conflictual societies or in the case of controversial projects? How do local communities react to these?


Abram, Simone and Weszkalnys, Gisa. (Eds.). 2013. “Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World. An Introduction”. In Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World. New York: Berghahn Books.