Governing through Networks: Challenges to traditional forms of regulation

Alberta Andreotti and Valentina Pacetti

Besides State and Market, Networks have been considered an autonomous form of (social and) economic organization and regulation with their distinctive features. Scholars agreed that network regulation refers to long term (horizontal) relationships, reiterated exchanges, cooperation and that they are based on reciprocity, reputation, trust, they are rather flexible as well as open-ended. The spatial dimension and in particular spatial proximity and agglomeration were considered key features to understand network regulation.

The importance of networks (and of their structure) was stressed by a rich literature on urban and regional development during the Eighties of the last century, and again during the beginning of the new Millennium. Empirical studies, even from different perspectives, highlighted strong informal collaborations and cooperation among small and medium-sized enterprises, companies, and professionals located in the same territory, being it the industrial district (the Third Italy and the Silicon Valley as the most famous examples), the urban or metropolitan region or the city. The process of globalization and mobility have deeply challenged most of the traditional features originally related to the network regulation.

The city represents the most significant place where networks originate and develop, where actors meet, and they find the resources to connect with people, organizations, institutions inside and outside the urban region.

More recently, networks as a way of organization and regulation have been revitalised by the spread of the so called “sharing economy” (collaborative practices in the consumption as well as the production system made possible by a virtual space: internet) that has its highest diffusion and consequences within the urban/metropolitan contexts. Collaborative practices (organized through networks) are mainly based on reputational mechanisms, horizontal relations (peer to peer), trust, reciprocity, and can have different degrees of openness (Blablacar, Uber, AirBnB, couchsurfing, co-working, wikipedia…). These practices challenge the distinction between the traditional forms of organization/regulation (State, Market, Networks) as they mix elements of all of them. Furthermore, they challenge the territorial scale levels of organisation/regulation as they mix the global (through internet) and the very urban dimension with very concrete consequences at the city level. There is therefore the important question of political regulation (State) of these practices, and the different consequences for the different populations.

We aim at exploring the importance of these networks and the way by which they are playing a role for the governance of regions and cities. Their role may involve the development of local economies as well as the relationships with the institutional and political system, as another forms of authority making cities and regions work beyond (or together with) the State. In particular, this session is oriented to analyse and discuss in comparative perspective the following issues:

  • Urban regulation through formal and informal networks: people’s networks in and through the organizations in the social/economic/political metropolitan environment;
  • Old and new networks: the transition from traditional models (“industrial districts”, “flexible specialization”, “diversified quality production”, “world of production”, etc.) to new forms of clustering centred in the city;
  • The role of the city in structuring networks of firms and network of people; relations inside the networks: hierarchical rather than horizontal interactions; formal rather than informal ones; longer rather than shorter relations;
  • The formal and informal regulation (or non-regulation) of sharing economy practices in the city. What kind of regulation and what consequences for the population(s) and for the different social groups within the city.