‘Don't Waste a Crisis’: Opening up the City Yet Again for Neoliberal Experimentation


  • This essay is part of ongoing research funded by the Leverhulme Trust (grant number F10/1010 A) under the title ‘Towards a Postneoliberal Urban Deal’ with colleagues Ramon Ribera Fumaz (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Ugo Rossi (University of Turin) and Martin Jones (Aberystwyth University). We are grateful to these colleagues for their comments. This essay was also presented at the AAG 2011 conference, where we also received very helpful advice.


This essay calls for a systematic investigation of the financial-economic crisis as a source of new urban governance rationalities across Europe. We propose combining an understanding of neoliberalization as a variegated social phenomenon with a cultural political economy approach sensitive to the discursive dimension of variegation and the evolutionary mechanisms through which discursive variation is translated into geo-institutional differentiation. We illustrate how this theoretical framework may help to analyse the impact of the crisis on urban governmental rationalities. Rather than offering a complete cultural political economy account of the responses of European cities to the financial-economic crisis, we analyse how the crisis and the responses to it have been represented in discourses on urban policies and development by focusing on two discursive sites that are of strategic importance, namely OECD LEED and URBACT. Our preliminary findings suggest a re-assemblage of existing discourses rather than the emergence of a new post-neoliberal urban government rationality.