Call for Papers, 2016 AAG: Debt Wish 20 Years On: Revisiting Sbragia’s U.S. Entrepreneurial Urbanism

September 30, 2015 · No Comments

debt wish

Debt Wish 20 Years On: Revisiting Sbragia’s U.S. Entrepreneurial Urbanism


Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2016, San Francisco

Organizers: Mark Davidson (Clark University) and Kevin Ward (University of Manchester)


Call for Papers


“Local officials […] have revamped or transformed both the institutions and the processes of investment in order to maximize their autonomy from both the state and the federal governments” (Sbragia, 1996; 10)


It is now 20 years since Alberta Sbragia’s study of American entrepreneurial city government was published.  Sbragia’s landmark book, Debt Wish: Entrepreneurial Cities, U.S. Federalism, and Economic Development, gave a detailed account of how city governments, constrained by neoliberal state reforms (Harvey, 1989), managed to create innovative mechanisms that enabled them to continue on as economic development entities.  Sbragia’s 1996 account of American Federalism and the role that municipalities came to play in it, emphasized how cities had utilized both public authorities (i.e. legal innovation) and bond markets (i.e. financial innovation) to construct an investor-based model of urban governance in the context of tightening fiscal restrictions.


In the 20 years since the publication of this book, cities across the U.S. have been responsible for a proliferation of new public authorities (Fainstein, 2001) and a massive increase in the size of the municipal bond market (Weber, 2010).  The principal components of Sbragia’s analysis therefore remain central to urban governance today.  However, since the 2008 financial crisis, the urban governance landscape has been in flux.  The rise of austerity politics has created new fiscal challenges for cities (Peck, 2012), the dangers of financial speculation for city governments have been revealed (Davidson and Ward, 2014), and the legal structures that define municipal fiscal failure have been rewritten (Tabb, 2014).


In this session we revisit Debt Wish and consider the book’s continuing relevance for scholars of contemporary urban politics and policy.  The session will explore the following issues:


  • The continuing role of debt in urban governance
  • Recent legal innovations within U.S. urban governance
  • Inter-governmental relations and contemporary urban governance
  • The influence of financial crisis and recession on contemporary urban governance
  • Reflections and critiques on theories of entrepreneurial urban governance
  • International comparisons of contemporary urban governance
  • Financialization and contemporary urban governance
  • Emergence, travels and transformations of U.S urban financial “models”


Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Mark Davidson ( and Kevin Ward ( by the end of October 10.

Information about conference fees, registration and general conference details can be found at:



Davidson, M. and Ward, K. (2014) ‘Picking up the pieces’: austerity urbanism, California, and fiscal crisis, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7(1): 81-97

Fainstein, S. (2001) The city builders: Property development in New York and London, 1980-2000: Second Edition (Blackwell: Oxford)

Harvey, D. (1989) From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 71(1): 3-17

Peck, J. (2012) Austerity urbanism: American cities under extreme economy, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 16(6): 626-655

Sbragia, A. (1996) Debt Wish: Entrepreneurial Cities, U.S. Federalism, and Economic Development. (University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh)

Tabb, W. (2014) The wider context of austerity urbanism, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(2): 87-100

Weber, R. (2010) Selling City Futures: The Financialization of Urban Redevelopment Policy, Economic Geography, 86(3): 251-274

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Municipal Bankruptcy at the Grassroots

September 28, 2015 · No Comments



Very proud of this article on municipal bankruptcy, now out in EPA. Written with Bill Kutz, it examines how local fiscal crisis has been wrapped up with ideological battles played out at the local level.

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In Print: Method of Equality

September 28, 2015 · No Comments



Very pleased to see my ‘Method of Equality‘ paper with Kurt Iveson finally make the printed edition of Progress.

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More thinking about London’s class structure

September 24, 2015 · No Comments




More thinking about social class and London’s politics is available in the 19(2/3) issue of CITY. The title of the article is “Same, but different: Within London’s ‘static’ class structure and the missing antagonism.”



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Review Essay: The Paradoxes of Planning

September 24, 2015 · No Comments


My review essay of Sara Westin’s wonderful book The Paradoxes of Planning: A Psycho-Analytical Perspective (Ashgate) is now online at Society and Space. Sara’s book is also reviewed by Andrew Shmuely and Jesse Proudfoot.

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2015 AAG CFP: Revisiting Entrepreneurialism: the logics of urban governance in systemic crisis

October 26, 2014 · No Comments

Harvey’s (1989) outline of entrepreneurial urban governance remains a staple of urban theory. Consensus is that cities – as constrained by neoliberal institutions – must pursue growth above all else, even at the cost of the well-being of some of their citizens (Merrifield, 2014). Urban governance is therefore seen to rely on technocratic or speculative experiments that are designed to make the city a better enabler of market processes (Gibbs, 2013; Karvonen & van Heur, 2014; MacLeod, 2011; Swyngedouw, 2011). Yet we constantly see that urban growth initiatives are not coherent nor bear predicted results. Over time, speculative initiatives can be subject to regime changes and capitalist crisis that render them something other than what was intended. In addition, political actions are now being taken at the municipal level that appear to contravene entrepreneurial dictates. Can such changes make our urban politics something other than entrepreneurial and/or neoliberal?

In recent years a number of significant urban economic and political events have occurred which appear to demand a revision of popular theories of urban governance. They highlight the limits to entrepreneurialism coordinated according to the logics of growth and, paradoxically, the resilience of entrepreneurial practices despite their inability to deliver growth. Entrepreneurial practices appear to be tearing away from their neoliberal justifications, becoming more apparent manifestations of ideological practices. Such events include the raft of municipal bankruptcies that have shaken the financial ordering of cities by ignoring the governmental rules of financial capitalism. They also include events that seem to cast doubt on the strength and scope of neoliberal dictates; where significant increases in city-based minimum wages are now accepted as politically possible and broad-based mobilizations are challenging who has the authority to govern cities.  The logics of entrepreneurialism therefore appear less constraining and/or more easily transcended, even in our so-called post-political times.

This session therefore revisits the political economic condition of urban governance. It examines how urban politics can and have diverged from its entrepreneurial neoliberal condition, and what the implications of such divergences can and might be. Potential topics of papers to be included in the session might include:

  • Theories of urban governance that develop ideas of entrepreneurialism
  • Studies of urban events and processes that challenge dominant understandings of urban governance
  • Attempts to understand urban governance in times of (permanent) political and economic crisis
  • Studies and theories of political confrontation and change in contemporary cities
  • Attempts to comparatively understand the varied experiences of cities in times of crisis

Authors are invited to submit 250 word abstracts to John Lauermann ( and Mark Davidson (, by October 6. Likewise, please feel free to contact us with questions or to discuss potential paper topics.

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Progress in Human Geography paper

June 14, 2014 · No Comments


A new paper out, co-written with Kurt Iveson, entitled “Recovering the politics of the cityFrom the ‘post-political city’ to a ‘method of equality’ for critical urban geography” out in Progress in Human Geography

The paper actually preceded our other recently published paper in Space and Polity

This paper uses Jacque Rancière understanding of politics to ask what makes cities political entities. We review existing urban geography debates to identify some of the defining features of urban politics and then subject them to critical questioning: are they actually political? The paper seeks to develop existing interpretations of Rancière’s philosophy within geography to develop his ‘method of equality’ in order to recover the politics of the city. This identifies three necessary components of critical urban scholarship in order that it transcends critique and works towards making democratic politics possible.

If you do not have access to the journal, please email me for a copy

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Blogging about US urban politics

March 26, 2014 · No Comments


A short piece for LSE’s USAPP:

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New article on the post-political

March 12, 2014 · No Comments

SP cover

Really happy to see this out… a piece I wrote with the brilliant Kurt Iveson entitled “Occupations, mediations, subjectifications: Fabricating politics” in Space and Polity. The abstract is pasted below. If you do not have access to the journal, please email me for a copy of the paper.

abstract: The revolutions and protests that have spread across the globe since 2008 have been seen as a watershed moment. In this article we examine the relationships between urban space and politics that have emerged across these events. We draw upon the political philosophy of Jacques Rancière to provide a framework to understand some events of this period as political moments and, in addition, attempt to build upon Rancière’s work to trace out the geographical dimensions of politics. The paper concludes with a consideration of the counter-revolutionary projects enacted by current social orders.

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Academic publishing

February 26, 2014 · No Comments


Really great read about the business and politics of academic publishing…

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