Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Spaces in Between: Mobile Policy and the Topographies and Topologies of the Technocracy

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Spaces in Between: Mobile Policy and the Topographies and Topologies of the Technocracy

Article excerpt


This paper considers how the technocracy contributes to the mobilisation of policy, and in doing so suggests that this allows for a systematic explanation for policy mobility that is based on a particular form of expert practice rather than ideologies such as neoliberalism. It argues that the technocracy has topographies through which different places are materially connected and through which policy knowledge flows in various forms. But it also has topologies that emerge from the practice of measurement through which often distant places can be made to loom much larger, or nearby places fade into insignificance. Together they help to materialise the spaces 'in between' policy-making sites through which policy is often transferred. Considering the technocracy in this way demonstrates how apparently autonomous political-economic contexts shape patterns of policy mobility and state change.


Technocracy, topology, topography, policy mobility, neoliberalism, assemblage


In their landmark paper on neoliberalism, Peck and Tickell (2002: 387) put the apparent ascendancy of this form of regulatory restructuring worldwide down to the way it is able to dominate not just political discourse in a wide range of institutions and places, but the 'spaces in between' them through 'constructing the "rules" of interlocal competition by shaping the very metrics by which regional competitiveness, public policy, corporate performance, or social productivity are measured'. Peck has since gone on to develop this argument further with other colleagues (Brenner et al., 2010; Peck and Theodore, 2012; Peck et al., 2013). In particular, they argue that neoliberalism is not so much a set of specific policies, as a market-driven regulatory restructuring framework that parameterises and constrains policy formation within certain bounds. Processes of policy experimentation and related 'fast policy transfer' occur within this framework, but in the end they remain a part of neoliberalisation processes.

The project of Peck and his colleagues has been to argue for a conception of neoliberalism that recognises its systematic qualities and emphasises that the 'family resemblances' between different neoliberal projects are more than just coincidence. While they disavow any attempts to see neoliberalism as a top-down, homogenising project, they contrast their definition with 'low flying' (Peck, 2013: 146) contextual accounts of neoliberalisms-in-place that want to avoid arguing that there is any such thing as neoliberalism-in-general. Peck's particular take on 'policy mobility', in which policy changes and transfers rapidly but within neoliberal parameters and across a neoliberalised landscape, reflects his desire to substantiate a more systematic conception, a 'context of context' (Brenner et al., 2010: 202), that takes account of the interconnections between different neoliberalisms in place.

This paper takes up the challenge of thinking more systematically across different policy contexts, and as with Peck, understanding what makes policy mobile is central to this. But unlike Peck, the aim is not to offer an explanation that is, at its core, about regulatory ideology. Rather, it will cleave closer to those approaches that Peck characterises as 'low flying', but which I would argue are more about taking account of practice than simply staying close to the ground. Larner and Le Heron (2002), for example, argue that the calculative practice of benchmarking is a constitutive element in the production of globalising spaces and subjects through the way these generate connections to the places being benchmarked against. McCann (2008: 896) picks up on this argument in the context of the policy mobility literature to argue that techniques like benchmarking and similar practices mobilise processes of policy learning because they make 'a global space of competition and emulation', in this case through connections between 'best practice' policy peers. …

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