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Global City Networks in Knowledge Production and Policy Transfer
by Sabine Barthold

This dissertation project explores the way in which global city networks, as interurban regimes of knowledge production and policy transfer, link global and local scales of politics in the production of urban environments. At the center of this study is the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global organization of mayors of large cities that link urban environmental policies with international climate change governance. In a comparative approach the study of the production and transfer of knowledge within the C40 Cities network will be reflected along 5 case studies in different global cities, including New York, Berlin and Toronto as well as Singapore and Addis Ababa.

During the recent period of economic restructuring policy makers have framed concerns of urban development increasingly in discourses of environment and ecology. City governments and urban planners are, as McCann and Ward (2011) have shown, ‘scanning’ the globe for the increasingly mobile policy strategies that help them embrace (often competing) economic, social, and ecologic demands. The “fast” knowledge and policy transfers (Peck and Theodore 2001) are accelerated by global institution building and policy networks that form global regimes of science, regulation and capital investment.

The systematic production, transfer and circulation of knowledge and policy models is thereby a means by which urban actors can set technical and political norms that push the global environmental discourse in particular directions. In the struggles for norm setting, knowledge is used by different actors to legitimize particular political standpoints and de-legitimize others. Therefore, it is crucial to ask what sources of knowledge are deemed legitimate in the network, what eco-political claims are enforced or discarded by certain bodies of knowledge, and how, why, and by whom are certain policies fashioned as models.


Globalizing Nature-City Relations Now that more than half of the world population lives in urbanized areas, cities and urban lifestyles are re-defining the relationship between human civilizations and the natural world. Political Ecology approaches understand nature not as a-historical, pre-given entity outside the social world in which societies act, but have argued that nature is both ideologically and materially a product of particular human societies. In that sense, nature is not merely an object of knowledge but a subject to political regulation and hence to questions of justice, power, hierarchies and conflict. In other words, cities are not just static containers for social processes, but result of collective production, reproduction and consumption processes that are always embedded in socio-natural metabolisms. Infrastructures connect populations with natural flows and material resources – water, air, energy, food, and so on – and cities are spaces where environmental problems have di-rect impacts on everyday lives of people – pollution, traffic, evennatural catastrophes like storm, flooding, or heat waves. In globalization, however, the transactions between the urban and nature have been rescaled. Especially in today’s global cities the societal relationships with nature have also been globalized. That means local life worlds have been brought in a more direct relationship with ecological processes beyond their immediate reach. In order to understand how environmental policies and planning practices within the metropolits are entangled with global governance and larger socioeconomic transformations, it is necessary to look at the institutions, ideologies, and actors as well as the connections and inter-linkages they establish between the urban and the global. In this project I will shed some light on the conceptual gap between the world and the city by showing how global city organizations like C40 can connect local environmental politics directly to global political ecologies in a meta-geography of Global Environmental Governance.    

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Sabine is DFG Fellow and PhD candidate in the International Graduate Research Program Berlin–New York–Toronto at the Center for Metropolitan Studies. Her research interests range from urban sociology, global environmental governance and urban political ecology to Marxist geography and critical IPE. She spent several months at York University Toronto as visiting scholar. She studied sociology and political science at TU Dresden and The New School for Social Research in New York. In her MA thesis on post-Socialist urban development in Dresden she investigated the transition process from modern to post-modern modes in the production of inner-city spaces. Her dissertation project is conducted under the supervision of Prof. Dorothee Brantz (TU Berlin), Prof. Roger Keil (York University Toronto), and Prof. Carola Hein (Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania).