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Article Summary

Brenner, Neil (2004). “Urban Governance and the Production of New State Spaces in Western Europe, 1960-2000,” Review of International Political Economy, 11(3): 447-488.

Neil Brenner maps out the patterns of urban governance to understand how it has altered and been altered by fluctuations in the scales of state spatiality. First, Brenner lays a foundation for his analysis by defining state spatiality in the narrow sense – distinct territorial boundaries that encompass a wide range of state imposed regulations – and in the integral sense – the state intervention based on socioeconomic patterns. Unlike the standard view of state space as a simple, unmoving geographic boundary, Brenner encourages us to see state space as a continuous process in which the inherited policies and institutions of the past help determine the role and scale of the state in the present and future.

Brenner compares urban governance (1960-2000) against this background of state spatiality and reveals four different eras with four varieties of state spatial organization.

1 – Spatial Keynesianism (Early 1960s-Early 1970s) – In this phase, the state is split by function. Large companies are located in large cities and smaller towns have subsidiary and smaller firms. In order to even out the unequal distribution of wealth and livelihood, the nations of Europe took a top-down, Keynesian approach to governance. They implemented what Brenner refers to as, “national compensatory spatial policies,” in order to spread the growth of developed urban areas to underdeveloped areas within the state.

2 – The Crisis of Fordism (Early 1970s-Early 1980s) – In this phase, the state concerned itself less with spreading growth benefits and more with managing economic crises in specific areas. This meant that the overall authority of the nation gave way to greater authority of regional administration and supra-national administration. State spatiality was decentralized both up and down from the national level. Local administrations grew more dependent on local taxes and more focused on local growth policies. Brenner labels this as the bootstrap method of endogenous growth. The state no longer leveled the playing field at the national level.  Instead, urban governance was directed at crisis management and alleviating local social and economic ills.

3 – Urban Entrepreneurism and Glocalization (1980s) – As nations abandoned Keynesian economics for monetarism and adopted neoliberal strategies for growth, state fiscal priorities pushed fiscal and social responsibilities down to the local level. Localities began to manage local crises even more. The name of the governance game was urban entrepreneurialism; localities adopted policies to make themselves most attractive on the global stage (glocalization). The level at which each locality adopted glocalization depends on the previous structure of the state spatiality. In some places, the old top-down structures had more staying power than in other places. Within this system, there were winners and losers. Unlike in the 60s and 70s, the state did not equalize economic growth via “national compensatory” policies. Instead, the state financed their most competitive locales to boost the overall national economy, thereby increasing social inequality and exclusion. The decentralization of the previous era continued as myriad place-specific policies and institutions emerged. Brenner coins this new structure of the state as a Glocalizing Competition State Regime (GCSR).

4 – Metropolitan Regionalism (1990s) –The crisis-management tactics of the two previous stages left Europe with an uneven development and a variety of region-specific policies. Urban governance of the 1990s was redefined to handle the failures of urban governance of the 1980s. In this era, European states (in the form of GCSRs) did one of two things: they upgraded interlocal competition for interregional competition (regional glocalization) or they re-implemented spatial Keynesianism, but on a regional level.

Brenner ends by pondering the direction of these GCSRs. Will they be a conduit for more Keynesian redistributive governance, a springboard for continued capitalism, or a quickly passing state spatial phenomenon?