This paper discusses methodological concerns when analysing modalities of depoliticization in regional politics by focusing on arena shifting, global policy assemblages (knowledge regimes) and policy mobility. The utility of this methodological approach, as well as the challenges faced, is illustrated by a study of the depoliticization of regional policy in Sweden.
The starting point of the discussion is an on-going study of the changes that have occurred in the politics of regional policy in Sweden since the 1960s. Regional policy was during the 70s and 80s governed by the strong central state, a highly politicized and contested policy area; rural areas were put against urban areas, centralisation towards decentralisation and state interventions towards the free market. Since the late 1990s new modes of governance have been introduced. A regionalisation of regional policy has been pursued, motivated by the need for stronger democratic support, greater participation and more effective regional development policies. However, regional policy has evolved into a depoliticized policy area; governed by researchers, consultants and civil servants. The conflicts that previously characterised the policy area have transformed into consensus on how regional growth should be governed and organised.
The analytical approach to depoliticization, and the methodological challenges faced, is discussed in relation to three interrelated aspects; arena shifting, global policy assemblages and policy mobility. First, it can be argued that the depoliticization of regional policy has been parallel to a process of arena shifting in the sense that decision-making power has been decentralised from the state to the sub-national regions. However, new arenas have also developed as new modes of governance has been introduces (e.g. partnerships and cluster cooperation). This brings us to the argument that the process of depoliticization also has been parallel to the introduction of new concepts in regional policy: clusters, innovation systems and triple helix, concepts that can be understood as global urban policy models, or in terms of global policy assemblages. These concepts, originating from groups of academics, and the theoretical representation of policy have also given researcher, consultants and other experts a leading role in policy formulation and assessment. However, the challenge is to capture how these global policy assemblages relates to the construction of local and regional practices. The policy mobility approach indicates that policy should not be understood in terms of top-down, import-export metaphors. Rather, policies are transferred, translated and transformed.
The key arguments of the paper is that depoliticization studies will utilise from an analysis of global policy assemblages such as ‘the cluster framework’ which elucidates the mobility of policy (how policies are reproduced in space and time) but also how these affect practices of arena shifting and increasing consensus.
2013. 1-16 p.