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New Research on Cities & Climate Change Governance

This research, co-written with Roger Berquier, can be found on SAMPJ website.


Purpose: Cities are key actors in the fight against climate change. They have developed integrated strategies harnessing the power of information and communication technologies (ICT), as part of the move towards smart(er) cities. Despite our knowledge of the role of technological infrastructure in tackling climate change, the role of governance mechanisms to actively pursue environmental sustainability is often understated. Therefore, this research analyses governmentality mechanisms developed by a small town in Europe to render energy savings and new energy sources visible and create new identities with which the citizen and other cities could then identify with, thereby participating in the fight against climate change.


Findings: The outcome of these governmentality mechanisms was to create two new identities: the “good citizen”, responsible to lower his impact on climate change, and the “model city” – a laboratory that would serve as a guide for future policies to tackle climate change at the city level. While the “model city” was successful and identification happened with other small cities taking example on it, the “good citizen” failed and inhabitants did not identify with this role model that was defined for them as a way to participate in the fight against climate change.


Research design: Data was gathered through non-participant observation, interviews and access to internal data from the city’s energy control project.


Social implications: This paper has implications for how climate change can be tackled in rural areas by small cities. While the role of organizations and large cities (e.g. C40 city network) has been acknowledged, there is a possibility for smaller local actors to act upon grand challenges with local strategies and their own governmentality mechanisms.


Practical implications: This case study is a concrete example, based on a longitudinal study, of a city's strategy and actions on climate change. Other small cities will be able to use this case study to gauge their possibilities for action on climate change. Notably it is an example of how a network of mechanisms can achieve results in CO2 emissions reduction. It also demonstrates the difficulty to enrol citizens into an environmental sustainability scheme.


Originality: The case study contributes to the literature on cities, bringing new insights on how they can become actors of climate change beyond acting on internal controls, and the literature on governmentality by demonstrating how mechanisms can act upon a population without being calculative.


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