International Institute for Innovation in Governance



Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional Change

Colin Hay’s and Vivien Schmidt’s responses to my previous critical engagement with their respective versions of neo-institutionalism raise the issue of how scholars may account for the ideational power of political processes and how ideas may generate both stability and change. Even though Hay, Schmidt, and I share a common philosophical ground in many respects, we nevertheless diverge in our views about how to account for ideational power and for actors’ ability to navigate a social reality that is saturated with structures and meaning. There continues to be a need for an analytical framework that incorporates discourse and a constitutive logic based upon the power in ideas. Post-structural institutionalism (PSI) analyzes discourse as knowledge claims by means of the concept of a constitutive causality, analytically identified in respect to institutions, such that the substantive content of ideas/discourse provides ideational power and generates immanent change.

Larsson, O. (2019). Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional ChangeCritical Review, 1-22.


Governance and the coastal condition: Towards new modes of observation, adaptation and integration

The conceptual framework of evolutionary governance theory (EGT) is deployed and extended to rethink the idea of coastal governance and the possibilities of a coastal governance better adapted to challenges of climate change and intensified use of both land and sea. ‘The coastal condition’ is analyzed as a situation where particular modes of observation and coordination were possible and necessary, and those observations (and derived calculations of risk and opportunity) are valuable for the governance of both land and an argument is constructed for a separate arena for coastal governance, without erasing the internal logic of pre-existing governance for land and sea. This entails that coastal governance is destined to be a place of (productive) conflict, as much as of policy integration. Policy integration will be more difficult and more important in coastal governance, as this is an arena where the effects of many land based activities and activities at sea become visible and entangled. Policy integration in coastal governance does however require deep knowledge of the governance path and existing forms of integration there (e.g. in planning), and it exists in an uneasy tension with the requirements of adaptive governance. This tension further contributes to the complexity and complex-prone character of coastal governance. Neither complexity nor conflict can be avoided, and coastal governance as an image of balanced decision- making is (positively) presented as a productive fiction.

Van Assche, K., Hornidge, A. K., Schlüter, A., & Vaidianu, N. (2019). Governance and the coastal condition: Towards new modes of observation, adaptation and integrationMarine Policy.


Institutional Work in Environmental Governance

In this Special Issue of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, we interrogate and evaluate the concept of institutional work in the domain of environmental governance, by bringing together diverse papers spanning a range of substantive and theoretical approaches. The papers apply the concept of institutional work across fields of regional development, water governance, climate change adaptation, and urban planning, and disciplines of planning, sociology, political science, geography, and anthropology. As a whole, the Special Issue contributes to a growing body of literature exploring the role of agency in processes of institutional change. This has implications for environmental governance scholarship, which emphasizes the role of institutions across all scales from local to global and to understanding transformations in governance systems within which institutional change plays a central role.

Papers in the Special Issue

The special issue begins with a paper by Raoul Beunen and James Patterson titled “Analysing institutional change in environmental governance: exploring the concept of ‘institutional work’”, which critically reflects on the notion of institutional work and its potential for contributing to understanding institutional change in environmental governance. It elaborates on the intellectual background of the concept beginning with its use in the domain of organisational studies, but then extends into some of the particularities of the domain of environmental governance. This leads to recommendations about how institutional work should be reconceptualised to encompass both purposive and non-purposive actions, and the effects of these actions.

Lotte Bontje, Sharlene Gomes, Zilin Wang and Jill Slinger, in their paper “A narrative perspective on institutional work in environmental governance – insights from a beach nourishment case study in Sweden” study the different narratives through which actors link discourses with institutions. These narratives reflect ideas about social-environmental issues, the relevance and impact of existing institutions, and the need for alternative ones. It shows how these different narratives function as institutional work.

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher and Leith Deacon, in their paper “Mapping institutional work as a method for local strategy; learning from boom/bust dynamics in the Canadian west” explore the theoretical and the practical relevance of institutional work for analysing complex landscape dynamics. They show that institutional work can be a useful analytical tool for researchers and practitioners alike, to inform strategising for institutional change.

Saskia Bisschops and Raoul Beunen, in their paper “A new role for citizens’ initiatives: the difficulties in co-creating institutional change in urban planning” apply institutional work to analyse how different forms of institutional work interact and how these interactions are shaped by various contingencies. They show that both purposive and non-purposive actions matter, and that attempts to change institutions might lead to a series of actions through which institutions are in fact maintained, rather than changed.

Emmy Bergsma, Mendel Giezen, Bart Schalkwijk and Chris Büscher, in their paper “Adapting to new realities: an analysis of institutional work in three cases of Dutch infrastructure planning” explore different institutional environments in which Dutch infrastructure planning organisations try to shape institutional change. Their paper points to the nested nature of institutions and shows how a focus on institutional work can increase the reflective capacity of both researchers and organisations.

Tanya Heikkila and Andrea Gerlak, in their paper “Working on learning: how the institutional rules of environmental governance matter” build on the idea of reflective capacity by exploring how rules structuring an environmental governance arena can enable or constrain institutional work. They analyse how formal and informal rules shape learning processes, and point to forms of institutional work that can help to foster learning.

Monica Vasile, in her paper “The enlivenment of institutions: emotional work and the emergence of contemporary land commons in the Carpathian Mountains” places emphasis on the role of emotion in institutional work. This shows how institutional changes emerge from the complex relations between actions and actors, in which institutional work is often non-purposive. It also brings attention to the histories of specific places and to the interplay between institutions and encompassing flows of narratives.

Chris Riedy, Jennifer Kent and Nivek Thompson, in their paper “Meaning work: reworking institutional meanings for environmental governance” further explore the importance of meaning making processes. They draw on two cases studies, one about local democratic innovation employed by Noosa Council in Queensland, Australia and another about the international campaign to divest from fossil fuels, to analyse the narratives that actors create and mobilise in order to promote institutional changes. They show that institutional work may in practice centre on ‘meaning work’.

Lastly, Jeremy Pittman, in his paper “The struggle for local autonomy in biodiversity conservation governance” explores the multi-level context of institutional work, focussing on actions through which local actors aim to create and maintain local autonomy. Analysing biodiversity conservation in the Canadian prairies, it shows how local actors struggle to find a balance between higher level rules and local practices. This brings attention to the multiple sets of (formal and informal) institutions that matter in a particular context, and that institutional work may involve actors within a single arena or across different levels.

Patterson, J. J., & Beunen, R. (2019). Institutional work in environmental governance. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

The special issue was edited by Raoul Beunen and James Patterson from the Open Universiteit, the Netherlands. It is part of the research project Learning and Innovation in Resilient Systems.


The Persistence of Tightly Coupled Conflicts. The Case of Loisaba, Kenya

Contributing to the debate on the multidimensional nature of resource-based conflicts in political ecology, and building upon Niklas Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory, we have studied the persistent and shifting nature of conflicts as well as their dependencies on other conflicts in and around Loisaba conservancy. This private conservancy is situated in northern Laikipia (Kenya). For a long time, its management was focused on wildlife conservation, high-end tourism and commercial ranching. Developments and events at neighbouring ranches and community conservation areas shifted this focus. Decades of more or less peaceful regional co-existence has recently transformed into conflictual, sometimes even violent situations. At first sight, these emergent conflicts seem related to recurrent droughts, competing resource dependencies, national elections, or incitements by wealthy and influential politicians. For this study, however, we conceptualise conflicts as particular kinds of discourses that emerge, exist and change. This happens not only according to their own internal logics, but also through their dependencies with other conflict discourses. In this paper, we characterise the relations between conflicts on a range from tight to loose couplings and introduce three related forms of coupling (overpoweringresisting, and resonating)to provide a more detailed understanding of how conflicts may interrelate.

Pellis A, Pas A, Duineveld M. The Persistence of Tightly Coupled Conflicts. The Case of Loisaba, Kenya. Conservation & Society 2018;16:387-96

Social licensing and mining in South Africa: Reflections from community protests at a mining site

Mining companies are increasingly being required to adhere to the requirements of a social licence to operate. Although this licence is largely seen as an informal agreement, the South African government is increasingly looking to formalise it. Social and labour plans and community trusts to ensure local ownership are two policy approaches used to foster the idea of a social licence to operate. We consider a case in which much conflict has been experienced. Based on 10 in-depth interviews and an assessment of court documents and media reports, our case study shows that community trusts should not be viewed as automatically ensuring a larger degree of local buy-in. They are problematic in many ways. In practice they could increase community conflict. They do not address historical concerns about dispossession and exclusion, and formalising local ownership in law will not necessarily resolve local conflicts. To create a community trust it is first necessary to identify a community, and communities are not necessarily unified structures. And finally, governance requirements complicate community trusts.

Matebesi, S., & Marais, L. (2018). Social licensing and mining in South Africa: Reflections from community protests at a mining siteResources Policy.

Social networks, collective action and the evolution of governance for sustainable tourism on the Gili Islands, Indonesia

This article examines how social networks among actors in the tourism sector have facilitated the evolution of self-organized institutions for governance on the island of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. Increasing tourism for SCUBA diving and nightlife is driving rapid social-ecological change and challenges for sustainability in relation to waste management, social-political cohesion and conservation. While strong social networks were a sufficient means to initiate governance among the island’s few early businesses in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, an increasing number of actors (i.e., new SCUBA businesses and hotels) and more tourists are challenging the ability of social networks to be the foundation of effective governance, where there is now an evident need for the evolution of governance to more effectively address sustainability challenges. This article combines quantitative social network analysis with the qualitative analysis of interview data, participant observations and an ethnographic examination of the island’s changing social-political sphere of cooperation to examine the evolution of governance. Our results can be separated into two parts. (1) From past to present, examining how governance institutions and collective action have emerged from strong social networks. (2) From present to future, how these social networks are being undermined as the foundation for the island’s governance institutions that they created, due to growth and changing social-ecological conditions. This article draws on Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) as an overarching frame to examine the linkages between social networks and collective action, looking specifically at the role of multi-level governance, institutional change, path dependencies and discourse analysis.

Partelow, S., & Nelson, K. (2018). Social networks, collective action and the evolution of governance for sustainable tourism on the Gili Islands, IndonesiaMarine Policy.


Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western Canada

This paper investigates the linkages between speculation and resilience in resource-based communities (boomtowns) susceptible to economic swings (boom/bust) and reflect on the actual and possible roles of spatial planning to stabilize communities under conditions of boom, bust and speculation. The findings are based on a nested case study method, where the Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia are investigated more in detail through semi-structured interviews (N = 145) in 12 case communities. The paper shows that spatial planning must be understood broadly to discern its effects on community resiliency, with resiliency understood as the coordination of spatial organization. Planning, then, is crucial at two stages of development: in the choice of a settlement model and afterwards in the spatial embodiment of that model. The paper further highlights the importance of expectations and managing expectations in understanding and re-thinking the linkages between speculation and resilience, and the importance of associated ideologies in risk assessment and conceptualizations of resilience.

Deacon, L., Van Assche, K., Papineau, J., & Gruezmacher, M. (2018). Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western CanadaFutures.

Re-learning Public Spaces Summer School: 28 th June – 30th June and July 3rd 2018 (AMSTERDAM/WAGENINGEN)

You are welcome to join the Re-learning Public Spaces Summer School: 28 th June – 30th June and 3rd July. The Summer School will further develop your thinking about the social impact of your research. It is connected to an event that turns around the concept of traditional academic conferences, in the sense that participants will spend most of their time doing fieldwork and generating new insights, rather than solely reporting on their ongoing research. The Summer School will thus have the set-up of an Action Research Lab.

You can find the learning outcomes on the website:

Call for papers: Spatial planning & place branding: rethinking synergies and governance

In a special issue for European Planning Studies we intend to bring together experts on spatial planning and place branding to think explicitly on the relation between the two fields and the potential of  theories and practices in which the two are integrated.

We believe exploring the relation between spatial planning and place branding is useful and important because, on the one hand, the relation is still under- explored, while planning could use the insights in place-based value creation stemming from place branding, and place branding often lacks insight in how places might actually be changed or preserved through coordinated intervention. On the other hand, much of the literature on place branding in our view either under- estimates or over- estimates what branding can do, partly because of underlying ideological assumptions, partly because of simply a lack of insight in the functioning of governance, including spatial governance.

Bringing planning and branding closer together in theory and practice means seeing their relation in the context of governance. Planning in this view is spatial governance, the coordination of policies and practices affecting the organization of space. Place branding refers to the creation of value in space by reinforcing and representing the assets of the place in a cohesive manner, in an image and a narrative of the place itself.

Given this context various topics could be explored in this special issue:

  • planning and branding and participatory governance
  • planning and branding and sustainable development
  • planning/branding and the balance preservation/innovation
  • spatial planning as part of place branding
  • place branding as part of spatial planning?
  • planning/branding as core of a development strategy?
  • nature and environmental assets in planning/branding
  • cultural landscapes as meta- assets for planning/branding
  • planning/branding and policy integration
  • innovation and branding
  • design in planning/branding
  • power/knowledge in planning/branding
  • scales in governance/ multi- level governance
  • combining planning/branding for places with deep history
  • agriculture and new food cultures as drivers of planning/branding
  • planning/branding and the balance between collaboration and competition
  • models of branding or planning: caution with best practices

If you are interested in making a contribution to the special issue, please send an abstract of 300-500 words to the guest editors by Feb 15, 2018; for those invited to submit a full paper, please submit this to the guest editors by August 1, 2018; after an internal review and revision, the usual external review for the journal will take place.

Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Eduardo Oliveira


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