Recent studies of new institutional spaces typically underplay the uneven and contested process of institutional change by undervaluing the role of inherited institutions and discourses. This is a critical issue as neoliberal networked forms of governance interact with inherited institutional arrangements, characterised by important path dependencies that guide actors. Contradiction and tensions can emerge, culminating in crisis tendencies, and producing both discursive and material contestation between actors. It is with an understanding of path dependencies, ideas (structured into discourses), and (perceived and actual) crisis tendencies that this paper examines contested institutional change through a case-study analysis of one city, and a critical engagement with neoinstitutionalism. The purpose is to examine, firstly, the significance of inherited path-dependent arrangements in fostering conflict and crisis tendencies during interaction with emergent state action; secondly, the extent to which crisis is evident in processes of institutional change and the form that this takes; and, thirdly, the importance of ideas in producing institutional transformation. It is found that institutional conflict is evident between inherited institutions and emergent state action, and stems both from the way agents are organised by the state and from certain path dependencies, but that this does not lead to an actual material crisis. Rather, the nation-state, in partnership with senior city government actors, use ideational/discursive ‘crisis talk’ as a means by which to induce institutional change. The role of ideas has been in critical in this process as the nation-state frames problems and solutions in line with its existing policy paradigm and institutional arrangements, and with discourses further reinforcing existing material power relations.
- institutional spaces
- neoliberal networked forms
- governance interact
- inherited institutional arrangements