symposium: local/in theory

Local in theory symposium logo

Western University, May 24, 2024

Localities are governed by diverse public authorities, from the local to the national and supranational, yet political theory offers little coherent guidance for the governance of place.


Information and draft program


In recent years we have seen an intensification of demands for greater autonomy for localities and especially cities. This has entailed demands for the localization of authority and fiscal resources, and also the protection of the local sphere from arbitrary interventions or “preemption” by national and subnational governments. These demands have paralleled a discourse asserting that the nation-state is broken, and perhaps obsolete, and that an urban world may be better governed as, and by, a network of cities. Autonomist demands have raised questions about the constitutional position and capacities of local governments, the domestic and international political agency of cities, the territorial and institutional definition of a city or locality, and how to conceptualize non-urban localities and territories, however defined.

At the same time, we have seen considerable experimentation in many national contexts with multi-level governance, the pooling of resources across levels of government to perform specific tasks and address recognized localized policy demands. This has raised questions regarding democratic accountability, the redistribution of resources and across populations and territories, and the capacities of local institutions.

Multiple theoretical traditions and empirical research agendas touch on these and other questions regarding the organization of place governance in contemporary states, but in often contradictory ways and based on incommensurable foundations. The purpose of this interdisciplinary symposium is to explore and debate these foundations in order to develop their implications. What can contractarian, communitarian, critical, or other schools of contemporary normative political and social theory tell us about the proper governance of place? What insights can we derive from political theory for the design of institutions?

Trevor LatimerKeynote Speaker: Trevor Latimer

The symposium will begin with a keynote presentation from Trevor Latimer based on his provocative new book Small Isn’t Beautiful: The Case Against Localism (Brookings Institution, 2023). Since completing his PhD at Princeton University in 2015, Trevor has taught political theory at New York University and Dartmouth College. He currently works as a consultant in Washington, DC.


The goal of this one-day symposium is not to present completed papers, but to debate concepts and arrive at new insights. Participants, who are scholars of political theory, political science, public administration, sociology, human geography, and urban studies, are asked to come prepared with ideas and perspectives in relation to the session themes. A synthetic summary of the discussion will be published by the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance. The organizers hope that dialogue will unlock future collaborations across disciplinary boundaries and schools of thought, and invigorate new research and teaching agendas.


The symposium is generously supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Exchange Grant and the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance.


Dr Zack Taylor
Department of Political Science
Western University, London, Canada  

Dr Charles Jones
Department of Political Science
Western University, London, Canada

Dr Martin Horak
Associate Director, Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance
Department of Political Science
Western University, London, Canada

The workshop is sponsored by Western University’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance.

Last updated March 17, 2024.