cee Florence Faucher Tommaso Vitale

A few weeks before the 36th AESOP Congress Paris 2024, which this year will address the theme "GAME CHANGER? Planning for Just and Sustainable Urban Regions" we had the opportunity to speak with Florence Faucher, Director of the CEE (Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics), and Tommaso Vitale, Dean of the Urban School at Sciences Po. They discussed the challenges and implications of hosting such a significant scientific congress, both for Sciences Po and for their respective institutions.

What importance does hosting the AESOP conference have for both the CEE and Urban School, and for Sciences Po globally?

Florence Faucher: The Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics is a pluridisciplinary centre in the social sciences, with a focus on understanding and explaining how major social transformations (europeanisation, transformation of capitalism, environmental and digital transitions) are changing both politics and policy. Our researchers have been pioneers in analysing the role of cities, as increasingly central nodes in these evolutions, in Europe and in the World. They have not only contributed to the creation of prominent networks such as “Cities are Back in Town” and they founded the Ecole Urbaine at Sciences Po. Hosting such a large international conference is a wonderful opportunity to focus attention on the vibrant, complex and fluid context of contemporary human life. 

Tommaso Vitale: All of us at Sciences Po strongly wanted to organise this conference. International scientific associations are the place where strategic "scientific conversations" are fabricated that influence research and education to come. They are the place for sincere argument, where the best of the year's research is proposed to give a solid foundation to our future teaching and to start again later with even more data, explanations, and ideas. Over the years, AESOP has played an extraordinary role in the Europeanisation of urban and regional planning studies, fostering not only dialogue but also comparison and improving scholarship and publications. It is the place that has allowed planning to be profoundly renewed in order to inscribe it in the dialogue with all political and social sciences. The tradition of urban studies at Sciences Po is profoundly interdisciplinary, with a strong Weberian core, which thus aids the dialogue between law, economics, sociology, geography and political science on the spatial form of the city and other urban forms with a comparative-historical sensitivity. The work of Patrick Le Galès on urban governance modes is an example of this sensitivity. For all of us, hosting the annual congress at Sciences Po means placing ourselves at the service of AESOP extraordinary community of research and teaching, having a great learning opportunity for all our students, teachers, tutors, alumni and researchers. And creating a bridge to foster knowledge of the work in planning and social sciences on French cities and territories governance in a comparative perspective, that sometimes remain less explored in European urban and regional planning studies. 


The AESOP Conference will be discussing the theme of “Game Changer? Planning for just and sustainable urban regions”. How does this year’s AESOP theme correlate to the research works of the CEE and Urban School?

FF: The fact that the conference is held at Sciences Po, in Paris, a couple of weeks before the Olympic games is a reminder that the choices that inform the evolution of cities are political: it is an invitation to reflect on the politics of pitching social groups, their interests and visions of the good future, against each other; it focuses our attention on the policies that will govern changes; it highlights the interactions, whether they are developed at the level of neighbourhoods, at the scale of the metropolis, nationally or internationally. The challenges of climate change and sustainability are being met in and by cities in Europe and the world. At CEE, our research includes not only an array of projects on sustainable cities (transport, habitat, justice, social practices and the policies that relate to them), we interrogate how land tenure, habitat, segregations, inequalities and mobilities transform cities and in interaction with how we imagine them and their futures.  

TV: Research and teaching on spatial planning from the perspective of just ecological transition is not a last-minute discovery for us. Sciences Po has been deeply involved in restructuring its programmes to help describe, understand and explain the problems, difficulties and ways of resolving conflicts relating to ecological transition. The Urban School has been at the beginning of this reform that has then involved all other school.
The set of social sciences that study power conflicts in the design and implementation of plans, projects and policies for ecological transition are fundamental because the dimensions of legitimisation, mobilisation of resources, coalition building to advance, reduce blockages, overcome vetoes, and foster virtuous compromises are at the heart of any ecological transitions. This is why the CEE research and Urban School teaching efforts over the last ten years have focused on reflecting on the content and skills that a new generation of urban professionals must have in order to understand and govern the ecological transition of the city's set of infrastructures and activities. 
But let me say a little bit more about us: in the last three years, we have realized how important the territorial, regional dimension of planning was and that the heart of our commitment had to refocus on the relationship between urban and regional, in governance as in planning. It was here that we wanted to insist on how much this empirical research on the just, inclusive transition that leaves no one behind had at its heart the articulation between cities and regions, and between density and mobility. Planning can be a game changer!


Since the conference will be discussing a range of topics all connecting to the main theme of game-changers, are there any topics from the AESOP Conference that you are most excited to attend?

FF: The programme is so rich and exciting that it will be very difficult to choose. My attention will be drawn to the panels and keynotes that deal with making cities sustainable. I am interested in the social and political mobilisations and innovations, those that contribute to transform where we live and how we live. Cities are an interesting prism because the transformations that are required to maintain the habitability of  the world are both bottom up and top down. Bold policies are required to change our social practices because individual change happens collectively. 

TV: Yes there really are a lot of them, but I don't want to name them. It's not for me to make a hierarchy. We had such a large amount of requests, and being obliged to select a lot, that frankly speaking, every single session is at the top of its field. So, what excites me most is the articulation between all these themes. Some are more familiar to me, and I have been engaged for many years in terms of research and teaching. But I really want to enjoy this wonderful conference, I want to take advantage of it to go and listen to the topics and sessions that are less familiar to me, to let myself be questioned by the research results of colleagues that I don't know yet. We configured the conference based on an Agora concept, in which scientific conversation would be fostered at all times, on campus, and in which circulation and listening to each other would also be aided in the more informal moments of refreshment and learning expeditions/site visits. Of course, I can only thank the chairman of the scientific committee, our colleague Marco Cremaschi, who, facing the heterogeneity of the topics of such a large conference, has pushed a common thread in which social justice and environmental justice are explored together. It is in this spirit that I look forward to welcoming you all to Sciences Po.