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Policy Ontologies; Working Across Theory and Practice

Venue: Online, Online

This event has ended.

In this one-day cross-disciplinary symposium, we will engage with what it means to research, think and write ontologically, as it relates to policy, legislation, institutions and the state.

Attendees across all career stages, including postgraduates, are welcomed. Booking is required via this page.

Information on how to join this event online will be posted here shortly.

Keynote Speakers

Dr John Clarke, Professor Emeritus (Social Policy) The Open University (UK), Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, 2019-2021

Dr Anne-Marie Fortier, Professor of Sociology at the Lancaster University (UK)

Dr Hanna Hilbrant, Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Geography, Department of Geography, University of Zurich (commencing March 2020)

Dr Shona Hunter, Reader and Director of Research Degree Programmes, Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University (UK)

Dr Tess Lea, Associate Professor, Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, the University of Sydney

Theme of the Event

Ontological frameworks underpin analyses of policy, legislation, institutional and state enactment. While faithfulness to methodological and theoretical instruction varies, binding these works is understanding of governing agents, formations and structures as constituted by and through multiple scalar projects, regimes, sites and relational practices. Frameworks refuse temporal or spatial boundaries around space, place, scale, human agency and identity with social reality understood as fundamentally unstable. This drives interest in tracking component parts and multiplicities of governance phenomena to understand how and why these cohere in particular, singular ways. 

The practical application of frameworks remains challenging. Forensically unpicking everyday enactments can appear dense and detached, losing explanatory focus on power as political and ethical. Frameworks avoid focus on where/with whom power and resistance 'actually' are, but how then can these approaches be used to achieve social and material change?

The symposium engages with what it means to research, think and write ontologically, inviting participants to work through tensions and identify practical and emancipatory effects of different ‘ways of looking’.

Keynote Speakers

John Clarke worked at the Open University for over thirty years, contributing to teaching social sciences in general and social policy in particular. His research has explored the intersections of policy, politics and power through a range of collaborations. Recent publications include Critical Dialogues: Thinking Together in Turbulent Times (Policy Press, 2019) and Making Policy Move: Towards a Politics of Translation and Assemblage (with Bainton, Lendvai and Stubbs, Policy Press, 2016). He currently holds a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to explore questions of ‘Brexit and Beyond: towards a transnational conjunctural analysis of turbulent times’.

Anne Marie Fortier’s research focuses on governing practices that seek to stabilise identities in the face of migration. Her publications include Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity (2000) and Multicultural Horizons: Diversity and the Limits of the Civil Nation (2008), and Citizenship in Uncertain Times: Life in the Waiting Room, forthcoming with Manchester University Press.

Hanna Hilbrant is an Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Geography at University of Zurich’s geography department (commencing March 2020). Previously she served as a DAAD P.R.I.M.E fellow at the Hafencity University Hamburg and a visiting professor in International Planning Studies at the Dortmund School of Spatial Planning. Her research interests revolve around everyday power, housing marginality, financialization, policy and planning, as well as urban temporalities and infrastructures.

Shona Hunter is a Reader in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University. She is the Programme Director for Research Degrees in the School and is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Race Education and Decoloniality and the founder of WhiteSpaces.

Tess Lea is an anthropologist who specializes in organizational ethnography and the anthropology of policy, across housing, health, infrastructure and creative industries. Her forthcoming book Wild Policy: Indigeneity and the Unruly Logics of Intervention (Stanford University Press, July 2020) introduces new ways of thinking about policy ontologies across both theory and practice

This is a Birkbeck School of Law 'Policy, Practice and Activism' cluster event. For further details please contact Rachael Dobson,


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