Performing the city-region: imagineering, devolution and the search for legitimacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • University of Sheffield


This paper provides new conceptual and empirical insights in to the role city-regions play as part of a geopolitical strategy deployed by the nation state to enact its own interests, in conversation with local considerations. Emphasis falls on the performative roles of economic models and spatial-economic imaginaries in consolidating and legitimising region-building efforts and the strategies and tactics employed by advocates to gain credibility and traction for their chosen imaginaries. We focus on the Sheffield City Region (SCR) and Doncaster within it (South Yorkshire, England) drawing on 56 in-depth interviews with local policymakers, civic institutions and private sector stakeholders conducted between 2015 and 2018. In doing so, we identify three overlapping phases in the building of the SCR: a period of initial case-making to build momentum behind the SCR imaginary; a second of concerted challenge from alternative imaginaries; and a third where the SCR was co-constituted alongside the dominant alternative One Yorkshire imaginary. Our work suggests that the city-region imaginary has gained traction and sustained momentum as national interests have closed down local resistance to the SCR. This has momentarily locked local authorities into a preferred model of city-regional devolution but in playing its hand, central government has exposed city-region building as a precarious fix where alternative imaginaries simply constitute a ‘deferred problem’ for central government going forward.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Early online date28 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Apr 2020


  • city-regions, devolution, spatial imaginaries, governance, agglomeration