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2019 RSA North America Conference Special Sessions

The organisers encourage joining special sessions, themed workshops and innovative forms of networking and collaboration. As part of the 2019 Annual Conference, participants can submit their abstracts to Special Sessions listed below. Special Sessions are a great way to bring together presenters to discuss and highlight a particular topic and to develop or further extend your network.

There are two types of Special Sessions:

Open Special Session – the session organiser proposes the topic and provides a short description/ call for submissions. Delegates can submit their abstract for this session when they register for the conference. Closed Session – the session organiser proposes the complete session including all speakers. Other delegates may not submit their abstracts for this session.

Both sessions are open to all delegates to attend as an audience member

SS1. Defining the Terrains of Regional Infrastructure

Session Organiser(s) 

  • Jean-Paul Addie, Georgia State University, USA,
  • Jen Nelles, Hunter College CUNY, USA
  • Michael Glass, University of Pittsburgh, USA

These special sessions will formally launch the RSA Research Network on Infrastructural Regionalisms (NOIR). Analyzing regions through infrastructure provides a novel perspective on the regional question as investment and disinvestment in infrastructure reveals vital discursive and material elements that produce, structure, and modify metropolitan regions worldwide. Regional infrastructure is the often-overlooked element that binds contemporary strategies from the resurgence of neo-Keynesian economic development programs arising from the Global Financial Crisis and the frenzied bidding by North American cities for Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2) to China’s $900 billion Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. The development of infrastructural assets – ranging from transport and telecommunications to energy and sanitation – as part of regional policies raises fundamental questions about how the funding, governance, and spatiality of such infrastructure can promote urban, economic, and ecological sustainability at the regional scale. In sum, NOIR intends to reflect the increased conceptual, geographic, and political importance of infrastructure, and signal the endemic crises of access (social space), expertise (technology), and resources (governance) that the varied provision of infrastructures within regions can cause.

We welcome papers engaging research at the intersection of urban infrastructure and regional studies, and participation by researchers interested in engaging with the RSA Network over the next three years (2019-2022). In launching NOIR, we aim to situate and problematize the Research Network’s key questions and concepts by (non-exhaustively) interrogating:

  • How do we study, and thus produce knowledge of, regions through infrastructure?
  • How are decisions on infrastructure made and regionalized?
  • Who develops regional infrastructural visions and how are their spatial imaginaries legitimized?
  • What technologies of power and infrastructure arrangements concretize the region?
  • What types of infrastructure are more amenable to/successful at the regional scale?
  • Who benefits, and is excluded, from regional infrastructural formations?
  • In what ways do state and non-state actors adopt a regional infrastructure politics?
  • How do infrastructure issues shape regional imaginaries and interpolate regional political subjects?
  • How can key actors shift from producing an infrastructural region ‘in itself’ to a region ‘for itself’?
  • How are the dynamics of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ articulated through regional infrastructural politics?


If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 16th May 2019.

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SS2. Sustainability Transitions in the Coastal Zone

Session Organiser(s) 

  • Prof. C. Patrick Heidkamp, Southern Connecticut State University, USA
  • Dr. John Morrissey, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland
  • Dr. Marcello Graziano, Central Michigan University, USA

Coastal regions, despite only occupying a relatively small percentage of the Earth’s land-surface, provide more than one third of the globe’s value of ecosystem services. Increasing pressures generated by human activities (e.g. aquaculture, deep-sea mining), and climate change have put these regions’ ecological and social sustainabilities increasingly at risk. These new drivers, coupled with the large-scale failure of contemporary governance approaches to direct development to more sustainable outcomes, present stark challenges for coastal stakeholders. Nowhere is this clearer than in contested coastal zones, where intense demand on coastal resources sits uneasily with stewardship, habitat protection and natural resource maintenance imperatives. As described by Hansen & Coenen (2015) sustainability transitions are geographical processes, which rather than being universal and pervasive in nature, happen in situated, particular places and as Truffer and Coenen (2012) point out should be analysed in a regional context. However, much contemporary discussion of transition is either aspatial or based on implicit assumptions about spatial homogeneity, with comparatively little attention to how policy proposals will influence current patterns of uneven development (Bridge et al. 2013). It is the aim of this convened session to interrogate sustainability challenges in coastal regions from a multi-disciplinary and regionally aware perspective. We welcome theoretical, methodological as well as empirical or case study contributions especially related (but not limited to) the following sub-themes:

  • Socio-technological transitions in the coastal zone,
  • Resilience in coastal economies,
  • Innovations of governance for coastal sustainability,
  • Stakeholder engagement approaches
  • Coastal sustainability discourse,
  • Marine/coastal planning approaches,
  • Coastal spatial planning and sustainability,
  • Integrated coastal zone management and sustainability,
  • Sustainable waterfronts/sustainable coastal cities,
  • Energy transitions in the coastal zone,
  • Sustainable transport (ports/harbors),
  • Coastal aquaculture/3-d ocean farming,
  • Climate change and coastal sustainability,
  • Radical transition pathways.
  • Blue-Green Economies

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 16th May 2019.

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SS3. The Innovative Workplace: The Impact of “Disruptive” Technologies and Workplace Strategies on Workplace Location


  • Richard Shearmur, McGill University, Canada
  • Filipa Pajević, McGill University, Canada

Key Words: new ways of working, new economic spaces, geography of work and employment, future of work, digitization

We are seeking papers for a set of sessions that will be held at the upcoming RSA meeting in Montreal, 25-27, September, 2019. The sessions will explore the role that innovation – “disruption” in particular – plays in changing how and where we work. We welcome empirical, methodological, theoretical and critical papers on the following themes:

“Disruptive” technologies and the digitization of work

New technologies (and apps) are affecting the geographic scope of work now that a number of work-related tasks can be performed remotely, on-the-go, and from multiple locations. It is assumed that knowledge workers – digital workers in particular – exercise the greatest degree of mobility and flexibility when it comes to workplace location. It is also assumed that these workers contain the know-how that is necessary to transform, or “disrupt”, traditional markets and challenge traditional ways of working in ways that would potentially help companies move into the Digital Age. What is the real impact of “disruptive” technologies and ways of working on how and where work is being performed? What does this mean for employment location?

Innovation: Process vs. real-estate play

Innovation districts and hubs continue to dominate policy discourses, especially when it comes to defining the geographical boundaries (and characteristics) of innovative work. How can a better understanding of digital work – and digitally-powered workplace strategies such as remote and multi-locational work – bring us closer to understanding where innovation occurs and what spatial strategies best support it? If a growing number of work-related activity is digital and remote, who benefits from innovation districts? What is more, what role does space play in supporting the digital (and often invisible) workforce? And finally, what impact does this have on cities?

The (in)visible worker and spaces of innovation

If a growing number of work-related activity is digital and remote, how do we adjust our scientific lens – conceptually and methodologically – so as to better capture the spatiality of new ways of working?

The deadline for abstracts (no more than 200 words) is May 10th, 2019. Please submit your abstracts together with full name(s), affiliation and title to Filipa Pajević ( and Richard G. Shearmur ( We will respond with a confirmation by May 15th, 2019.

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SS4. The Role of Incubators and Accelerators in Regional Innovation

Session Organiser(s) 

  • Dr. Geoff Gregson, The Centre for Innovation Studies (THECIS), Canada

This special session will provide participants with the opportunity to explore the role of incubators and accelerators in regional innovation. The effectiveness of different business incubator and accelerator models – and what distinguishes ‘incubation’ from ‘acceleration’ – has generated considerable debate amongst practitioners, policy-makers and scholars. It is estimated that there are more than 7,500 business incubators operating globally, with most run as ‘not-for-profits’ and approximately one-third associated with a post-secondary institution. The high level of public support for incubators is justified for two reasons: 1) entrepreneurship and start-up firm growth contribute substantially to regional net and gross job growth; and 2) with this recognition of their economic importance, start-up firms are quite fragile, with approximately half of all new market entrants surviving less than five years. More recently, accelerators have emerged as prominent players in many start-up ecosystems, with worldwide estimates of 3000+ programs in existence. Accelerators have been widely adopted by private groups and by corporations, given that accelerators may nurture new, potentially disruptive innovations and ‘investable’ ventures with the potential to generate high investment returns. Many regional governments are encouraging accelerator formation in the hope of transforming their local economies by focusing on scalable, growth-oriented ventures that can draw in external risk capital. As many accelerators are for-profit initiatives, the accelerator environment is typically not protective, unlike the environment for most business incubators.

In aligning with the theme of the conference, this session identifies the local environment as a critical factor when considering which incubator and accelerator models and related services will be more relevant and impactful in supporting regional innovation. The environments found in and around Boston (U.S.), Southern California, Cambridge (UK) and a few other regions are atypical, and can be argued to act as ‘regional incubators.’ In these well-developed environments, a strong entrepreneurial community has developed; fed by high start-up rates and strong capabilities to select the best projects and allocate resources to them. High levels of innovation within the surrounding region by incumbent firms, large and small, provide a demand-pull for new innovation being developed through start-up activity. In environments with lower start-up rates and less demand for innovation, this session will suggest that incubators may need to play a more proactive ‘innovation-push’ role, with the incubator exercising selection criteria and taking a more active role in venture creation and development support. The importance of developing ‘complete companies’ in a region requires high-level support capabilities to assist founding teams in building globally-relevant companies; capabilities typically found amongst those who have ‘been-there, done-that’ in the private sector. Corporate sponsorship can provide valuable product and market validation opportunities for start-ups and contribute to demand-pull for new innovations in a region, but requires clear guidelines on risk sharing and effective process management to be successful.

The session will emphasise that incubators and accelerators should not be considered in isolation in regional ecosystems, and on their own, are insufficient to build strong entrepreneurial communities. High levels of entrepreneurial ambition and talent are required to feed these programs, and the programs themselves must be able to attract high quality managers, mentors, corporate sponsors and investors who can select and support the best projects and allocate resources to them. Incubators and accelerators specializing in start-ups in particular verticals (e.g. artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, bio-med, etc.) may require coordinated policy support to grow and develop a base of anchor companies, if the vertical is expected to provide a regional competitive advantage. Thus, different industry and regional factors should determine whether to adopt or establish generalist, industry-agnostic’ incubators/accelerators or more industry-specific, vertical-oriented ones.

If you are interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit your abstract of no more than 300 words via the RSA platform by 16th May 2019.

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