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Conferences & lectures

Upholding the Myth of Best Practice

Epistemic Practice and Rendering Space Technical in a European Commission Expert Group

Date & time

Friday, June 21, 2019
3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.


Natalie Papanastasiou


This event is free


Henry F. Hall Building
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Room H-1120

Wheelchair accessible


In this talk, Natalie Papanastasiou (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Faculty of Political Science and Sociology) interrogates the social construction of ‘best practice’ and its status as technical knowledge capable of traversing different political and cultural contexts.

This event is free and open to everyone.


Best practice is a form of policy knowledge which is based on two premises: the first is that it draws on situated practices of ‘what works’, and the second is that these practices are able to be transformed into universal lessons that make the transfer of knowledge possible.

This promise of best practice can be understood as being inherently contradictory – it professes to being situated in particular practices and to being a source of universal lesson-drawing. Despite this contradiction, the mythical status of best practice knowledge persists. Starting with this problematisation of best practice, this talk seeks to explore how policymakers tasked with developing best practice interpret and deal with the contradictory nature of creating this form of knowledge.

By bridging the literature on epistemic practice with political geographers’ interest in the social construction of space, Papanastasiou argues that rendering space technical is fundamental to the creation of best practice knowledge. She presents these arguments by empirically exploring the case of a group of education policy experts coordinated by the European Commission. Analysis traces how reducing space into a set of ‘contextual variables’ is essential to enabling the Group to construct generalised best practice, and she demonstrates the political implications of this through identifying processes of inclusion and exclusion. Moreover, the analysis identifies how alternative epistemologies which resist the simplification of space into ‘context’ have the capacity to temporarily disrupt the flow of epistemic practice. By identifying the enactment of spatial epistemologies in the production of best practice knowledge, Papanastasiou advances understandings of the politics of knowledge and epistemic practice.

Natalie Papanastasiou

Natalie Papanastasiou is a postdoctoral researcher of public policy and governance. She currently holds a postdoctoral grant at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona's Faculty of Political Science and Sociology, and has a PhD in Social Policy from the University of Edinburgh. Her interests focus on the practices of making policy, the relationship between politics and space, and the politics of education policy. Her current work centres on exploring the production and politics of best practice knowledge in international policymaking contexts. Natalie's publications feature in journals including Public Administration, Environment and Planning; Journal of Education Policy; and Critical Policy Studies, and she has a forthcoming book entitled The Politics of Scale in Policy: scalecraft and education governance (Bristol: Policy Press, 2019).

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