The governance of Milan’s global city-region


This work concerns the analysis of the role of the power elite in the processes of urban governance, through the study of decision-making mechanisms related to the development of Milan.

The main aim of this work is to deepen the analysis of characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, and logics that steer the socio-economic transformations currently underway in Milan (Magatti et al. 2005, Servizio Studi e supporto CCIAA di Milano 2013), with the purpose of identifying strategies to improve the process of governance, in a perspective of more democratic public decision-making models and of economic, social and environmental sustainability of public choices (Camagni 1996, Davico et al. 2009).

Specifically, this analysis is focused on two questions:

  • what role the local elite plays in shaping the development in Milan?
  • What implications derive from the understanding of this issue for the improvement of urban governance in Milan ?

This kind of inquiry require two level of analysis: the overview of the local power elite structure and the identification of the shared representations of the development of Milan among its members. The first level aims to outline the articulation of local power within organizations and the key players. The second is dedicated to identifying the cultural models (Holland and Quinn 1987) that influence their decision-making (Farr and Moscovici 1984; Grasso & Salvatore 1997).

the issue of Milan’s governance

The issue of Milan’s governance has been the focus of several studies on the role of Milan as a glocal city (Globus et Locus 2007, 2013; Magatti et al. 2005; Taylor 2012) produced over the last ten years, starting from the results of the research by Taylor (2004), in which Milan appeared listed among the first ten global cities, on the basis of the level of concentration of advanced services offered to global enterprises[1].

The debate raised by these studies highlighted a gap between the “internal” and “external” image of Milan and increased awareness of the transformation processes occurring in the city and of the need to develop a new, socially shared, image of Milan that would allow to face the challenges of the globalization and grasp the opportunities it offers, both to the city itself and to Italy (Bassetti 2010).

Other studies identified Milan as a “gateway” for global flows to and from Italy, within large networks existing at national, regional and European scale (Globus et Locus 2007). This gateway function consents the city to take the leading role in the “North City Region”, but this role is performed without proper awareness (Perulli & Pichierri 2010).

The functional nature of the potential of Milan moves to the background the debate on the need for precise definition of institutional boundaries, according to “a variable geometry” model at a multi-regional scale (Magatti et al. 2005), which highlights the complexity of the definition of an adequate system of regulation of the ongoing socio-economic processes, both in consideration of the flexibility of global flows in which the city is placed in and of its insufficient capacity of governance.

An analysis of the public policy making in Milan over the last sixty years (Dente 2005) shows that Milan has always been an undergoverned city, where innovation and excellence were not addressed by specific public policies. Furthermore, the lack of long term perspective in the governing of the city and the low level of horizontal cooperation, weakens the development planning capacities.

At a more general level, Milan suffers the consequences of a delayed modernization, of difficulties to adapt to intangible codes of globalization and of a low capacity of its elite for public intervention and vision (Magatti & Sapelli 2012). As concerns in particular the elite’s analysis, Sapelli (2005) highlights certain elements of historical and cultural context that help understand the dynamics that characterize it, by portraying the evolution of the relationship between political and economic power in Italy, whose key moments often took place in Milan. Within this general framework, the author outlines some of the contemporary systems of power of Milan, such as Banks, Banking Foundations and the Lega Nord party.

With regard to the specific role of elite actors in local governance, a comparative study by Belligni (2005) highlights the role of social capital at the disposal of ruling elites in determining the urban performance. In this sense, the weakness of governance capacity of Milan could be explained as an effect of a specific network evolution pattern of the social capital stock of the local elite, occurred over the last twenty years.

The whole of these observations call for the redefinition of the concept of elite, due to the nature of the ongoing process of economic internationalization and the integration of elite members within networks that operate both at local and global cities level.

Theoretical approach

In order to better understand the socio-cultural dynamics which can support the understanding of the current model of governance of Milan’s city-region and the identification of possible strategies of development of this model, this paper aims to propose a problem-oriented interdisciplinary integration among the following research fields and theoretical approaches of the social sciences:

  • community power studies (Belligni 2005, Dahl 1961, Hunter 1953, Scamuzzi 2005, Tosi & Vitale 2011), that focus on the role of elites in the socio-economic and political processes in local and national contexts, from different perspectives: elitist (Wright Mills 1956), pluralist (Dahl 1961), growth machine (Logan and Molotch 1987) and urban regimes theories (Stone 1989)
  • public policy analysis (Bobbio 1996; Dente 2011), with particular reference to the interpretative perspective (Fischer & Forrester 1993), which puts the spotlight on the role of beliefs, values, norms and emotions in the decision making process
  • analysis of cultural factors of social behavior (Berger & Luckmann 1966, D’Andrade & Strauss 1992, Farr & Moscovici, 1984, Geertz 1973, Grasso & Salvatore 1997), which points out the role of cognitive processes in the social construction of reality that guide the social action.
  • discourse analysis, considered from the linguistic approach to power analysis (Van Dijk 2008, Fairclough 1989), the statistical and sociological qualitative and quantitative methods (Bolasco & Cipriani 1995, Lancia 2004) and the psychological perspective focused on the interaction between unconscious and social dynamics in the construction of social ties (Carli & Paniccia 2002).

work hypotheses

This project of inquiry on the model of governance of Milan’s city-region could be focused on the following two hypotheses:

  • the local elite actors exerts a significant role in determining the forms of development of Milan, through direct and indirect influence on the decision making process
  • the social construction of representations of the development of Milan shared by the elites members play a central role in guiding their action


Objectives of this kind of approach the issue under examination could be the following:

  • understanding whether the elites of Milan are structured around a single leadership model and converging objectives or their interaction reflects the dynamics of competition that prevent the creation of a single dominant position
  • identifying the models of influence of the local elite on the public policy making in Milan
  • developing an interpretive model of the development process of Milan, in order to illustrate its characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, internal logic, drivers and resources not fully utilized, with the purpose of defining strategies to promote the construction of a new shared vision of the future of Milan and improve the governance arrangement.

Methodology and research design

An analysis of the governance of Milan’s city-region from the perspective above described could be articulated in two levels, one focused on the structure of the local power elite and the other on the shared representations of Milan and its development among elite members.

The detection of the elites structure could be carried-out using an integrated approach based on positional, reputational and decision-making methods (Scamuzzi 2005, Tosi & Vitale 2011) and social network analysis (Salvini 2007), while the analysis of the shared representations of the development of Milan among elite members will be carried out according to the methodology of Emotional Text Analysis (Carli & Paniccia 2002), on a corpus of texts produced by the members of the elite core group, using the software T-Lab (Lancia 2004).

Positional analysis could be articulated into the following steps:

  • mapping of the main global flows that pass through Milan
  • mapping of organizations, operating within these global flows, that have major influence on policy processes in Milan
  • mapping of the top positions in the selected organizations, through analysis of the organizational charts
  • selection of a subgroup of elite members, on the basis of an index of importance of roles and organizations

Reputational analysis could be articulated in the following steps:

  • interviews with privileged observers to verify and integrate the results obtained through positional analysis and to identify the social networks that articulate the elite
  • analysis of the local and national press of the last twenty years concerning the role of the elite members previously identified

Decisional analysis could be articulated as follows:

  • identification of key events in the development of Milan, through literature analysis and privileged observers interviews
  • analysis of the decision-making role of the elite players in the those events, through analysis of relevant local press articles and interviews with privileged observers
  • interviews with some of the key decision-makers regarding issues under consideration
  • integration of the collected data and identification of the core group of the elite

The social network analysis could be conducted using the software Ucinet in order to verify the presence of an inner circle by the analysis of degree centrality, brokerage and proximity indexes, upon relational data gathered through interviews with key informants and through positional analysis.

Expected Results

This kind of analysis could produce the following outputs:

  • the description of the local elite structure, consistent with the glocal nature of Milan, in terms of co-presence of local and global players
  • the map of cultural models underlying the vision of Milan and its development perspectives shared by its glocal elite
  • the interpretive model of the logics and drivers of policy making in Milan and its possible lines of development

Impact of this kind of analysis on the political and scientific debate on the urban governance

This kind of study on the governance of Milan as a city-region aims to contribute to the debate and practices of urban governance. This issue is particularly relevant in consideration of the need of a reform of territorial governance in Italy and of the emphasis on the city as a driving force for sustainable development and social cohesion in European discourse (Camagni 2012).

This proposal presents two aspects of theoretical and methodological innovation:

  • an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented approach, as described in the theoretical approach section
  • an action-research oriented methodological approach, based on an abductive and bottom-up perspective of problem setting and problem solving, direct to identify strategies of endougenous change for the improvement of policy making.

This model of research-intervention is adaptable to different social settings and therefore applicable both at the level of the wide area of Milan, as well as at a wider national, European or international scale.




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[1] Milan had already been included among global cities by Sassen (1991), as Italian centre of the global financial system


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