challenging methodologies and methods
Maintaining unsustainability: A relational-comparative assessment of rapid urban transformation in Dublin and Beirut
The fact that cities in the ‘Global South’ are increasingly appearing on both academic and service-industrial league-tables of ‘global cities’ (e.g. GaWC, 2018), owing to seemingly quantifiable attributes such as their ‘connectedness’ and ‘competitiveness’, belies a rather disappointing uptake of almost two decades of calls to rethink the geography of authoritative knowledge (theory) beyond the ‘regulating fiction’ (Robinson, 2002) of the first-world global city. If anything, the debate appears to have taken some retrograde steps recently, with accolades from high-profile publications in the discipline for scholars in the Global North asserting the ‘universality’ of contemporary urban theory, and decrying criticism from postcolonial studies as merely ‘polemical’ (Storper and Scott, 2016; for responses see Robinson and Roy, 2016).
Progress on the methodological front in ‘global urban theory’ appears to be driven less by these theoretical considerations and more by pressure on the part of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial political actors to theorise and counter the propagation of the effects of financialisation (Fields, 2017), notably involving the assetisation of real-estate (Aalbers, 2016) and its proliferation especially in the Global South (Rolnik, 2019). Emerging geographies of finance have attempted to apply a relational methodology (e.g. Sigler et al, 2020) to explain the superstructure of this nascent spatial order of financialised global capitalism, driven by Global Production Networks of industrialised finance (Dörry, 2016) extracting wealth back to the Global North through urban conduits such as tax-haven city-states and ‘global cities’. The narrowness of this category has been widened to some degree by research on ‘relational cities’ (Sigler, 2013, Hesse and Wong, 2020) to include the role played in this by small- or medium-wright cities from Panama to Hanoi, but still poses epistemological problems for scholars seeking to provincialise northern urban theory following Robinson, Roy and Chatterjee.
The contention of this paper is that while these approaches cast more light on the systemic features of financialised capitalism in a slightly wider selection of locales, they do not sufficiently connect these global phenomena to the experiences of ‘ordinary cities’ (Robinson, 2006) many of which are experiencing rapid urban growth as a function of financialisation, and are in the Global South. The paper will inform part of an ongoing PhD project which seeks to deploy a relational-comparative (Ward, 2010) methodology to analyse the problems of rapid urban transformation towards economic positionality in this context experienced by Dublin (Ireland) and Beirut (Lebanon). The project problematises the extent to which these cases are ‘global cities’ and explores the (national) reterritorialisation engendered by urban transformation towards economic positionality, the relevance of particular historical (post-colonial) trajectories and governance paradigms which underpin their ‘alpha-minus’ and ‘beta’ status (GaWC, 2018). The paper will justify the grouping together of a western European and Arab-Mediterranean city for relational-comparative research, and explore the methodological limitations and benefits of this approach for future theory and practice.
Aalbers, M. B. (2016). The financialization of housing: A political economy approach. Routledge.
Dörry, S. (2016). The geographies of industrialised finance: probing the global production networks of asset management. Geography Compass, 10(1), 3-14.
Fields, D. (2017). Urban struggles with financialization. Geography Compass, 11(11), e12334.
aWC. (2018). The global and world cities network.
Hesse, M., & Wong, C. M. L. (2020). Cities seen through a relational lens: Niche economic strategies and related urban development trajectories in Geneva (Switzerland), Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and Singapore. Geographische Zeitschrift, 108(2), 74-98.
Robinson, J. (2002). Global and world cities: a view from off the map. International journal of urban and regional research, 26(3), 531-554.
Robinson, J. (2006). Ordinary cities: between modernity and development. Psychology Press.
Storper, M., & Scott, A. J. (2016). Current debates in urban theory: A critical assessment. Urban studies.
Robinson, J., & Roy, A. (2016). Debate on global urbanisms and the nature of urban theory. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 40(1), 181-186.
Rolnik, R. (2019). Urban Warfare. Verso Trade
Sigler, T., Martinus, K., Iacopini, I., & Derudder, B. (2019). The role of tax havens and offshore financial centres in shaping corporate geographies: An industry sector perspective. Regional Studies.
Sigler, T. J. (2013). Relational cities: Doha, Panama City, and Dubai as 21st century entrepôts. Urban Geography, 34(5), 612-633.
Ward, K. (2010). Towards a relational comparative approach to the study of cities. Progress in human geography, 34(4), 471-487.
Practicing Comparative Urbanism: methods and consequences
In this paper I address (some) methodological challenges of comparative urban studies, drawing on experiences collecting and analyzing data, publishing research which includes examples from the global north and south, and ways in which I have justified comparison in academic spaces. Through the example of collecting and analyzing data on real estate developers across London and Johannesburg, I begin by demonstrating three approaches by which an imaginative comparison can be constructed and employed: letting the sites speak to one another, repeated instance analysis and tracing. In doing so I follow Robinson (2004; 2018) to argue that cases straddling the global-north and south have the capacity to reshape theories in urban studies. On a practical level, I argue that successfully employing such methods requires adopting comparison as both an implicit ethos and explicit approach during data collection and analysis (see also McFarlane, 2011). In employing such an approach and demonstrating the methods I use in comparative work, I argue that comparative urbanism helps balance the unique and ubiquitous conclusions from research, and forces researchers to question the norms or assumptions they hold from doing singular case study research, in turn foregrounding the situational nature of urban governance in analysis.
I then reflect on experiences publishing comparative research, especially my research from Johannesburg, both in papers with other authors from the Global North, and in conversation with my own work from London. I show mechanisms by which publishing practices in the global north continue to allow, and even encourage, particular cities to dominate analysis and theories, despite extensive discussions in mainstream urban studies about the value of learning across contexts. I highlight two specific challenges I have faced and my responses. Firstly, being told to translate the specifics of a site to match norms and expectations of an Anglo-American audience, through the example of being asked to changing currencies to USD in a way that ignores the complexities of local currencies and their fluctuations. Secondly, in multiple instances, reviewers suggesting the Johannesburg story is not necessary to tell the story. I highlight my responses and how they push back against these practices, where possible. Specifically, how in the former case, instead of changing to USD, I demonstrated what that value would mean through analogies; and I the latter, how I justified case selection through an extensive methods section that addressed how comparative urbanism pushes forward theories in urban studies. These cases also speak to the importance of strong editorial actions and the role of the publishing system as a whole in changing how urban studies evolves. Throughout this paper, I therefore argue that to engage comparatively is to constantly challenge and tackle entrenched practices in both theorizing urban studies and practices of academia.
Towards a Topological Thinking of Housing Policies: Mobility, Translation and Materialization
The housing question as a key aspect of urban development has regained the attention of global, national and local policy arenas. The relevance of research on urban housing policies thus stems from its practical orientation dealing with the location, planning and implementation of housing developments and the regulation of housing markets. Research on urban housing policies potentially addresses the relationship between mobility and immobility, as well as between ideological concepts and spatial materializations. For understanding urban housing policies from a comparative perspective beyond methodological territorialism, we thus need to questioning the ‘where’ of housing policies’ circulation and materialisation between spaces and places. How are (municipal) policy arenas balancing universal concepts with place-specific requirements and local conditions? (translation) In order to understand this political process and how the spatial dimension of concepts becomes relevant in the formulation, decision and implementation of urban housing policies, further methodological questions arise: Where are the sites, situations and arenas of urban housing policies? (following the policy or following the site) And: How are understandings of space and ideologies (in housing policy concepts and instruments) translated into the built environment? (materialization)
Contemporary policy agendas implicate that urban developments have become genuinely globalized and increasingly uniform. Amalgamations of architects, planners and urban designers contribute to the culmination of fashions in the built environment (Faulconbridge 2009). In turn, urban housing developments present local processes, which demand for context-sensitive analyses of place-specific materializations. This article thus analyses policy circulation beyond container thinking or fixed territorial scales, overcoming the dichotomy between global and local policy models. Overall, the article develops a comparative framework for understanding the mobility of housing policies as material and immaterial movements. The article builds on geographical approaches on policy mobility (for overviews see McCann 2011) and the circulation of public policy (Baker/Walker 2019). A topological conception (Robinson 2015) and a focus on the spatial circulation of political knowledge thereby contribute to a refined understanding of localities and spatiality of travelling policies. This article focuses on the transnational circulation of housing models or instruments, similar to the mobility of urban design, planning and architecture (Faulconbridge/Grubbauer 2015; Thompson 2018).
The mobilities approach will be complemented by methodological and epistemological elements, first, on the circulation and, second, one the translation of policies. First, conceptualising policy circulation builds on anthropological studies on policies as fields (Shore/Wright 1997: 11, Janning 1998) and as sites (Yanow 2014: 148). This implies a focus on the travel of ideas (Czarniawska/Joerges 1996) through transfer agents (Stone 2004). Second, the article understands translation not only linguistically between languages, but also as a metaphor for the transfer of concepts between distinct local settings and the implementation of immaterial ideas into concrete built spaces and (infra-)structures. Translation presents a set of cultural and linguistic processes of de- and re-contextualisation of concepts. This allows drawing inference on the travelling capabilities and stretching of concepts. Moreover, housing policy instruments – such as regulations, subsidies or spatial plans – translate immaterial flows of travelling ideas into material concreteness – expressed in residential buildings and (infra-)structures.
Baker, Tom; Walker, Christopher (Eds.) (2019): Public Policy Circulation. Arenas, Agents and Actions. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Czarniawska, Barbara; Joerges (1996): Travel of Ideas. In: Barbara Czarniawska and Guje Sevón (Eds.): Translating organizational change. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter (De Gruyter studies in organization, 56), pp. 13–48.
Faulconbridge, James R. (2009): The Regulation of Design in Global Architecture Firms: Embedding and Emplacing Buildings. In: Urban Stud. 46 (12), pp. 2537–2554. DOI: 10.1177/0042098009344227.
Faulconbridge, James R; Grubbauer, Monika (2015): Transnational building practices: knowledge mobility and the inescapable market. In: Global Networks 15 (3), pp. 275–287. DOI: 10.1111/glob.12078.
Janning, Frank (1998): Das politische Organisationsfeld. Politische Macht und soziale Homologie in komplexen Demokratien. Opladen: Westdt. Verl.
McCann, Eugene (2011): Urban Policy Mobilities and Global Circuits of Knowledge: Toward a Research Agenda. In: Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101 (1), pp. 107–130. DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2010.520219.
Robinson, Jennifer (2015): ‘Arriving At’ Urban Policies: The Topological Spaces of Urban Policy Mobility. In: Int J Urban & Regional Res 39 (4), pp. 831–834. DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12255.
Shore, Cris; Wright, Susan (1997): Policy. A new field of anthropology. Chapter 1. In: Cris Shore and Susan Wright (Eds.): Anthropology of policy. Critical perspectives on governance and power. London, New York: Routledge (European Association of Social Anthropologists).
Stone, Diane (2004): Transfer agents and global networks in the ‘transnationalization’ of policy. In Journal of European Public Policy 11 (3), pp. 545–566. DOI: 10.1080/13501760410001694291.
Thompson, Matthew (2018): From Co-Ops to Community Land Trusts: Tracing the Historical Evolution and Policy Mobilities of Collaborative Housing Movements. In: Housing, Theory and Society 15 (3), pp. 1–19. DOI: 10.1080/14036096.2018.1517822.
Yanow, Dvora (2014): Interpretive Analysis and Comparative Research. In: Isabelle Engeli and Christine Rothmayr Allison (Eds.): Comparative policy studies. Conceptual and methodological challenges. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (Research methods series), pp. 131–159.
Revisiting Gentrification- Social Reproduction Nexus: A Feminist Ethnography of Gendered Dispossessions in Gentrifying Tarlabasi, Istanbul
The relation between gender-gentrification has been mostly discussed within the framework of emancipatory city thesis (see Lees, 2000). Scholars argued that gentrification brought about emancipation for women and LGBT+ people suffering from patriarchy and homophobia. This literature, however, only focused on the experiences of middle-class women and LGBTI+ people, side-lining the experiences of lower-class women and LGBTI+s living and working in gentrifying areas.
Likewise, in displacement literature, which gets over the class blindness, there is an ‘ethnographic void’ (Lees 2003) for feminist analysis. More recently, there is a growing literature investigating displacement from a relational, temporal perspective (Atkinson 2015, Sakizlioglu 2014, Shaw and Hagemans 2015). This exciting literature, however, lacks feminist ethnographies of everyday displacements, thereby falls short of explaining gendered experiences and dispossessions involved in gentrification and displacement.
In this paper, I address these gaps in the literature and investigate the question Lees et al. (2008) formulated some 10 years ago: ‘Does the gentrifying inner-city act as an emancipatory space for all women?’ (p.213). I approach gentrification and displacement as the social and spatial manifestation of the ‘crisis of social reproduction’ as coined by Nancy Fraser (2017) and analyze the material as well affective labor involved in pursuing social reproduction in gentrifying neighborhoods. I focus on the lived experiences of low-income women, who went through displacement and/or stayed put in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification in Tarlabasi, Istanbul. Istanbul, as a fast-changing city with its intertwined geographies of disinvestment and gentrification, offers not only a rich array of ethnographic possibilities to investigate mutual constitution of gender and space but also a case that expands the mainstream focus of gentrification research beyond the North American and European cities.
In this study, I engage in a feminist ethnography of gentrification and displacement. To understand women’s perspectives and experiences of gentrification and displacement, I zoom in on the scale of everyday life in a gentrifying neighborhood to grasp the everyday experiences, struggles around continuing social reproduction. The data was collected through document analysis, participant observations and 25 in-depth interviews with low-income women of different backgrounds, who live and work in Tarlabasi.
I conclude that embracing social reproduction as a lens to understand gentrification is not only an academic exercise but also a feminist political statement to make visible the gendered as well as classed and racialized dispossessions involved in gentrification. Feminist methodology embraced in the study enables to connect the scale of the very intimate, the body, the everyday to the macro scale of the global. With a feminist intervention into the literature, I not only call for a feminist approach to understanding different geographies of gentrification going beyond generalizations across geographies and social groups. I also discuss the possibilities of feminist praxis to produce alternatives to gentrification. Such a feminist engagement is strictly related to the politics of researching gentrification: to bring actual change and imagine feminist alternatives to neoliberal urban change.