challenging methodologies and methods
Dalia Milián Bernal
Online arenas and narrative inquiry: Navigating the methodological challenges of studying temporary uses in Latin America
“We believe the value of ephemeral projects depends on our capacity to tell about them to others,” said Francisco in an online interview in 2018. He was talking about Galería Ballindamm, an open-air, do-it-yourself art gallery mounted weekly on an abandoned street in the city of Querétaro, Mexico, during 2013-2014. Galería Ballindamm represents one case in a qualitative study exploring the phenomenon of temporary uses of urban space in Latin America. However, like Galería Ballindamm, most cases in the study no longer exist, often leave no evidence on the sites where they occurred and are located far from one another and the researcher. This paper addresses the practical and methodological challenges of studying this phenomenon. It explains how these challenges transported the research into online arenas and led to emergent processes of data collection and analysis. The research, inductive in nature, aims to generate theory grounded in cases situated in Latin America. The initial challenge was to find relevant cases of temporary uses to analyze. Following constructivist grounded theory (CGT) procedures, relevant cases were selected through theoretical sampling. The internet and internet-based social media platforms were instrumental in locating them. Subsequently, the research followed the digital footprint of each case. Observations took place primordially on internet-based social media platforms, where images and stories were collected, and they were also used to communicate with research participants. The initial analysis of the cases resulted in short descriptions and categorizations, as well as new questions. This led to in-depth narrative online interviews with the main actors and to discover of new cases. Each case was analyzed through four approaches of narrative inquiry. A situational analysis helped produce situational maps using information from the interviews. This analysis mapped the main actors and their organizations, the interventions, the sites, the broader social, economic, political, and historical contexts, secondary human actors (collective and individual), discourses, and other non-human elements. CGT coding procedures traced the main actor’s aims and motivations to formulate an understanding of their actions. Visual narrative analyses produced images that illustrate the transformation of the site in chronological order using photographs produced by the researcher, actors themselves, or extracted from interactive online maps. The images were paired with excerpts from the interviews, rich in description of urban environments and stories about the site. Through narrative analysis, life-stories, aims, and motivations of the main actors, the characteristics of the sites, and the processes related to the interventions were interwoven into co-constructed, contextualized, temporal plotted stories. Although online arenas cannot substitute the experience of site visits, online research can create proximity to phenomena developing elsewhere and lead to unexpected findings. Through its rich imagery and descriptions of processes, situations, and environments, narrative inquiry can also transport us to different spaces. After all, it is people’s perception of reality that motivates their actions. Inasmuch, the digital and online nature of this research allows the Latin American cases to join the international discussions of temporary uses and narrative inquiry furthers our understanding of this transient urban phenomenon.
Testing comparative spatial planning studies in the Latin American context: theoretical implications and decolonial perspective.
Until recently, comparative spatial planning research had mostly focused on the European continent. Since the end of the 1980s, a growing number of studies contributed to the proliferation of theoretical and methodological approaches, as well as to a further definition of the object of study (Davies et al., 1989, Newman & Thornley, 1996; CEC, 1997; Larsson, 2006; ESPON, 2007; Nadin & Stead, 2008; ESPON, 2019, Berisha et al., 2020). Comparisons focusing on other parts of the World, and in particular on the Latin American context, are much less frequent (Massiris, 2002; Massiris et al., 2012), if one excludes the rather ‘dry’ reports produced by international organizations (Cities Alliance, 2017, among others).
The paper inquires the theoretical implications and challenges that emerge when applying to the Global South (Dados & Connell, 2012) conceptual and analytical frameworks developed in the Northern hemisphere. In so doing, I argue for the need to ‘go beyond technical efficiency’ (Servillo & van den Broeck, 2012) in the analysis of spatial governance and planning systems, questioning the concept of planning systems as ‘institutional technologies’ (Janin Rivolin, 2012). In this light, I suggest expanding the concept of institutions involved in spatial planning processes and I propose to consider informal practices alongside formal ones, as a way forward to better understand the drivers structuring spatial governance and planning systems in the Global South. In so doing, I embrace the decolonial perspective (Quijano, 2000; Mignolo, 2012; de Sousa Santos, 2010, 2014; Walsh, 2006, 2007) and I call into question my role of Northern academic involved in spatial planning research in the Global South, reflecting on where I am speaking from and how the decolonial perspective could foster spatial planning studies even in the North (Connell, 2018).
Aparna Parikh & Karen Paiva Henrique
Landscapes of in/justice
What can digital visual methods offer for mapping and representing landscapes of urban (in)justice? What happens when we take what we see seriously?
These questions provided the basis for an undergraduate course on Social Justice and the City structured around an object-oriented analysis of the city of Philadelphia, United States. This creative
analysis was designed to be both exploratory and critical. Students were asked to select an object of their choice within the city’s everyday landscapes. The object served as an entry point to critically
examine how injustice and justice materialize in the urban fabric. The analysis was informed by critical geographies of race, gender, and environmental risk, drawing on theoretical insights from
across the urban South and North. The aim was to widen students’ conceptual vocabulary and examine to what extent epistemological approaches from the Global South (e.g. on informality and
everyday politics) can address what students see in ordinary urban landscapes of the Global North,* and thus enrich their understanding of local processes (e.g. de-industrialization and gentrification).
Students selected a range of objects, including more-than-human entities (potatoes and parks), abiotic elements (barbershops, billboards, and murals), and combinations thereof (water pipes), and
visually documented these objects using the digital platform Google Street View. Locating the object within its neighborhood or broader urban setting, students made preliminary observations about
land use patterns and the built environment. Based on these observations, students raised questions about urban injustice concerns, which they analyzed using a combination of geospatial,
demographic, archival, and journalistic data. This analysis was digitally represented using a story map, which allowed for creative storytelling using a combination of text, maps, and multimedia
Their analysis revealed continuing patterns of systemic racism that shape uneven provisions of or access to food and water, mobility infrastructure, and public institutions such as schools and parks.
The story map associated with each narrative was linked to a single map, a curated platform that allows students and other viewers to trace social and spatial relations as well as gaps across their
cases. Across individual projects, we see how efforts to mitigate such harm involve community organizing and making demands of the state. However, the production of just landscapes exceeds
harm reduction, with engagement in life-affirming processes to ascertain a sense of urban belonging through conversations in barbershops, surreptitious graffiti art, and community gardening practices.
Although still incipient, this project demonstrates the analytical and pedagogical potential of digital visual methods. When combined with critical analyses, digital visual methods allow students to map
how domination, exploitation, and violence proliferate materially and unevenly, and how they are contested and resisted across urban space. They provide an entry point to critically look at familiar,
ordinary objects and to question the multiple assumptions and theories we attach to the things we see, thus forcing open new spaces from which to rethink urban knowledges and realities.
Ayse Gümeç Karamuk
Planning law as a shared feature: Rethinking power mechanisms, planning principles and right to the city
As a result of neoliberal restructuring and financialisation, cities have experienced varying and intensifying levels of socio-economic and political crises in the last decades. Critical urban studies have been addressing their spatial manifestation in the form of displacement, dispossession and the loss of public spaces, not only to address governing mechanisms that cause them, but also to observe practices of resistance by the public across different urban places. In this context, in order to take account of power mechanisms in a systematic way, this paper foregrounds a sociology of governance that takes a closer look on the workings administrative and judicial institutions (Dembowski 2001), concentrating on the recourse to judicial remedies, (i.e. judicial reviews) undertaken by those who are excluded from spatial decision-making processes (Bhan 2016). For this, the paper examines urban regeneration projects contested in the courts of law by two communities in London, and by the chambers of architects and city planners in Istanbul.
In Istanbul, chambers of city planners and architects (TMMOB) have been fighting against arbitrary spatial arrangements that violate planning regulations, “fundamentals of urbanism, principles of planning and public interest” in the court for decades (Tekeli 2013). Their campaign has increasingly become more challenging in the last two decades as a result of continuous legislative and institutional changes that have increased centralisation of power at the hand of the executive, enabling top-down and fast-track decision-making for urban transformation, otherwise unlawful according to the development law. The paper will illustrate this by examining two judicial reviews that addresses the transformation of the district of Mecidiyeköy. On the other hand, in London, existing political participatory channels to express opinions and concerns regarding the social and affordable housing stock proposed by new developments have been recently proven to be less effective for communities, especially in the case of developers who circumvent existing regulations by relying on the confidentiality of viability assessments and escape certain policy requirements for more lucrative development (Colenutt 2020). Judicial reviews are more and more considered by communities as a tool for opposition. The paper will exemplify this with two cases from Elephant and Castle, and Latin Village in Seven Sisters.
While judicial reviews are not panacea, learning from these cases that foreground the claims concerning unlawful acts of authorities/developers could shed light on the strategic use of legal knowledge and information by various actors, which might also substantiate the claims for right to the city. Looking at how processes of capitalist accumulation and global neoliberal restructuring unfold peremptory moments in different local contexts, the paper aims to elucidate a shared spatiality of the urban, i.e. law, as an effort motivated by the latest research pursuing the aim of making urban studies ‘more global’ while reviewing widely used concepts (Robinson 2015).