Issue: Dislocating Urban Studies

May 2022

Editorial: Dislocating Urban Studies

Since the turn of the millennium, debates within Anglophone critical urban studies have given rise to intellectually rich discussions that force us to rethink the location, theories, and practices of the field. While attending to the fundamental question of exploring what “the urban” is, theorisations have also expanded to reflect where and how we should understand the urban condition (cf. Brenner, 2013; Jazeel, 2014; Lawhon et al., 2020; Parnell and Pieterse, 2016; Randolph and Storper, 2022; Robinson, 2003, 2016; Roy, 2009). A number of interventions have sought to question not only the location of knowledge production and the need to develop novel methodological strategies of comparison, but also to emphasise the importance of difference, identity, the everyday, and more-than-human actors when studying urban processes (Leitner et al., 2020). These developments are welcomed at a time when significant urban transformations are underway. However, more work needs to be done to create a field of critical urban studies that engages with anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and anti-patriarchal struggles in more global ways, while addressing the urgent challenges of 21st-century urbanisation such as social inequality and environmental injustice. Empirical and theoretical contributions from the periphery—places “off the map” of urban theory (Robinson, 2002), invisible locations of urbanization (Fonseca Alfaro, forthcoming) or “overlooked” cities  (Ruszczyk et al., 2021)—are necessary for understanding global processes of urbanisation and debunking the practices of Eurocentrism within the field. In other words, the geographical and epistemological margins of critical urban scholarship need to be explored much more in-depth in order to create openings towards what Escobar (2007) would refer to as “worlds and knowledges otherwise” across multiple scales, time frames, and social, economic and political contexts.

A crucial project, as we see it, is to dislocate urban studies by rethinking theory and shifting practice. We embarked on this journey last year through a series of four digital workshops where we invited early-career scholars working on/in/out different margins across the global North and South, and who carried out empirical, methodological or theoretical interventions that helped expand the boundaries of critical urban studies. In conversation with renowned senior scholars, the presenters (a) engaged with forgotten or little-known anti-colonial and anti-capitalist urban concepts or theorists, (b) presented interesting cases from “off the map” of urban studies, and (c) introduced us to novel methodological approaches, and (d) challenged us to rethink the usefulness of certain key concepts from the field.

In this Special Issue, we would like to offer a glimpse of the topics and rich discussions that arose during the workshop series to continue reflecting on how to dislocate urban studies. Clara Rivas Alonso reflects on her research journey through the “symbolic peripheries” of Istanbul, pondering on the challenges of a shifting positionality within a marginalised community. Josefa Maria Stiegler picks a similar train of thought, when she discusses the intricacies of building connections from afar with residents of a Brazilian favela, when the COVID-19 global pandemic forced many researchers into rethinking their methods.

Also having Rio de Janeiro’s favela as her research location, Bruna Ferreira Montuori proposes a “cartography of hidden narratives” that are suppressed by state official discourses and practices. She uncovers counternarrative as a site of resistance and critical reflection. Travelling to the Northeast of the country, Laura Belik brings an ethnographic account on uncovering “little-known memories” of a long tucked away past of a former concentration camp in the Brazilian semi-arid. The “not-so-empty lot”, as she calls it, is overburdened with a heavy past which inspires us reflect on the “permanence of the impermanent” in urban research.

Going eastwards, Li Fan, Uwe Altrock, and Nadine Appelhans engage with the temporalities of urban regeneration in Shanghai. Leaning on the concept of conceded informality, they discuss state strategies relating to informal practices in the context of an urban growth agenda.

Burcu Yiğit Turan and Mia Ågren discuss the often-detracted persistence of racialised planning practices in Uppsala by exploring the differential conceptualisations of green space in predominantly white and immigrant-dense communities. Constantina Theodorou explores the “planetary spatiality of climate change”, arguing that climate justice can only be achieved by considering planetary spatial relations in their conceptual and material aspects. 

Engaging with the right to the city in Philadelphia, Karen Paiva Henrique and Aparna Parikh, in their photo essay, share with us experiences from a visual project in which students used digital tools to explore and uncover how urban injustices materialise and are resisted in the city.

In our last contribution to this issue, Johan Pries reviews a retrospective exhibition on Sigurd Lewerentz, a controversial Swedish architect whose “’ creative resistance’ in the face of technocratic conformity” produces designs that challenge the conventions of life and death.

References

Brenner N (2013) Theses on Urbanization. Public Culture 25(1): 85–114. DOI: 10.1215/08992363-1890477.

Fonseca Alfaro C (n.d.) Producing Mayaland: Colonial Legacies, Urbanization, and the Unfolding of Global Capitalism. Wiley.

Jazeel T (2014) Subaltern geographies: Geographical knowledge and postcolonial strategy. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 35(1): 88–103. DOI: 10.1111/sjtg.12053.

Lawhon M, Le Roux L, Makina A, et al. (2020) Beyond southern urbanism? Imagining an urban geography of a world of cities. Urban Geography. Routledge. DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2020.1734346.

Leitner H, Peck J and Sheppard E (2020) Urban Studies Inside/Out. Theory, Method, Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Parnell S and Pieterse E (2016) Translational Global Praxis: Rethinking Methods and Modes of African Urban Research. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40(1): 236–246. DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12278.

Randolph GF and Storper M (2022) Is urbanisation in the Global South fundamentally different? Comparative global urban analysis for the 21st century. Urban Studies. DOI: 10.1177/00420980211067926.

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 (2003) Postcolonialising Geography: Tactics and Pitfalls. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 24(3): 273–289.

Robinson J (2016) Thinking cities through elsewhere: Comparative tactics for a more global urban studies. Progress in Human Geography 40(1): 3–29. DOI: 10.1177/0309132515598025.

Roy A (2009) The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory. Regional Studies 43(6): 819–830. DOI: 10.1080/00343400701809665.

Ruszczyk HA, Nugraha E and de Villiers I (2021) Overlooked Cities: Power, Politics and Knowledge Beyond the Urban South. London and New York: Routledge.

Commentary
Dislocating the spaces of death and life with ArkDes and Sigurd Lewerentz

Last October a major retrospective exhibition about the enigmatic 20th-century architect Sigurd Lewerentz opened at Sweden’s national architecture and design museum, ArkDes. The exhibition, curated by the institution’s new director Kieran Long, is accompanied by a voluminous tome of some 700 pages of photographs, sketches and commentary put together by Long, Johan Örn and Mikael […]

Research Article
Segregation and Landscape Injustice in the Shadows of White Planning and Green Exceptionalism in Sweden

We write this article deriving from our work “White landscapes:  tracing socio-spatial epistemologies of Whiteness in contemporary Swedish planning” ¹ presented in the session “A Non-Occidentalist West: Learning from Theories Outside the Canon” of the “Dislocating Urban Studies” Workshop Series (Malmö University) in 2021. Our research is driven by a frustrating paradox: that the dominant […]

Research Article
(Dis)Locating fieldwork: relational approaches to research through a contested neighbourhood in Istanbul

Introduction In the following short intervention, I question the way fieldwork is constructed and how the role of the researcher as the performer of fieldwork can be destabilized if we pay close attention to how we share vulnerabilities with our research subjects. Through that act of dislocating, both researchers and their methods can be held […]

Research Article
Climate justice in the context of planetary urbanization

Amidst the escalating emergency of climate change (CC), addressing issues of climate justice is almost an imperative. Any valid response to its totality is impossible without fair and inclusionary policies that enhance the political feasibility of a zero-carbon transition (Patterson et al., 2018). However, it is inconsistent to seek justice within the same geopolitical schemes […]

Photo essay
Unearthing the right to the city through digital visual methods

How can digital visual methods be critically deployed to examine urban social in/justices? In this essay, we draw on the right to the city paradigm to create a methodology where students use digital tools – namely Google Earth, Google Street View, and ArcGIS story maps/KnightLab – to visualize and represent un/just urban landscapes in Philadelphia, […]

Research Article
Implications of “conceded informality”: The state and adaptive reuse in brownfield regeneration in Shanghai

Introduction: the state and adaptive reuse in brownfield regeneration in Shanghai In major Chinese cities, industries grew rapidly after the founding of the socialist country in 1949. By the end of 1980s, manufacturing sites occupied around 30 per cent of the urban land in large Chinese cities (Hsing 2006). Since the 1990s, urban land policies […]

Research Article
The not-so-empty lot – Ethnographic experience and reflections visiting Cariri’s former concentration camp area

While housing more than 70.000 drought refugees in 1932 in the Cariri Region, in Ceará State (Northeast Brazil), Buriti concentration camp’s history is mostly unknown both locally and nationally. At the turn of the twentieth century, Northeast Brazil suffered some of the most severe drought periods ever registered, commonly known as the Terrible Years. Groups […]