Comparative, urban studies

The scholars of urban studies have been attracted by so-called ‘comparative urbanism’, which became a popular term within the literature, and somehow politically right to pursue when publish papers or apply for fundings. It is intriguing to see that the funding regime of the UK now are fond of supporting such projects. Maybe it is the same for the US or north America. Years ago, I have joined the project of ‘Global Suburbanism’, which is very much comparative, and touched on cities or cases across the global. Also the ESRC projects of ‘Mega-project’ led by J Robinson and Fulong also worked in this way, as it targeted on the comparison of Johannesburg, London and Shanghai, to compare these cities of different contexts. The UK and the North now concerns about the case of the South, as there are the rising of BRICS, and there are new growth mainly appeared in the South. Moreover, the impacts of China across the global could be a challenging, so that the North must resort to further input to enhance its soft power across the South.

How to organize a project of comparative urban studies? So to compete against other appliers and win the funding supports? This could be a very challenge issue for any applicants. Is the the same as the question of ‘how to increase the impacts of academic research?’, I am not sure. Across countries now academic studies are no longer taken as ‘pure’ research. Because of the economic slowing down, so that we have to be more austere, more practical, and more ‘bricolage’. Science turns to be engineering. Even the craftsman of states now are increasing be those more practical, engineering, and non-Utopia. Good or Bad? We loss the dream or courage to pursue a better world, I think.

A comparative study will target on different cities across different countries. And then the findings may help readers to understand what is going on across different contexts, what are different, so figure out what we can do to improve the situations. Also it can contribute to the collection of lessons, good examples, and cases. So that it could be a good idea to setup a database or information house for people to share and to learn. This is the idea of co-sharing, quite popular today. To my experiences of working within the group of ‘global suburbanism’, or those projects with Germans in Guangzhou, I think most contributions of the project linking to either publication or conferences, seminars, training of young scholars and students. Somehow it links to the European traditions of schooling, pedagogy or education. This is reasonable as the ‘practical’ contribution of research projects is basically linked to the sharing of knowledge we learn from the study. For planning the lessons should include both those success and those failed, so that when we set up a site to share ideas, for instance, we should include both positive experiences (i.e. the final? book of Peter Hall) and those negative ones (very few such books or sites, but indeed there are such cases such as real estate bubbles or ghost towns of China).

The involvement of local residents, officials, investors, or NGOs are also important, to achieve the practical impacts of the research even during the process we examine cases. As to the study of ‘global suburbaism’, the team decided to focus on governance, land, and infrastructure system; already there are several books on each of the topic came out. There should be targets and focus, of course, for such projects. The strategy of de-center may be important, as then we acknowledge the contribution or knowledge of ‘ordinary city’, cause they also contain knowledge, some may be new even to the North. A website, a weichat group, a series of publication, a number of conferences, seminars, reports for governments or even some ‘quotation’ from government officials, a great deal of trained young scholars, students, etc., could become the major result of so-called academic impacts.

The mobility of knowledge and lessons could merit a lot of people. So the questions also include how to make it mobilize, to achieve impacts.

The talk at Manchester 9/21/17



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *