Call for Papers: "Practicing Engaged Pluralism When ‘Doing Global Urban Research'"

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2016 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting
San Francisco, USA
29 March-2 April 2016

Practicing engaged pluralism when ‘doing global urban research’

Session conveners
Ben Derudder, Ghent University,
Michiel van Meeteren, Ghent University,
David Bassens, Vrije Universiteit Brussels,

Session outline

‘Global urban research' covers a wide-ranging literature with fuzzy contours, and is characterized by a range of real and perceived intellectual fragmentations. Some of these fragmentations have emerged out of repeated calls to de-center or provincialize ‘global' urban-theory making. Overall, the enthusiastic responses to these calls are increasingly resulting in a more diverse literature, although deeply uneven geographies of contemporary knowledge production obviously remain in place.

The starting point for the session(s) is the observation that this emerging pluralism is sometimes hampered by its polemical nature : other, parallel, or contending viewpoints are often only invoked to be casually dismissed. As a consequence, cities and the ways in which these are analyzed are rendered to be effectively ‘beyond compare', and this in spite of repeated calls for engaging in comparative urbanism. One possible reason for the polemical nature of the emerging pluralism in global urban research is that, as scholars position themselves within a rapidly evolving field, existing analytical frameworks tend to be severely criticized in the process. More generally, geography and urban studies have a long tradition in radically 'turning' towards new approaches while allegedly 'overthrowing' existing paradigms where the old approaches are radically (instead of incrementally) dismissed in the process. Overuse of this discursive tactic has institutionalized intellectual antagonisms that hamper rapprochement between competing approaches of doing global urban research. However, such rapprochement is essential for engaged pluralism to succeed.

In response to this observation, the purpose of the session is to explore the intricacies of practicing Barnes and Sheppard's notion of ‘engaged pluralism' when ‘doing global urban research'. Practicing engaged pluralism implies that a strong commitment to a certain style of thinking or analytical framework (1) does not preclude a willingness to participate in an actual debate with others and (2) that, in the process, one should not silence, misrepresent or suppress other styles of thinking or analytical frameworks. Practicing engaged pluralism when doing global urban research implies dispelling the merely perceived fragmentations while recognizing the value of genuine difference in perspectives. Engaged pluralism could allow us to interrogate 'shorthand signifiers such as ‘global cities‘, ‘ordinary cities', planetary urbanization', etc., while simultaneously acknowledging their potential value as axes of empirical analysis and debate. It recognizes the need for sharp discussion, but equally acknowledges the need for a debate that respects diversity and genuinely looks for connections and insights.

Although practicing engaged pluralism is an idea that is hard to disagree with, it nevertheless proves to be difficult in practice as it requires us to translate between perspectives which are commonly construed as incommensurable (i.e. crossing fortified divides such as quantitative-qualitative; North-South; materialist-constructivist). As a result, genuinely engaged pluralist research might be difficult to conduct. We therefore are soliciting contributions that identify some of the main obstacles to, but also ways for achieving engaged pluralism when doing global urban research, thus challenging the often self-imposed and artificially constructed boundaries that hamper debate. Rather than papers reporting on research in the strict sense, we seek contributions that (use research to) reflect on ontological, epistemological, and methodological aspects of what engaged pluralism may look like, and the kind of scientific institutions and epistemic community it requires, when embarking on a mission to do global urban studies. We invite papers that deal with the following non-exhaustive list of themes:

  • Methodologies for engaged pluralism: stress testing of critical theories (as with Burawoy's extended case method), comparative urbanism, mobile urbanism, etc.;
  • The performativity of critical concepts: scrutinizing the role of consultants in the diffusion of the global/world city concept;
  • Empirical analyses of the sociologies and geographies of knowledge production within the urban studies field;
  • Debating the future and purpose of critical geography in building a pluralist global urban studies, and particularly the role of critical cartographies in empowering the un(der)represented;
  • The role of territorial and networked spatial imaginaries and metaphors in the production and communication of knowledge when doing global urban studies;
  • The prospects and pitfalls of enrolling emic knowledge within a pluralist global urban studies, for instance by engaging with “indigenous geographies”.
  • The (im)possibilities of generalization and abstraction in a pluralist global urban studies
  • Etc.

Please send expressions of interest with an abstract of max. 250 words to,, and by October 21, 2015.


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