GaWC Project 100

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Doing Global Urban Research

7-9 September 2015, Loughborough University, UK

Funded by: Urban Studies Foundation

Organizers: John Harrison and Michael Hoyler, Loughborough University

Programme and Abstracts


The theme

Ananya Roy (2009) recently argued the need for “new geographies of theory” and “new conceptual vectors” to understand the 21st century metropolis (or evolving forms of globalised urbanisation). This has been taken forward with the emergence of a new ‘critical urban theory' (Brenner, 2009; Marcuse, 2009) – in part through Brenner's Urban Theory Lab at Harvard – and ‘internationalisation of urban theory' (Robinson, 2011a; Parnell and Oldfield, 2014). Part and parcel of new urban theory has been the plethora of new conceptual terms/debates adorning urban studies – comparative urbanism (McFarlane and Robinson, 2012; Robinson, 2011b), planetary urbanisation (Brenner, 2014; Brenner and Schmid, 2014), urban policy mobility and (im)mobile urbanism (McCann and Ward, 2011; Skelton and Gough, 2013), neoliberal urbanism (Peck et al., 2013), global urban networks (Taylor et al., 2011; Coe et al., 2010), urban assemblage (McFarlane, 2011), worlding cities (Roy and Ong, 2011), contentious politics (Cook and Swyngedouw, 2012; Uitermark et al., 2012), ordinary/extraordinary cities (Smith, 2013; Taylor, 2013) – aiming to retheorise urban studies. Moreover, there is no shortage of prestigious keynote lectures addressing this – see Jeremy Seekings' ‘Urban Theory: The Dream and its Limits' (2013 IJURR lecture), Neil Brenner's ‘Urban Theory Without an Outside' (2013 Future Cities lecture), Jenny Robinson's ‘Theorising Cities Now: Putting Comparison to Work for Global Urban Studies' (2013 PiHG RGS-IBG lecture) or Jamie Peck's ‘Cities Beyond Compare?' (2014 Regional Studies AAG lecture).

Urban scholars are clearly leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of new theory production, but what, we ask, can be said about the current state of empirical research (and the methodological approaches we possess) for conceptualising global urban complexity – or as we might put it, doing global urban research?

Irrespective of whether you are an urban geographer, urban sociologist, urban political scientist, urban historian, urban economist, favouring a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approach, the challenge that confronts researchers as they attempt to participate in / engage with our increasingly ‘globalised' urban studies remains fundamentally the same – how to make sense of global urban complexity.

In this way, it is not a wholly new challenge. We only have to look back two decades to the literature on global cities and the attempts made at the time to conceptualise the forming of a ‘global network of cities' (King, 1990), ‘global urban network' (Short and Kim, 1999), ‘transnational urban system' (Sassen, 1994), or, as Castells (1996) famously framed it, a global ‘space of flows' with cities as the nodes. This experience shows that the pursuit of new theory production could only take us so far. What is needed are the theoretically-informed, empirically-grounded, policy-relevant studies to complement, challenge, refine, amend, develop ‘new geographies of theory'.

Picking up our example once again, at Loughborough University, Peter Taylor set up the Globalisation and World Cities (GaWC) Research Group and Network in 1998 to contribute to solving the empirical / methodological problem of doing global urban research – namely the dearth of accessible inter-city data to analyse ( The challenge of creating a set of global data to enable better conceptualisations of the complexity of worldwide inter-city networks resulted in the ‘interlocking network model' (Taylor, 2001) which was then applied to 315 cities worldwide and a ‘world city network' derived including measures of network connectivity between cities (Taylor et al., 2002; Taylor, 2004). This ‘GaWC methodology' (and derivatives thereof) has since been applied widely in global urban studies (for example, Hall and Pain, 2006; Hoyler et al. 2008; Taylor et al., 2011) and inspired significant critical engagement and debate.

Likewise, in qualitative research, recent work in urban studies has seen a particular focus on reviewing existing strategies for comparing cities. Jenny Robinson's advancement of a postcolonial approach to urban studies has led her to speculate on what potential ‘comparative methodologies' exist for researchers who wish for an international urban studies “conducted ‘on a world scale' ” (Robinson, 2011b: 2; citing Connell, 2007; see also Gough, 2012, on engaging in comparative urban research). Allied to this we have seen a renewed focus on ethnography in our increasingly globalised urban studies – see especially AbdouMaliq Simone's ethnographies of African and South East Asian cities (Simone, 2001) or Colin McFarlane's idea of ‘translocal assemblage' developed from ethnographic research into the relations between informality, infrastructure and knowledge in informal settlements in urban India (McFarlane, 2011).

Related to this in many ways, urban geographers have, of late, become increasingly interested in researching the geographies of policy mobility – specifically how knowledge (of complex urban processes, models, concepts) circulates globally and how it crystalises on the ground in different urban contexts. Central to this prominent debate in contemporary urban studies is understanding how the increasing interconnectedness of policy regimes between places and across scales vis-à-vis the extant power of state territoriality results in ‘(im)mobile urbanism' globally and in place (McCann and Ward, 2011; Skelton and Gough, 2013). What matters, Cochrane and Ward (2012: 7) recently argued, is “to be able to explore the ways in which the working through of the tension serves to produce policies and places, and policies in place”. Moreover, Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore (2010: 171) observe:

“If processes of policy mobilization have indeed become increasingly transnational in reach and cross-scalar in constitution, if they are manifest in ever more complex relational combinations, then there is an inescapable need to confront new methodological challenges. Spatially demarcated forms of policy evaluation certainly will not do. New methodological strategies must be developed to expose and critically interrogate the interconnectedness of policy regimes between places and across scales.”

The ask is that researchers ‘think differently' about public policy and its formation in place (Cochrane and Ward, 2012) – a point we wish to develop and explore as part of our discussions surrounding doing global urban research.

Then there is the question of doing global urban research on a global scale. This is the challenge currently facing the ‘Global Suburbanisms Project' team led by Roger Keil at Toronto University ( The first major research project to systematically take stock of worldwide suburban developments, this major collaborative research initiative comprises a team of 50 researchers and 18 partner organisations. Their aim is to systematically understand suburbanisation in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, with objectives to (1) document and evaluate the diversity of global suburbanisms in their various contexts; (2) explore the mutual and co-constructive elements of environmental or financial crisis with the production and governance of global suburban space; (3) use their wide-ranging empirical data and analysis to intervene in urban theory .

The primary aim of the ‘Doing Global Urban Research' event is therefore to bring together researchers working on these different aspects of urban research, to provide a forum for dialogue, discussion, and debate on how – both individually and collectively – we can contribute to advancing urban theory through the doing of global urban research.

The Aims & Objectives

In response to the need for more theory-infused concrete-complex empirical studies, this conference has 4 objectives:

  • To provide a platform to showcase the best examples of theoretically-informed, empirically-grounded, policy-relevant research in global urban studies.
  • To provide a forum to confront the research challenges and opportunities presented by new geographies of urban theory.
  • To consider the methodological/empirical responses to new geographies of urban theory.
  • To establish the near-future priorities for researchers doing global urban studies.

The Event

Taking place between 7-9 September 2015, Doing Global Urban Research is a 3 day international conference bringing together researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds who share common ground through their interest in global urban research.

In a break from traditional conferences where discussion is often curtailed the programme will include time for intensive debate and moderated workshops/panels to outline near-future research priorities and possible collaborations.

50 papers will be presented over 3 days. There will be 3 plenary sessions (with 5 invited keynote speakers), 5 sets of parallel workshop sessions (with 40 minutes per paper), and two specially convened panel sessions.

The Keynote Speakers

We are delighted to confirm our 5 keynote speakers:

  • Professor Roger Keil, York University, Director of ‘Global Suburbanisms' project
  • Professor Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town, African Centre for Cities
  • Professor Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich, Future Cities Laboratory
  • Professor Peter J Taylor, Northumbria University, Director of GaWC
  • Professor Kevin Ward, University of Manchester, Director of cities@manchester 

The Location

The event will be hosted by GaWC @ Loughborough University.

Loughborough is a university-town situated in the heart of England, approximately 100 miles north of London.


An open call for papers will be published in summer 2014. There are 45 places available. If you would like to present we invite you to submit a proposal to the organisers, John Harrison ( and Michael Hoyler (, by Friday 12 December 2014.

Your proposal should be no more than one side of A4 and include the following information: name(s) (clearly identifying the named presenter), affiliation and e-mail address, title of contribution, details of contribution (including the methodological/empirical contribution) and up to 6 keywords.

Contributors will be selected to attend based on the quality of their research and its direct relevance to the conference theme. Our aim is to bring together researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds who share common ground through their interest in global urban research. This includes those at the ‘centre' of recent debates, emergent voices, as well as engaged critics.

Decisions on proposals will be made during January 2015.


Thanks to the generous support of the Urban Studies Foundation there will be no registration fee. Hotel accommodation (two nights), food (breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon breaks), drinks reception and conference dinner are also included for each named presenter.

We will also be able to provide travel bursaries to support some speakers, with preference given to those coming from the Global South, Central & Eastern Europe and/or early career researchers.


Our plan is to showcase some of the best examples of theoretically-informed, empirically-grounded, policy-relevant research in global urban studies presented at the conference through publication of a special issue and an edited book.


For results of this project, see Harrison, J. and Hoyler, M. (eds) (2018): Doing Global Urban Research, Sage.