15 - 16 April

Challenging Methodologies and Methods

  • Zoom

Date: 15-16 April 2021

Urban studies have witnessed a broad spectrum of methodological practices in critical urban scholarship, including discourse analysis, urban ethnography, case studies, comparisons and mixed methodologies. Alongside the discussion of ‘postcolonising’ urban theory, there is a need to discuss the impact of research as a system of practices that limit methodology (Patel 2014). The widespread notion of ‘best practices’ and universal models are constituted and legitimised through methodological choices (Vainer 2014). What is striking for us is the way the research on ‘off the map’ geographies is seen as an ‘urban exception’ (Parnell and Pieterse 2016) or expected to adapt Eurocentric methodologies to be read, discussed and even published. A commonality in the literature to overcome those unseen obstacles is to compare the cases of Global North and South. But the basis of such a comparison is also questioned, given the geopolitics of knowledge production (Grosfoguel 2011), which defines who provides data and who produces knowledge. Additionally, researchers also find resistance when trying to address issues on familiar geographies of urban studies using non-Eurocentric or otherwise marginalised lenses and methods. This workshop invites contributions that focus on the challenges and strategies deployed by researchers that are working with or open to start to engage with alternative ways of critical methodologies beyond West-, North- Euro-centrism. In the workshop, participants will have a chance to explore their own ideas and challenges in putting to practice their research methodologies. A set of guiding questions to address the main discussion points are as follows:

  • What are the challenges and benefits of developing creative research designs beyond established methodological toolboxes (e.g. Eurocentric assumptions of what is considered relevant and reliable)?
  • Do we need a new set of tools and methodologies to do research in conditions of informality, settings where secondary data is hard to access, places with a weak or strong (i.e. authoritarian) presence of the state, or politically volatile settings?
  • If we challenge the norm that cities in the peripheries need to be compared against a case in the global North, how can we carry out South-South or South-East comparisons? How are insights learned from outside the centres important for cities in the global North as well?
  • What are the possibilities and limits for comparison? Thinking about generalisation but wary of universalism, how can we determine the level of abstraction that makes comparison worthwhile? How to keep a balance between abstract theorizing and concrete research?
  • Beyond the traditional methods of comparing by similarity or by difference, what are the challenges and potentialities of relational comparative methodologies (i.e. working horizontally seeking interconnections across cases, operationalizing inter-scalar lenses or looking at issues of temporality)?
  • How do new theoretical interventions (e.g. planetary urbanization, critique of methodological cityism, critique of methodological nationalism, global cities/ordinary cities) work as a call for methodological innovation in our understanding of the urban? What are their challenges and limitations?
  • How does a reflexive approach to comparative urbanism extend to scholars themselves? In other words, how much should a reflection of the geopolitics of knowledge production extend to the need to also increase the diversity of scholars writing from outside the centres?

This workshop is part of the series Dislocating Urban Studies: Rethinking Theory, Shifting Practice.