Doing Research

IMG_2576Today is the formal start date of my Leverhulme Fellowship, the start of 21 months of focused research time exploring the ‘urbanization of responsibility‘, facilitated primarily by funding to cover some of my teaching (I still have plenty of teaching, it seems, and other things to do, too).

Actually, I’m still not quite sure how to set about researching what is potentially a huge and diffuse topic. One reason for this is that it’s been more than a decade since I have worked on an empirical project all on my own. I’ve worked on projects where other people have been doing the bulk of the empirical work, and collaborated with others on the generation and analysis of empirical materials. So this feels a bit like starting out on a PhD, all over again, just without a supervisor (let’s hope it doesn’t drag on and on though).

The project is, rather obviously, about things ‘urban’, whatever that might mean. I’m trying to avoid being captured by some standard ways of approaching urban things. At the moment, I’m interested in approaching ‘the urban question’ along three more or less unrelated paths:

– by thinking about the potential of the notion of problematization as a lens through which to think about how things show up as ‘urban’ things (that is, not thinking of problematization as something one does as a (critical) analyst, but as the object of analysis);

– by thinking a little bit more about the concept of responsibility, subject to a great deal or moralistic commentary in and around geography-land it’s true, but I’m more interested in linking this to the first theme of problematization, as a way of thinking about the ways in which fields of action are configured;

– not necessarily linked to these two speculations, I’ve also found myself collecting various ‘things to read and/or re-read’ on the topic of documents, a rather obvious topic to some extent given the proliferation of reports and commentaries produced about cities and urban problems; I have in mind a range of work coming from various fields in which the status of documents has become a renewed focus of attention: my list includes the work of Richard Freeman, Matthew Hull, Lisa Gitelman, Leah Price, John Guillory. The list also includes dear old Foucault too, as well as Miles Ogborn; and Harold Garfinkel on the ‘documentary method’ in everyday life, which somehow seems an important supplement to these other more or less ‘post-textualist’ approaches.   

2 thoughts on “Doing Research

  1. Clive
    Really looking forward to hearing more as this project develops. Fascinating stuff. Tariq Jazeel gave an interesting paper on Auroville at the RGS last week, a tiny utopian project/settlement that calls itself a city.
    Are you also going to look at negative instances of problemtization, where things we might expect to show up as urban, don’t?
    Not a great example, but: the Palestinian (formerly National) Authority is largely an urban governance machine, and for the most part acts on urban problems. I think Palestinians are increasingly seeing the PA as a Ramallah phenomena, but academics continue to treat it as a (failed) national organisation.

    • Hi Chris
      Thanks for the comment – and it’s a good example, has me thinking already. Of course, things not showing up as ‘urban’ might raise a conceptual issue, around how one knows what should be urban in the first place, which I’m trying to dodge/displace via the ‘problematization’ frame. I think perhaps a view of competing ‘problematical’ framings would be plausible…. (ie. what’s to be gained from clinging to a national framing of the PA, for whom, over a ‘merely’ urban one; and why might the urban one not be as easily available in this context?).

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