Reflections on the Academic and Economic Environment


When we took up the job as editors, we felt the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with being assigned the task of building upon 35 years of brilliant work, and continuing IJURR's mission. Our sense of responsibility was also heavily gendered. Although women have a place in IJURR's history, the past three years have been the first time that IJURR has been edited by two women, with the incredible support from an all-women editorial office: Terry McBride, the managing editor who also holds the archival and living memory of the journal, alongside assistant editors, Mel Goodsell and Angela Yeap. These past years have been very rich in experience and knowledge building, and we now want to take stock and reflect on this, and on IJURR's future direction.

Over the last few years, IJURR has become even more international in scope and more ‘successful’ as far as bibliometrics are concerned. With over 500 article submissions annually, we have increased the number of issues from 4 to 6 per year, to provide space for the excellent articles we receive.

Although most of IJURR's readers are familiar with the fact that IJURR is a leading journal in the field, surprisingly few people know that IJURR is also one of the few independent journals in the field. This means that any surplus generated by the intellectual labour of its editors, editorial board members, referees and authors, is actually given back to the academic community. All of IJURR's surplus profit goes to the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies (FURS), which acts as a charity to distribute studentships and research grants to young scholars from Group B and C countries, according to the World Bank classification. This way, the intellectual labour of academics generates new possibilities for young scholars. Everyone on the Editorial Board is committed to continue making our labour matter, by keeping the journal independent. As our Advisory Board Member, Harvey Molotch once put it, IJURR is a ‘labour of love’, and we are grateful to the committed authors, referees and editorial board members who support this effort.

However, IJURR's success poses a number of challenges. Apart from the operational and managerial challenges that come with handling a large number of submissions, we are faced with a number of intellectual challenges. IJURR's intellectual project and aims have always focused on:

  1. Enabling the development of ‘concepts and research methods independent of the dominant powers’;1
  2. Forging links with political action and praxis while developing a stimulating intellectual project;
  3. Maintaining and expanding the journal's international scope, promoting multidisciplinary research, and exploring new methodologies.

As the journal went from the hands of one able editor to another, the above aims remained at the forefront of the journal's commitments. However, as IJURR becomes more successful and competitive in an internationalized publishing world, questions need to be raised concerning what this success means with respect to IJURR's original aims. We believe this is a good moment to stop and reflect on these questions for three reasons, all directly related to the journal's project and aims.

First, because today's landscapes of power are significantly different from those of the late 1970s, when the journal was established, and when the first editors defined ‘dominant powers’ explicitly as state and local/regional authorities. The landscape of dominant powers has expanded today to include diffused and internationalized power centres, multi-scalar transnational elites, postcolonial networks, etc. Moreover, today's power landscapes have expanded to incorporate — literally — academic institutions, as well as the now fully corporatized world of academic publishing. These developments force us to think not only about new ways of engaging in social action, but also about new ways in which we can intervene in the conditions of production of critical urban academic research. In negotiating a new publishing contract with Wiley Blackwell, we were able to learn much about what it takes for an independent journal to survive and thrive in a fully corporatized publishing environment. The task of renewing the journal's contact with the publisher that, legend has it, comprised little more than a handshake and a nod between the publisher (then Edward Arnold) and the journal's founders back in the 1970s, has now become a lengthy and tough legalistic process of negotiations between academics and international corporate giants. Simon Parker our URP Secretary and now D&D Editor, and Roger Keil and Jeremy Seekings, the previous editors, were with us on this journey. In drafting our new Open Access compliant licence agreements, we also had to make some tough decisions, as we experienced first hand the globally changing institutional and economic environment that makes academic freedom and independent journals an endangered species that needs to be protected.

The second reason why this is a good moment to think about the journal's broader intellectual and social impact stems from the fact that the conviction that critical urban scholarship can foster critical urban praxis, which used to be prolific in academic discourse in the 1970s2 is today heavily disputed, if not discredited altogether, not least by the academic community itself. We have published a number of debates and reflections on the directions of critical urban and regional research (see, for example, the debates on city regions in Volume 31, and on gentrification in Volume 32.1). As IJURR's initial intellectual project is evolving considerably, it becomes ever more critical to actively seek out theoretical developments and debates that re-theorize and re-conceptualize the link between urban praxis and critical urban thought. Therefore, as IJURR continues its commitment to promoting a pluralist urban political economy, forging debates around governance and globalization, gentrification, political ecology, and cities and infrastructures, we also wish to expand our engagement with emerging debates in post-foundational thought, and with new ways of theorizing praxis as contingent rather than as a matter of scientific development. We also wish to expand our engagement with the emerging interface between architecture, urban design, planning and geography, and to engage further with critical urban anthropology, and science and technology studies.

The times also call for more reflexivity, and for furthering tension and debate in the journal's pages. There is a number of ways in which we try to do this:

  • First, whilst we actively seek out a balance between empirical analysis and the development of new theoretical insights, we place increased emphasis on the Urban Worlds section as a strong feature of the journal which encourages the publication of leading theoretical articles that push forward the debate within a specific field of urban studies, or break outside the confines of a specific field and establish a dialogue between different disciplines. This section also allows for critical engagement with debates that take place within a specific region of the world in a language other than English.
  • Second, we actively seek out good work by younger scholars through a coordinated participation by IJURR editors and board members in conferences and debates. Our multilingual editorial board enables us to co-organize and participate at conferences outside the English-speaking academic world. This provides us with fresh insight on new research we would like to see published in our pages.
  • Third, we stimulate international exchange and debate through the IJURR lectures at the Association of American Geographers’ Annual meetings and at RC-21 conferences. The lectures are now filmed and posted on our website (, and an article is published subsequently in the journal. We try to invite speakers from various backgrounds, who promote critical debate and forward-thinking scholarship in the global North/South/East/West.
  • Fourth, we further develop our focus on comparative studies, which has always been one of IJURR's strengths. However, what constitutes comparative studies within the current political and economic configuration needs to be rethought. Whether the city per se remains a valid unit for comparison or a distinct object of analysis, is an open question. IJURR welcomes articles that explore these issues via the development of new theoretical insight or new methods and epistemologies of comparison (see, Volumes 34 and 35)
  • Fifth, we have rethought the way the journal engages with symposia as a means of furthering our intellectual agenda. Symposia have added coherence and conveyed great insight to IJURR, but have also presented considerable challenges to the editors and reviewers alike. The guidelines for symposium submissions are now more clearly set and we define them as a set of theoretically informed articles that engage in comparative analysis in a reflexive manner. We have also established an annual competition for symposia, and accept a smaller number of articles (max of 5) per symposium in order to enhance the coherence, focus and quality of the collection.
  • Finally, we encourage experimentation with different writing styles, in the expectation that this could bring new insights and further debate. We published such an experiment in our Debates and Development section in Volume 32.4 and wish to explore more ways of communicating novel ideas and research: dialogue, multimedia material online, and so on.

Although there is no easy path forward, we believe that critical urban scholarship is and should be maintained dialectically related to critical urban praxis. But we believe that the tactics and politics of this engagement between critical urban praxis and critical urban scholarship have to be revisited. If our urban ‘science’ cannot change the world, the task is to seek out and actively engage with forces of change, and try to bring them into a critical dialogue with the scholarship promoted by IJURR. Whilst we already do this in an indirect manner (through studentships and research grants) we believe this is not enough, and continuously seek out new ways to open direct dialogue with local communities and urban activist/artist groups, and with the younger generation of scholars.

Within this context, Yuri Kazepov and Jeremy Seekings have launched a biennial winter/summer school on urban studies that actively engages and encourages participation of students from around the world. The first IJURR winter/summer school took place in São Paulo in 2009, and was followed by Amsterdam 2011 and Berlin 2013. The winter/summer school is organized jointly with the Research Committee 21 of the International Sociological Association and the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies. Our new website, also under the editorship of Yuri Kazepov, opens a direct dialogue between authors and readers through the Author-meets-critics initiative. The initiative brings together students from around the world in live real time dialogue with IJURR authors. The transcripts are available on We wish to make further use of web-based technologies by publishing visual material to complement articles. Apart from offering an alternative medium of communicating ideas, visual material also has epistemological implications. Having visualization in mind affects research design and can affect how we conduct research and frame research questions. Publishing more visual material also raises a number of ethical considerations, notably how to accommodate for the gap in internet speed and access across the world.

The third and final reason why we believe this is a good moment for reflection stems from the observation that in a nominally globalized world, keeping the journal's authorship truly international becomes more, rather than less, challenging. Although the geographical coverage of the journal extends to the ‘global South’ more than ever before, our authors remain as ‘North-based’ as ever. Despite the fact that the number of submissions we receive from authors outside Europe, Australia and North America has increased significantly, we still reject far more papers from these authors, compared to those written by authors located in the ‘global North’. This, in part, reflects what constitutes urban scholarship in different geographical contexts, but this is not the whole story.

One of the challenges of internationalizing the academic debate in urban studies is the difficulty with having concepts travel across different geographical and social contexts. The very channels of communication are different across languages, institutional contexts, and of course disciplines. In many cases, papers are rejected because they are not relevant to IJURR's scholarship or audience. In other cases, the problem lies with the fact that the papers submitted by authors outside of Europe, Australia and North America follow very different writing conventions (in terms of structure and argumentative demonstration) from what is normally accepted in English-language journals.

But beyond language use and grammar, we are conscious that authors in different parts of the world have difficulty producing papers that would be publishable in IJURR because they are restricted by specific circumstances: lack of time because of administrative, teaching or consultancy pressure, lack of access to the journal and thus lack of familiarity with its content, different intellectual histories, etc. This was brilliantly discussed by Edgar Pieterse at the IJURR lecture in Los Angeles in April 2013 (see to view the lecture).

Despite the difficulties, we are committed to working closely with authors from the global South, as we do believe that who writes from what vantage point has significant epistemological weight, and we wish to publish articles that can travel across cultures and disciplines. For this reason, we have put in place a number of tactics to facilitate broader geographical coverage in terms of authorship origin. These include offering free access to IJURR to various institutions in countries across the world with the help of Wiley Blackwell, and offering free access to IJURR's archive to submitting authors. In all cases, IJURR also has a longstanding commitment not to discriminate against submissions that do not achieve high standards of English. For this reason, we have in place a wonderful team of copyeditors to help bring accepted papers up to good English standards.

Finally, interdisciplinarity, another core feature of IJURR's original aims is faced with new challenges. When it was created, the journal was firmly grounded in the then relatively new field of urban sociology. Today, we maintain close ties with urban sociology and maintain a strong relation with the Research Committee 21 of the International Sociological Association. Over the years, however, the journal began to venture more into critical and urban geography, and we have a strong presence at important geography meetings. Our board, as well as our published scholarship, represents urban sociology and urban geography, as well as critical urban political sciences. We also built closer ties with urban anthropology, particularly under the leadership of AbdouMaliq Simone's work as editor of the Debates and Development section. With the appointment of Laurent Fourchard to the board, we also hope to further expand our scope in urban history.

Still, the fact that we have become interdisciplinary to a great extent raises a number of challenges as well as opportunities. We still receive too many submissions of articles whose sole aim is to apply specific theories, models, or methodological techniques. This is often the case with articles using quantitative methods. Although IJURR strongly welcomes research drawing upon quantitative research methods, our scholarship should speak to an audience who are less interested in the details of developing a particular method, and more interested in what the use of this method means for an international, interdisciplinary, and theoretically-inspired debate on critical urban and regional studies.

* * *

As we are now very pleased to welcome Matthew Gandy as a third editor, and Mathias Bernt as the new book review editor to join us in 2014 we want to emphasize, once again, that IJURR is not only a success story, or a high impact academic outlet; above all it is a labour of love; the product of intense and, often unpaid, intellectual and manual labour. Although there is no doubt that IJURR is distinguished by its theoretical and epistemological reflexivity and its commitment to critical urban scholarship, it is also distinguished by the fact that it came to life and continues to thrive only because of the efforts and commitment of its authors, reviewers, and editorial board. And like any other labour of love, it is a rare entity that needs constant nourishment and continuous work to survive its independent course in history.


  1. 1

    Harloe, M., E. Mingione, C.G. Pickvance and E. Preteceille (1998) IJURR: Looking back twenty-one years later. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 22.1, iiv (p. iii).

  2. 2

    p.2, of the 1977 founding Editorial Statement states: ‘The editors believe that the journal should be an active tool for achieving a wider understanding of the problems of urban and regional development and for informing social action on these issues’ (