The Comparative City: Knowledge, Learning, Urbanism

Authors


  • Thanks to Jonathan Anjaria, Tariq Jazeel, Matthew Kurtz, Jenny Robinson and Ananya Roy for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. The arguments here were facilitated by feedback at three events: a joint Durham and Open University workshop on Politics of Comparison; an Urban Salon seminar at University College London; and a departmental seminar in geography at the School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester. In particular, the article benefited from thought provoking discussions at these events with Patrick Le Galès, Jennifer Robinson, Erik Swyngedouw and Kevin Ward. Finally, feedback from three IJURR referees was very useful. I am, of course, solely responsible for the arguments and conclusions.

Colin McFarlane (colin.mcfarlane@durham.ac.uk), Department of Geography, Science Site, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK.

Abstract

Abstract

What might be the implications for urban studies if we take ‘comparison’ not just as a method, but as a mode of thought that informs how urban theory is constituted? Comparative research is experiencing resurgence in urban studies, yet there has been little effort to critically debate how comparison might take place, particularly in reference to comparison across the global ‘North–South divide’. Existing epistemologies of comparative research have focused on the domains of practicalities, methodologies and typologies. Notwithstanding the value of these debates, this article offers an alternative framing of comparison that focuses attention on theory cultures, learning and ethico-politics, drawing on postcolonial debates. This approach works with an expansive conception of comparison that positions comparison as a strategy. The article concludes by outlining three implications for urban research.

Résumé

Qu’en serait-il des études urbaines si la ‘comparaison’était considérée non pas seulement comme une méthode, mais comme un mode de réflexion qui éclaire la manière dont la théorie urbaine est établie? Les recherches comparatives connaissent une renaissance en études urbaines, mais rares sont les tentatives de débat critique sur les modalités d’une comparaison, notamment au-delà de la division Nord-Sud. Les épistémologies existantes de la recherche comparative se sont attachées à trois domaines: pratique, méthodologique et typologique. Sans nier la valeur de ces analyses, un cadre de comparaison alternatif est proposé ici, inspiré des débats postcoloniaux et axé sur les cultures de la théorie, l’apprentissage et l’éthico-politique. Cette approche obéit à une conception élargie de la comparaison, laquelle est positionnée en tant que stratégie. La conclusion dépeint trois implications pour la recherche urbaine.

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