Emergent Urbanizations: Challenges for Theory, Method, and Research

This course proceeds from a simple premise:  new patterns and pathways of urbanization are emerging around the world, and these transformations require a radical rethinking of inherited approaches to urban theory and research.  A major site of investigation for the course is the urbanization of the hinterland / countryside, and the concomitant remaking of inherited agrarian environments across much of the global South, during the last three decades.  In these zones, as elsewhere, post-1980s processes of sociospatial restructuring have involved the transformation of agrarian sociospatial relations, land use systems and political ecologies through new forms of enclosure/land-grabbing, infrastructure investment, industrial development and financial speculation, often in close proximity to or in direct relation to processes of city building.  Their investigation thus requires scholars to rethink inherited disciplinary divisions of labor (e.g. urban studies vs. agrarian studies) and sociospatial binarisms (e.g. urban/rural; city/countryside; industrial/agrarian; society/nature).   

The course is structured as a research studio in which we will (a) explore the limits of inherited theoretical frameworks for the study of urbanization processes and their putative “outsides”; and (b) attempt to develop and apply alternative conceptualizations to decipher emergent conditions and transformations.  Our work is, in this sense, oriented simultaneously towards the analysis of emergent patterns and pathways of urban restructuring and the elaboration of appropriate theories, concepts and cartographies through which to decipher the latter.  Following a high-intensity overview of inherited 20th-century approaches to the urban and agrarian questions, and major axes of debate within early 21st-century urban, agrarian and development studies, we explore emergent urban-agrarian transformations across diverse sites and regions, and the state spatial strategies and forms of spatial politics through which the latter have been animated, mediated and contested.  Our major research foci will be strategic zones of the global south—especially in the so-called “BRICS (the rapidly industrializing territories of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)—and a range of emergent agrarian-urban transformations that have crystallized within and across the transnational production networks associated with those zones.

In thus proceeding, we consider the question of “emergence” at once as a problem of conceptualization, as a methodological dilemma and as a challenge for contextually embedded research and visualization.  We will also explore the question of what contextual “specificity” might mean in the investigation of emergent urban/agrarian sociospatial transformations today.  In addition to several writing assignments, students will work in pairs to develop original research projects on the zones and issues explored in the class.  Although it is offered as a 4-credit course that meets 3 hours per week, the workload will more closely approximate that of a studio.  Prospective students—especially those enrolled in a required studio class for a professional design degree—should consider carefully whether they will be able to keep up with the intense volume and pace of work in this class.  Because the course is designed as a collaborative research project, we are not able to permit auditors to attend.