Urban Theory Lab Research Practicum: ‘Operational Landscapes’ of Planetary Urbanization

This research practicum is part of an ongoing series of courses which develops the research agenda of the Urban Theory Lab-GSD (UTL-GSD)—namely, to investigate the contemporary “urban revolution” that, as Henri Lefebvre anticipated over four decades ago, has entailed the complete urbanization of the planet. In the early twenty-first century, such an investigation requires considerable conceptual, methodological and cartographic innovation, not least because inherited approaches to urban theory, research and mapping generally take for granted the very distinction between city and non-city spaces that is today arguably being radically superseded. Building on a theoretical framework that is now under development in the Urban Theory Lab, this class will test the Lefebvre hypothesis of complete urbanization with reference to our ongoing research on the “operational landscapes” of planetary urbanization.

The opening weeks of the semester survey the theoretical foundations of contemporary debates on urbanization, introducing students to mainstream and radical approaches, with particular attention to their contributions and blind-spots. On this basis we survey the main conceptual, cartographic and methodological innovations that have been elaborated in recent years by scholars of planetary urbanization, including those associated with the Urban Theory Lab. Students in the class will read, among other texts, those compiled in N. Brenner ed., Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2014). These foundational explorations able us, in the applied portion of the semester, to develop a shared research agenda related to contemporary transformations of territorial, landscape and environmental organization that have been occuring during the last four decades in conjunction with the developmental and creatively destructive dynamics of (a) industrial agriculture; (b) industrial mining and (c) industrial logistics systems. Several analytical explorations and visualizations will be developed by teams of students to advance our understanding of these realms of contemporary urbanization “beyond the city,” and on this basis, to further elaborate the counter-cartographies of planetary urbanization which the Urban Theory Lab has been developing.

This is a limited enrollment class, with priority given to students enrolled in the GSD’s MDes programs in Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology and Risk & Resilience. Students in other tracks of the GSD’s MDes programs, as well as DDes and Ph.D. students, are encouraged to consider taking this class. All students interested in taking the class should begin reading Implosions/Explosions prior to the first session of the class; they should also familiarize themselves with the publications, videos and other materials assembled on our website at: urbantheorylab.net. Further details on the class, and procedures for enrollment, will be provided during the first class meeting on 29 January.

Important notes:
(1) Because of the unusually intensive work-load associated with this Research Practicum, students who are enrolled in Studio classes are generally discouraged from enrolling.
(2) Because this is a research practicum, attendance is restricted to those enrolled in the class and invited guests (no auditors are permitted).