Making sense of the global urban

2018-04-06T12:57:23Z (GMT) by John Harrison Michael Hoyler
It goes without saying that urban research has become increasingly global in its outlook. Irrespective of whether you are an urban geographer, urban sociologist, urban political scientist, urban historian, urban economist, favouring a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approach, the challenge that confronts researchers as they attempt to participate in and engage with our increasingly ‘globalized’ urban studies remains fundamentally the same – how to make sense of urban complexity. One quick and easy observation is that the quest to understand our globalizing and urbanizing modern world has seen urban scholars leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of new theory production. From Ananya Roy’s (2009) call for new geographies of urban theory to understand the 21st century metropolis through to the emergence of a new critical urban theory (Brenner, 2009; Marcuse, 2009) and a more internationalized urban theory (Robinson, 2011a; Parnell and Oldfield, 2014) it is impossible to ignore how urban studies has been experiencing its own globalizing tendencies of late. One reflection of this is how the prefix ‘global’ has been attached to all manner of different urban ideas, concepts and processes. We can reflect how in the 1990s cities research, which traditionally focused on cities as part of national urban systems, gave way to a new wave of ‘global cities’ research examining how cities are connected into international circuits of capital accumulation and political decision-making in globalization (Sassen, 1991; Taylor and Derudder, Chapter 3; Neal, Chapter 4; Acuto, Chapter 7). We can see how in the 2000s erstwhile spatial concepts such as the ‘city-region’ became reimagined and rejuvenated as ‘global city-regions’ (Scott, 2001), while classic urban processes such as gentrification and suburbanization were recast as global urban processes through the lenses of ‘global gentrifications’ (Smith, 2002; Lees et al., 2015) and ‘global suburbanisms’ (Keil, Chapter 12). The transition from ‘cities’ through ‘globalizing cities’ to ‘globalized urbanization’ is today being extended as urbanization is increasingly reframed as a planetary process through notions of ‘planetary urbanization’ (Brenner, 2014; Katsikis, Chapter 2) and ‘planetary gentrification’ (Lees et al., 2016; Shin, Chapter 10). But what, we ask, can be said about the current state of empirical research and the methodological approaches we possess for doing global urban research? And what does it actually mean to do global urban research?