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Below is a call for papers for the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in London, August 29th – September 1st, 2023. We look forward to hearing from you if you’d be interested in engaging with discussions on this topic!

Comparative moments in urban research: Building methodology from now and here

Organisers: Julie Ren (University of Zurich) and Yimin Zhao (Renmin University of China / University of Zurich)

Ongoing debates on comparative urbanism have continued to grapple with the multiplicity of both experiences and conceptualisations (Robinson, 2022; Roy, 2016; cf. Rudolph and Storper, 2023). For the sake of theoretical development, there is a necessity to move beyond “case-study singularity” (Peck, 2015) or reductive exceptionalism (Ren, 2021). Recognising the individual character of the urban while also embracing a dialogical theory-culture, requires better specifying the now and here when we are engaging with the project of “thinking cities through elsewhere.” Instead of seeing our field sites as spatial containers for social research, we explore the possibility of taking these sites as “moments” that are shaped by flows, processes, things and encounters at global, local and bodily levels (Appadurai, 1988; Gupta and Ferguson, 1997; Haraway, 1991; Massey, 2005; Smith and Katz, 1993; Zhao, 2017). To what extent can such moments reshape the way scholars approach comparative urban research?

For instance, research conducted in languages different than the language of knowledge production evoke questions about the nature of flows and encounters as it pertains to translation. The stability of language connected to place offers a vantage point from which to ask whether research is translatable to each other (Apter 2013; Jazeel 2019; Zhao 2020). Whether or not this is immediately the case, is it possible to pave the way for such translations, to encourage linguistic hospitalities or to learn from translation “failures” to better frame a now and here that would be open to dialogue? Indeed, more explicitly considering the significance of positionality, partial perspectives and situated knowledges may prove indispensable for analyses of both now and here and elsewhere, at the heart of a more global urban studies.

Following Jenny Robinson’s (2022: 6) call for “building methodology from the spatiality of the urban,” we invite theoretical, methodological and empirical reflections on comparative moments in urban research. We seek papers that offer approaches researching different places, especially approaches that work with the translation of “theory built elsewhere” (Bhan, 2019: 641) and that participate in generative naming processes of “other” urban spatialities (Zhao 2020). How do researchers grapple with perennial issues of context, history and language anew? How shall we further interrogate the grounds for site selection as it pertains to both places and the revisability of concepts? How might these justifications in turn shed new light on the issue of translatability and commensurability?

If you are interested to engage with these questions, please send abstracts (max. 250 words) with name, email, affiliation by 1 March 2023 to both Julie Ren (julie.ren@uzh.ch) and Yimin Zhao (yimin.zhao@geo.uzh.ch).


Appadurai, A. (1988). “Introduction: Place and Voice in Anthropological Theory.” Cultural Anthropology 3(1): 16–20.

Apter, E. (2013). Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability. London and New York: Verso.

Bhan, G. (2019). Notes on a Southern urban practice. Environment and Urbanization, 31(2), 639-654.

Gupta, A., & Ferguson, J. (Eds.). (1997). Anthropological locations: Boundaries and grounds of a field science. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Haraway, D. (1991). Situated Knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. In Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature (pp. 183-201). New York: Routledge.

Jazeel, T. (2019). Singularity. A manifesto for incomparable geographies. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 40(1), 5-21.

Massey, D. (2005). For space. London: Sage.

Peck, J. (2015). Cities beyond compare? Regional Studies, 49(1), 160-182.

Randolph, G. F., & Storper, M. (2023). Is urbanisation in the Global South fundamentally different? Comparative global urban analysis for the 21st century. Urban Studies, 60(1), 3–25.

Ren, J. (2021). Exceptionalism and theorizing spatial inequality: Segregation research on cities in China. Journal of Urban Affairs, 1-13.

Robinson, J. (2022). Comparative urbanism: Tactics for global urban studies. Oxford: Wiley.

Roy, A. (2016). Who’s afraid of postcolonial theory? International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 40(1), 200-209.

Smith, N., & Katz, C. (1993). Grounding metaphor: Towards a spatialized politics. In M. Keith & S. Pile (Eds.), Place and the politics of identity (pp. 66-81). London and New York: Routledge.

Zhao, Y. (2017). Space as method: Field sites and encounters in Beijing’s green belts. City, 21(2), 190-206.

Zhao, Y. (2020). Jiehebu or suburb? Towards a translational turn in urban studies. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 13(3), 527-542.