RN Reports – RN37 Urban Sociology

Issue 44: Opening Up Sociology Wed 5 Feb 2020 0

Marta Smagacz-Poziemska, RN37 Coordinator 2017-2021
M. Victoria Gómez, RN37 Co-coordinator 2017-2021
Patrícia Pereira, RN37 Co-coordinator 2017-2021

Analysing, understanding and intervening in our urban world
Contemporary societies are mostly urban: more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban settlements, and this proportion does not stop growing. The role of cities and urban spaces in local and global cultures, economy, politics, environmental issues, knowledge production and social life organisation is powerful and pervasive. Furthermore, urban ways of life and the urban micro-worlds we live in co-create our individual life-courses and identities. However, the impact of ‘urbanisation’ is multifaceted and ambiguous. Cities and urbanised areas are the places where a great deal of the world’s injustices are played out, but they are also where the possibility to overturn those injustices presents itself more clearly.

Urban Sociology Research Network (RN37)
Committed to fostering activities and exchanges of scholars interested in analysing, understanding and intervening in our changing urban world, the 37th Research Network Urban Sociology started in Turin in 2013 as European Sociological Association Research Stream working on Urban Sociology and Public Spaces. João Teixeira Lopes was elected in that meeting as a provisional coordinator of the initiative. In 2014 the 1st Mid-Term Conference entitled “Public Spaces, Private Lives2 of the Research Network 37 was held at Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCSH/UNL), in Portugal. At this conference, the 37th Research Network was formally established and the new-elected board – with Lígia Ferro as its first ‘regular’ coordinator – started working on urban sessions in Prague 2015.

RN37 Business meeting, ESA conference 2017 in Athens - a farewell to Lígia Ferro as the RN37 coordinator in 2015-2017

Since then the number of members of the network has been increasing constantly and there have been several opportunities for members to meet and share knowledge and information. As an example, while there were 21 members affiliated with our RN in 2016, now we are a group of 116 formal members (not counting our colleagues which systematically attend our conferences and are not ESA members). Since the formal founding we systematically organised sessions at ESA conferences but also midterm conferences: Lisbon (2014), Prague (2015), Krakow (2016), Athens (2017), Madrid (2018) and Manchester (2019).

Interests and topics
Urban sociology is a discipline of enormous breadth and richness that is unique in terms of theoretical and methodological approaches. It simultaneously gives valid contributions to the discipline of Sociology and to the ensemble of disciplines that share the urban as an object and engage in interdisciplinary debate. The nature of urban phenomena and urban processes entails supra-disciplinarity, promoting a multiplicity of visions and debates on urban life, urban spaces and urban dynamics. Consequently the variety of subjects under discussion is very wide, although issues such as the following are always at the forefront: segregation and spatial forms of inequality; urban movements, the right to the city and new urban policies; local translation of global phenomena; consequences of digitalisation in cities and urban life; mobility and its impact on urban communities; public spaces, materiality in urban life; urban everyday life and urban ways of life; housing and dwelling; and city and urban space through the lens of gender, age, ethnicity.

Conferences
The conferences we organised and co-organised reflect the growing strength of our network. In our first midterm in 2014 in Lisbon, we focused on the topic of public spaces with the title “Private spaces and private lives in the contemporary city”. We hosted Kirsteen Paton (University of Leeds, United Kingdom) and Ray Hutchinson (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, USA) as keynote speakers.

In 2016, in Krakow we organised the midterm “Moving cities: contested views on urban life” reaching at that time 170 participants. We were very pleased to have Saskia Sassen (Columbia University in the City of New York, USA), Talja Blokland (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany), Ayo Mansaray (University of East London, United Kingdom) and Jacek Gądecki (University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland) as the keynote speakers. 126 oral presentations were distributed along 5 tracks: 1) Methodological approaches to the moving city; 2) Moving cities: between structure and agency. Urban institutions and the pop-up city; 3) Social processes in the globalised moving city; 4) Dynamics and meanings of public spaces in the moving city; 5) Changing Neighbourhoods in the Moving City. The social events and extracurricular activities helped the participants to know one another better and enhance networking: we organised a movie session, “jogging moving cities” (running around some of central Krakow’s most pleasant paths at 7.30 am) and the concert “Trip to the East” by Christina Eshak and Wassim Ibrahim, Syrian musicians.

Saskia Sassen giving her key-note speech “Expulsions: Beyond Inequality” at the RN37 mid-term conference in Krakow, 2016

Our next initiative was the sessions at the ESA Athens Conference in 2017. The response to our call were 157 proposals of which 99 were actually accepted and presented at the sessions on: urban resilience and participation processes, gentrification, public spaces, neighbourhoods, urban cultures and identities, urban inequalities, conflicts and mediations, urban crises and austerity, housing policies, urban design and planning, production of urban space, homelessness in the city. The RN37 sessions started with a keynote speech “Urban Public Spaces and the Uses of Conflict” by its former coordinator, Prof. João Teixeira Lopes.

Joao Teixeira Lopes’s key-note speech and discussion at the RN37 session at the 13th ESA conference in Athens, 2017

In 2018, over 160 participants met in Madrid at the midterm conference “Uncertainty and inequalities: current challenges for cities” co-organised by two local universities: UNED and Universidad Carlos III. Three brilliant urban scientists – prof. Jesús Leal (Madrid), prof. Martina Löw (Berlin), prof. Suzanne Hall (London) – accepted our invitation to act as the keynote speakers. We pursued two important main aims in that midterm conference. Firstly, high scientific quality of the conference and, secondly, space for networking and further cooperation among the RN members and for participants interested in joining the network. The midterm conference fulfilled all the plans and expectations we had as a RN board. The results of the peer-review of the abstracts were 124 very good presentations within 32 thematic sessions.

Madrid mid-term conference 2018 – walking session at Lavapiés neighbourhood, the location where the conference took place (photograph by P. Pistelok)

Three additional events complemented the programme: (1) presentation and discussion with the City Executive Manager Municipality of Madrid entitled “Territorial rebalance in Madrid”; (2) presentation of the ethnographic film “The Order I Live In. An indoor urban symphony” with subsequent discussion; (3) guided tour in the neighbourhood where the conference took place (Lavapiés), as the case of an area in the process of gentrification. In addition, the local team organised a photographic exhibition about social urban movements in Madrid from 1975 to 2017 in the conference premises.

Publications
We find our books to be a very important forum for our members’ debate on urban research that helps motivate members of our network to share and present their research. On the list of the books that members of the past and current board edited or co-edited are:

Hutchison, R., & Lopes, J. T. (eds.) (2016). Public Spaces: Times of Crisis and Change (Research in Urban Sociology, Volume 15). Emerald, Bingley/UK. https://www.emerald.com/insight/publication/doi/10.1108/S1047-0042201715

Ferro, L., Smagacz-Poziemska, M., Gómez, M. V., Kurtenbach, S., Pereira, P., & Villalón, J. J. (eds.) (2018). Moving Cities: Contested Views on Urban Life. Springer VS, Wiesbaden. https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783658184612.

Smagacz-Poziemska, M., Frysztacki, K., & Bukowski, A. (eds.) (2017). Re-Imagining the City: Municipality and Urbanity Today from a Sociological Perspective. Jagiellonian University Press, Krakow. https://wuj.pl/ksiazka/re-imagining-the-city#otwarty-dostep [open access]

Smagacz-Poziemska, M., Gómez M.V., Pereira P., Guarino L., Kurtenbach S., Villalón, J.J (eds.) (2020). Inequality and Uncertainty: Current Challenges for Cities. Palgrave Macmillan, London/UK. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9789813291614

Concluding remarks
Our history is recent but in a short time we have seen our network grow and become stronger. We want to share our interest in urban sociology, always understood from a multidisciplinary perspective, and expand our network, attracting researchers who contribute both to deepen the issues that are currently being studied by our members, and to multiply and enrich the perspectives from which to explore urban phenomena.

Blog: https://esarn37.hypotheses.org/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/esarn37/
E-mail: rn37.esa [at] gmail.com

RN37 on the ESA website.

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