Please join us in welcoming our distinguished guest speaker Neil Brenner on Wednesday February 9, 12PM-1.15PM in Social Sciences 122.
Neil Brenner is Professor of Sociology and Metropolitan Studies, and an affiliated faculty member of the American Studies Program, at New York University. He served as Director of the Metropolitan Studies Program at NYU from 2006-2010. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago (1999); an MA in Geography from UCLA (1996); and a BA in Philosophy, Summa Cum Laude, from Yale College (1991).
His writing and teaching focus on critical urban and regional studies, comparative geopolitical economy and sociospatial theory. Major research foci include the development of critical urban theory; processes of urban and regional restructuring; the generalization of capitalist urbanization; processes of state spatial restructuring, neoliberalization and “globalization”; and urban governance restructuring.
He is the author of New State Spaces: Urban Governance and the Rescaling of Statehood (Oxford University Press, 2004). Other book-length publications include Henri Lefebvre, State, Space, World (co-edited with Stuart Elden, co-translated with Gerald Moore and Stuart Elden, University of Minnesota Press, 2009); The Global Cities Reader (co-edited with Roger Keil; Routledge, 2006); Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe (co-edited with Nik Theodore; Blackwell, 2003); and State/Space: A Reader (co-edited with Bob Jessop, Martin Jones and Gordon MacLeod; Blackwell, 2002). Several scholarly articles and essays have been translated into other languages, including Chinese, Finnish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.
At the City, Society and Space workshop, Professor Brenner will present on:
“The urbanization question, or, the field formerly known as urban studies.”
Over three decades after Manuel Castells’ (1972) classic intervention, the nature of the “urban question” remains a matter of considerable confusion in the social sciences. Although some contemporary scholars continue to grapple directly with this question in the context of contemporary global trends, much of urban research is still grounded upon a relatively concretistic understanding in which the urban is equated with “cities,” their populations, their neighborhoods, their regions and their hinterlands. I argue that this “Wirthian epistemology”—the tendency to define the empirical object of urban studies with reference to particular types of settlement space—pervades otherwise quite disparate research traditions within contemporary urban studies. Against this background, this contribution revisits Henri Lefebvre’s (1970) concept of “generalized urbanization” as well as subsequent interventions that have been inspired by that concept (e.g., Gottdiener 1985; Diener, Herzog, Meili, de Meuron and Schmid 2006). Building on these approaches, I argue that the Wirthian epistemology, along with the 19th century urban/rural distinction with which it is intertwined, is today historically obsolete and theoretically indefensible.
Under late modern capitalism, I argue, the proper object of urban studies is the geohistorical process of (capitalist) urbanization, which has underpinned a restless “churning” of settlement types, variegated sociospatial forms and patterns of uneven spatial development for over two centuries. The central purpose of contemporary urban theory, therefore, is not to investigate cities or any other singular type of settlement, but rather to grasp the nature of (generalized) urbanization processes and their implications for the uneven (re)differentiation of social space across places, territories and scales. This proposition has significant implications, I argue, for contemporary urban theory and research, and more generally, for our understanding of the contemporary urban condition. In light of these arguments, I conclude by revisiting the classic debates between Manuel Castells (1972) and Peter Saunders (1979) regarding the status of “space” in demarcating the urban question
A contemporary reappropriation of Lefebvre’s concept of “generalized urbanization” explodes both positions in that debate and points towards a research agenda on the restlessly evolving historical geographies of capitalist urbanization.
Keywords: urban question, urban theory, urbanization, Wirth, Castells, Lefebvre, geopolitical economy.