Producing comparability in geographical research: intellectual and practical considerations

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Organizers: Shaun Teo
Chairs: Shaun Teo


Producing comparability in geographical research: intellectual and practical considerations

Organisers: Shaun Teo and Frances Brill (Department of Geography, University College London)

How might contemporary geographical research theorize with more global purchase? This has become one of today’s core methodological questions in geographical studies. The comparative approach has been at the forefront of this endeavour. By placing different cases in conversation on the same analytical plane, comparativism has helped to develop theoretical understandings that are more applicable to the expanding and diverse world of spaces and places (Robinson 2006; 2016). Unsurprisingly, much of the previous work has sought to discuss and develop the methodological and epistemological dimensions of comparative research. However, there is a lesser focus on the process of producing comparability. That is, what are the actual practices researchers undertake in conceptualising and implementing their comparative endeavours, and how do they evaluate and present these as useful outputs? As Deville et al (2015, 100) note, comparative research has to be assembled from diverse entities, according to specific forms of knowledge and expertise. In order to produce the comparative output, these assembled parts have to actively intervene and provoke relations between previously uncompared inputs. In other words, the theoretical outputs of any comparative endeavour are produced through the ways in which the researcher understands, grapples with and leverages intellectual and practical realities as well as their their own positionality.
This panel invites papers that critically reflect on the (often experimental) process of producing comparability and its influence on the outcomes of research. The broader goal of these papers should be to further our current understandings of why and how comparative methods are/ can be more useful and efficacious. Topics may include – but are not limited to – one or more of the following:

• The influence of the identities and geographies of the researcher on the comparative process
• The researcher’s movement between intellectual spaces (theory; existing case studies etc.) and fieldwork places
• The process of constructing and developing comparators and their role in producing comparability
• Vectors of comparison: with which case(s), and at what point, should comparison begin and end? In which direction(s)
should comparison move?
• The role of serendipity and/ or setbacks in the comparative process
• Failed comparisons and implications for future comparative endeavours
• The practical and intellectual limits of comparability – is comparison always better for a global urban studies?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Shreyashi Dasgupta*, University of Cambridge, ‘Doing’ comparative research in South Asia and positionality of the researcher: Reflections on fieldwork from Dhaka and Mumbai 20 10:00 AM
Presenter Sabine Weck*, ILS - Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development, Dortmund/Germany, Opening the black box - A call for transparency in comparative research. The case of the RELOCAL project. 20 10:20 AM
Presenter Gaurav Mittal*, National University Of Singapore, Theorizing from the margins: A case for intra-national comparisons 20 10:40 AM
Presenter Murray Mckenzie*, University College London, Producing comparability in the urban now: from Walter Benjamin to the research field 20 11:00 AM
Discussant Shaun Teo University College London 20 11:20 AM

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