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Beyond Comparison: Revisiting Comparative Urbanism for Innovative Research Methodology and New Theoretical Framework

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group, Asian Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: Jane Zheng, Hyejin Yoon
Chairs: Hyejin Yoon


Call for Papers AAG 2020: Beyond Comparison: Revisiting Comparative Urbanism for Innovative Research Methodology and New Theoretical Framework
AAG Annual Meeting in Denver, April 6-10, 2020
Session Organizers: Hyejin Yoon (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Jane Zheng (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Deadline: October 30, 2019

Comparative urbanism serves as a key tactic in urban studies research for knowledge generalization and theory building. Despite its contributions, there is increasing demand for methodological experimentation, viz., better design of research methods to explore and critique some issues, such as elitist global city perspective (Nijman, 2015) and the western-oriented models in comparative urbanism research (Robinson, 2014; Kantor and Savitch, 2005). Influenced by post-industrial, postmodern and postcolonial discourses, scholars often adopt a category-based selection method, under which cities are grouped by certain variables towards comparison, leading to a select of model cities for study (Beaverstock et al., 1999; 2000; Roy and Ong, 2011). This method, however, is critiqued for oversight of the complexities of cities. Cities selected in the economic category, for instance, are largely based on their economic performance; the underlying logic of linear path of growth has been neglected. For methodological improvement, a joint study of multiple locations for comparison generates insights. Asian cities for instance, are sampled as sites of “relational interface” and interactions, which can be researched through the lens named “multi-city comparison” and “multi-sites within a single city” (Massey et al., 1999; Massey, 2005; Morange, et al., 2012). Olds (2001) discusses the overlapping part of Vancouver and Shanghai and treats the two cities on equal footing, which avoids direct comparison on the territorial outcomes. These methods aim to eliminate a hegemonical bias towards Euro-American centered lens (Robinson, 2004).

More recent literature discusses how to avoid overstating the geographical disparity by treating these cities as the “others” and not neglecting their “cosmopolitan vernacular” when handling the differences embodied by cities within one continent. Robinson (2011a) suggests that case studies can be conducted based on an “individualizing” approach with multiple possibilities of case selection. Alternatively, an “encompassing” approach can be adopted that selects all the cases within the same network of capitalism or globalization. The latter approach selects the cities and countries of a high degree of similarity for comparison, where economic and social activities are connected through global networks (Robinson, 2011b). A broader and more cosmopolitan conceptualization of cities in one region and diversified possibilities in case selection are advocated. Cities are perceived to be local sites with rich inter-connections (with territorial assemblances such as policies, people and capital) that are shaped by global forces, e.g., capitalism and post-colonialism.

This session aims to engage scholars to discuss methodological innovations and build new theoretical framework in the study of comparative urbanism. Presentations may focus on one or more of the following issues:

1.Theoretical developments for the interpretation of contextual meanings and understanding of variations in scales and scopes in comparative urbanism in various regions in the world, either across the Global North and South or within the Asia-Pacific region
2.Introducing new innovative research method and designs for understanding different contexts and territorial outcomes in research on comparative urbanism.
3.Empirical work that follows specific research methods in the literature, and the implications to researchers.

Interested colleagues may send abstracts (up to 250 words) to the session organizers (; together with the information of your names, institutional affiliation by October 30, 2019.

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Kantor, P. and Savitch, H. V. (2005). How to study comparative urban development politics: A research note. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(1): 135–151.
Massey, D., J. Allen and S. Pile (2005). For space. Sage: London.
-----------. (1999) City Worlds. London: Routledge.
Morange, M., F. Folio, E. Peyroux and J. Vivet (2012). The spread of a transnational model: “gated communities” in three Southern African cities (Cape Town, Maputo and Windhoek). International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 36(5): 890–914.
Nijman, R. (2015). The Theoretical imperative of comparative urbanism: A commentary on “Cities beyond Compare?” by Jamie Peck. Regional Studies 49(1): 183–186.
Olds, K. (2001). Globalization and urban change: Capital, culture, and Pacific Rim mega-projects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Robinson, J. (2004). In the tracks of comparative urbanism: difference, urban modernity and the primitive. Urban Geography 25(8): 709–23.
-----------. (2011a). Cities in a world of cities: the comparative gesture, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(1): 1–23.
-----------. (2011b). 2010 Urban geography plenary lecture–The travels of urban neoliberalism: taking stock of the internationalization of urban theory, Urban Geography 32(8): 1087–1109.
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Roy, A. and A. Ong (eds.) (2011) Worlding cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global. Blackwell, London.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Hyejin Yoon*, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Jane Zheng , University of Wisconsin - Madison , Spotlighting Mobile Creative Workers: Methodological Innovation towards a Comparative Understanding of the Creative Milieu of Shanghai and Seoul 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Jung Won Sonn*, University College London, Comprehensive Case Study and Incremental Comparison for Theory Building 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Martin Muller*, University of Lausanne, Thinking global urbanism beyond North and South 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Jane Zheng*, , Towards a New Method of Comparative Urbanism for Theory Extension: Public Art Planning in Shanghai and Vancouver 15 12:00 AM

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