Urban Studies

Our interdisciplinary Urban Studies list examines how the built environment shapes behaviour and how to address complex problems like urban poverty, gentrification, climate change and educational inequality.

Subjects covered include urban planning, urban geography, urban policy, local governance and community-based participation, to offer a broad understanding of how urban dynamics shape both global interdependence and local spaces.

Urban Studies

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This chapter examines patterns of physical mobility and virtual circuits that connect people in urban camps to resources and interlocutors throughout the wider city. Focusing on the labour relations and forms of petty entrepreneurship that emerge within and from these marginalized settlements, it emphasizes their gendered character and the ways in which they constitute and sustain economic precarity. Mobile phone infrastructure enables many of these labour practices, and the chapter considers the significance of the burgeoning Somali telecommunications sector within the wider displacement urbanization nexus. The chapter highlights various uses and risks of virtual connectivity for urban in-migrants, and the impacts of ICT-enabled information and resource flows on mobility and settlement patterns. Examining the linkages between labour, livelihood strategies and digital connectivity, it discusses the role of mobile money in the working lives of urban in-migrants. Interrogating linked discourses of digital inclusion and entrepreneurial innovation in refugee policymaking, the chapter emphasizes the ambiguous impacts of connectivity on the social and economic lives of people in marginalized urban settlements. Technologies do not work outside of existing layers of gendered, raced and classed inequalities, and, as a consequence, can exacerbate unequal social and spatial distributions of hardship and immiseration in the city.

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This chapter explores work in a ‘traditional’ local authority planning department that has sought to retain its in-house specialist staff alongside a long-term reputation for doing ‘good’ planning work. Latterly it has sought to ensure this by instituting a commercialisation agenda that has monetised various aspects of planners’ work. We show how this commercialisation process unfolded and reveal its tensions with planning in the public interest alongside a lack of resistance by planners, despite their identifying with a public-service ethos. The chapter highlights themes such as the public interest, the impact of austerity politics on local authorities and how planning officers work with a local authority’s elected members.

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This chapter sets out the approach taken in the book, arguing for the need to explore the actual, multiple and diverse practices of planning and the similarly diverse working lives of professional planners. It introduces key changes in the environments in which planners work, including privatisation and the growth of private-sector work as well as linked initiatives to bring commercial logics into the realm of planning. It sets out debates on the purpose of planning and the public interest before outlining the ethnographic approach to data collection in the four case-study organisations.

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This chapter follows planners working in a medium-sized planning consultancy. It details the commercial work at the heart of planning systems, including work for private sector clients to promote their developments as well as engagement with more strategic politics and consideration of land and development sites in a particular region. A detailed account of a planning inquiry shows the interactions between planners and other built-environment professionals as well as an asymmetry in resources between private and public sectors. The chapter shows the private sector developing extensive knowledge of regional land markets, local authorities and development cultures. It explores business development practices and networking among private-sector planners, highlighting the existence of communities of practice underpinned by ‘banter’ in which an ‘othering’ of public-sector planners was a prominent feature.

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This chapter explores working life in a large, multi-disciplinary consultancy. It shows how planning consultants work with public-sector clients and on increasingly large and complex projects with many players. The chapter reveals the importance attached to sustaining good working relationships with clients and shows planners reflecting on how their work serves the public interest despite the imperatives of capital. We also explore the high-performance culture in the company and its implications for work-life balance.

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This chapter draws together conclusions from the four ethnographic case studies. It provides answers to key questions, including: How do planners work? With whom do they work? What do they know? And what do planners believe in? This reveals the significance of concepts such as ‘public interest’, but also the tensions that planners find in identifying and attaining them, particularly in a changing professional environment shaped by austerity politics and commercial imperatives. We reflect on the powers that planners have and how they work in different, often conflictual settings. Finally, the chapter reflects on the implications of our findings for wider debates in planning, both in England and elsewhere.

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This chapter explores the work of planners in Southwell, a local authority that has outsourced its planning functions to a large private-sector company. It explores how outsourcing works in the field of planning, revealing a distinct public-private hybrid. It reveals how ‘organisational islands’ contribute to pragmatic decision-making, in contrast to wider ideals of sustainable development. The chapter also shows the long-term significance of workplace culture, looking closely at class, place and gender identity. We reveal how the working practices of planners show similarities with those in other fully public-sector planning departments under austerity politics.

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Exploring Planning Practices and the Public Interest through Workplace Ethnographies

Presenting the complexities of doing planning work, with all its attendant moral and practical dilemmas, this rich ethnographic study analyses how places are made through stories of four diverse public and private sector working environments.

The book provides a unique insight for educators, students and researchers into the everyday lives of planners and those in associated built environment occupations. This exceptional account of the micro-politics of a knowledge-intensive profession also provides an excellent resource for sociologists of contemporary work. The authors use team ethnography to push the methodological frontiers of planning research and to advance organisational ethnography into new areas.

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This chapter examines the influence of US–China geopolitical tensions in the political economy configurations of the energy and telecommunication sectors in Argentina. To do so it examines at a series of leading infrastructure projects that have reconfigured these sectors in recent years or that promise to do so in the future, and poses two questions. First, in what way do these infrastructure projects manifest geopolitical tensions between the US and China as well as the responses of the Argentinian state to such dynamics? Second, can these infrastructure projects be seen as contested socio-technical processes leading to the production of new forms of territoriality (rescaling of spatial-politics relations, transnational connectivity, and so on)? It concludes that Argentina’s infrastructure state overwhelmingly focuses on the promise of economic growth through the exploitation of nature, neglecting the serious environmental and social consequences of extractivist development.

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This chapter argues that Ethiopia has received so much finance from China (both before and after the announcement of the BRI) partly because of Ethiopia’s potentiality as an ‘infrastructure state’, due to its relatively centralized state structures and hierarchical governance processes. It therefore begins by examining why and how Ethiopia became such an important partner for China in Africa, and how Sino-Ethiopian infrastructure relations thrived partly due to the relative affinity between Chinese and Ethiopian governance processes and their shared spatial objectives. It then examines how Chinese infrastructure finance has facilitated the restructuring of state institutions to deliver major transport infrastructure projects and Ethiopia’s industrial parks strategy. Here we show that Ethiopia has drawn on China’s own experience of infrastructure governance and territorial integration, but also argue that it is far from being a powerless partner in its dealings with Beijing and with Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Finally, we turn to the recent period of political crisis, particularly since 2018, and show that US engagement in the Ethiopian infrastructure sector offers potential opportunities and risks. The future of the ‘infrastructure state’, developed partly through Chinese assistance, remains uncertain as the Ethiopian government struggles to consolidate territorial integration and control, and political fragmentation threatens to unravel a centuries-long project of centralization. Moreover, it is not clear whether the finance provided by a new range of actors with an interest in Ethiopian infrastructure will contribute to centralization or undermine it.

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