Session 11

Between the Structural and the Everyday: Bridging Macro- and Micro-Perspectives in Comparative Urban Research

For informed decision-making, cities can gain from understanding their position within a larger network of cities. For a long time, however, comparison in urban studies (such as the world city hypothesis or the global city discussion) focused on comparison of global economic performance and failed to include a large number of cities as subjects of comparison, that did not comply with the limited scope of comparative criteria. These limited scopes of comparative criteria have been criticized, yet it still remains somewhat unclear, how they can be overcome methodologically and made inclusive to the full global scope of cities and themes of comparison. This is mostly due to the fact, that different approaches exist in urban research that are often framed as opposed to each other or even mutually exclusive. One is the approach to study cities from a macro-perspective, to examine the broader structures, be the economic forces, technological innovations or social changes as explanatory factors for the evolution of cities and regions. This approach lends itself for comparative research as it identifies broader trends that might have similar impacts in different places. Another approach to understanding cities is to study them from the bottom-up, focusing on everyday experiences and practices of actors in shaping urban life and form. Related methods lend themselves to understand the particular, place-specific characteristics that make every city unique. We consider cities as complex relational entities that are shaped by an interplay between broader structural configurations and dynamics and local practices and activities (cf. Kihato 2013). We therefore argue that approaches with a focus on structural dynamics and everyday practices, can not only be combined, but they should also be combined for a better understanding of cities. However, this combination of perspectives poses methodological challenges, particularly in terms of research comparing cities, as the description of the internal interplay needs to be abstracted, without losing the specificities. Our aim for this panel is to accept this challenge and to discuss methods that bridge the divide between approaches focusing on the “structural” on the one hand and the “everyday” on the other, while being able to place the individual urban accounts within the larger realm of city-systems.

We invite contributions focusing on one or more of the following questions:

(1) Which particular methods, sets of methods and research designs lend themselves to understand cities through everyday practices as well as structural forces?

(2) Which methods allow comparative urban research that pays attention to the common trends as well as to the particularities of cities?

(3) What are suggestions for expanding criteria of urban comparison and proposals for heterodox descriptions of city-networks?



1.Responding to the Indifference of Infrastructure: Comparative Research in Johannesburg and Maputo

Alexandra Parker  (Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South Africa)

Lindsay Howe  (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

Governments in South Africa and Mozambique have made significant investments in transport infrastructure over the last decade, but this has not always resulted in changes to transit patterns in the metropolitan areas of Johannesburg and Maputo. To understand how transport infrastructure is used by residents in these cities, this research examines the nuances of household mobility, access, and decision-making in selected sites in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) and the Maputo Metropolitan Area (MMA) and locates these every day and lived experiences relative to government transport plans and policies in each location. The study examines micro-dynamics of mobility at the household level in three neighbourhoods from each city-region and their relationship to the state invested macro infrastructure. At the household level, the mobility patterns of approximately 60 participants (10 in each neighbourhood) were tracked using a smartphone application. Participants were also interviewed and engaged through WhatsApp, a communication platform that allowed participants to share messages, audio recordings, photos and videos. The research contrasts these findings with an analysis of macro-processes, based on transport and planning policy reviews as well as interviews with key officials in transport and urban planning. Drawing on Lemanski’s (2019) concept of infrastructural citizenship, which focuses on the intersection of public infrastructure and human relations, the research shows how transportation planning comes into conflict with the ordinary spatial practices of people as they go about the routine activities of their everyday lives. By juxtaposing the differences between the micro-dynamics and macro-processes of transport, the study contributes to further understanding the paradox of infrastructure (Howe et al. 2016) by elaborating on an infrastructure of indifference and the mobility and immobilities it shapes.


2.Everyday particularities within structural similarities: A comparative case study on the Ruhr Agglomeration in Germany and the La Paz metropolitan area in Bolivia

Fabio Bayro Kaiser  (RWTH Aachen University, Deutschland)

There has been an unprecedented, worldwide trend of urbanisation in the last decades as most cities have grown in terms of population and the surface area they cover. Although the patterns of growth vary regionally, structural similarities can be observed. First, urban structures have loosened up and become intertwined with its surrounding landscape. Second, cities have outgrown administrative boarders time and time again and have grown into larger city agglomerations. This new urban form is characterized by low density developments and a polycentric structure. A closer look, however, unfolds a variegated urban fabric that is influenced by global as well as local dynamics, which is in constant change. Thus, structural similarities do not fully grasp the complexity of urbanisation processes nor do everyday particularities but rather a combination of both seems reasonable. This poses a methodological problem. Understanding structural features requires up-to-date, historical, and multi-scalar data and unfolding city complexity requires engagement at various levels at the local scale. Nowadays, innovations in GIS technologies allow monitoring spatial change at a planetary scale but how practical they are for local governments or civil society organisations to deal with urbanisation processes remains an open question. The paper proposes a combination of perspectives and a comparative case study to address this issue. It proposes a methodological approach that combines remote sensing methods with participatory observation in the Ruhr agglomeration in Germany and the La Paz metropolitan region in Bolivia. In doing so, it describes structural similarities while analysing satellite imagery up to 40 years back in time and uncovers everyday particularities through photographic documentation, semi-structured interviews, and participation in transdisciplinary workshops. The paper argues that both scales of observation complement each other and that finding particularities within similarities could be more informative and practical for urbanisation efforts.


3.Socio-Spatial Relationships in Vertical Housing during COVID times: A Study in Urban Indian Neighbourhood Context

Divyang Purkayastha  (Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India)

Gaurav Raheja  (Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India)

Amit Hajela  (Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India)

This study focuses on shared insights into mapping socio-spatial dimensions of human wellbeing in vertical neighbourhoods of urban Indian context during COVID times. Understanding is based on an appropriate literature review of the various aspects of socio-spatial urban wellbeing, vertical housing, human interactions in vertical neighbourhoods, and the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two intertwined steps of this research involve the study of spatial and social patterns primarily using visual mapping, interviewing, and social media studies. The first step focuses on the spatial usage patterns in open, semi-open, and indoor spaces. The spatial characterisation includes open spaces like parking, etc., semi-open spaces like shared lift lobby spaces, staircases, etc., and indoor areas of home environments. The second step focuses on human interactions in the various spaces concerning social distancing, usage of furniture, nature of activities, and experiences as shared by the people. This involves the study of the impacts on groups defined by gender and age – women, children, adults, and elderly, with their perspectives and our observations. The study thematically elaborates upon changing human preferences of spatial usage, concerns of functional roles in home transformations, and a new social format of living in given contexts. It also highlights the emerging concerns in typical design approaches of housing and vertical neighbourhoods. In conclusion, the study brings out important discoveries of socio-cultural behaviours of diverse resident groups during COVID times, the challenges in the usage of housing spaces, and reflections on open spaces amidst high-density living. It analyses a first-hand view of the context to further evolve design and development. The paper brings out learnings of social response in the spatial context of vertical housing spaces which can further inform housing design paradigms. It uniquely presents a perspective into an urban context of a multicultural and diverse social mix.


4.A documentary film Ways of Moving: everyday experiences traversing a fragmented cityscape

Kristen Kornienko  (CUBES, Wits University, Cuba)

Thabang Nkwanyana  (1955 Creative Collaboration, South Africa)

In “Private Moments, Private Wastelands”, V.S. Naipaul describes contemporary African navigation of cultural worlds, ‘South Africa with its many groups, its many passions, its biding tensions…[with] political realities so overwhelming that they have to be taken into account’. Johannesburg, he articulates as layers of differing values and ideologies, seemingly disparate individuals. Disparaging Soweto, the southern Black township, he leaves unresolved as to what holds her together, offering only flagging hopes hung on the images of Mandela. Enter, Soweto as protagonist. Mandela increasingly inaudible. Amapiano throbbing in the air. The deteriorated/cannibalized Metrorail as both metaphor and reality, aperture negotiating city and township/CBD mass transit link. Drone imagery unmasquing (dis)connection, exploring subversion in the reciprocal human experiences of urban (un)boundaries of sound, fear, distance, disregard, clash, insurgency. How does boundary, visible and invisible, inform ideologies and values, and thus the socio-spatial constructs of our own and shared realities of the city?