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?