Scientific Research Network (WOG)

Building on in-depth interdisciplinary research on the relationship between urban theory and urban history (see the USI FWO-WOG ‘Urban Agency II: The Historical Fabrication of the City as an Object of Study’) the project Urban Agency III will examine the relationship between the institutional embedding of urban studies and the orientation, nature and performativity of the research involved.

The program will:

  1. chart the differences between urban studies institutes and analyze the origins thereof
  2. examine the consequences of the institutional factors
  3. identify good practices and develop scientific propositions and recommendations for policy makers.

The institutional embedding of urban studies

Over the past decade, there is a remarkable upsurge of strategic interest in the field of urban studies in universities in Europe and beyond. Fueled by ‘urban age’ discourses, which tirelessly repeat claims that today more than half of the world's population lives within cities and that mayors will save the world from climate change, environmental degradation, intercultural conflicts and rampant social inequalities, university leaders are considering ‘urban studies institutes’ as a must have strategic asset to position themselves in local and global networks of knowledge production. Indeed, the past decade has seen an impressive rise of interdisciplinary platforms for urban studies research at universities, more often than not with strong support and even on the instigation of university leadership.

These institutes and centers are mostly conceived as platforms which gather and bring into dialogue a broad variety of disciplines, ranging from urban sociology, political sciences, history, geography, demography and transport economy to architecture, urban planning and engineering to environmental and health sciences.On the surface, the rationale thereof is clear:

  1. Integrated and interdisciplinary research is at the order of the day in other fields as well, environmental studies being only the most prominent example.
  2. These institutes and research centers are designed to tackle environmental, social and cultural problems which escape the confines of the nation state and which require an integrated and interdisciplinary approach.
  3. Such interdisciplinary platforms take shape in a context in which cities and urban actors reposition themselves relative to the nation state and to international political and institutional networks and in which universities reposition themselves as partners in emerging knowledge alliances with progressive cities and city networks.
  4. This seems to happen with an eye at gaining a competitive edge on other knowledge producing institutions.

However, while the broader context is clear, questions remain with regard to the local differences and specificities of the institutions and research centers involved. Depending on the local institutional context and other historical contingencies the disciplines and expertise involved vary strongly, as do the specific research approaches and priorities which materialize in collaborative projects. At present, an overview of these differences is totally lacking, as we have hardly a view on the ‘institutional landscape’ of urban studies – even in Europe only. By implication, and even more importantly, we are totally in the dark with respect to the consequences of the specific institutional characteristics for the thematic choices, the research questions and the conceptual and methodological approaches of the researchers involved. What exactly is the relationship between the institutional environment on the one hand, and the nature of the research on the other? What works and what does not?

Key USI researchers

  • Bert De Munck
  • Stijn Oosterlynck
  • Greet De Block
  • Ilja Van Damme
  • Tom Coppens
  • Roeland Samson

Participating institutions and members

Belgian and international partners

  • Brussels Centre for Urban Studies, VUB (Bas van Heur, Michael Ryckewaert, Anne Winter, Pieter Ballon, Lucas Melgaço, Cathy Macharis)

  • Leuven Urban Studies Institute, KU Leuven (Ben Derudder, Filip De Boeck, Viviana d'Auria, Trui Steen, Adelheid Soubry, Manuel Aalbers)

  • Stadsacademie/Urban Academy, UGent (Thomas Block, Charlotte Prové, Michiel Dehaene, Luce Beeckmans, Peter Vanden Abeele, Griet Roets, Evelyne Deceur, Simon Allemeersch)

  • Eric Corijn (VUB, Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research)

  • EBxl réseau des études bruxelloises de l'ULB, ULB (Dirk Jacobs, Benjamin Wayens, Mathieu Van Criekingen, Jaumain Serge)

  • Department of Geography, Planning and International Development, University of Amsterdam (Maria Kaika, Federico Savini, Nanke Verloo, Tuna Tasan Kok)

  • Tolerant Migrant Cities project - Institute for History, Leiden University (Manon van der Heijden, Leo Lucassen, Jeanette Kamp, Karlijn Luk, Samantha Sint Nicolaas)

  • Manchester Urban Institute, University of Manchester (Kevin Ward)

  • UCL Urban Laboratory, University College London (Clare Melhuish, Andrew Harris, Pushpa Arabindoo, Ben Campkin)

  • Georg-Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies, Humboldt-University Berlin (Talja Blokland, Heike Oeverman, Ilse Helbrecht, Ignacio Farias)

  • Cities are back in town - Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, CEE Sciences Po/CNRS (Patrick le Galès, Tommaso Vitale, Eric Verdeil, Marco Cremaschi, Laurent Fourchard, Charlotte Halpern)

  • URBEUR Urban Studies PhD Program, University of Milan Bicocca (Lavinia Bifulco, Matteo Colleoni, Serena Vicari, Marco Grasso, Marianna D'Ovidio)

  • Institute for Urban Research, Malmö University (Guy Baeten, Carina Listerborn, Claudia Fonseca, Defne Kadioglu, Lorena Melgaco, Chiara Valli)

  • Research platform "The Challenges of Urban Futures", University of Vienna (Yuri Kazepov, Ayse Caglar, Alexa Faerber, Thilo Hofmann, Torsten Möller, Axel Priebs)

  • Research Group CRIT Creativity, Innovation and Urban Transformation, Universitat de Barcelona (Marisol García Cabeza, Marc Pradel Miquel, Ana Cano-Hila, Santiago Eizaguirre Anglada, Rommy Morales Olivares, Montse Simó Solsona, Lídia García Ferrando)

  • Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest (Iván Tosics, József Hegedüs, Hanna Szemzö, Eszter Somogyi, Éva Geröházi, Nóra Teller)

  • Center for Urban Economic Development, University of Illinois at Chicago (Nik Theodore)

  • The City Institute, York University (Linda Peake, Roger Keil, Teresa Abbruzzese, Alison Bain, Luisa Sotomayor, William Jenkins)