Scientific Research Network (WOG)

The Urban Studies Institute is the leading research group of an international network studying 'the historical fabrication of the city as an object of study'. The project aims to confront recent urban theory with historical empiricism, and thus expand the historical-geographical and methodological horizon of both urban studies and urban history.

The project starts from the observation that, as urbanization proceeds, it becomes ever more difficult to actually define what a city is. We tackle this ‘urban paradox’ by a long term interdisciplinary focus on a broad range of cities while concentrating on four domains in which the definition of cities is at stake: (1) ‘suburbanisation’, (2) ‘territoriality’, (3) ‘urban citizenship’, and (4) ‘knowledge’. The latter theme adds a reflexive layer by analysing the long term interconnections between the urban reality and knowledge formation – including knowledge on the city itself.

Thus, we not only confront urban theory with historical empiricism, but we also trace the genealogy of recent urban theories as such and try to frame their intellectual origins against the differing historical development of cities in Europe and beyond.

Routledge Advances in Urban History

As a result of the WOG project ‘Urban Agency: Setting the Research Agenda of Urban History’, the ongoing series Routledge Advances in Urban History was started in 2017.



The classic readings of the process of suburbanization started from the opposition between city and countryside, and subsequently centred on the radial-concentric growth of a city, supposedly surrounded by virgin land. As a result, it was difficult to examine suburbs and suburbanization as distinct entities or autonomous processes.

This project questions how and why a suburb achieves, establishes and reproduces its distinctiveness in relation to the city and the broader urban area. Tying in with literature on sociology of place and Actor Network Theory, we will study comparable suburbs from the inside out to determine how and why a multitude of elements conjoin or ‘assemble’ for certain reasons to create a particular sense of place or ‘suburban character’ at a given moment in history.

The project is coordinated by Ilja Van Damme.


Territory and network are core concepts in the domains of social and political geography, planning, and urban studies, where they are generally depicted as incommensurable and competing forms of socio-spatial organization. Territory is perceived as a stable, natural, timeless, enclosed, and mostly radial-concentrically organized, spatial ‘block’, whereas network is associated with adaptable, cultural, instantaneous, open, and isotropically expanding, phenomena. These a-historical and a-spatial associations rest on the basic simplification that global networks of (capital) flows have progressively replaced the Westphalian constellation of sovereign states and their contained societies. This sub-project on territory will problematize and transcend this simplified dichotomy through a long term focus on socio-spatial structures and processes which sit uneasily in it; namely (1) the city as network and (2) infrastructure as territory.

The project is coordinated by Greet De Block.

Urban Citizenship

 Cities presently emerge not only as dominant demographic and economic entities, but also as pivotal sites where citizenship is challenged and reinvented. Typical examples of ‘insurgent’ forms of urban citizenship include squatting, the sans-papiers movement, urban gardening projects and contestations of public space zoning. Simultaneously, urban policy makers actively try to create an urban sense of belonging by e.g. investing in urban museums, engaging in city marketing or launching projects like ‘I am a Kopenhagener’ or ‘I amsterdam’.

Urban citizenship is difficult to define however. In contrast to nation states, cities lack sovereignty over territory. Moreover, they accommodate a relatively large share of newcomers, which often cultivate connections with religious or kinship networks beyond the borders of the city. This sub-project will therefor examine long term transformations in order to better understand past and present-day connections between citizenship and the city.

The project is coordinated by Hilde Greefs.

Knowledge and the city

It is generally accepted that knowledge production is to a large degree an urban phenomenon. While a range of sociologists and economists propound that cities accommodate the creative classes and that urban spaces are conducive to innovation, the origin of the modern knowledge society would have to be sought for in large, early modern cities such as Antwerp, Amsterdam, Paris and, in particular, London. Current debates within both urban history and the history of knowledge however qualify the idea that the production of knowledge is grounded in a specific mind, institution or city. The city and knowledge rather co-emerge and are co-produced in a range of complex and entangled practices involving myriad of actors and 'actants'.

Our project sets out to examine this co-production and these practices through a range of case-studies. While being comparative in space and time, the research will moreover include the historical connection between urbanization and urban theory, thus contributing to both urban history and current urban theory.

The project is coordinated by Bert De Munck.

Participating institutions and members

Belgian partners

  • Centrum voor Stadsgeschiedenis/Centre for Urban History, UAntwerpen (Ilja Van Damme, Bruno Blondé, Greet De Block, Hilde Greefs, Guido Marnef, Tim Soens, Peter Stabel)
  • ae-lab – ReUse, VUB (Inge Bertels, Stefanie Van de Voorde, Ine Wouters)
  • Architectuur en ontwerpen, Departement Architectuur, KULeuven (Bruno De Meulder, Viviana D’Auria, Kelly Shannon)
  • Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research, VUB (Bas van Heur, David Bassens, Kobe Boussauw, Bruno Meeus, Michael Ryckewaert, Nick Schuermans)
  • Cultuurgeschiedenis vanaf 1750, KULeuven (Kaat Wils, Nelleke Teughels, Joris Vandendriessche)
  • Onderzoeksalliantie UGent-VUB Stadsgeschiedenis (Marc Boone, Anne Winter, Frederik Buylaert, Jan Dumolyn, Anne-Laure Van Bruaene, Griet Vermeesch)
  • Onderzoeksgroep Planning en Ontwikkeling, KULeuven (Frank Moulaert, Pieter Van den Broeck, Loris Servillo)
  • Onderzoeksgroep Theorie en Geschiedenis van Architectuur en Stedenbouw, Vakgroep Architectuur en Stedenbouw, UGent (Johan Lagae, Luce Beeckmans, Michiel Dehaene, David Peleman, Pieter Uyttenhove)

International partners

  • Amsterdam Centre for Urban History (Maartje van Gelder, Petra Brouwer, Mario Damen, Moritz Föllmer, Guy Geltner, Arie van Steensel)
  • Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Mattias Qviström, Vera Vicenzotti, Anna Jakobsson)
  • Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities (Sven Dupré, Wijnand Mijnhardt, Jeroen Salman, Els Stronks, Arjan van Dixhoorn)
  • European Urban History, History Department, University of Helsinki (Peter Clark, M. Hannikainen, N. Lipsanen, R. Robinson)
  • Graduate School of Design, Risk and Resilience Unit, Harvard University (Rosetta S. Elkin, Diane Davis)
  • Institute of History, Leiden University (Manon van der Heijden, Michiel Groesen, Judith Pollmann, Ariadne Schmidt)
  • Laboratoire Techniques Territoires et Sociétés, Ecole nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (Antoine Picon, Nathalie Roseau)
  • Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (Christoph Bernhardt, Harald Engler, Andreas Butter)
  • Science, Technology, and Society (MUSTS), Maastricht University (Jens Lachmund)
  • UCL Urban Laboratory (Michele Acuto, Andrew Harris)

Individual members

  • Simona Cerutti (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)
  • Mark Clapson (University of Westminster)
  • Karel Davids (VU University Amsterdam)
  • Vincent Denis (Institut d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, CNRS/Ecole Normale Supérieure/Université Paris I)
  • Stephen Graham (Global Urban Research Unit, Newcastle University)
  • Richard Harris (McMaster University)
  • Engin Isin (The Open University)
  • Roger Keil (The City Institute, York University)
  • Ruth McManus (Geography Department, St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University)
  • Massimo Moraglio (Technische Universität Berlin)
  • Walter J. Nicholls (University of California)
  • Janet Polasky (University of New Hampshire)
  • Maarten Prak (University of Utrecht)
  • Stéphane Van Damme (European University Institute)