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The Urban Question as Cargo Cult: Opportunities for a New Urban Pedagogy

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  • ROB SHIELDS

Abstract

Urban research is unreflexive toward its object of study, the city, compromising its methodologies and theoretical capacity. This polemic draws on examples such as ‘creative cities’, which have been profiled and analysed for their local recipes for economic success. ‘Global cities’ have become stereotypes of a neoliberal form of the ‘good life’ to which much recent urban research is a handmaiden, a hegemonic knowledge project. These ‘metro‐poles’ of value are a form of urban pedagogy that presents lesser local elites with lessons to be followed. A form of cargo cult theory suggests, build it and wealth will come — hence the symmetry of urban scholarship with the fad for city rankings in pop journalism. In contrast to neo‐structural analyses of the global city, other research focuses too closely on regional geographies, local forces and urban affordances. A synthetic level of theory is proposed to bridge the divide which marks urban and regional studies. The ‘urban’ needs to be rediscovered as a central question. The urban is an object of theory and the city is a truth spot. The urban is more than infrastructure and bodies but an intangible good or ‘virtuality’ that requires an appropriate methodological toolkit. Résumé La recherche urbaine manque de réflexivitéà l’égard de son objet d’étude, la ville, ce qui compromet ses méthodologies et sa capacité théorique. Cette critique part d’exemples tels que les “villes créatives” dont on a établi le profil et l’analyse pour en déterminer les recettes locales de réussite économique. Les “villes planétaires” sont devenues des stéréotypes d’une forme néolibérale de la “bonne vie” au service de laquelle se met généralement la recherche urbaine, un projet de savoir hégémonique. Ces métro‐pôles de valeur constituent une sorte de pédagogie urbaine qui expose aux moindres élites locales des leçons à suivre. Un genre de théorie du culte du cargo suggère qu’il suffit de construire pour voir la richesse arriver, d’où la symétrie entre les travaux de recherche urbaine et la mode pour les palmarès de villes dans le journalisme populaire. Contrairement aux analyses néo‐structuralistes de la ville planétaire, d’autres études se consacrent de trop près aux géographies régionales, aux forces locales et aux affordances urbaines. Un niveau de théorie synthétique est proposé pour franchir la ligne de démarcation des études urbaines et régionales. Il faut redécouvrir “l’urbain” en tant que question centrale. L’urbain est un objet de théorie, la ville est un lieu de vérité. L’urbain est plus qu’une infrastructure et des entités, c’est un bien intangible, une “virtualité”, qui nécessite un jeu d’outils méthodologiques approprié.

Suggested Citation

  • Rob Shields, 2008. "The Urban Question as Cargo Cult: Opportunities for a New Urban Pedagogy," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 32(3), pages 712-718, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ijurrs:v:32:y:2008:i:3:p:712-718
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2008.00808.x
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Eve Chiapello & Luc Boltanski, 2005. "The New Spirit of Capitalism," Post-Print hal-00680089, HAL.
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