USF Symposium 2018

Blog Events 1st November 2018

The Urban Studies Foundation will be hosting a morning symposium on the 13th December 2018, where five of our recently appointed Postdoctoral Research Fellows will present their recent and ongoing work. The presentations will be held at the University of Glasgow in the Adam Smith Building (near Hillhead Subway station, Glasgow) and will run from 9:00am until 1:30pm. There will be tea and coffee available beforehand from 8:30am, as well as a break during the middle of the session.

All interested scholars, students and other individuals are welcome to attend, but please note that this is a small event and places are limited. If you’d like to attend then please fill out this web form (link expired) and we will contact you to confirm your place and provide more information.

Presenting fellows: Dr Katie Higgins (University of Sheffield), Dr Sage Ponder (University of Minnesota), Dr Stephanie Wakefield (Florida International University), Dr Katie Wells (Georgetown University), and Dr Pablo Arboleda (University of Glasgow).


8:30am – Tea and Coffee

9:00am – Introduction (Professor Donald McNeill, USF Chair)

9:15am – Little capital: the super-rich in a second-tier city
(Dr Katie Higgins, University of Sheffield)

Following the Global Financial Crisis, the wealth of a small social fraction dubbed the super-rich has been the subject of growing public anger and media attention (BBC ‘The Super Rich and Us’, 2015; CNBC ‘The Secret Lives of the Super-Rich’, 2013; Frank, 2007; Kampfner, 2014). Academic publications, such as Piketty’s (2014) Capital and Dorling’s (2014) Inequality and the 1%, have documented the recent intensification of wealth and some of the damaging consequences of inequality. While we are beginning to know more about the lives of the profoundly wealthy in global cities and high-status tourist enclaves, the impact of wealth and the very wealthy on ‘second-tier’ cities, such as Manchester, remain relatively underexplored. How might second-tier cities exhibit different social and spatial patterns? Does the urbanism of smaller cities offer a distinctive formation of social life for wealth elites in urban settings? How are cities on the margins being restructured for, and by, the super-rich? This presentation seeks to contribute new insights about how wealth is cascading into cities on the margins.

10:00am – The Racialization of Municipal Debt and Urban Infrastructure in Detroit and Puerto Rico
(Dr Sage Ponder, University of Minnesota)

Detroit, MI, and the US territory of Puerto Rico are the sites of the two largest municipal bond market bankruptcies in US history. Major components of bankruptcy for both places include insolvent public utilities that provide fundamental needs to residents, water and electric power respectively. These bankruptcies have, moreover, involved steep increases in utility fees, and major interruptions in service to users, which has in turn affected public health outcomes for residents. As part of the debt restructuring process, both places are also losing authority over their public utilities, Detroit through a process of regionalization and Puerto Rico through privatization. The aim of this research project, writ large, is to examine both the making and lived experience of contemporary public utility transformation with the objectives of a) mapping the ways in which urban governance unevenly incorporates the mandates of sustainable and austerity urbanism, and b) highlighting the implications for urban environmental justice under socio-ecological transition. The more modest aim of this presentation is to provide a preliminary report back from the Detroit field site, with special attention paid to ongoing methodological choices in the development of a comparative framework.

10:45am – Miami Forever: Urbanism in the Back Loop
(Dr Stephanie Wakefield, Florida International University)

Drawing from resilience ecology, I will first propose that we are entering the Anthropocene’s ‘back loop,’ a time of release, fragmentation, and reorientation in which not only populations and climates are being upended but also physical and metaphysical grounds. In response to these dislocations, coastal cities are increasingly cast as climate change first responders: both ‘front lines’ where uncertain futures are unfolding and ‘laboratories’ in which experimental practices and technologies of resilience are being tested out and new sociotechnical assemblages being conjured. How do we understand these transformations? How are such practices transforming the meaning and scope of the urban, its life and politics? I take up these questions by examining what I call ‘back loop urbanism’ in Miami, Florida, a critical climate change site known as ‘ground zero’ for sea level rise in the United States, where a variety of local, in situ, experimental urban resilience efforts are underway. From nature-as-infrastructure attempts to increase natural water flows to the Everglades, maintaining freshwater pressure against the seas, and diverse efforts by art and municipal institutions to reimagine the city’s watery futures, to informal adaptive practices of working class communities living in and with disrupted environments: emerging in Miami is an array of distinct back loop techniques that fold in local trajectories and legacies in unique and sometimes conflicting ways. While I will touch on each individually, I am interested in how they are drawn together as an ‘assemblage’ of back loop urbanism, in which the city itself —its forms of life, self-conception, and material composition—is being reimagined and redesigned.

11:30am – Tea and Coffee

11:45am – Whither Worker Agency in the Platform Economy? The Work Lives of Uber Drivers
(Dr Katie Wells, Georgetown University)

Since 2011, Uber, the chauffeur service that uses smartphone technologies to dispatch rides on-demand, has promised workers in Washington, D.C. and cities across the globe a strong sense of control over their working conditions. To be an Uber driver is to work when you want. It is to “be your own boss” and to “earn money on your schedule.” With Uber, so the argument goes, “you’re in charge.” This paper is about those claims, the nature of working conditions in the platform economy, and the geographies of work in the ride-hailing industry. How is the Uber workplace structured? And what kinds of worker agency does it engender? To answer these questions, I turn to empirical data about the nitty-gritty, everyday practices by which 40 individual Uber drivers in the D.C. area entered, managed, and, in some cases, left the Uber workplace. In doing so, this paper begins to fill an empirical gap in urban studies about labor processes and practices in the digital era, and what new intersections between technology and labor mean for possibilities of worker agency. This paper’s theoretical contribution lies in its extension of Cindi Katz’s (2004) tripartite model of agency. I argue that many of the everyday practices and acts undertaken by Uber drivers may be best understood as minor resilience, a deflated version of one of Katz’s categories

12:30pm – Ruins versus Neoliberalism: Counter-preservation as a form of resistance
(Dr Pablo Arboleda, University of Glasgow)

Tabacalera’ is a 30,000sqm industrial building located in Madrid’s city centre. Built at the end of the 18th century, it originally functioned as a state-run tobacco factory until closure in 2000. After ten years of abandonment, the Ministry of Culture transferred part of the property to a series of local collectives for use as a ‘self-managed social centre’. Here, in an atmosphere characterised by decay aesthetics and minimal architectural interventions, all kind of cultural, public, and communal activities are held daily. However, very recently, the authorities have announced plans to privatise part of the building, something that would lead to its formal renovation and re-conceptualisation.

For the last four months, I have been engaged in the social and organisational dynamics within Tabacalera researching motivations and actions behind collectives’ opposition to the authorities’ plan. This on-going ethnographic study is enabling an immersive approach, encompassing participation at meetings, events and institutional negotiations. My presentation will draw on fieldnotes and semi-structured interviews.

Deploying Daniela Sandler’s notion of ‘counterpreservation’, my presentation will consider the case of Tabacalera within the context of a critical concern for ruins, and these diverse spaces are being work in creative, safe and collaborative ways without compromising their representative traces. The presentation will suggest that, in less than a decade, Tabacalera has already become a critical heritage icon for ‘free culture’ and the libertarian movement, something mirrored in the informal, changing materiality of the site. This interdisciplinary presentation will show how Tabacalera’s tangible and intangible aspects are being brought together to forge resistances to neoliberal intervention, of a kind that currently threatens the new urban ruin as a public space.