Urban Community

RC21 2020 | Antwerp, Belgium

RC21 2020  |  July 6 – 8, 2020  |  Antwerp, Belgium

Methods for understanding place-based urban communities as embodied experience and practice

Organizers –

Alasdair Jones, London School of Economics

Zachary Neal, Michigan State University

Deadline: 15 March 2020 

The notion of ‘community’ is an enduring concern both in urban studies and urban planning (Delanty 2010; Crow and Mah 2012), as well as in policy domains (e.g. Wong and Guggenheim 2018), despite numerous critiques of its utility as a social scientific concept (Day 2006).  Questions of identity, inclusion and wellbeing are tied up with concerns about the death or transformation of community life (Jacobs 1961). 

As well as understanding what community is and measuring its signifiers, a pressing concern for policy-makers is how to foster social cohesion and generate social capital to mitigate against contemporary problems such as increased alienation, loneliness, segregation, social cohesion or inequality (Keller and Virág 2019).  In the same vein, evidence is increasingly sought about what sorts of built environments are conducive to a strong community sense of place (Ellery and Ellery 2019) and to the formation of social networks through which new ideas and behaviours that can either underpin or undermine cohesive and shared experiences of urban community spread (Rowson, et al. 2010).

For this session we are interested in papers concerned with place-based urban communities as both a material site and a social experience.  We are interested in papers that adopt mixed-methods approaches as a means to explore place-based (sense of) community as a phenomenon characterised by ‘double-embeddedness’ whereby social relationships are understood to be “embedded in a local structure of other relationships, in turn embedded in geographic space” (Habinek, Martin and Zablocki 2015: 27).   These approaches might combine social network-based measures of community with more spatial (network, mapping, urban design or otherwise) analyses, but they might also employ other (e.g. sensory, mobile, participatory or artistic) methods to as a means to capture the embodied experience of urban community as a socio-material phenomenon.

We hope that papers in this session will suggest, and in some cases deploy, innovative and blended research methodologies that allow deeper insight into a domain that has been under-explored to date, namely the embodied experience of place-based community as a function of both social ties and spatio-material conditions (Bartholomew and Jones [forthcoming]).  They may, for instance, deploy novel multi-level network analysis techniques to understand place-based communities in terms of complex webs of (socio-material) connections (Neal 2013), or use ‘creative methodologies’ (Elliott and Culhane 2018) to better understand the civic role of ‘social infrastructure’ (Klinenberg 2018) or community as urban practice (Blokland 2017).  Alternatively, and in line with the focus of the wider conference on unequal access to varieties of sensory experiences, papers may shed light on the determinants of variation in experiences and practices of community in the same material locales – for example, how do im/mobilities shape experiences and perceptions of community?  And how might we study such relationships?

This session will bring together urban studies scholars interested in developing innovative methodologies to extend our primarily social network-based understandings of place-based community to include its spatial, material and/or sensory qualities.  Such an endeavour, we argue, is a critical step in responding to pressing calls for increasing attention to the role of space and place in meeting the social policy challenge of urban inequalities (Whitworth [ed.] 2019).

Among other themes, papers in this session could cover:

  • research concerned with studying urban communities as socio-spatial phenomena;

  • research concerned with diverse experiences and practices of urban community, with a particular emphasis on the sensory dimensions of these experiences and practices;

  • novel and/or creative methodological approaches for measuring urban community as a function of both urban form (including ‘social infrastructure’) and social connections;

  • reviews and syntheses of methodological approaches for studying urban communities as socio-spatial phenomena. 

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted via this link: https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/conferences/rc21-sensing-the-city/call-for-papers/submit-your-abstract/

© 2020   Zachary Neal