Academe or Agora? Re-situating the Urban Epistemology Debate

CITYzen

The academic debate over  the irreverent but very sharp  answer by Richard Walker to Neil Brenner and  Chistian Schmid’s pioneering paper on their New  Urban Epistemology and their publication  side-by-side in CITY 19.2-3 has had its day. It is time now to move on, extending the debate from the hallowed precincts of Academe towards the more relaxed meeting, talking market-place outside, beginning to rediscover at the same time what the debate is really about. Not only might Aristotle meet up again with Socrates, they might even remark on, re-mark and  eventually join with others in re-making the ground on which they stand. Meanwhile, ducking so as to miss any  remaining masonic missiles, our contributor ventures out, assuming, just for safety’s sake the name of CITYzen.


I am in love with Brenner and Schmid’s intentions “to ignite and advance further debate on the epistemological foundations for critical urban theory and practice,” and also with Walker’s goal of engaging Brenner and Schmid “in a spirit of friendly combat.”  The key issue is that urbanization concentrates everything — economic productivity and innovation, technological change, rates of change of political alliances, the evolutionary dynamics of human cultures, traditions, and institutions — and also present-day conflict and disagreement.

Hence when we get to the point of ‘planetary urbanization’ — whether understood in social-theoretical, Lefebvrian terms or pragmatic McKinsey-Consulting-profit-potential terms — then we’ve gotten to a point of powerful diffusion and re-spatialization of the political economies of knowledge in a spatial configuration of transnational contingency: it’s getting harder to predict which events, which stories, in which cities, will shape the new course of history in {today’s media-saturated?} tomorrow’s media-connected urban world.

“The Urban” is back, and it’s a searchable (and sentient) urbanismi, with critical perspective focused on the brand names that know us:  it’s no accident that David Harvey and Ed Glaeser are shown an image of Google’s new facility in Greenwich Village in order to begin a videotaped debate on what “productivity” means in the new age of digitally surveillant creative urbanism.(1)

But “productivity” can, in certain circumstances, be measured in terms of the magnitude of the audience willing to reconsider the epistemological foundations of urbanism as a way of life — or of those engaging with friendly combat over which assumptions we should abandon and which intergenerational achievements should be preserved or extended.  What is most crucial is that we all acknowledge and engage our disagreements in the urban agora, in City …

Hence when we get to the point of ‘planetary urbanization’ — whether understood in social-theoretical, Lefebvrian terms or pragmatic McKinsey-Consulting-profit-potential terms — then we’ve gotten to a point of powerful diffusion and re-spatialization of the political economies of knowledge in a spatial configuration of transnational contingency: it’s getting harder to predict which events, which stories, in which cities, will shape the new course of history in [today’s media-saturated?] tomorrow’s media-connected urban world.

  1.  Editor’s question and author’s response: ‘Even you miss out that biocultural entity, the material planet, that is the battlefield on which the ‘contestation’ is being fought out. Do I remember you once saying that as a student you undertook only one course in physical geography?’ ‘Excellent point indeed — yep, only one fizzgeog course (but it was a great one)’

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