Geographies of Aspiration

July 22nd & 23rd 2013, AS7, Shaw Foundation Building, Research Division Seminar Room 06-42

Programme available here: Geographies of Aspiration – Program

What kind of urban lives and places do city dwellers aspire to? Where do these aspirations come from? And how do we go about studying them? Trans-disciplinary urban studies has seen a recent upsurge in interest in the geographically extensive relations through which cities are (re)constituted, while at the same time retaining a longstanding concern with urban space and territoriality (e.g. McCann and Ward, 2010; Bunnell and Das, 2010). This has generated a series of useful insights into the origins of different ‘models’ of urban policy and the ways in which those who lead cities cite, compare and evaluate the performance of their own cities against others. However, to date, relational/territorial studies of cities have focused on those who make policy rather than on the lived experiences, aspirations and capacities of ordinary urbanites (although in some cases, of course, they are the same people). Similarly, while there has been some important methodological innovation with regard to mobile people and practices and associated interurban relations, this has centred upon those who make policy and effect urban change from ‘above’ (e.g. McCann, 2011; Peck and Theodore, 2012).

The purpose of this workshop is to bring an expanded range of actors into accounts of the ways in which cities are constituted through geographically extended – but also locally grounded – relations. In particular, we seek to extend beyond those who make policies to consider actors who experience their consequences and who strive to (re)make cities from ‘below’. We are also concerned with possibilities for socially progressive urban projects to be extended beyond local ‘spaces of hope’. We thus bring together scholars with overlapping interests in: (1) diversifying the currently burgeoning, but elite actor-centred, field of interurban studies; (2) possibilities for extending studies of interurban effects beyond neo-liberalization (see also Parnell and Robinson, 2012), and; (3) methodological innovations – particularly, but not only, forms of urban ethnography – that are necessary for examination of geographies of urban aspiration as both grounded and relational.

The two-day event combines participation from urban scholars at NUS who form part of the MOE Tier 2 research grant on ‘Aspirations, urban governance and the remaking of Asian cities’ and key members of the University of Manchester’s ‘cities@manchester’ urban studies research initiative ( The aim of the workshop is to forge collective and collaborative insights into the complex geographies through which people seek to realize better urban places and lives in Asia and beyond.


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