From the city lens toward urbanisation as a way of seeing

Angelo, Hillary. "From the city lens toward urbanisation as a way of seeing: Country/city binaries on an urbanising planet." Urban Studies 54, no. 1 (2017): 158-178.

Our friend and colleague Hillary Angelo of UC Santa Cruz has just published a highly productive reflection on urbanization and "ways of seeing" in Urban Studies.  Hillary was part of the small doctoral discussion group in New York City from which the Urban Theory Lab's project emerged, and she continues to blast forward with her theoretical explorations, which remain closely allied to our agendas.  We are delighted to post this text here.  The article Abstract follows below.

In recent years, three superficially distinct urban subfields have made parallel efforts to incorporate the city’s traditional ‘outsides’ into urban research. Urban political ecology, American urban sociology and postcolonial urban studies have made, respectively, ‘nature’, the ‘rural’ and the ‘not-yet’ city the objects of self-consciously urban analyses. I argue that these interventions are analogous efforts to hybridise city/nature, city/country or society/nature binaries, and that they have a common cause. Each is a response to a persistent ‘city lens’ that remains pervasive in urban practice, and whose assumptions are an increasingly poor fit for contemporary urban environments. This lens, ground in the context of the 19th century metropolis, interprets the world through a series of binary associations hung on the basic assumption that the city can be defined against a nonurban outside. I develop John Berger’s (2008 [1972]) idea of ‘ways of seeing’ as a heuristic for understanding this situation and, using the case of nature, show how the city lens encourages practitioners and some scholars to romanticise, anachronise or generalise when confronting signs of the not-city in the urban. I conclude by evaluating the limitations of hybridity as a solution to the problems of the city lens, and by outlining an alternative approach. I advocate for turning this way of seeing into a research object, and argue for the importance of an historical and process-oriented examination of the ongoing use of these categories even as critical urban scholars attempt to move beyond them.


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