In praise of chaotic research pathways: A feminist response to planetary urbanization

Mclean, Heather

This intervention contributes to feminist and queer responses to Brenner and Schmid’s ‘planetary urbanization’ thesis. I discuss the generative potential of their attempts to craft alternative urban research pathways and their critique of urban age discourse, a body of work that defines cities as static sites of ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’, and ‘sustainability’. However, echoing critics of the planetary urbanization approach, I contend that Brenner and Schmid’s research schema risks reproducing exclusionary analytical hierarchies by promoting a totalizing, ‘god-trick-like’ standpoint and ignoring marginalized feminist, queer, and praxis-oriented urban studies approaches. As a result, planetary urbanization ignores situated and relational knowledges and lived experience. Moreover, I question Brenner and Schmid’s efforts to bring order to what they perceive as ‘chaotic’ urban research. I then reflect on the feminist analytic tool kit I employ in my arts-based research in Glasgow, including performing with Fail Better, a cabaret that makes space for politicized artists and under-represented artists of colour, queer artists, and working class artists. I argue that planetary urbanization offers useful strategies for interrogating the globalized geo-economic processes propelling contemporary efforts to re-invent cities into sites of competitive creativity. But I also argue that this approach cannot account for the intersectional inequalities neoliberal regimes reproduce or uncover artists’ and activists’ efforts to forge solidarities. I conclude by calling for feminist, queer, and arts-based research journeys that embrace humility, dialogue, taking risks, and possibly failing in our efforts to chart alternative research pathways.