In the new millennium, understanding, humanizing, and improving the urban experience remains a pressing challenge. New digital tools allow us to bridge the gap between imagined space and real places to make the modern city more intimate, visceral, and engaging. Yet, old concerns about equity, health, and safety remain, calling into question the ultimate texture of the global cosmopolitan evolution. The Urban Bulletin is a space of contact, clarification, and context for voices, ideas, and actions linked to the new urban frontier.
WHO are you?
Michael McQuarrie, Lecturer in Sociology, London School of Economics.
WHAT motivates you?
Curiosity, which drives my efforts to better understand the world and cities in particular. Optimism about the potential of cities to bring out our more creative, tolerant, and socially-engaged selves. Anger at social injustice and mediocre social science.
WHERE is your focus?
My research has two foci at the moment. The first is the transformation of urban governance in the U.S. over the last forty years. I explain changes to both the structure of governance, in which the most important development is the replacement of state actors with nonprofits, and the nature of urban authority, or the beliefs that prompt us to consent to the rule of others. On the latter issue, the most important development is the misguided belief that participation and community in decentralized institutions lead to better or more equitable governance and policy. What has in fact happened is that we have traded a system in which regular people had little political voice but the opportunity for social mobility for a system in which they have a lot of voice but a worsening economic situation. It is not clear to me that this is an improvement.
The second issue I am researching is the nature of urban civility. In particular, I look at the cultural war in cities of the global south to define appropriate modes of behavior in public. Seen from this vantage point it becomes clear that manners are tied up with class and status stigma as well as efforts to make the city “for” some people rather than “others”. For example, anti-hawking laws doesn’t exclude commerce from central cities, it merely excludes commerce by more marginal populations. The Delhi rape case last December is another example. In this case an unchaperoned couple was assaulted in part because their behavior was deemed by some to be inappropriate in public. What was an utterly mundane public display to some was highly offensive to others. The protests that surrounded the incident made it clear that two very different imaginations of the city were operative.
WHY should we care?
We have choices about the kind of world we live in. We are in real danger of choosing to live in a dangerous, impoverished, alienated, and polarized world. But that need not be the outcome. Urban communities are often experiments in how to live better and how to live worse. Our future is in their somewhere. It seems worthwhile to use these examples to figure out what sort of society we want to live in.
HOW can people engage with you?
I am always open to suggestions. I blog periodically for Shelterforce and often write for the magazine. You can follow me on twitter (@mgmcquarrie), but I am not very good at it. You can contact me directly if you are looking for a paper that is behind a paywall (sorry, I wish academic publishing worked differently).
Originally posted 21st March 2014 by Julian Chambliss