CFP: Urban Theory’s Others

Call for Participants
5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies
University of Edinburgh, June 10-12, 2015
Session Organizers: Heather McLean (University of Glasgow) and Leslie Kern (Mount Allison University)
Title: Urban Theory’s Dirty Sweaty Little Others
Planetary urbanism, urban neoliberalism, creative cities, the precariat, gentrification, urban exploration, sustainability, community arts: contemporary urban theory has no shortage of concepts and topics with high levels of academic and popular currency. Falling under the broad umbrella of “critical [urban] geographies” (Blomley, 2006), these topics (perhaps ironically) form the basis of dominant – and intellectually trendy – conceptual models for understanding the city. Some urban scholars have added nuance to this work by calling for research that decentres a global north-south divide, engages more with post-colonial theories, addresses embodiment and emotion, and fosters a feminist ethic of care, reciprocity, and engagement with research ‘subjects’ (McCann and Ward, 2012; Nagar, 2013; Peake and Reiker, 2013; Robinson, 2011; Wright, 2014). But, as popular urban research topics are continually refined, repeated, cited, and re-circulated through particular scholar networks they may develop an increasingly abstract distance from the people, places, and contexts that are purportedly of concern. Moreover, too often the process and emotional/embodied labour of theory-making remains opaque and authorial subjectivity remains obscured within this canon. Our intention for this session is to contribute to discussions about what gets lost – and what happens outside of – these networks of dominant, western, abstract theorizing about cities.
As feminist urban geographers, teachers, artists, and activists, we argue that it is a feminist imperative to keep flagging the invisibilized labour of theory-making, the devaluation/appropriation of the (gendered and racialized) labour of the ‘subjects’ of urban research, the affective economy of cities, and the queer and embodied processes of thinking, playing, failing, blundering, wandering, and wondering that generate something Other than the current dominant ‘critical’ narratives of the city.
Drawing inspiration from Jack Halberstam’s (2011) notion of “queer failure,” Sarah Ahmed’s (2014) idea of “sweaty concepts,” and the longstanding feminist commitment to engage deeply with the everyday, the irrelevant, the banal, and the excessive, we ask the following questions in the spirit of playful and provocative critique:
· How does urban theory/research reproduce dominant narratives about the city? What structures (financial, institutional, social, etc.) facilitate this? Where does this production take place? Alone, in front of computer screens, in workshops attended by select individuals?
· What counts as theory? What counts as a concept? What counts as theory-making? Ahmed notes that some of us ‘litter’ our conceptualizing with anecdotes or personal experiences or embodied, emotional narratives (e.g. acknowledging the ‘sweat’ that occurs when we encounter a ‘place’ where we don’t fit); this ‘litter’ can be a generative starting point for theorizing. But it is often cut out of or devalued in academic writing. What makes us sweat?
· How can we put this ‘litter’ back in, or reclaim frivolous ideas and practices meant to “provoke, annoy, irritate and amuse” (Halberstam 2011)?
· Do pressures to engage with particular concepts or methodologies hold us back from taking risks, getting lost, blundering around with ideas, and maybe failing as we take twisty pathways that can open up doors and create further unexpected encounters?
· What can we learn from using what Halberstam refers to as “silly” archives, low theory (e.g. pop culture), the strange, the inconsequential, the micro, the irrelevant, the affective, and the everyday to examine urban politics?
· What ‘sweaty concepts’ are there to work with in urban geography? (E.g. are there any concepts that “show the bodily work or effort of their making”?)
· What would we like to have available to work with – conceptually, emotionally, politically – that is missing or underrepresented in the lexicon of urban theory?

Our hope is to put together an interactive session that will allow participants and audience members to explore these and other questions across their research interests in a space of collective, playful, and interdisciplinary thought making. We are therefore asking for ‘expressions of interest:’ Would you like to participate in such a session? What would you like to talk about? What other questions would you like to ask or explore? How would you like to participate?
Interested people can forward brief answers to these questions to: or by Friday, October 24, 2014.
Works cited
Ahmed, S (2014) “Sweaty Concepts,” Feminist Killjoys, available at
Blomley, N (2006) “Uncritical critical geography?” Progress in Human Geography 30(1) 87-94.
Halberstam, J (2011) The Queer Art of Failure, Duke University Press Books.
McCann, E and Ward, K (2012) “Assembling urbanism: following policies and ‘studying through’ the sites and situations of policy making” Environment and Planning A 44(1) 42-51.
Nagar, R (2013) “Desiring Alliance and Complex Translations in Activist Research: An Interview with Richa Nagar,” Class War University, available at
Robinson, J (2011) “Cities in a world of cities: the comparative gesture” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(1) 1-23.
Peake, L and Reiker, M (Eds) (2013) Feminist Interventions Into the Urban, Routledge.
Wright, M (2014) “Gentrification, assassination and forgetting in Mexico: a feminist Marxist tale” Gender, Place and Culture 21(1) 1-16.


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