Reviewed by Myrium Greenbur, Kevin Ward, Julie-Anne Boudreau, and David Wachsmuth
In The Making of Grand Paris, Theresa Enright has written the first book length, English-language analysis of the politics behind, and those emerging from, the “Grand Paris” metropolitan plan of the last decade. This joint administrative and planning initiative was launched by national decree in 2007 under the administration of Nicholas Sarkozy, as “a new global plan for the Paris metropolitan region.” Since completion in 2016, the Métropole du Grand Paris has come to include the City of Paris plus 130 communes (municipalities) in the surrounding suburban area, covering 314 square miles and a population of over 7 million, or eight times the size and triple the population of Paris itself.
In many ways Grand Paris was a conventional regional planning and state re-scaling initiative aimed at boosting competitiveness for both the city and nation. Dubbed “Silicon Valley Européenne,” here was the latest effort to rationalize planning within a rapidly urbanizing metropolitan area, entice speculative investment, and compete with expanding city regions of the European Union and beyond. But as the book carefully shows, Grand Paris was also from the start freighted with a loftier, symbolic goal: metropolitan solidarity. Part of this was administrative, replacing fragmented governing structures with “a tight web of mutual support.” And part was about regional equity. The Paris region was infamous for its brutal divide between an affluent city and ethnically segregated, working class suburbs, or banlieus – a term that by the 1990s became synonymous with “ghetto.” Political and economic barriers, cuts to social housing concentrated there, militarized policing, and poor transport links contributed to the alienation and anger that fueled the suburban riots of November 2005. Thus, the spatial work of Grand Paris was also a response to these politics and inequities (something particularly underscored when socialist president Francois Hollande was elected in 2012).
Yet what kind of response was it? As Enright argues, it was one that managed at once to invoke and erase the politics that called it into being. Enright terms this approach “grand urbanism”: infrastructural megaprojects that require enormous public support, and call to mind the grand-scale public projects of the 19th century, yet that mainly serve to reconfigure urban regions in pursuit of speculative redevelopment. Hence the political contradiction. On the one hand Grand Paris called out social and spatial divides as if to transcend them. Yet, by emphasizing market-oriented redevelopment, and without effective consultation with, or participation by, the less powerful suburban districts, the plan reproduced the very hierarchies, inequities, and tensions it set out to address.
To illustrate grand urbanism in action, Enright focuses on the early visioning stage of the plan, as coordinated by Sarkozy and the national Minister of Culture and Communication. In particular she analyzes the international design competition they launched to reimagine the Paris region. Here ten competing teams of architects and planners were tasked with envisioning a 21st century Paris metropolis for the “post-Kyoto” era, and creating a plan to guide regional development for the next 40 years. The designs promised to “improve the quality of life of…residents, reduce inequalities between regions … [and] develop an urban, social and economic sustainability model” for the benefit of both the region and entire national territory.
Ultimately the visionary plans were exhibited and widely publicized, but, facing the reality of fractured and fractious regional government, never implemented. Nonetheless, they served as an exercise in regional rebranding, boosting the attractiveness of the region. As such they helped usher in Grand Paris Express, a transit-oriented development plan for the Paris region, which included both more extensive lines of the Métro, and the development of a series of transit-linked commercial and innovation hubs ringing and connected to the central city. This plan has been supported by, and attracted, an unprecedented scale of private investment.
Not surprising for a project of such ambition, Enright’s study raises many questions, and the scholars assembled in this symposium point to many important ones. First is the question of politics itself. Beyond national scale actors, what of the role (or lack thereof) of local and regional growth machines? The Grand Paris planning process (like all such projects) was frought and hard-fought; what do we know of these battles, and of alternative plans that challenged or changed Grand Paris, or were abandoned? What of the interaction of Grand Paris with the left movements to transform the suburbs into quartiers populaires, and advance struggles for housing and transit access, economic development and jobs, cultural and political representation? Another key question is that of comparison. How representative is Grand Paris, and indeed grand urbanism? Given how top-down it apparently has been, unlike other cases driven by regional elites, should it be theorized as such? If this is neoliberalism, is it of a variegated sort, and if so how did it emerge? If Grand Paris represents a paradigm, how was it shaped relationally, and how has it, or could it, travel elsewhere?
Writing from the outskirts of the original, very non-European Silicon Valley, to which fractured and under-funded regional transit systems barely reach, as well as in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in the greater Houston area, I am struck by the urgency of these questions, and of Enright’s book. If we are to build equitable and sustainable cities, we must take a regional approach, yet the politics of this regionalism, in all its variation, remain under-studied. However partial, the cautionary tale of The Making of Grand Paris offers a vital text to conceptualize these politics and the symbolic powers they marshal, offering new ways for thinking about metropolitan planning and visioning as a preeminent political project of our time, and as inextricable from our most fundamental urban struggles.
University of California- Santa Cruz
The Making of Grand Paris is a joy to read and to put into conversation with other recent book-length contributions in urban studies. It is a detailed analysis of how those who govern one city- Paris – have sought to bring forth a particular future. Through three inter-linked and related sites, Enright renders visible the labour involved in moving forward these mega-projects, the stuff both of dreams and of nightmares. Acknowledging the existing literatures on large scale urban transformations, largely written from an urban and regional political economy perspective, Enright draws our attention to “the complex activities, practices, beliefs and behaviours through which power relations materialize in the built environment and in speaking subjects” (p. 5). For her there is a need to people the making of Grand Paris. She reinforces this point time and time again in the book, to good effect. This processual analysis about how a project of this scope and reach needs regular remaking is for me one of the book’s five take home points.
Second, this is a detailed empirical study. There are numerous quotes from a range of sources which are used to introduce and discuss the case study and its various elements. This gives the book a solid feel and I mean that in a very positive manner. Its arguments are premised on a clear empirical basis. This is not some flighty or superficial analysis. Rather it was crafted and curated in a careful manner, empirical evidence in its various guises marshalled productively. The book contains its fair share of diagrams, figures, maps and photographs for example. And yet I was left wanting more … much more … about how this study was done, so to speak. There are nine lines across pages 6 and 7 on methods, although really this relatively short section consists of a description of sources. And that is it! In a book of 313 pages! In the context of a growing literature on the doing of a more global urban studies, where the emphasis is on how to make good methodologically on the exciting work now being done across a range of disciplines this seems an opportunity missed. This is important to me for a set of reasons: first, rendering how we do our research visible is useful for others in the field, those who might want to know how to build upon what we already know; second, it draws attention to the work involved in these sorts of studies and values it, which is important given the labour can sometimes remain hidden; and third, there are discussions to be had about how to conduct studies of this sort and what is at stake in the use of some methods over others, particularly given that early in the book Enright claims that “Grand Paris represents a …new paradigm for urbanism” and that “grand urbanism is proliferating in urban practices around the world” (p. 5) (Cochrane & Ward, 2012).
Third, the notion of neo-liberalism appears and reappears throughout the book. Less a main character in a novel and more the marginal figure, in the background, the notion is first introduced and discussed between pages 17 and 20. A glance at the index reveals it gets 15 mentions across the book. And yet, I would have liked to have read more about its role in the study. In the book does neoliberalism do the explaining or is it neoliberalism that requires explanation? How does France/Paris fit within the wider geographies and histories of neo-liberalization? For example, Enright notes that “the influence of neoliberalism on French urban policy was until 2007 ‘only’ partial” (p. 18). And in what ways does the example challenge what we think we already know the inter-relationship between urbanization and neo-liberalization? (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Wilson, 2002)
Fourth, there is the befores and elsewheres that Enright highlights on page 223. So, the book is really about the arriving at and the making-up of Grand Paris, like so many other similar sorts of urban policies (Robinson, 2015; Ward, 2006). So, it is about the different plans and strategies for Paris and the surrounding region. Yet, I wonder if there was scope to emphasise a little more about the ways in which these befores and elsewhere are present in the making of Grand Paris. That is perhaps to push the book’s conceptual contribution to thinking through and advancing the global-urban ways in which these sorts of mega-projects are assembled. Clearly the example of the architectural competition and the International Workshop of Grand Paris (AIGP) are detailed in the book. Yet, what these and the other examples that appear and reappear – most noticeably in the Moscow case towards the end – mean conceptually for thinking through the more-than-urban nature of urban politics and policy is given rather short attention (Rodgers, Barnett and Cochrane 2014). Where is urban politics?
Fifth, and finally, it seems to me that Grand Paris is an example of the ways in which cities of all shapes and sizes seek to insert or (reinsert) themselves into the world. It is a worlding strategy writ large (Ong & Roy, 2011). That is, the strategy is designed and delivered by elites as they envision and imagine the location of Paris in relation to other places and within a spatial division of capital attraction and retention and then seek to actualize these strategies. In numerous places through the book Enright draws our attention to what Jessop referred to as the extra-material aspects of these redevelopment schemes. That is the atmospheric, the ephemeral and the fleeting elements of generating a vision for Paris and its future. This is more than being able to be broken down into its constituent parts. This much is clear when Enright starts her second chapter with “A Dream Collectivized”. It is these aspects and how they sit with the more well-studied aspects of attempts to project a particular Paris into the world that I would have liked to have read a little more of, although I appreciate that this might take Enright out of her intellectual comfort zone (it takes me out of mine)!
University of Manchester
Brenner, N., & Theodore, N. (2002). Cities and the geographies of “actually existing neoliberalism”. Antipode, 34(3), 349–379.
Cochrane, A., & Ward, K. (2012). Researching the geographies of policy mobility: Confronting the methodological challenges. Environment and Planning A, 44(1), 5–12.
Ong, A, & Roy, A (Eds.). (2011). Worlding Cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Robinson, J. (2015). “Arriving at” urban policies: The topological spaces of urban policy mobility. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(4), 831–834.
Rodgers, S., Barnett, C., & Cochrane, A. (2014). Where is urban politics? International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(5), 1551–1560.
Ward, K. (2006). ‘Policies in motion’, urban management and state restructuring: The trans-local expansion of business improvement districts. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), 54–75.
Wilson, D. (2002). Towards a contingent neoliberalism. Urban Geography, 24(8), 771–783.
Enright’s analysis of governance reforms in the Paris region is impressive for its depth and clarity. Anyone familiar with the French political system knows the complexity of political and institutional relations characteristic of France. Under Enright’s pen, such complexity becomes very transparent. The book not only tells the story of the making of Grand Paris, but it narrates its historical roots and reflects on its sociopolitical impacts. She uses ample plays of words, in French and English, to illustrate the motivation behind this “grand” endeavour, this “grand urbanism” as she puts it. “Indeed,” she writes, “grand urbanism denotes a more limited type of governance built on multiple and overlapping forms of authority and non-sovereign relationships within the state and between public and private actors.” (p. 23).
To my view, the strongest contribution of this book, beyond its empirical merit as probably one of the most convincing stories of the Grand Paris, is Enright’s analysis of the symbolic and aesthetic nature of this governance reform. This is something that distinguishes Grand Paris from other comparable reforms around the world. One of the most visible turning points of this long historical reform process is the architectural consultations of Grand Pari(s) aiming to provide an iconography and a vision for an emergent metropolitan society. As Enright suggests, “planning the contemporary metropolis is not merely a technical exercise, it is also a practice of visualization, exploration, discovery, and philosophy.” (p. 32)
There is a long history of articulation between urban professionals and political decision-makers in France, a history Enright does not delve into directly, but which is consistent with its contemporary reiteration in the architectural consultations of Grand Pari(s). Picon’s (Picon, 1988/1992) historical work illustrates the central role of professional architectural and engineering corporations in the spatio-political constitution of France and Paris in particular. In its contemporary reiteration analyzed by Enright in this book, architects, but also sociologists and geographers, played a central role in these governance reforms. Their visioning projects served to implement a set of new governing tools, such as scenarios and visions (see also Lascoumes & Le Galès, 2004). In short, the architectural competition had a tangible performative impact on the reform process. Enright concludes that “how the dream representations of Paris are articulated, by whom, and for what purposes are crucially important to the establishment of a new regime of urban visuality and new norms of urbanism.” (p. 66) In her work on visibility, Brighenti (2007) explains that as a basic category in social sciences, visibility refers to aesthetics (the realm of perceptions) and politics (the power to represent, to recognize, to control). Visibility, as Enright powerful illustrates, is thus a site of strategy.
Scenarios and visions “were never meant to fix a particular future, in the manner of a master plan. Instead, the designs were orientations for further action. In this way, the consultation was less about the material immediacy of addressing the question of the suburbs or meeting pressing challenges of metropolitan life and more about publicly exhibiting an incipient reality.” (p. 64) The governance reform process in the Paris region illustrates the changing relationship to the temporality and spatiality of politics in the contemporary period (Boudreau, 2017). As opposed to linear master planning practices dominant only a few decades ago, the making of Grand Paris is conceived as an open-ended process where the future remains unknown, where detours, various rhythms, and reversible transformations are considered central. Spatially, Enright emphasizes the fluid and dynamic territories of action in the reform process. She illustrates how the architectural competition and the institutions created are visualized as being both inside and outside the city walls. She discusses how one of the impetuses for governance reforms was the banlieues. Yet, “banishing notions of capitalism, colonialism, exploitation, alienation, class struggle, antagonism, contradiction, exploitation, and hierarchy from the urban lexicon, the architects of Grand Pari(s) evacuated Grand Pari(s) of its revolutionary and radical goals. Grand Pari(s) established instead a new framework of grand urbanism that rests squarely on a depoliticized imaginary and glossary of urban terms.” (p. 89).
Indeed, this reform process has depoliticized the conversation between the central city and its suburbs. Perhaps it might be useful to speak in terms of quartiers populaires to repoliticize this spatialized conversation? Quartiers populaires is a term increasingly used by activists and academics to emphasize the working class origins of these spaces and their Communist history (banlieue rouge). The notion explicitly contradicts other public policy categories such as quartiers d’exclusion, quartiers difficiles, or quartiers de non-droit. What misses from Enright’s story of the making of Grand Pari(s) are perhaps these voices of resistance. Like the architectural teams, urban intellectuals and decision-makers, residents of the quartiers populaires are indeed creating alternative visions, scenarios, and futures through various other aesthetic forms.
Université de Recherche
Boudreau, J.A. (2017). Global urban politics: informalization of the state. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Brighenti, A. M. (2007). Visibility: A category for the social sciences. Current Sociology, 55(3), 323–342.
Lascoumes, P, & Le Galès, P. (eds.). (2004). Gouverner Par Les Instruments. Paris: Les presses de Sciences Po.
Picon, A. (1988/1992). French architects and engineers in the age of enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
In January 2014, Anne Hidalgo wrote an op-ed in the Guardian. She was deputy mayor of Paris at the time, but was elected mayor several months later. Under the headline “London and Paris: We Could Soon Be Part of the Same Conurbation”, Hidalgo articulated a seemingly preposterous urban vision of London and Paris uniting in the name of global competition: “In the competition of an increasingly connected world, the size and diversity of skills and resources will matter …. Greater London and Paris Grand, with a combined population of 20 million, may well be seen as a single conurbation … from Asia, Latin America or Africa” (Hidalgo, 2014).
The proximate motivation for Hidalgo’s op-ed was a spat with London’s mayor Boris Johnson over the two cities’ relative global prominence. But it’s tempting also to read it against the Grand Paris project to restructure and integrate urban governance across Paris’s metropolitan region, initiated in 2007 and which Hidalgo in some sense inherited when she became the mayor of Paris seven years later. This regionalism project – incredibly ambitious even though slightly more modest than a London-Paris megaregion – is the subject of Enright’s engaging and insightful The Making of Grand Paris. The book is an important contribution to the post-Global City, post-New State Spaces scholarship on the governance of city-regions under conditions of globalizing capitalism (Brenner 2004; Sassen, 2001). It sets out to demonstrate “how policy problems – of metropolitan identity, of mobility, and of autonomy and legitimacy – are created in ways that imply the solution of a global city metropolis” (p. 25). In other words, Enright shows the co-development of a certain representation of the metropolis with a certain set of governance deficits it’s meant to overcome, and in doing so reveals the landscape of power and politics which constitute Grand Paris.
But is Grand Paris really that grand? Its representation – the subject of the first third of the book – is both expansive and ambitious, but I was struck by the corresponding practical narrowness. On the one hand, Enright describes the initial ten designs for Grand Paris as “visions of full employment, affordable and universal housing, accessible and sustainable public space, and local democratic organization [which] challenged existing regional hierarchies and exclusions” (pp. 70–71). On the other hand, she documents the ways in which these “works were ultimately put into the service of a state-sponsored strategy of mobilizing regional space for capital gain” (p. 67). On the one hand, the Grand Paris Act promised to remake the governance of one of the world’s most powerful urban regions. On the other hand, the pivotal project of Grand Paris was “Silicon Valley Européenne” – a predictable new entry in a long list of probably doomed state-led attempts to replicate the economic magic of California’s Bay Area.
This simultaneous grandness/narrowness highlights the enormous disjuncture between the speculative visions of Grand Paris and the actual governance capacities of the relevant actors. Considering the expansive social visions of the ten design competition plans, even assuming the best motivations, urban governance in practice could achieve very few of these lofty goals. And Enright raises the potential practical problems achieving a French Silicon Valley would entail (including bland suburbs, affordable housing problems, and segregation), but equally pressing is the question of why we should imagine that policymakers have any chance of achieving the model in the first place. What was the purpose of all these visions and plans?
Enright gestures to the “coalition of the state, elite local interests, and civil society and private sector actors, each adjusting to and reifying the metropolitan fact” (p. 219). But compared to the detailed and insightful analysis of the state we learned relatively little about the local players, beyond an almost Manichean opposition between the central-state-driven Paris Grand and Paris Métropole, the competing regionalism proposal championed by local governance actors: competitiveness versus solidarity, national authority versus local autonomy.
But how did local growth coalitions attempt to channel and direct the progress of Grand Paris? This matters because, for example, when contrasted with recent urban governance restructuring schemes in the United States, Grand Paris represents something of a scalar inversion. In Paris, the national government has pushed a competitiveness agenda which has been opposed to a certain extent by local and regional actors (represented by Paris Métropole) who have instead advanced a territorial redistribution agenda. In the United States during the same time period, the opposite arrangement was much more common, with state and local players strongly entrepreneurial and the federal Obama administration pushing more redistributive governance schemes (Wachsmuth, 2017). Similarly, whereas the design competition for Grand Paris began with celebrations of local solidarities but ended reinforcing national state priorities, the federally-initiated Rebuild by Design design competition to allocate infrastructure investment on the Northeast coast of the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy ended up reinforcing local growth machine priorities. How much of this divergence comes down to different forms and deployments of top-down state power, and how much to different local growth coalition structures? Enright’s book gives us plenty of tools for understanding the former, but left me a little wanting with respect to understanding the latter.
This brief juxtaposition of France and the United States raises the question of comparison, which consistently haunts The Making of Grand Paris as a spectre, even if it doesn’t quite solidify. The book is a single case study, but Enright works hard to develop a kind of comparativism around it. The lynchpin is her notion of “grand urbanism”, which Grand Paris apparently typifies: “In many important ways, the metropolitanization of Paris is not unique but is emblematic of changes that have been occurring in large cities everywhere in this context [of globalization]” (p. 161). Enright defines “grand urbanism” through six features: global-city political economy, polycentric metropolitan form, transportation megaprojects, state-led territorial restructuring, collaborative governance, and market-oriented urban planning (p. 21). The list does an excellent job of capturing the forces and features at work in the Paris restructuring, but how applicable is this framework elsewhere?
A helpful distinction is between analytical and practical comparison. The former is how we as scholars compare cities and urban regions, while the latter is how policy actors compare cities in the context of urban governance – what Peck and Tickell (2002, p. 394) called the “extrospective city”. In other words, is “grand urbanism” a category for scholars or for politicians? From the former perspective, the notion of “grand urbanism” is certainly suggestive, and I’m willing to be convinced that “grand urbanism” has analytical traction outside of Paris. But it is the idea of practical comparison that is ultimately more intriguing in the book, particularly towards the end where Enright discusses “Grand Moscow” – the first serious attempt by another city to apply the Grand Paris model. What lessons have worldwide urban policymakers taken from Grand Paris, and how have they attempted to apply those lessons? It is possible to imagine a kind of state-led consultancy supplying urban restructuring expertise to cities around the world in much the same way that the Paris public transit authority operates dozens of transit programs around the world. One striking fact is that “Grand Moscow” was actually initiated before Grand Paris was even implemented in its important respects. This suggests that, from the perspective of practical comparison, grand urbanism spreads not as policy per se, but as policy common sense, communicated through representation more than evidence.
Interpreted in these terms, Anne Hidalgo’s Guardian op-ed and its speculation about a unified London-Paris megaregion take on a different meaning. It seems clear that logic of policy-driven urban comparison is both restless and relational – grand urbanism is only grand if it is the grandest, and if the Paris metropolitan region isn’t grand enough, perhaps London-Paris will be. This ultimately, is what the logic of Enright’s analysis prompts us to ask: what will be the next frontier for grand(er) urbanism?
Brenner, N. (2004). New state spaces: Urban governance and the rescaling of statehood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hidalgo, A (2014) London and Paris: We could soon be part of the same conurbation. The Guardian. Last accessed June 30, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/23/london-paris-soon-same-conurbation
Sassen, S. (2001). The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wachsmuth, D. (2017). Competitive multi-city regionalism: Growth politics beyond the growth machine. Regional Studies, 51(4), 643–653.
I’m extremely grateful to Miriam Greenberg, Kevin Ward, Julie-Anne Boudreau and David Wachsmuth for their generous engagements with my book and for arranging this forum. Not only do their reflections enrich my work, but they contribute to ongoing debates about how and why to do global urban research today. The commentaries offer a diverse and rich set of themes and questions. While it is not possible to fully address all their concerns here, I have no doubt that I will continue to think through their insights as I pursue related research projects. In what follows, I structure my comments around two common threads of criticism: the form and politics of contemporary urban governance, and the dynamics of comparative urbanism.
Faced with the challenges of a growing and globalizing urban territory, how are authorities transforming Paris’s regulatory and governance framework? The book’s answer is a set of interrelated concepts comprising “grand urbanism.” I use grand urbanism to describe an emerging governing paradigm that is broadly shared by both formal state politicians as well as many public and private actors at a variety of scales. While I identify in grand urbanism a broad consensus on the goals of metropolitanization, the forms and processes of grand urbanism remain highly contested. Ward is right to describe these variations as competing “worlding” strategies that attempt to reposition Paris, its suburbs, and the broader Ile-de France region in the often messy coordinates of capitalist globalization. In the book, I show how stakeholders mobilize competing discursive, visual, and aesthetic systems to project different urban futures. I also demonstrate how these ephemeral aspects of rule condition more obvious institutional and policy directions. Hence, rather than a straightforward battle (of, for example, central and local interests), the shape of urban-regional governance in Paris today comprises many overlapping, interpenetrating, and dynamic lines of conflict and alignment. While in The Making of Grand Paris I pointedly decided to focus on the dominant central state narrative of metropolitanization in order to draw its constitutive rationalities, I fully agree that, though hegemonic, this discourse is far from total. Wachsmuth and Boudreau are right to emphasize that more work on the cracks in this story, on the myriad battles over grand urbanism – both representational and “real” – is needed. Indeed, these battles will determine how Grand Paris is (or is not) achieved in practice.
Ward and Wachsmuth also raise the issue of how the making of Grand Paris might relate to the making of other metropolises around the world. Embedded within my extended case study of Paris lies a crucial set of questions about how critical urban researchers should approach comparison. How do we conceive of “cities within a world of cities” (Robinson, 2011)? How do we best account for the singularity of place (Jazeel, 2017) while not ignoring the “context of context” (Brenner, Wachsmuth and Madden 2011)? How do we trace “urban politics beyond the urban” (Cochrane, 2011; Rodgers et al. 2014)? Explicit attention to these matters is not laid out in the book, yet nevertheless these inquiries infused my thinking and writing. I consciously sought to provide a conjunctural account (Hart, 2016; Peck, 2017) of Paris’ ongoing transformation, where Grand Paris as a place and as an idea is taken to be a translocal matrix of relations and connections. My approach is guided by a critical political economy that identifies the global workings of financial capitalism as well as the microphysics of power that articulate these machinations. Ward in particular wonders whether the book could have done more to address methodological questions. I am sympathetic to the reasons he cites for the usefulness of transparency, and I agree that methodological debates are vital to critical urban studies. Yet I also want to push back on the reification of method in even the qualitative social sciences. I am skeptical of the idea that every work must also be about the work’s procedure. Exactly how much of a 313 page book should be devoted to methodological reflection? I fear that when we as researchers are compelled to dwell on explaining and justifying our choices (choices that can often be read in the analysis itself), we risk valuing the process of research above the outcomes of understanding and critical reflection.
That being said, the important concerns about comparison and research design are far from resolved in my analysis. To what extent is grand urbanism applicable elsewhere? And as Wachsmuth notes, is this comparison best treated as an analytic or practical matter? These remain open questions in my treatment of neoliberalism and regionalism. In approaching the question of Paris’ transformation through the literature on neoliberalization, for example, my idea was to frustrate readings looking for neoliberalism in the abstract, so as to focus on the differential manifestations of late capitalist power. In this context, I found the concept of neoliberalism useful for tracking the multifaceted regularization of market relations in France. And it was especially important for disrupting the narratives of France’s social exceptionalism and Paris’ municipal progressivism. In this sense then, neoliberalism was both a tool to decipher empirical changes and a lived set of norms and practices being re-formed through Grand Paris’ production. Similarly, grand urbanism as a novel paradigm for planning and policy assembles a range of learned and inherited activities and ideals. I use it to capture an amalgam of ideas, projects, and repertoires that are highly visible in twenty-first century Paris but that are observable in a wider set of urban phenomenon. Grand urbanism, like neoliberalism, might best describe an ideology that in its operational practice is never pure, coherent, and stable, but always polysemic, contradictory, and contingent. Grand urbanization (a term I do not employ in the book) might well describe the aspirational processes of regulative change and speculative regional planning taking place in so many contexts around the world today.
All the commentaries in this forum delve into deep questions about the complex geographies and genealogies of urban political change. Most certainly this entails attention to the on the ground struggles over spatial processes, and to the definitional, descriptive, and analytical traction of the concepts we employ to understand these. These are enduring concerns of urban research. Continued dialogue on these themes is essential for apprehending the ever-shifting ground of global urbanisms.
University of Toronto
Cochrane, A. (2011). Urban politics beyond the urban. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(4), 862–863.
Hart, G. (2016). Relational comparison revisited: Marxist postcolonial geographies in practice. Progress in Human Geography.
Jazeel, T. (2017) Singularity. A manifesto for incomparable geographies. Lecture delivered at the RGS-IBG Annual Meeting. London, 1 September.
Peck, J. (2017). Transatlantic city, part 1: Conjunctural urbanism. Urban Studies, 54(1), 4–30.
Robinson, J. (2011). Cities in a world of cities: The comparative gesture. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(1), 1–23.
Rodgers, S., Barnett, C., & Cochrane, A. (2014). Where is urban politics? International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(5), 1551–1560