The Urban Studies Research Cluster at UC Santa Cruz formed in 2007 to provide a home for faculty and graduate students to explore the urban dimension of their research, engage with emerging approaches in the field of urban studies, and address pressing urban issues, both locally and globally. In particular, we engage with three sub-areas that draw on research strengths at UCSC: urban cultural studies, urban environmental studies, and space and social justice. The cluster also aims to provide a fruitful space for urbanists of all stripes —faculty and students, artists and activists, planners, policy makers, and local residents— to come together, share ideas, and collaborate. We do this through monthly meetings, a speaker series, and campus-wide events.Background
One of the dynamics that has most defined human history, and the modern era in particular, has been the increasing rate and expanding scale of urbanization around the world. As Henri Lefebvre famously argued, studying “the city” matters because, in a predominantly urban civilization, it is the space of everyday life for most people. The city is a crucial site of cultural and material production; of political engagement and citizenship; of transnational migration and diaspora; of creative imaginings and experimentation; and of social interaction across lines of race, class, language, gender, and sexuality. In addition, in the current, global, neoliberal era, cities are increasingly important to study—as sites of the “devolution” of political governance from the national to the local scale; as nodes in interurban networks of capital, media, and migration; as epicenters of financial and environmental “crises,” as well as of experiments with recovery. In short, no social realm, and no ‘non-urban’ space, is untouched by the expanding role of cities. From political economy to popular culture, from our natural environment to our built environment, urbanization colors the landscape of daily life. Meanwhile, the field of urban studies has also been transformed, crossing disciplines in the social sciences, humanities, arts, and sciences. The Urban Studies Research Cluster formed in 2007 to provide a home for faculty and graduate students across all of these fields at UCSC to explore emerging approaches to these fundamental concerns.
The USRC aims to provide a ‘UC Santa Cruz approach’ to urban studies, focusing in particular on traditional areas of strength at the University. These include environmental studies, cultural studies, and studies of globalization, political economy, and social movements. In so doing, the USRC has the opportunity to challenge common binaries and schisms that divide contemporary studies of the city. Too often placed in opposition are notions of “nature” and the “city,” the “material” versus “cultural” forces that shape urban life, and the “local” vs. the “global” scales of social experience. More broadly, oppositions are posed between urban researchers and broader urban publics, including communities, planners, and social movements that frame their identity, work, and/or struggle in urban terms. The USRC is interested in work that bridges these divides, focusing on the following core research areas:
- Urban Nature. The USRC sees crucial connections between “cities” and “nature,” and is interested in the ways that cities and urban regions are shaped by, and co-productive of, rural and natural spaces. Our conference Coastal Cities: Urbanization, Water, and Environmental Justice explores these connections.
- Urban Culture. The USRC sees cities as spaces shaped jointly by what might be considered “material forces” — including urban political economy and planning, technology and infrastructure, crises and restructuring— as well as forces of cultural production, practice, performance, and representation. Our symposium, Representing New Orleans Post-Katrina, engages this intersection.
- Space and Social Justice The USRC encourages critical theoretical approaches to the relationship between space and social justice at various scales—from the urban to the regional to the global. Such approaches may link spacial dynamics to questions of culture, history, social movements, political economy and/or nature. Related to this is the goal of building bridges between researchers and multiple urban publics—including planners, policy makers, artists, and activists. Our conference “Whose City? Labor and the Right to the City” investigates these possibilities.
- Urban Santa Cruz. Notwithstanding the famously bucolic setting of our campus, UCSC is located in a growing, diverse, contentious, and fascinating interurban region. Various maps help us imagine this region— as an agro-industrial web of central coast cities from Salinas to Half Moon Bay, as ever-expanding rings of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley, as a polynucleated Pacific Rim network of cultural, economic, and population flows, and so on. It is the goal of USRC to raise critical awareness of the myriad ways in which Santa Cruz is shaped by and connected to these urban contexts. We aim to do so through our events and speaker series, as well as through research projects, media installations, and excursions.
Photo by Q.T. Luong / Terragalleria.com