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Unmethodical foreplay

Posted on 05-10-2021

“Theories become clear and “reasonable” only after incoherent parts of them have been used for a long time. Such unreasonable, nonsensical, unmethodical foreplay thus turns out to be an unavoidable precondition of clarity and of empirical success”. (Feyerabend, 2010: 11)

 

Invaded by mass tourism, divided by social and economic inequalities, it is easy to forget that at one point, Lisbon was the San Francisco of Europe. In fact, the Portuguese were the first European traders to reach India and held the monopoly of trade with Japan during the 16th century. Indo-Portuguese art, such as the sculpture depicted on the left is a window into a prior phase of global exchanges, one motivated by discoveries, commercial expansion and European colonisation. Today, syncretic artistic expressions drawing from Hinduism and Catholicism allow historians to re-trace a complicated past.

 

However, what does this tell us of research on housing affordability and sustainability? This sculpture is an example of an earlier form of world complexity, readable, in this case, through art forms and religious dogmas. It is a concrete embodiment that confounds paradigms that place top-bottom, North-South, European vs other, critical-rational divisions over our current world. In short, it muddies the clear waters of preconceived frameworks that place Christianity in a White-European context. 

 

It is in the muddy waters that theorising gains importance. To borrow from Feyerabend, we need to fight against the method, any method. In urban studies, preconceived ontologies, conceptualisations of the world, stifle research creating what Tonkiss (2011) calls Template Urbanism. The danger of template urbanism is becoming reified, a set of common tropes that act as places for encounter but simply fall flat when confronted with social realities.

 

Flows of ideas and commodities, the creation of intercontinental networks, and ever-increasing complexity were a reality in the regional world of the 18th century. In the 21st, visiting Lisbon, we’ve seen informal settlements in the “Global North”, the consequences of a fascist regime that, like its Spanish counterpart, created a country of homeowners, all of that even before neoliberalism went mainstream with Thatcher and Reagan. This doesn’t fit into the one framework. These phenomena demand engagement with theories and disciplines of their own, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

 

Maybe just on this particular point, both sides of the spectrum in urban research, critical researchers (Brenner et al., 2011) and urban data scientists (Kandt & Batty, 2021) see theorising as key in producing meaningful research. Empiricism in the urban environment is frown upon because of its naïveté, it refuses to engage with the messiness Feyerabend talks about. On the contrary, we ought to engage with messiness to find the theoretical tools allowing us to produce meaningful scientific outputs. 

 

References

Brenner, N., Madden, D. J., & Wachsmuth, D. (2011). "Assemblage urbanism and the challenges of critical urban theory." City, 15:2, 225-240 https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.568717

Kandt, J., & Batty, M. (2021). "cities, big data and urban policy: Towards urban analytics for the long run." Cities, 109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2020.102992

Tonkiss, F. (2011). "City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Template urbanism Four points about assemblage" in City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.  15(5), 584–588. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.60902

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