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Research projects

The Cities, Politics, Economies Research Group works collaboratively at a wide range of research projects, both nationally and internationally.

Whilst the research interests of the group are wide-ranging, Cities, Politics, Economies is notable for a shared concern to develop innovative ways of theorizing and understanding urban, political and economic change. In doing so, the group’s research includes;  

  • analysing the construction and performance of contemporary urban identities;
  • understanding policies and practices of urban exclusion and inclusion;  
  • studying urban assemblages and 'objects of urbanity' (infrastructure, architecture, surveillance systems);
  • exploring the political economies of labour, consumption, and production;
  • interrogating the politics of urban and regional governance.

Current research projects

CHARISMA

The Community Approaches to Retrofit in Manchester (CHARISMA) project aims to understand how energy savings and fuel poverty are being addressed through collaborative, community-based programmes, using Greater Manchester as a case study.  The project focuses on five retrofit case studies, and involves stakeholder interviews and site visits.  CHARISMA provides insights into how social housing providers are developing innovative approaches to retrofit that can realise multiple aims of energy and carbon savings, occupant comfort and fuel poverty.  Findings from the research were shared with practitioners, policymakers and academics at a workshop in summer 2014.

Project collaborators

Relevant publications and activities

CHARISMA led to a workshop with practitioners, policymakers and academics in summer 2014.

CHARISMA is funded by The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Humanities Strategic Investment Research Fund.

EVALUATE

Energy Vulnerability and Urban Transitions in Europe (EVALUATE) is a European Research Council-funded project, underway since March 2013.  It aims to investigate the manner in which urban institutional structures, built tissues and everyday practices shape domestic energy deprivation at a variety of geographical scales.  The project relies on vulnerability thinking, focusing on the propensity of households to suffer from a lack of adequate energy services in the home.  It involves extensive data gathering (surveys, ethnographies, documentary evidence and expert interviews) and stakeholder engagement at a variety of scales.  The results are expected to inform global, EU, national and city-level policies in different ways.

Project collaborators

  • Professor Stefan Bouzarovski
  • Dr Sergio Tirado Herrero
  • Dr Saska Petrova
  • Professor Michael Bradshaw (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Matthias Braubach (World Health Organisation)
  • Professor Mark Gaterell (Coventry University)
  • Professor Richard Green (Imperial College, London)
  • Professor Karen Rowlingson (University of Birmingham)
  • Professor Iwona Sagan (University of Gdansk)
  • Professor Ludek Sykora (Charles University)
  • Professor Diana Urge-Vorsatz (Central European University)

Relevant publications and activities

  • Bouzarovski S, 2014. Energy poverty in the European Union: Landscapes of vulnerability.  Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment 3: 276-289.
  • Petrova S, Gentile M, Makinen IH, Bouzarovski S, 2013.  Perceptions of thermal comfort and housing quality: Exploring the microgeographies of energy poverty in Stakhanov, Ukraine.  Environment and Planning A 45(5): 1240-1257.
  • Petrova S, Posova D, Sykora L, House A, 2013.  Discursive framings of low carbon urban transitions: The contested geographies of ‘satellite settlements’ in the Czech Republic. Urban Studies 50(7): 1439-1455.

EVALUATE is funded as part of a five-year European Research Council Starting Grant. 

EVENT

Energy Vulnerability and Alternative Economies in Northern Greece (EVENT) was a one-year project funded by the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers. EVENT entailed an ethnographic case study of the experience of domestic energy deprivation in Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city), combined with decision-maker interviews and a survey of the secondary literature. The project identified the institutional and spatial contexts that underpin the lack of adequate space heating and cooling in particular, while highlighting the diverse strategies that households and communities use to address this situation. 

Project collaborators 

Relevant publications and activities 

EVENT was funded by a Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Research Grant. 

Exploring the eco-city phenomenon: Contexts, ideas and practices

The construction of master-planned settlements has recently emerged as a leading strategy to achieve sustainability on an urban scale. Projects for new eco-cities have been approved across the world, shaping the urbanization of a number of countries. Developers and stakeholders hail them as models of the city of the future, capable of translating environmental, social and economic concerns into ideal built environments. However, little is known about what theories and practices of city-making are being cultivated and implemented under the banner ‘eco-city’.

This research project adopts Masdar City (Abu Dhabi), Zira Island (Azerbaijan) and Hong Kong, as case studies to add empirical richness to the understanding of the eco-city phenomenon, by exploring the geographical context where eco-cities are emerging, the ideas of sustainability underpinning the projects, and the implementation strategies used to realize them. Ultimately, the study seeks to reveal how eco-city projects are formulated and implemented, and shed light on what are promoted as, but not necessarily are, eco-cities. 

The project targets three, interconnected research objectives: 

  1. To identify and evaluate the contextual factors driving the development of eco-city projects
  2. To analyse the ideas of sustainability underpinning eco-city projects
  3. To investigate the implementation of eco-cities’ visions of sustainability. 

Project collaborators 

  • Dr Federico Cugurullo

Project outputs

  • Cugurullo, F. (2013) How to Build a Sandcastle: An Analysis of the Genesis and Development of Masdar City. Journal of Urban Technology, 20(1), pp. 23-37.
  • Cugurullo, F. (2013) The Business of Utopia: Estidama and the Road to the Sustainable City. Utopian Studies, 24(1), pp. 66-88.

Geographies of dissociation: The social construction of value from a spatial perspective

The research project analyses processes of social construction of worth taking the example of the global fur industry. So far research in this strand has highlighted that commodities achieve high prices on market if they are successfully associated with entities representing positive values, e.g. the association between sports gear and a basketball star. In contrast, this project focuses on complementary processes which mainly aim at hiding away problematic aspects of commodities (‘dissociation’), e.g. disconnecting the t-shirt from the working conditions in a sweat shop.

The projects makes a conceptual contribution to this discourse by developing a framework encompassing associations and dissociations as equally important mechanisms working together in the social construction of economic worth. A multi-layered network analysis, in which associations in symbolical networks are contrasted with functional relations in global production networks lies at the core of the research design.

Project collaborators

  • Dr Martin Hess
  • Dr Oliver Ibert (IRS-Erkner and Free University of Berlin)
  • Dr Dominic Power (Uppsala University) 

Geographies of Dissociation is funded by the Leibniz Foundation, Germany (€500,000)

HOME

Housing in Multiple Occupancy: Energy Issues and Policy (HOME) is an ongoing collaboration between urban energy researchers in Manchester, principally represented by the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy, and Future Climate. A key aspect of this collaboration was a one-year project funded by the EAGA Charitable Trust.

HOME is motivated by the lack of clarity about the manner in which Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) are treated in key elements of the new policy framework for energy efficiency introduced in the 2012 Energy Act – Green Deal, ECO and forthcoming private rented sector energy efficiency regulation.

The project provides immediate practical guidance for energy efficiency programme delivery, while improve the very limited understanding of energy vulnerability for households in HMOs. Its findings have attracted widespread public interest and were incorporated in a parliamentary bill.

Project collaborators

Relevant publications and activities

Iconic building and land financialisation as a lived process: The City of London and Milan's Bicocca

Grounded on two case studies (City of London and Milan’s Bicocca), the project aims to deepen our understanding of the relationship between socio-political practices of urban patronage, the social mobilisation of land, and architectural form. The project examines how changes in the ethnography of urban elites impact the form, function and symbolism of architecture and play a key role in land financialisation practices.

The project is funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant. 

Project collaborators 

Relevant publications and activities 

  • Kaika, M. "Autistic architecture: the fall of the icon and the rise of the serial object of architecture." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29, no. 6(2011): 968-992.
  • Kaika, M. "Architecture and Crisis: reinventing the Icon, reimagining London and rebranding the City." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35, no. 4(2010): 453-474.
  • Kaika, M; Ruggiero, L. "Class meets Land: the social mobilisation of land as catalyst for urban change." Antipode (2015) .
  • Kaika M; Ruggiero L. "Land Financialization as a ‘lived’ process: The transformation of Milan’s Bicocca by Pirelli." European Urban and Regional Studies (2013).

Producing urban asylum

This project investigates the politics of urban asylum in contemporary Britain. In 2009, the UK Home Office announced moves to increase the private provision of dispersal accommodation for asylum seekers and to halt contracts with local authorities. Such a move effectively ends the provision of public housing to asylum seekers in a number of British cities.

This project is the first endeavour to examine the impacts of this policy shift. The project aims to explore how four urban authorities are responding to these changes and how subsequent negotiations between urban authorities, the Home Office, private accommodation providers and asylum support groups affect the lives of those seeking sanctuary.

The multi-sited research is centred upon four cities with significant dispersal numbers; Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Sunderland. In each city a multi-method approach will involve: archival and media research; interviews with key figures in the refugee sector and local authorities; a public forum for stories of asylum; focus groups with asylum seekers; and observation of asylum activism. The research will be disseminated in a range of forms, including academic publications, policy briefing documents and a series of podcasts.

Project collaborators 

Relevant publications and activities 

Transatlantic travels

This program of research project explores two aspects of the contemporary global urban condition. The first is the ways in city governments and other community, public and private sector actors are rethinking how they finance infrastructure.

In the context of significant cuts in public sector budgets, alongside changes in the ways in which developers calculate and enumerate “risk”, those who run cities are seeking out more experimental and innovative ways of financing infrastructure. Often under the rubric of “unlocking” development, the financial models that cities are exploring are those in which the future revenue streams that are generated as a result of the expenditure on infrastructure can be captured or redirected in some way. The most high profile example of this is Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This is a model widely used in the US, and increasingly being considered for introduction in a small number of countries, such as Australia, Canada and the UK.

The second aspect of the contemporary global urban condition to which this program of research speaks is the ways in which certain ways of responding to urban “problems” become constructed as models, that are then rendered mobile through work done by a range of actors, including academics, consultants, and practitioners. One can think of policies in relation to crime, creativity, homelessness, regeneration, transport and welfare where the approach of certain cities have become heavily lauded and promoted, reconstituted as a model capable of being moved and to being introduced elsewhere.

Of course this is not an entirely new phenomenon. Historically those with a stake in developing and planning cities, such as architects, engineers and planners have been involved in the exchange and transfer of activities, approaches and programs between cities. What marks out this current era as being different is the range of actors involved, the raft of technologies that are used and the mainstreaming and normalization of benchmarking, comparison and learning as integral elements in the envisioning and narrating of urban futures.   

Project collaborators 

Relevant publications and activities 

  • Ward K (2013) Urban policy assemblages, mobilities and mutations as part of the Book Review Symposium on McFarlane C (2011) Learning the city: Knowledge and translocal assemblage, Urban Geography 34 131-150 
  • Davidson M and Ward K (2014) ‘Picking up the pieces’: austerity urbanism, California and fiscal crisis, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 7 81-97 
  • Kevin has given numerous presentations on this research over the last couple of years. If you would like copies of his power-points please email him at: kevin.ward@manchester.ac.uk. He is currently writing a number of them up into journal articles as well as writing a single authored manuscript entitled Transatlantic Travels.

Past research projects

An evaluation of neighbourhood learning in deprived communities

Approximate project value: £15,000

Commissioned by College in the Community the research project involved an evaluation of the progress of Stoke-on-Trent's Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities programme.

In depth interviews were undertaken with project leaders and students who had completed associated courses.

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne
  • Dr David Bell (University of Leeds)

Code spaces

At a conceptual level there has been little work by geographers on the increasingly complex and significant entanglements of software and space. The goal of this project is to explore the socio-spatial implications of pervasive computing and software embedding in cities through the concept of code/space.

We seek to expose the extent of the power of software in the automatic production of urban space, the regulation of social lives and emerging risks through complex human-code dependencies. The end goal is to try to develop a novel theoretical framework for the technological production of space that is empirically grounded, non-deterministic and open to performative views of everyday spatial practices.

Project collaborators

  • Martin Dodge
  • Rob Kitchin (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

Relevant publications and activities

  • Dodge M, Kitchin R, NIRSA Working Paper 29: Code, Vehicles and Governmentality: The Automatic Production of Driving Spaces, March 2006
  • Dodge M, Kitchin R, 2005, "Code and the transduction of space", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 95, No. 1, pages 162-180
  • Dodge M, Kitchin R, 2004, "Flying Through Code/space: The Real Virtuality of Air Travel", Environment and Planning A, Vol. 36, No. 2, pages 195-211

Community mapping project

The Community Mapping Project was initiated by the Joint Health Unit of Manchester City Council in September 2004 and ran for two years. Community Mapping was a reaction against:

  • badly designed maps;
  • top down mapping reflecting the needs of decision makers rather than people;
  • the dominant role of the private motor car in cities;
  • unhealthy lifestyles; and
  • a consultancy culture that values product over process.

We aimed to bring people back in to mapping by initiating community involvement in the creation of new maps of the City of Manchester that:

  • encourage participation in healthier lifestyles;
  • document the state of existing infrastructure;
  • can influence key decision makers by presenting relevant, focused and well visualized information about the city.

Amongst the themes these maps address are:

  • cycling;
  • walking; and
  • leisure facilities.

Mapping formats

We recognise that a single map will rarely be an adequate representation and instead published many different themes, scales, and designs, available in different formats. These comprise a mixture of paper maps, maps served as files from web sites and interactive mapping.

The Community Mapping Project web site serves as a portal to give access to web-served mapping and to other relevant resources. The first maps to be published in hard copy cover the Fallowfield Loop cycle route and cycling routes in to the University for staff and students.

Project collaborators

Relevant publications and activities

  • Perkins, C. and Thomson, A.Z. (2005) Community mapping: changing lifestyles through participation. International Cartographic Conference Proceedings. La Coruna: ICC.

Creative industries development initiatives in Staffordshire and Shropshire

Approximate project value £29,000

Two projects to establish a comprehensive picture of creative industries support in each of the district authorities including public, private and voluntary sectors. The research described how initiatives link together, identified gaps in provision and provided recommendations for future development. Funded by Staffordshire County Council, Shropshire County Council and Advantage West Midlands.

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne
  • Dr David Bell (University of Leeds)

Culturegen: Creative industries development

Approximate project value: £68,000

Two projects undertaken in Stafford Borough and Stoke-on-Trent with funding from SRB6, designed to develop and support the cultural and creative industries in each local authority area. A collaborative partnership with Culturegen and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the projects completed a comprehensive baseline survey of the scale and scope of creative industries in each area.

The research included a postal questionnaire, face to face interviews with creative industries practitioners and private and public sector consumers, desk-based best practice research, and a visioning and consultation event. This research was published and widely disseminated.

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne
  • Dr David Bell (University of Leeds)

Drinking places

This research project explores the impact of socio-economic process in shaping place-specific cultures of alcohol consumption in two contrasting geographical communities.

It focuses on Stoke-on-Trent, one of the most deprived areas in the country with higher than national average levels of alcohol consumption which also has a growing ethnic minority population with religious prohibitions against drink.  It also focuses on Eden, Cumbria, the most sparsely populated district in the country where the centrality of the pub in village life has historically been linked with the development of a strong temperance movement.

In this context, the project is exploring inter-generational shifts in attitudes to, and use of, alcohol; recent increases in drinking amongst women and young people; and the wider benefits and problems associated with alcohol use in these communities.

Project collaborators

  • Mark Jayne
  • Gill Valentine (University of Leeds)
  • Sarah Holloway (Loughborough University)
  • Charlotte Knell (Loughborough University)

Relevant publications and activities

  • Jayne, M., Holloway, S. and Valentine, G. (2006) ‘Drunk and disorderly: alcohol, urban life and public space’, Progress in Human Geography.

The final report can be viewed on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website.

Geo-surveillance and securitisation theory

This project is critically examining the urban assemblages of tagging and tracking surveillance technologies that are producing new, casual regimes of positional knowledge about people, objects, information and transactions. We want to understand the technical potentials, the social meanings and the political discourses that drive the deployment of new layers of geo-surveillance.

An important element in this will be consideration of new modes of software-enabled identification and the automatic sorting of people and places. As well as thinking about the political implications, in terms of privacy, exclusion and discrimination, of new means of data mining and visualising the increasingly detailed spatial pheromone trails of (near) whole populations.

Project collaborators

Relevant publications and activities

  • Dodge M, Kitchin R, 2005, "Codes of life: identification codes and the machine-readable world", Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 23, No. 6, pages 851-881.
  • Zook M, Dodge M, Aoyama Y, Townsend A, 2004, "New Digital Geographies: Information, Communication, and Place", in Brunn S D, Cutter S L, Harrington J W (eds) Geography and Technology, (Kluwer, New York), pages 155-176.
  • Dodge M, Kitchin R, CASA Working Paper 92: The Ethics of Forgetting in an Age of Pervasive Computing, March 2005.

Imagining urban futures programme

Programme objectives

The aim of this programme of research is to make sense of the complex ways in which ‘urban futures’ are imagined and the role of learning from the other cities within this imagining.

More specifically, the programme:

  1. focuses empirically on the embodied experiences of learning from elsewhere, the technologies and travels involved, and the relationship between local ‘in-place’ politics and mobile policies;
  2. focuses methodologically on the ways in which scholars (should) research policy mobilities and comparative urbanism; and
  3. focuses theoretically on the ways in which territorial and relational approaches to the city can be brought into productive dialogue.

Local cultural strategies

Approximate project value £45,000

Three projects on local cultural strategies completed in partnership with Staffordshire County Council, Lichfield District Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. They included a proposal for the definition of culture in each context, and were used as a policy tool to highlight key issues and priorities for the development of cultural activity.

Using existing data and information, and involving members of already-established consultation mechanisms, a snapshot of the patterns of cultural consumption amongst residents of Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Lichfield was compiled. An audit, analysis and summary of existing cultural statistics, plans and research was undertaken, as well as empirical research on cultural production with public, private and voluntary groups, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

The research established an overview of the scale, scope and economic impact of the creative industries in each administrative area.

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne
  • Dr David Bell (University of Leeds)

Maps in society

Theorising the changing nature of cartography and understanding its interrelations to society, culture and politics is an emerging area of research within the School of Environment, Education and Development. Over the last decade, the Geography Department has conducted sustained research into forms of map use and mapping practice, the social politics of cartographic production and considering the implications of new geospatial technologies.

Beside scholarly critique, we are also active in exploring the nature of cartography by 'doing mapping', with successful projects on community mapping for cyclists/walkers, tactile mapping, and open-source mapping. Research is focused empirically on mapping that is increasingly being created and employed by people who would not classify themselves as cartographers, by artists, by community groups, by individuals, by policy makers, at work or as part of leisure activities.

Themes

The major themes of the research are:

  • Developing the use of social scientific approaches to mapping
  • Encouraging a more active engagement between cartographers and other groups in society involved in mapping activities
  • To build critical theoretical approaches to mapping
  • To encourage global sharing of research and practice across disciplinary and professional boundaries
  • To foster greater dialogue between practice and theory
  • New exhibition, Mapping Manchester: Cartographic Stories of the City, in the Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Context

The research is led by Chris Perkins and Martin Dodge, within the Space, Culture and Society research cluster. The research benefits from a range of resources available in the School, including contributions from two experienced professional cartographers (Graham Bowden and Nick Scarle) in the Cartographic Unit and ready access to the largest map library in the region, that is housed in new purpose-designed facilities and staffed by a full time librarian Morag Robson. There are also collaborative links to allied researchers, including the geoinformatics researcher in the School and to visualisation research group in Manchester's Research Computing.

Studying

We welcome enquiries from students seeking to study for a PhD in areas related to mapping, particularly in terms of researching the cultures of ‘everyday mappers’ in diverse social and institutional contexts or examining emerging epistemologies of cartographic technologies. Please talk to Chris Perkins or Martin Dodge.

Contact us

Staffordshire University's regional strategy

Approximate project value £5,000

This strategic document provides a strategic framework for Staffordshire University to maximise its position in the region in relation to research and enterprise. The Strategy was developed in the context of changes to HEFCE funding regimes and the need for a new strategy of involvement with funding bodies such as government office, the regional development agency, Business Link and the Learning and Skills Council.

The report assesses internal current capabilities, external drivers and tensions and makes recommendations for how Staffordshire University should engage in research and enterprise in the future

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne
  • Dr David Bell (University of Leeds)

Twin cities: geographies of global Manchester

Funded by The University of Manchester's Research Support Fund into the twinning of Manchester (UK) with cities around the world. Twinning, an activity initiated in Europe at the end of the second world-war in order to facilitate reconciliation via economic and cultural relationships is now ubiquitous and most cities throughout the world have multiple twin partners.

Despite its prevalence, however, there has not been a major study or a significant body of literature that addresses this important topic. Based on interviews with key informants this research is investigating the development, current motivations, practices and outcomes of Manchester's international urban twinning partnerships.

Project participants

  • Mark Jayne

Value and respect in white working class cultures

Funded by ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change

This project will investigate a number of core issues that have been identified as central to arguments about changing cultural values, through ethnographic work with white working class cultures in South London, in light of the recent Respect agenda of the government. A range of epochal theories have argued in different ways that British society is less coherent, and more fragmented and individualised than was the case post-World War Two.

These theories have been variously taken up within policy debates, and social cohesion is seen as something to be managed in various ways, most especially through the different values that make it up. Culture has always implied a statement of value in its multifarious uses, and it is the aim of this project to develop an understanding of how value informs culture in the working class cultures that are most often the target of policy intervention.

Project collaborators

  • The University of Manchester
  • The Open University