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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

McFarlane, C. The Comparative City: Knowledge, Learning, Urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 2010;34:725-742.

Author(s) from Durham


What might be the implications for urban studies if we take ‘comparison’ not just as a method, but as a mode of thought that informs how urban theory is constituted? Comparative research is experiencing resurgence in urban studies, yet there has been little effort to critically debate how comparison might take place, particularly in reference to comparison across the global North-South divide. Existing debates on comparative research have focused on the domains of practicalities, methodologies and typologies. Notwithstanding the value of these contributions, this paper offers an alternative framing of comparison that focuses attention on theory cultures, learning and ethico-politics, drawing on postcolonial and development scholarship. This approach works with an expansive conception of comparison as a mode of thought rather than a specific research methodology, and argues that engagement with these issues across a North-South divide offers opportunities to widen the discursive field, situate existing claims in urban studies, and develop new lines of inquiry. This outline of comparison as a strategy of critique and alterity entails the rethinking of the domains of practicalities, methodologies and typologies in comparative research.

Department of Geography