EURA 2016 in Turin – Committed Positioning and Urban Ethnography


Please find below a CFP for the forthcoming EURA conference ‘City lights. ​Cities and citizens within/beyond/notwithstanding the crisis’, Turin (Italy), 16-18 June 2016 (

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele Lancione ( and Elisabetta Rosa ( no later than Thursday, 26 November.

A PDF of this CfP can be downloaded here.

Committed Positioning. Politics, activism and ethnographic encounters in the contemporary city.

Michele Lancione, University of Cambridge (
Elisabetta Rosa, Aix-Marseille University (

We enter the field and have not a clue about the people standing in front of us. We have read about them – the people and spaces we have decided to ‘study’ –, and perhaps we have met them previously, but now things have changed. Set down in the mists of the field, we are now faced with the possibility of encounter: things can go wrong; people may not understand us and we may not understand them, and ethnography may suddenly  cease to be an exciting exploration and turn into a painful and stressful endeavour. In its most basic form, positioning might be understood as the negotiation of this encounter: a fragile process characterised by unbalanced power, criss-crossed by all sorts of ethical implications. But at another, deeper level, positioning is first and foremost about questioning the meaning and relevance of that encounter. Namely: why have we decided to enter the field in the first place? Why have we done it here, with these people and spaces? Why, in other worlds, do we do ethnography and what do we aim to achieve with it?
These questions are anything but a novelty. In geography, they have been discussed for decades by scholars interested in bringing to light the responsibilities, meaning and potential associated with the ethnographic encounter (Caldeira 2009; Cloke et al. 2000; Herbert 2000). Positioning has thus been understood as matter of announcing oneself in the field (McDowell 1992); as a form of reflexivity (Cloke et al. 2000); as a matter of objectivity about the scope and limit of knowledge (Haraway 1988); as aiming to establish ‘constitutive negotiations’ (Rose 1997), and as a way to fictive distinction between ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’ (Butz and Besio 2009). Expanding these lines of thinking, scholars have advocated in favour of an action-oriented form of ethnography (Katz 1994), where the boundaries between activism and academia blur (Routledge 1996), and in favour of a research approach oriented towards the production of radical actions and outputs, through the use of creative methodologies as well (Eshun and Madge, 2012). Our Call for Papers sets out to explore the role of positioning in making ethnography more relevant to the people and spaces it studies. We argue that radical, engaged, meaningful ethnography does not come naturally, but arises out of what we might call a ‘committed’ form of positioning: a relational oeuvre that requires time, involvement and adaptation; that involves stress, joy and a psycho-emotional burden, but that most of all calls for a strong political ethos to fuel the action/research process (Lancione, forthcoming).
We are interested in exploring the link between positionality and urban ethnographic research/activism. We are looking for papers that freely and openly discuss the limits on and opportunities for pursuing political agendas through ethnographic work, questioning the role of positioning in doing so, and recounting (on the basis of first-hand experience as well) the personal difficulties encountered in making urban ethnography matter. We welcome in particular interdisciplinary, creative and non-academic contributions, as well as contributions from under-represented groups. Abstracts should cover one or more of the following points:

  • The intersection between positioning and urban politics
  • The intersection between positioning and activism/research
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – the urban South
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – gender studies
  • Radical urban ethnography – and radical urban ethnographers – today
  • What kind of methodology for what kind of positioning?
  • The physical, emotional and psychological burden of committed positioning
  • Case studies showing details (limits and achievements) of committed positioning

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele ( and Elisabetta ( no later than Thursday, 26 November.


Frank Gehry in Sydney / A critical perspective on management education

The new UTS building Photo: James Brickwood

After my PhD I spent two years working at the University of Technology of Sydney (UTS). In particular I have been working at UTS Business School. Being interested in extreme cases of marginalisation, and coming from an extensive work on homelessness, the Business School’s environment posed some challenges. I had to learn a whole new literature/method/approach, and I had also to understand what exactly is to work in a place where you (try to) ‘educate’ future ‘business leaders’. The overall thing has been quite fun – thanks especially to the wonderful people I met there, whom accepted the fact of having a melancholic ethno-geographer going around their spaces and making bold claims about their work.

The reason why I’m writing this now, after more than a year that I left Australia, is because a few days ago the new facility of UTS Business School has been opened: the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, designed by Frank Gehry. This is the building around which my research activities have been focused while working at UTS. The aim of that work was to offer a critical perspective on the School’s aim to become a “World Leading Business School” in the coming years, through the analysis of the role played by the delivery of the building and the changing in the teaching curricula in the achievement of this vision. Overall the research excavates the ways in which management education and its discourse are changing in the current global scenario, using UTS as a powerful illustrative case – since it materially and discursively fits very well within the ‘creative turn’ in management practices.

In fall this year a book about ‘Frank Gehry in Sydney’ – edited by a wonderful colleague at UTS, Liisa Naar – will come out containing two chapters written by me (about the ‘context’ and the ‘commission’ of the building). Moreover here you can find a semi-finished project about the broader urban changes going around the Ultimo area in Sydney, where the building sits, which is rapidly transforming under the umbrella of the ‘creative city’. And finally, below you can find links to two papers based on the ethnography I did at UTS, written in collaboration with Stewart Clegg – a great mentor, scholar and friend who turned my time at UTS into a smooth adventure.

PS: If you want to know more about the ways in which UTS Business School, and management education in general are changing you should follow the work of my dear friend Marco Berti – who did a terrific PhD thesis and publications on the matter.

Copyleft 2012, ML
Copyleft 2012, ML