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Volume 45, 02

The 2023 Early Career Researcher Prize was awarded to Shaun S. K. Teo for Doing comparative urbanism: comparative conversation as tactic published in Urban Geography Volume 44, Issue 5. Honorable Mentions went to Ivin Yeo and Celina M. Sørbøe.


Shaun S.K. Teo

I am currently Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Almost a decade ago now, I was a PhD student at University College London, under the tutelage of the brilliant and nurturing Andrew Harris and Jennifer Robinson. Even having read all of the seminal work on comparative urbanism, I distinctly remember struggling to design my own comparative research project. I just could not find any substantive literature on it. Most of the comparative work out there wrote about the “start” and the “end” of comparative research, usually leaving out the complicated “middle” process. This piece, illuminating the actually existing process and functional viability of the comparative method, was thus one written out of frustration and curiosity. My objective was simply for students of comparative urbanism, like myself, to be able to learn how to actually go about designing and implementing a comparative research project.

Of equal importance, the comparative conversation tactic presented in the paper was developed serendipitously. Circumstances surrounding the “live” unfolding of both events in Shenzhen and London meant that I had to go back and forth between both cities, which gave me the inspiration for codifying the sequential, recursive and incremental nature of comparison. This is clearly not the only way to do comparative research, but the point is to positively demonstrate the role of the researcher in making viable an experimental comparison. I sincerely hope that more scholars will illuminate, unravel and codify the methodological and tactical aspects of comparative analysis and theorisation. This will help move us forward in the agenda to globalise urban scholarship.

I am truly humbled to receive this award from Urban Geography. It is such an honour to be recognised amongst a sea of brilliant scholarship. I take this encouragement very seriously and hope to produce more work that makes a positive contribution to the field of urban geography. I give my utmost appreciation to my supervisors at UCL, Andrew and Jenny, for their unending mentorship. Thanks to editor Anne Bonds and the anonymous reviewers for helping to improve this paper. My colleagues at NUS have also been invaluable in their support throughout my early career. Last but not least, I am immensely grateful to the Urban Geography editorial team for seeing value in my work.

Honorable Mention

Celina Sørbøe

My article, “Urban uprisings between Revolutionary Beginnings and Reactionary Outcomes: making sense of the 2013 ‘June days’ in Brazil,” was part of my PhD research and motivated by wanting to better understand the political dynamics of urban uprisings. Initially perceived as a catalyst for progressive change, the June uprisings in Brazil underwent a narrative transformation over subsequent years to become portrayed by many as precursors to the rise of an antidemocratic and authoritarian right in Brazilian politics. However, my extensive ethnographic fieldwork within a Rio de Janeiro favela revealed a different story. Despite shifting political circumstances, the June uprisings continued to inspire political engagement and resistance within marginalized urban communities. I found that the narrative of the June uprisings’ ‘reactionary outcomes’ stemmed from urban social movement frameworks struggling to grasp a transformative political potential in seemingly spontaneous and unorganized events like urban uprisings. Instead, I turned to literature employing a post-foundational political theory lens to urban uprisings, focusing on universal structures of antagonism, subjectivity, equality, and freedom inherent in disruptive acts, to investigate how the uprisings could still be perceived as an open source of emancipatory politics. Through a nuanced exploration of the before-and-after life of the June uprisings as seen from Rio’s favelas, my aim was to contribute fresh insights to debates on the political significance of the June uprisings in Brazil and to broader discussions on the transformative politics of 21st-century urban uprisings.

Receiving this honorable mention is a tremendous recognition, and I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the editorial team at Urban Geography and to all those who have supported me on this journey.

Honorable Mention

Ivin Yeo

I am a DPhil student in Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. My research broadly centers on the increasingly intimate but highly uneven relationships between digital technologies and everyday urban life. My current work draws on post- and more-than-human approaches to examine how various kinds of digital technologies mediate the experience of everyday well-being for different inhabitants in urban green and blue spaces.

My article, “Smart Urban Living in Singapore? Thinking through Everyday Geographies,” was a product of fieldwork I had undertaken in 2017 for my undergraduate thesis on the lived experiences of digital urban interventions when I was at the National University of Singapore. I wanted to document and interrogate the uneven and everyday encounters between urban dwellers and digital technologies that were increasingly deployed in the public housing landscape under Singapore’s Smart Urban Living initiative since 2015. Using ethnographic observations and interviews with residents of a public housing estate in Singapore, the article demonstrates that most people’s engagements with digital technologies tend to be much more fluid and nuanced than popular prognostications of smart urbanization as either utopian or dystopian. Rather than an uncritical, universal acceptance of digital interventions, urban inhabitants experience and relate differently to smart urbanization in practice, sometimes involving ignorance, other times repulsion and active rejection, and yet other times complicity. As I argue in the article, this finding is significant insofar as Singapore is known for having had more “success” in top-down state planning than almost anywhere in the world, particularly its housing model. More broadly, this paper builds on the literature on already-existing smart cities by foregrounding the analytical value of the everyday in accounting for and making sense of the uneven structures of power that underpin and give rise to smart urbanism as a cultural phenomenon. Such a nuanced understanding of smart urbanism has implications not just in terms of highlighting how digital technologies are reconfiguring socio-spatial relations in urban space in uneven and intimate ways but also opens up the potential for scholars to more productively and meaningfully think about where and how to intervene, both conceptually and in praxis, in the introduction of digital technologies into people’s everyday lives and spaces.

I am incredibly grateful to receive this recognition. The paper greatly benefited from generous and insightful feedback from the editors and anonymous reviewers at Urban Geography, as well as my friends and colleagues at the National University of Singapore. I would especially like to thank Tim Bunnell for his critical insights on an earlier version of the paper and his unwavering support and guidance throughout the publication process.