Books you should read and cite right now

You could complain that these are all books by friends of mine, but it’s not my fault that I have super smart and productive friends.

1. Behind the Backlash by Lori Peek

As America tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community. Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash, presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis. Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scape-goating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.

2. Starstruck, the Business of Celebrity by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

By tackling America’s current condition of free-news oversaturation and ubiquitous fixation with celebrities, Currid-Halkett (Policy, Planning, and Development/Univ. of Southern California; The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City, 2007) asks how much celebrity-dominated airwaves, newspapers, magazines and conversations distract us from more meaningful issues. “[O]n the whole,” she writes, “many of us care far more about [Jennifer] Aniston’s latte than the thousands being murdered in Sudan.” The author backs up her case by citing solid studies, interviews and statistics–including the number of times a celebrity is photographed in a year, or how many events he/she attends–all of which she weaves together with accessible language while maintaining narrative momentum. She defines celebrity as the phenomenon of society valuing certain individuals for reasons that outweigh–or are entirely unrelated to–their talent. It’s this key difference, she argues, between how much attention should be paid to someone (due to their talent) and how much attention is actually given, that accounts for “celebrity residual.” This is most likely to show up in the fields of entertainment, sports and politics. More than anything else, people respond to visual stimuli, which, to a large extent, explains Paris Hilton’s camera-friendly rise to become the “ultimate celebrity.” There’s also the relatively recent sphere of reality-TV stars, like the Gosselins or Kardashians–talentless people who captured the public’s interest. Celebrity permeates every level of society, and Currid-Halkett deftly tracks how this democratic celebrity–of both mainstream stars as well as, say, the local high-school quarterback or an incessantly updating Facebook friend–reveals how the world is organized. She looks at the economics, accounting for all the money made by photographing celebrities, and the roots and duration of stardom. The book raises surprisingly uncomfortable questions, including why society is so invested in people who, for all intents and purposes, could be fictional characters for how little impact they have on our reality.

3. Climatopolis: How Our Cities will Thrive in the Hotter Future by Matt Kahn

As the scientific consensus continues to grow about Earth’s dramatically rising temperatures, the media’s vision of global warming’s likely catastrophic effects on mankind has become increasingly gloomy. Kahn, a UCLA environmental economics professor, doesn’t question most climatologists’ dire predictions, but argues here that mankind is resilient enough to adapt and even thrive despite the coming geographic disruptions. Kahn’s main focus is on urban areas where he anticipates that forward-looking entrepreneurs will take advantage of crisis-driven opportunities to offer innovative goods and services. Kahn begins by looking at historical examples of cities that bounced back from war and natural disasters, and moves on to analyze “green” cities and water usage economics as a windup to forecasting how specific cities like L.A. and New York might adjust to scorching temperatures or flooding. Kahn makes several assumptions that will no doubt anger environmentalists, including the notion that globalization will compensate for widespread agricultural failures. Yet compared to the global warming worst-case scenarios offered by Hollywood, his optimistic emphasis on humanity’s ingenuity and adaptability is refreshing. –Carl Hays

4. The Companion to Urban Design by Tridib Banerjee and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (Pre-order).

Today the practice of urban design has forged a distinctive identity with applications at many different scales – ranging from the block or street scale to the scale of metropolitan and regional landscapes. Urban design interfaces many aspects of contemporary public policy – multiculturalism, healthy cities, environmental justice, economic development, climate change, energy conservations, protection of natural environments, sustainable development, community liveability, and the like. The field now comprises a core body of knowledge that enfolds a right history of ideas, paradigms, principles, tools, research and applications, enriched by electric influences from the humanities, and social and natural sciences.

Companion to Urban Design includes more than fifty original contributions from internationally recognized authorities in the field. These contributions address the following questions: What are the important ideas that have shaped the field and the current practice of urban design? What are the major methods and processes that have influenced the practice of urban design at various scales? What are the current innovations relevant to the pedagogy of urban design? What are the lingering debates, conflicts ad contradictions in the theory and practice of urban design? How could urban design respond to the contemporary challenges of climate change, sustainability, active living initiatives, globalization, and the like? What are the significant disciplinary influences on the theory, research and practice of urban design in recent times?

There has never before been a more authoritative and comprehensive companion that includes core, foundational and pioneering ideas and concepts of urban design. This book serves as an invaluable guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, future professionals, and practitioners interested in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning, but also in urban studies, urban affairs, geography, and related fields.

5. Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World by Grace Y. Kao

In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declared that every human being, without distinction of any kind, possesses a set of morally authoritative rights and fundamental freedoms that ought to be socially guaranteed. Since that time, human rights have arguably become the cross-cultural moral concept and evaluative tool to measure the performance-and even legitimacy-of domestic regimes. Yet questions remain that challenge their universal validity and theoretical bases. Some theorists are ‘maximalistA’ in their insistence that human rights must be grounded religiously, while an opposing camp attempts to justify them in minimalist fashion without any necessary recourse to religion, metaphysics, or essentialism. In “Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralistic World”, Grace Kao critically examines the strengths and weaknesses of these contending interpretations while also exploring the political liberalism of John Rawls and others, and the Capability Approach as spearheaded by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. By retrieving insights from a variety of approaches, Kao defends an account of human rights that straddles the minimalist-maximalist divide, one that links human rights to a conception of our common humanity and to the notion that ethical realism gives the most satisfying account of our commitment to the equal moral worth of all human beings.


Planning Journals, Rankings, and Internationality

My former advisor, Randy Crane, opened up a can of worms when he sent out what he must have thought was an innocent note to the planning academics’ listserv on ideas for what we’d like to see happen with the Journal of the American Planning Association. It evolved from a request to be open to international scholarship into a nice long discussion of US hegemony in publishing and an old-school discussion on what constitutes rigor and what doesn’t. As usual, quite a bit of defensiveness and a lot of victimy language on both sides of the issue.

I responded this morning to the following effect:

What would a low publication count in JAPA for international scholars really mean?

It could mean A) US scholars are biased if we are getting submissions from scholars outside the US and turning them down disproportionately to domestic submissions (assuming that international scholars are sending their best stuff, which they may not be if they don’t think JAPA is an important outlet for them). The lower publication rate could also indicate that B) international scholars have their own supply of publication outlets that matter to them more than US outlets (At least four people, both international and domestic, have said as much in this discussion).

A is evidence of hegemony and bias and B is the opposite of hegemony and in that case, US scholar bias, however odious, would not have the power to constrain the publication trajectories of international scholars.

One question I had was whether JAPA was indeed publishing fewer papers by international authors than anybody else.

This information proved hard to find, but there is a metric out there on journals that contain international collaborations. Not the same thing, I admit, but it strikes me as a related, if admittedly imperfect, proxy for what we are discussing; whether US journals are insular, and JAPA in particular.

As usual, planners get lumped in with geography and development, so we get apples and oranges. You can also look at the urban studies journals separately. Undoubtedly there is a western bias to what journals are included here.

The international collaboration, percentages, since 2004 generally:

JAPA–has gone up since 2006: ranges from 6 percent to 21.6 percent
Canadian Journal of Urban Research ranges from 4 to 9 percent
Acta Journal Sinica (Chinese journal) ranges from 6 to 18 percent
Forum for Development Studies (Norway) ranges from 8 to 20 percent
Chinese Geographical Science ranges from 8 to 10 percent–higher in earlier years
Geografiska Annaler, Series B, ranges from 8 to 20 percent
Town Planning Review ranges from 20 to 40 percent; it also has gone up over time
Environment and Planning A runs from 10 to 20 percent
Geography Research Forum (Israel) 13 to 25 percent
Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing (couldn’t find anything listed that directly related to planning) ranges from 3 to 8 percent

So JAPA runs with everybody else in terms of international collaborations: some of the German geography journals have lots of international collaborations. Town Planning Review, too.

Looking at different English-language journals (biased towards what I read):

American Economic Review (17 to 30 percent)
Econometrica ( 30 to 45 percent) UK journal
Science (pretty consistently 20 percent)
Epidemiology (25 to 37 percent)

A better indicator would be whether these collaborations include authors from places outside the traditional seats of academic power, but I don’t have that. Also keep in mind that single-authored papers are not counted here, so that single-authored manuscripts don’t get counted one way or another, no matter where from. I don’t know why Scopus is more interested in the collaboration issue than these others.

But in looking at the numbers (not just the ones I’ve listed here), in disciplines where there is an established hierarchy of journals (like economics), the percentages are far higher than in any of the geography and planning journals I can find.

What does that suggest to you? That US economists are less insular/biased than US planners? That because it’s a bigger field, it has more international collaborations published even though co-authoring is a arguably a bigger no-no in economics than it is planning?

Or have economists, by structuring the field around journal hierarchies more rigidly, created an environment where international scholars HAVE to send their stuff to particular journals (most of them US and UK journals) to be reviewed favorably at promotion time? If so, is this concentration in a few journals better for the global cross-pollination of ideas than a multiplicity of outlets, where JAPA matters a lot to Americans but other journals matter more to international scholars and not everybody is reading and writing for the same journals?

Or is it that if you want to get published in the most competitive economics journals, you need to have access to to new and different data sources made possible only through international collaborations?

Is increasing the percentage a sign of increased inclusion or a sign of increased control?

I can’t figure it out.