My New Year’s Resolution: Showing students my heart

The thing about teaching is….errbody thinks they know how to do it. And they do.
Because you are always teaching and learning, all the time. Then, when you try to teach on purpose, it’s harder than hell and everybody gets to criticize you all the time.

This story from HuffPo about Ruby Bridges meeting up with her first grade teacher.

Oprah. You kill me every time.

The backstory: Ruby Bridges, when she was six years old in 1960, was the first black student to walk into a all-white school in New Orleans. No other parents wanted their kids with the little girl, so the teacher, Mrs. Henry, and Miss Bridges spent the year alone. But Mrs Henry remembered it as “a grand time”:

Though it was a frightening, turbulent time, Mrs. Henry only recalls the joy she experienced that year. “It was so wonderful to have a little student like Ruby that it really made it a pleasure,” Mrs. Henry told Oprah in 1996. “We had a grand time together, side-by-side. Just the two of us spent the year together.

This is the kind of teacher one remembers. Ms. Bridges recalled:

While protestors rioted across the city, Mrs. Henry walked into her classroom every day, ready to teach. “She actually taught me the lesson that I say Dr. King taught all of us,” Ruby says. “And even though she was white and she looked exactly like the people outside the school, she showed me her heart.”

It’s not easy to go showing people your heart, but what a legacy,

Happy New Year, friends.

#ReadUrbanAndPlanningWomen2014 #31 Sarah Bradshaw

Last year, in 2013, Environment and Urbanization dedicated an entire issue to gender and urban change here, and all of the manuscripts are worth reading. The one that caught my eye came from Sarah Bradshaw, who is a Senior Lecturer in Development in the Law School at Middlesex University, London.

Bradshaw, S. (2013). Women s decision-making in rural and urban households in nicaragua: The influence of income and ideology. Environment and Urbanization, 0956247813477361.

In this manuscript, Bradshaw does interview work in two communities, one urban and one rural, in Nicaragua, asking both male and female householders about work and contributions. Bradshaw is testing how women in married household make decisions about work, and how those decisions are viewed by their male partners. We have a goodish bit of economic and sociological theory that attempts to explain household work allocation.

It’s rather hard to suss out the chicken-and-egg aspects of women’s labor decisions. Ideology-based theories assert “women’s work” in two ways: since it’s done by women (for everybody else), it’s either a) beyond market price (the apologists), sacred, holy, etc or b) it’s valued at lower wages because the patriarchy values women’s labor less or c) demands that women put household production as the highest priority mean they are less valuable in the commodity workforce, etc. (Larry Summers) and d) they just suck at everything compared to men and thus deserve lower wages (because of c, or because misogyny!) There is also the problem that lower women’s wages mean that it’s logical for households to use women’s time rather than men’s, as the opportunity costs for doing so are lower. And so on, and so forth.

There’s no real sussing causation here but Bradshaw does interview work to see how women and men located in urban and rural settings. She interviews about 80 households in each setting; the urban setting was Managua. She found distinct differences in the way in which urban and rural women and men view women’s work. In rural areas, women did not consider what they did to be ‘work’ unless they were paid; their spouses also did not identify work as “contributing” to the household. Urban women were much more likely to be involved in income-generating activities for the household, and their household work. A quote is particularly telling:

One woman goes further in terms of what this means, noting that for one important upholder of social norms, the Church, a good woman is “…not exactly a slave, but not much less.”

Women in urban settings had more paid work opportunities available to them and thus, had a better position in household bargaining around labor distribution, and their spouses were also more likely to recognize paid work as a “household contribution.”

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #30 Sophie Bond

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Bond, but I did very much enjoy her manuscript in Planning Theory when it came out a bit ago. She is a lecturer in Geography at the University of Otago, New Zealand. The manuscript I am discussing is:

Bond, S. (2011). Negotiating a ‘democratic ethos’: Moving beyond the agonistic – communicative divide. Planning Theory, 10(2), 161-186. doi:10.1177/147309521038308

This is a very nice article that takes up Habermas and Mouffe, two of my favorite thinkers, who are often portrayed in a theoretical opposition. Habermas’s public reason, in which individuals deliberate and make sense of a shared problem conflicts with Mouffe’s (and others) in their emphasis on agonism, conflict or, as Bond phrases it, antagonism. The idea that rationality emerges from deliberative discourse flattens out (by force or convention) or at least obscures what really has to occur in politics and, by extension, planning: a conflict based on divergent interests that might more fully inform a radical change in how things get done or goals for public life if we pursued those conflicts rather than trying to shut them down or negotiate them away too soon.

Schaap (2006) describes this difference as that between modernism and postmodernism. While others may not define the two theorists’ positions in quite those terms, the differ-ences between them have been largely situated in Habermas’s recourse to a universal communicative rationality and an essential faith in the enlightenment project (Schwandt, 2000), in contrast to Mouffe’s anti-foundational understanding of the social as contin-gently and historically constituted through the operation of discourse (Howarth, 2000; Laclau and Mouffe, 2001; Torfing, 1999).

Bond’s project here is to look at the points where Habermas and Mouffe might have sufficient ground in common to serve as a bridge for understanding both conflict and reason as means to aid planners understand how politics can inform practice. She can’t synthesize, as she notes. The theories are too different. She notes, then, that build between them, she has to base her approach on one and then pull from the other. She chooses Mouffe, which I think is right: that beginning point allows her to avoid falling into Habermas’unworkable ideal procedures while drawing from his idea that public reason occurs, and that it can occur through planning even as groups come into conflict. To wit, both theories share the idea that democracy occurs via public dialogue, whether ideal or agonistic.

From there, Bond develops a ‘democratic ethos’ that captures agonistic pluralism to be more workable in planning theory to understandhow urban governance involves both possibilities for consensus and dissensus. There are points here in the description of the ethos where I become rather lost in the theory in my first read-through, as I am 1) not terribly familiar with Derrida’s concept of undecidability, which appears to be important, and 2) I am not sure exactly in what sense she means signifiers here. Thus I’ve gotten myself lost.

Nonetheless, she leaves us with a set of questions that strike me as quite sensible for practice, given the foundation she set up:

  • What discourses interact and how?
  • What relations of power are revealed by the operation of those discourses?
  • What hegemonic projects are mobilized within the undecidable space and how?
  • What signifiers are elevated to a universal position such that they become empty or floating master signifiers and how are they reinscribed into discourses in this particular space-time?
  • What possibilities are foreclosed in the taking of a decision? What is the effect of this foreclosure?
  • Who is advantaged or disadvantaged? What has been overlooked or considered less important? What alternative trajectories are available and why were they superseded?

#ReadUrbanAndPlanningWomen2014 #28 Diane Davis and Onesimo Flores

I do not believe I have ever had the pleasure of meeting Diane Davis, though I see from her cv that she is a fellow UCLA grad (from Sociology). I first encountered her work when I was surfing around online, and I found her very nice syllabus on Urban Governance.

Onesimo Flores is a lecturer at the GSD at Harvard, Diane Davis is the Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism Department of Urban Planning and Design
Graduate School of Design Harvard University

I read:

Diane E. Davis, Onesimo Flores Dewey (2013), Chapter 12 How to Defeat an Urban Megaproject: Lessons from Mexico City’s Airport Controversy, in Gerardo del Cerro Santamaría (ed.) Urban Megaprojects: A Worldwide View (Research in Urban Sociology, Volume 13) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.287 – 315.

This is a case study, obviously of Mexico City, and the unraveling of a major plan to redo the Mexico City airport. The case is interesting, simply because it rather defies the normal unfolding of urban mega-projects. President Fox himself canceled the project after a firestorm of controversy and strong divisions emerged in various elite and institutional coalitions. Nonetheless, the feds claimed that the reason they cancelled the project because the local residents did not want to be forced into selling their land for airport. One possible explanation is, simply, that the President Fox’s administration was exhibiting greater sensitivity to democratic than he did in many other contexts.

Still, there are some puzzles. Davis and Flores Dewey note that other political elites had strong objections, particularly to the site selected. Mexico City Mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador hoped to keep the existing airport up and going. Politicians in the neighboring states resented what they saw as federal favoritism towards Mexico City vis-a-vis growing demands in their regions,right along with optimistic technical reports that backed up the statement from the adjoining states’ leaders.

Elite opposition notwitstanding, it would be a mistake to underplay the potency of citizen opposition. Environmental justice arguments took hold as residents of and near the site objected to property takings and forced relocation as a human rights violations. Their cause found its way into the international press, as well. They organized a sizable march in Mexico City to protest that small amounts of compensation offered ($7.20 pesos per square meter) via courts. In addition, overlapping jurisdictions were controlled by different, and often sparring, political parties, and along with the citizen opposition, provided evidence that democratic political sources of diverse opinions had influence over the traditionally centralized federal authority.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #27 Marguerite Abouet on Yop City

I am sucker for booklists, obviously and this one here on 10 great novels every urbanist should read from Anna Clark on Next City. Aya in Yop City was one of her suggestions:

Abouet has said that she began to write the Aya graphic novels — this one is the first in an informal series — because she was frustrated with the limited portrayal of cities in Africa. Pictured as places of war and famine, she saw literature’s failure to capture the humor and daily rhythms that she remembered from her own childhood in Côte d’Ivoire. In Aya, she brings us to Yop City in 1978, a sunny working-class city in West Africa that brims with youthful energy, infatuation and promise. The story follows our 19-year-old heroine and her friends as they learn what it means to become an adult in this city. Aya is a light-hearted and charming story — hardly a dense portrait of urban life. But that makes it perhaps all the more revealing.

So I picked it up thinking I might use it in my 245 class, and it’s every bit as charming as Clark suggest. Aya, our protagonist, is a nice girl with big dreams, and she has two friends, Bintou and Adjouna. All boy crazy, with difficult parents, they come up together a working-class section of Yopougon-Koute in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s.

You have to pay attention; the urban aspects of the story are fleeting; the maquis, the housing, the 1,000-star hotel, however, provide a rich and engrossing environment for the story of young men and women trying to find their way. Highly recommended.


Raphael Bostic @RaphaelBostic, Nicole Ezparza @nicolephd and I discuss Kafka’s The Castle for the Bedrosian Center @BedrosianCenter

So the Bedrosian Book Club did something a little off the beaten path this time out: we discussed Franz Kafka’s novel, The Castle. I started us off a little badly: I get nervous when recorded, but the discussion is worth listening to if you have an interest in bureaucracy, power, culture, and a bunch of things that come up during our discussion. You can find it here.

To call philosophy down from the heavens…Scott Samuelson’s nice essay in CHE

Scott Samuelson contributed a nice essay to CHE today, but I think it’s behind a paywall. Like lots of CHE personal essays, this one has a little more personal stuff than is perhaps interesting, but Samuelson seems to be a young writer, and much about the essay is good-hearted and rings utterly true:

I never fully understood Kant until a student of mine, a mother who had to authorize a risky surgery for her son that led to his death, asked me in tears if Kant was right that the consequences of an action play no role in its moral worth. I never fully understood Stoicism until a student of mine who’d been sexually abused as a child explained to me how she’d deduced the same principles as Epictetus to transcend her suffering and find happiness. John Locke always seemed a little boring to me until a Sudanese refugee asked me tremblingly if we could study his arguments for religious freedom.

Ideas have consequence, ideas fuel the soul, and all of us need them. I am looking forward to Samuelson’s book, which is out from UChicago this year, called the Deepest Human Life: An Introduction for Philosophy for Everyone.

Oh, and BTW, a subscription to the Chron is a nice gift for your local pointy-head academic. Not affiliated, just an idea.