The International Urban Symposium (henceforth, IUS) was established in 2015 on the initiative of Italo Pardo and Giuliana B. Prato, both at the University of Kent, UK.
The IUS is a non-profit Association that brings together scholars from various disciplines who share a strong commitment to ethnographic research in urban settings and to empirically-based analysis and non-academics; in particular, professionals who have an interest in the research findings. The IUS encourages topical research among its members; initiate multidisciplinary discussion through round-tables and seminars; trains younger scholars; engenders high-quality publications; establishes links with universities, research institutions and other reputable bodies; and engages in public debate and collaboration with non-academics who operate in society and are interested in our empirical knowledge, and in making use of it.
Today interest in urban issues is very high and growing worldwide. In a global context marred by the increasing difficulties of governance, the intimate and detailed knowledge produced by the in-depth, ethnographically-based work are encouraged by the IUS is in high demand. A well-construed body of this kind has appeal across the world. It is welcome both in intellectual circles and, given its empirically-based comparative and multidisciplinary breath, beyond the academic world.
- To promote the significance of urban research to intellectual debates and to society more broadly;
- To set the agenda on topical debates and chart and encourage new theoretical directions through reflection on the epistemological significance of ethnographic knowledge;
- To stimulate critical scholarship and the exchange of ideas among scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds;
- To engage in exchange of ideas and collaboration with non-academics who operate in society and in that capacity are interested in ethnographers’ empirical knowledge.
- To pursue and promote the empirically-based study of urban settings. The IUS promotes ethnography’s unique contribution to a better theoretical and practical grasp of our rapidly changing and increasingly complex cities. It does so through the structured contributions of a strong field of high-calibre scholars engaged in empirical research;
- To promote the multidisciplinary character of the empirically-based approach through the involvement of Anthropologists, Sociologists, Geographers, Jurists, Economists, Political Scientists Historians, Architects, Medical Doctors and non-academics;
- To initiate topical multidisciplinary debate through one or more annual meetings;
- To train young scholars and ethnographers;
- To encourage high-quality publications. The work of the IUS is published in the form of books, occasional papers, journal articles, fora and special issues;
- To establish links with relevant reputable institutions (universities, research centres, etc.);
- Bring out the significance and value of ethnographic urban research to society. This objective is pursued especially with the help of the non-academic members of the IUS.
Today half of humanity is living in towns and cities and that proportion is increasing, also through in-takes of native and foreign migrants. Cities are identified as hubs of socio-economic and cultural interaction as well as challenging settings for sustainable development. Clearly, studying urban settings and the attendant dynamics is timely and of great importance.
Believing that empirically-based studies have a unique contribution to make to our understanding of our evolving urban world, we have established the International Urban Symposium (IUS). The IUS aims to expand knowledge by encouraging discussion and the exchange of ideas and experiences among scholars with varied disciplinary backgrounds through conferences, seminars, publications and public debate. This is done in the awareness of the unique contribution that ethnography offers for a better theoretical and practical grasp of our rapidly changing and increasingly complex cities. Recent meetings, debates and publications have proved that the application of ethnographic methodology leads to new paradigmatic challenges; see, for example, the Journal Urbanities, the Ashgate Series ‘Urban Anthropology’, the fast developing ‘Palgrave Studies in Urban Anthropology’ and epistemological reflection on ‘Urban Anthropology’ in the form of a Forum in Urbanities (Vol. 3 · No 2 · November 2013:79-132 and Vol. 4 · No 2 · November 2014: 84-103) and the Special Issue for the Journal Diogenes on ‘Placing Urban Anthropology: The Production of Empirically-based Knowledge and its Significance to Society’ (2015).
While robustly emphasizing the continuing vitality of the ethnographic methodology, these initiatives have involved scholars from various disciplines. Contemporary urban research is indeed intrinsically interdisciplinary. As social scientists, we are aware that today an increasing number of ethnographers who do research in cities often get very close to other disciplines. This need not be cause for concern. While it is true that too rigid boundaries between disciplines do not reflect reality, it would be misleading to erase all boundaries. Like cultures, scientific disciplines are dynamic entities, continuously changing and developing. The IUS recognizes that fruitful interdisciplinary contaminations — in the sense of cooperation and exchange of research findings — are of critical importance in gaining an informed, adequately articulated understanding of human beings and society. At the same time, the IUS recognizes the sine qua non that there is no interdisciplinarity without disciplinarity.
Yet, the multidisciplinary identity of urban ethnography suffers from a dearth of well-organized outlets. The IUS’ commitment to ethnographic knowledge and to multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity is aimed at helping to fill this gap. With the aim of ensuring ethnographic soundness in cutting edge research, the IUS encourages empirical research to grow, ramify and expand. In urban research, too, the combination of participant observation with varied techniques in the construction of case studies produces exceptionally good knowledge that has broad theoretical relevance, pointing to the key fact that a holistic analysis and attention to the relationship between micro- and macro-processes raise no question on the validity of traditional ethnographic fieldwork.
The IUS is robustly committed to encouraging debate on issues of high intellectual value whose ramifications are high on the world-wide political agenda and in public consciousness. For example:
- The material and non-material dynamics and processes of urban agency;
- The gap between citizenship and governance with particular reference to local, national and supra-national bureaucracy, administration and decision-making, including the legitimacy of policy and of the law and the legal process;
- The dynamics of illegal behaviour, and the complex relationships among the legal, what is regarded as semi-legal at the grassroots and the illegal;
- The ways in which conflicting moralities across the social, cultural, economic and political spectra take shape in the urban field and affect the broader context;
- Migration and the movement of population more generally;
- The local impact of globalization and the way in which globalization may, in turn, be affected by grassroots processes;
- Urban development, sustainability and territorial policies;
- The impact of new digital, visual and spatial technologies on urban life;
- The impact of industry and industrial relations on urban life;
- Social justice;
- Social minorities;
- Urban conflict;
- Cultural heritage – material and non-material;
- City and territorial marketing and competitiveness
- The problems raised by fieldwork and the ways in which such problems are dealt with, stimulating new thinking on the relevance of ethnographic methodology.
The IUS creates opportunities for talented junior scholars, establishing training seminars and encouraging the publication of research findings (including the best PhDs). The expert involvement of the IUS membership and the peer-review system ensures quality.
Academic research needs to highlight its societal relevance. Urban research is clearly linked to professional practices and has added valued beyond academic debate. Empirically-based research in urban settings attracts interest among scholars and among practitioners in the economy, the law, urban planning, politics and decision-making. The high-quality work of the IUS provides a solid basis for meaningful collaboration between academics and practitioners to address urban problems and policies.
The future of the IUS looks very promising indeed, considering the trend towards urbanization, the interest that empirical research in the urban field arises among significant and powerful sectors of society and the academic and non-academic support (also financial) enjoyed by several of the activities that the promoters and founding members of the IUS have initiated in recent years. We also believe that whoever addresses effectively this key field will reap the full benefits of such composite interest. A high quality initiative of this kind poses a tough challenge for possible future competitors.