This March, the CITY Institute and EUC welcomed Dr. Christian M. Anderson as our visiting scholar-in-residence. Dr. Anderson is Associate Professor of Social Thought and Action and Science, Technology, and Society in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell. As part of his visit, Anderson presented a seminar on March 14, titled “Without Guarantees: A parallax view of everyday life and place-based urban political economy”, to address under-recognized but consequential forms of labour, value, narrative, and social infrastructure in urban spaces.
EUC graduate student Danielle Legault interviewed Christian Anderson to get to know more about his research and publications.
1. What do you hope to accomplish during your visit to York University and the City of Toronto?
My goal for this visit is truly just to connect with people, engage, and learn! There are faculty members at York whose work I’ve learned a great deal from and long admired, so I’m excited to connect with them. I’m also keen to meet new people who are thinking about contemporary urban questions, get nudged to think about things, and/or from perspectives I’m not necessarily familiar with, as well as to make new connections. It is an honor and a privilege to have been invited to visit!
2. What issues or problems does your work address?
In a nutshell, my work focuses on intersections among place-based urban political economy, social reproduction, everyday life and everyday practice, as well as formations of popular common sense and culture, especially in contexts of gentrification and social-spatial inequality.
In my past work, I addressed these intersections through ethnographic engagements in New York City, which resulted in a book titled Urbanism without Guarantees (2020). Focusing very tightly on just four blocks of a single street, the book tries to show how things like gentrification and policing are connected to forms of common sense and everyday practice which, I argue, are informed by people’s ordinary sensibilities and can become embedded in urban space in ways that are quite contingent. I call these “performative infrastructures,” and the upshot is that they can buoy deeply inequitable processes, but might also—if subjected to deliberative critical praxis, concerted organizing, and so forth—be transformed toward different socialities and outcomes.
My current work is essentially taking the possibilities drawn out in the book as a point of departure and pursuing place-based praxis in a much more participatory and action-oriented mode (precisely with the hope of better engaging beyond academic debates!).
3. What impact has your work had outside of academia?
I have spent several years now building relationships with and learning from organizers, artists, public historians, and others doing place-based counter-displacement work in Seattle, where I am currently based (a self-avowedly “progressive” city increasingly beholden to the interests of Amazon, which is a whole interesting context in itself!).
I have had the chance to be involved in some public discussions and initiatives, several experimental collaborations, and an ongoing place-based oral history project in the historically racially segregated, now rapidly gentrifying central city. (That project trains cohorts of community researchers using an “institute” model, which is a direct connection to debates and pedagogies from radical geography).
Across these engagements, I have tried to let the work emerge according to community-identified priorities and agendas. It has been really humbling and I’ve learned a lot. It has been quite challenging to try and think about what kinds of relationships to the university, let alone a “public” university, are and are not possible or appropriate here -- not only in relation to the usefulness and limits of scholarly research, but also in terms of resource-sharing, connections between students and communities, and even questioning the university’s relationships to processes of inequitable urban development in the region itself.
In sum, I am quite excited to come to York and learn more about and from the kinds of scholarly, public, and community engagement activities everyone is up to, as I am certain there will be many points of resonance—and generative difference—with things I have been working on and thinking about!
Dr. Christian M. Anderson is an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersections of human geography, urban studies, cultural studies, and social philosophy. Drawing from across these fields, his research seeks to understand how ordinary people’s everyday lives and place-based actions are connected to broader social, cultural, and political-economic formations, particularly in urban contexts. His research interest is on how dynamics of structural inequity and crisis as well as potentially radical transformations can be shaped by common practices in different place-based contexts.