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Volume 69, issue 2
Geogr. Helv., 69, 99-114, 2014
https://doi.org/10.5194/gh-69-99-2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: Urban inequality

Geogr. Helv., 69, 99-114, 2014
https://doi.org/10.5194/gh-69-99-2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Standard article 22 Jul 2014

Standard article | 22 Jul 2014

Science + Space + Society: urbanity and the risk of methodological communalism in social sciences of space*

J. Lévy J. Lévy
  • Chôros Laboratory, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

    * This text is the revised version of the Geographica Helvetica Lecture at the International Geographical Conference in Cologne, 29 August 2012.

Abstract. During the last decades, geography has lost its epistemological exceptionality, but is this enough? Social sciences are commonly threatened by methodological nationalism and, more generally, by methodological communalism, that is the corruption of a scientific approach or project by any kind of other social alignment that undermines its capacity to develop a free, autonomous thought. Has geography escaped these pitfalls?

In this text, the example of urban studies is taken to try and answer these questions. More specifically, the way the idea of spatial justice has emerged in the last decades is explored through the analysis of five significant books among the academic production on these topics. It is then argued, thanks to a critical review around the iconic notion of 'gentrification', that the corpus at stake is more substantial than the limited, partially arbitrary selection of these five books. The present-day situation of urban geography (and probably of urban sociology, too) shows a serious risk of methodological communalism particularly located in Anglophone, and especially North American, literature.

Some hypotheses are proposed to explain this particular geography of the academic episteme of inhabited space. It is argued that the potential single-paradigm hegemony in geography and, more generally, in social sciences might fuel this danger.

Finally, a possible antidote to this worrying trend could be the simple, but complex idea of putting science, space and society together in a non-dissociable way. The conclusion stresses the necessity of taking up key challenges that urbanity issues raise and the usefulness of epistemological and theoretical pluralism as a major intellectual resource.

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