Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
Students must have the permission of the instructor to take this class. (Note: This does not apply to OCW users.)
We make implicit comparisons regularly, as we make decisions based on comparisons amongst choices, for example, amongst courses of actions. Most scholarly analysis also involves comparisons. Statistics aims to predict comparative value of particular variables based on empirically ascertained or simulated relationships, while theory seeks to explain observed or presumed outcomes by reference to comparative contributions of causative processes.
Thus, to compare is a common way of thinking. Nothing is more natural than to consider people, ideas, or institutions in relation to other people, ideas, or institutions. We gain knowledge through references. By enlarging the field of observation, the comparativist searches for rules and tries to bring to light the general causes of social phenomena. In general, it seems more sensible to concentrate on similar rather than totally dissimilar phenomena or processes. The principal reason for making a comparison is to shed light on how some common process produces different kinds of results in different places, or to examine why different processes produce similar results: looking first at what the two case studies have in common, then at the major differences among them, and finally, at the common processes (applied in variable degrees) which have led to the wide and very real differences which we now find.
The terms "First World" and "Third World" require clarification before we make any comparisons between cities in the two contexts. Several terms, usually in pairs, are utilized to illustrate this dichotomy. The starkest distinction is "backward" and "advanced" economies, and between 'traditional' and 'modern' cultures. A geographic dichotomy is between the North ('First World') and the South ('Third World'), referring to the countries of the northern and southern parts of the globe. The more common classifications place all countries on a continuum based on their degree of industrial and economic development: 'developed'/'underdeveloped', 'more'/'less' developed, or to recognize ongoing change, 'developed'/'developing' countries.
All these dichotomies are overly simplistic and engage in stereotypes, especially pejorative ones in the contemporary use of the term "Third World." However, in this seminar, we will utilize the terms "First World" and "Third World", as short hand and as categories of convenience, because no system of classification can capture all the dimensions of a country within a consistent framework. The First World has been historically associated with the countries of North America, Western Europe, the Australian subcontinent, and more recently, Japan. The Second World has referred to the former Soviet Union and the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe. The Third World refers to the economically developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The primary purpose of this seminar is to enable students to craft approaches to First World / Third World city comparisons that are theoretically sophisticated, methodologically rigorous, contextually grounded, and significantly beneficial.
International comparisons require articulated conceptual frameworks. Comparisons are significant if we want to find out whether urban issues in a particular political-economic or cultural context are unique or common to other societies, and to determine the validity of sweeping generalizations. Such comparisons involve a number of tasks: identifying underlying patterns and explanations, specifying particular similarities and differences, and understanding the effect of the underlying institutional framework.
Comparisons also help us to better understand particular urban issues, for example in the United States, and to determine if those issues are more or less serious than in other societies. The policy relevance of comparison emerges from a study of the effects of different urban policies on different contexts, that is, to understand what works under what conditions. This might involve similar problems but different approaches, for example to the limited availability of housing finance, the reduction in affordable rental housing stock, or housing reconstruction after natural disasters.
Over and above the policy relevance of comparative analysis, familiarity with different contexts is important in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Globalization has become a central theme of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is a concept that was borne out of the seemingly global expansion of market capitalism. One aspect of this urban discourse is the recognition of globally competitive cities and regions such as New York, Mumbai, London, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, which nourish innovative, entrepreneurial, and cultural activities across national boundaries.
A number of eminent development scholars and practitioners have identified problems in Third World countries and used them to better understand conditions and possibilities in First World countries. The economist Albert Hirschman first formulated the theory of unbalanced growth during professional work in Colombia and later found the same principles to be applicable in the United States. Hirschman characterized this process as a kind of dialectical movement that "first comes upon looking at outside groups, the astonished finding of otherness, and then follows the even more startling discovery that our own group is not at all that different." Similarly, the community builder John Turner came to understand the notion of autonomy of building users through his years of work in Peru, and later applied the same principles in advocating alternatives to American public housing policies. The architect N.J. Habraken has argued that incremental home building in Third World countries provides an alternative architectural tradition to replace some of the obsolete models of Western Europe.
In the literature on comparative research, the critical question is how we compare rather than what we compare. A number of principles; for example, the notion of functional equivalence, and the articulation and aggregation of interests thus guide comparative analysis. Functional equivalence implies that one should not be mislead by superficial data and labels, and suggests that one ask questions such as: Who articulates demands in a particular urban or political-economic context? By what institutional structures are particular types of planning policies transmitted? How much autonomy is enjoyed by the public sector planning institutions? Such questions warn us of situations in which the same role may be played by different institutions in various countries. For example, in Mexico, urban planning decisions and policies are largely influenced by political actors and considerations, while in the United States urban planning decisions are largely influenced by private sector actors and considerations.
Among the functions that are ubiquitous and fundamental to various urban and political-economic contexts, two in particular attract attention in any analysis that touches upon the political systems of Third World and First World countries. One is the articulation of interests, which consists of the translation of diffuse interests into explicit demands such as claims, petitions, proposals, and amendments made through protests, the mass media or direct contact with those in power. The second is the aggregation of interests, which consists of converting these demands into coherent alternatives such as party programs, congressional platforms, or parliamentary majorities made through political parties, labor unions or business associations. These are the kinds of issues and approaches to be examined in this seminar.
Since there exists very little literature and very few projects which compare First World and Third World cities in a sophisticated and genuinely useful manner, the seminar is structured around a series of readings, case studies, and discussions to assist students in becoming mindful of the potential and pitfalls of comparative analysis, the types of data, the methods of analysis, and the urban issues or sectors which may benefit the most from such approaches. Students are expected to utilize the readings to carefully critique other approaches, and to craft their own comparative approach over the course of the semester.
Each student is expected to lead at least two discussions, based on the reading assigned for that particular session. The discussion leader will (a) summarize the reading according their own understanding of it, (b) illustrate and clarify the reading with examples, case studies, personal experiences, or from other literature on the topic, and (c) prepare a series of provocative questions to generate a discussion. The purpose of the discussion leader is for him or her to contribute their own informed perspective on the topic, assist the rest of the group in understanding the arguments made in each reading, and to foster an active discussion on the topic.
The seminar requires attendance to all sessions and the contribution of all students in order to nurture learning through an active exchange of ideas, knowledge, and experiences. Students are thus expected to come prepared—with notes and questions—to discuss the readings, to lead some of the discussions, and to draw upon other literature and examples. Regular attendance and active contribution to the seminar is crucial, and thus constitutes 25% of the final grade, and includes the quality of preparation for the student-discussions.