Political economy of urban (re-)development; Politics of displacement and gentrification; Urban injustice; Housing and property hegemony; Urban spectacles and mega-events; Asian urbanisms; Speculative urbanisation in Asia; Global East; Global South
My research in geography and urban studies has involved the re-thinking of various concepts that are produced out of the development experience of post-industrial/Western cities, and aimed at understanding how the experience of Asian urbanisation propelled by strong states re-writes the social and physical landscape in the context of global uneven development. My research has been structured around three major themes, which exhibit a shared interest in understanding and tackling the rise of inequalities and discontents generated by the uneven urban development processes. These three themes include: (a) ‘gentrification, displacement and dispossession’, which has brought together both theoretical and empirical enquiries into the divergent processes of experiencing gentrification; (b) ‘urban struggles and social injustice’, which has been deeply rooted in my empirical research on the injustice experienced by displacees from redeveloped neighbourhoods in East Asia; (c) ‘urban growth politics and mega-events as urban spectacles’, which has stemmed from my previous work on the socio-spatial impact of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Game.
My work is set in the context of condensed urbanisation of East and Southeast Asia, where cities have been investing heavily in their immobile assets to attract transnational capital and visitors, and sustain real estate markets that exhibit speculative characteristics. Asian cities provide a useful test-site for unsettling urban theories, which have grown out of predominantly Western notions of urban development and set in the context of the demise of the Keynesian welfare statism, post-industrial transition of cities, and threatened civil society under neoliberalism and market supremacy. In contrast, the proactive organisation of resources by the (post-)developmental state of East Asia, and its mediation of the channelling of surplus capital from the industrial production to the built environment, has arguably characterised the rise of Asian urbanism, which is subject to heated discussions about their influence on urbanisms of the global South as well as the future of the Asian urbanism itself.
On-going Research Themes
My on-going research focusses on three interconnected themes: (1) circulations of urbanism and real estate capital; (2) urban futures and inclusive cities; (3) urban political economy of urban spectacles. Taken together, these themes drive a new engagement with the structural and fiscal dynamics of urban construction in the global South and the uneven production of the built environment.
(1) Circulations of urbanism and real estate capital
Inter-referencing within the global South becomes an important mode of development for cities in the region: Singapore, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Seoul emerge as a source of inspiration by other cities in the global South, despite questions about the replicability of their development models. Against this backdrop, this research is to investigate the regional and transnational flow of real estate capital originating from East and Southeast Asia. The initial focus is on the investment from China, South Korea and Singapore, with the view of further expansion for international comparison. The project aims to examine the extent to which such developers’ participation in the destination country’s urban and housing development reflects their own visions of urbanism accumulated through their participation in urban and housing development in their countries of origin. On-going projects under this theme include the following:
- The Urban Spectre of Global China: Mechanisms, Consequences, and Alternatives for Urban Futures (in collaboration with Yimin Zhao and Sin Yee Koh), funded by the British Academy for its Tackling the UK’s International Challenges programme.
Outline: The 18-month international collaborative project critically examines the dynamics of urban political economy and contemporary urban living in a rapidly shifting geopolitical setting. By focusing on the local, national and global mechanisms and impacts of Chinese urban spectres, the project aims to deepen our understandings of interrelated urban future issues. Research will be conducted in London, Iskandar Malaysia, Beijing and Foshan.
Project web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/seac/research/The-Urban-Spectre-of-Global-China
- Asian Capital and the Rise of Smart Urbanism, funded by the LSE Middle East Centre and LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. Outline: The project aims to analyse and compare how Asian cities have risen to become reference points for the development of cities in the Global South, and examines the experience of building new cities branded as smart cities in Kuwait and the Philippines.
(2) Urban futures and inclusive cities
The second theme builds upon my previous work on the socio-spatial footprints of condensed urbanisation, which often involves Asian developmental states resorting to the use of violence and co-optation strategies to ensure clean sites are acquired for urban accumulation of capital. While existing studies tend to focus on the role of the state and changing market conditions, there is a greater need of acquiring a more nuanced understanding of how people relate themselves to properties and how their perception of property rights feed into their demand for the right to the city, especially when housing is increasingly treated as an asset (exchange value) rather than welfare goods (use value). Focusing particularly on the contested nature of gentrification, displacement and dispossession of people’s rights which are deeply embedded in the political economy of Asian urbanisation, my research interrogates the extent to which Asian cities can think of a more inclusive urban future (or futures to reflect the divergent trajectories of cities). In particular, I examine the changing practices of housing provision and consumption, especially the use of monopolised power by the state and developers to produce unequal cities. In doing so, the work is expected to inform us to gain a valuable insight into how asset inequalities are closely related to the broader structural issues of state legitimacy and social stability, and help us produce possibilities to create a more inclusive and socially just city. Key questions would include the following: What would be the meaning of ‘home’ for urban citizens whose welfare entitlements are shaped by the state over time? More importantly, how has the perception of land, housing and property rights changed during the politico-economic transition that accompanied speculative real estate markets and widening housing inequalities? Recently projects on this theme include the following book projects:
- (ed.) (2017) Anti-Gentrification: What is to be done. Seoul: Dongnyok [In Korean: 신현방 (편저) (2017) 안티 젠트리피케이션: 무엇을 할 것 인가. 서울: 도서출판 동녘]
- (eds.) (2019) Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (with Yi-Ling Chen)
(3) Urban Political Economy of Urban Spectacles
The third research theme is an extension of my previous research on urban spectacles in China, and is to expand geographically to examine comparatively the series of mega-events taking place in the coming years in Asia. In particular, the attention is to the recent and forthcoming Olympic Games, which include the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Japan, and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games in mainland China. I am to critically examine the scalar politics carried out by the central and local state to address their own visions of development and maintenance of legitimacy. In particular, I aim to analyse the development strategies initiated by central and local states and discuss how such politics are embedded in the broader national and regional strategies of capital accumulation. Particular attention is to be paid to the divergent trajectories of the state restructuring in response to the re-positioning of national economies in the regional and global economy.
2019 – 2020 Principal Investigator, “Asian Capital and the Rise of Smart Urbanism in Kuwait”, GBP 33,999, Kuwait Programme Research Grants, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science.
2019 – 2020 Principal Investigator, Tackling the UK’s International Challenges 2018 Grant: “The Urban Spectre of Global China: Mechanisms, Consequences, and Alternatives for Urban Futures”, GBP 49,998, The British Academy. Co-Investigators include Dr Yimin Zhao (Renmin University of China) and Dr Sin Yee Koh (Monash University Malaysia)
2017 – 2021 Co-Investigator, with 17 others led by Bae-Gyoon Park, PI (Seoul National University). “A Study on a New Urban Paradigm in the Era of Post-developmentalism: Towards the East Asian Cities of Commoning, Peace and Sustainability,” KRW 1.8 billion (c.£1.2 million) held at PI’s institution. Social Sciences Korea programme, National Research Foundation of Korea
2016 – 2017 Principal Investigator. “Property before People: Real Estate Assets, Inequalities and Contestation of Property Rights in Southeast Asia,” £7,500. Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre Research Fund, LSE
2016 – 2017 Principal Investigator. “Why do People Speculate on Housing? Changing Practices of Housing Consumption in East Asia,” £3,000. Department of Geography and Environment Seed Fund, LSE
2014 – 2017 Co-Investigator, with a dozen others led by Bae-Gyoon Park, PI (Seoul National University). “Crisis and Transformation of East Asian Cities in the Age of Globalization,” KRW 689.7 million (c.£400,000) held at PI’s institution. Social Sciences Korea programme, National Research Foundation of Korea
2011 – 2014 Co-Investigator, with four others led by Byeong Yu Jeon, PI (Hanlim University, Korea). “Theory, Evidence and Cases of Reproduction Structure and Socio-Political Agenda-Setting of Multiple Disparities,” KRW 300 million held at PI’s institution. Social Sciences Korea programme, National Research Foundation of Korea
2012 – 2013 Principal Investigator. “Field Research Method Lab: Addressing Field Research Constraints,” £1,450. LSE Researcher Development Fund
2011 – 2012 Co-Investigator, with Loretta Lees, Hilda Herzer and Ernesto López-Morales. “Towards an Emerging Geography of Gentrification in the Global South,” £19,960. Urban Studies Foundation Urban Seminar Series Competition
2007 – 2008 Principal Investigator. “Pushing ahead with Mega-events: the Housing Outcomes of Mega-event Hosting on Low-income Families in China,” £7,420. The British Academy Small Research Grant
2007 Co-Investigator, with Jong-Gyoon Seo, PI. “Case Study of Social Enterprises for Community Regeneration in UK (영국의 사회적 기업 방식을 통한 지역재생 사례 연구),” KRW 10 million. Housing and Urban Research Institute and Korea National Housing Corporation