My research is driven by two fundamental questions: How do ideas about urban transformation drive action and intervention? And, what can communities do to best navigate rapid change? In pursuing these questions, I explore how theory and knowledge are produced, circulated, and applied across diverse geographical and historical contexts. I especially focus on areas of instability and liminality, such as peri-urbanization, marketization, and innovation. And I use an interdisciplinary set of methods, including techniques from anthropology, geography, and history, to arrive at insights and implications that cut across policy, planning, and design. 

Urban-Rural Relations

Chinese Planning Institutions

Hailong Village

My current project, entitled Urban Furnace: The Making of a Chinese City, pursues these themes in contemporary China. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Chongqing, I investigate China’s ongoing experiments in urban-rural coordination and new forms of urbanization. Despite these programs, the urban-rural dichotomy continues to shape interventions in Chinese settlement transition. Through the practices of planners, political leaders, and residents, I explore three interrelated questions: Why does the urban-rural dichotomy persist? What are its effects? And, what alternatives exist for future intervention? In pursuing these questions, I consider the intersection of politics and science in the practice of Chinese planning; burgeoning issues, including socio-spatial fragmentation, the erosion of resilience, and the formation of a permanent Chinese underclass; and opportunities for synthetic approaches to Chinese policy, planning, and design, such as the integration of adaptive rural housing typologies into urban welfare programs.

Data and the City

I am currently building a new project that explores the growing role of “big data” in urban transformation. New sources of data offer unheralded opportunities for planning and policy, but they also bring hidden risks. This is especially true in the developing world, where rapid change means data are quickly obsolete, and frail institutions make data science vulnerable to political capture. This project builds on complementarities between the analysis of data science and the synthesis of ethnography to answer the following questions: How can data enable new theories of urban transformation? What other knowledge is required in order to produce meaning from data? And how should data be used in order to inform normative decision-making?