Urban Experiments

Workaround: In current version of Panels 3.8, it seems this body field needs to be populated in order for title above to appear. This note is hidden by custom CSS style. Jack Latimer.



    According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) we have now entered the ‘urban millennium’, with more than half the world’s population now living in cities. This is of great significance for research on socio-cultural change because cities have tended to be sites of novel mixing and innovation, contestation and diversity, as well as for the display of hierarchy and symbolic authority. Cities concentrate, display and accentuate difference, diversity, inequality and trends in politics, providing opportunities for social and policy experiment and more spontaneous forms of social organisation. In this sense cities are social experiments in action.

    However, despite the apparently common experience of urbanisation, we need to be careful in the ways that we treat this phenomenon: not all cities are the same and despite common trends in the movement of people and goods under the impact of ‘globalisation’ the experience of different groups in different cities can clearly be highly variable. There are obvious physical differences between cities on the level of size, structure and geographical location, wealth, the quality of existing infrastructure and so on. There are also more intangible cultural differences, both in the broadest sense but also at the more specific level of institutional memory and long-term experience of particular governmental problems. At the same time, despite these differences, it is clear from our research that cities old and new actively seek to learn from one another in order to address what they perceive as common or at least complementary problems. In order to understand the impact of urbanisation and the nature of urban life in cities old and new, large and small, we need to carry out empirical research that is both comparative and historical, able to engage with commonality, continuity and difference across time and space.

    In the first period of research in Urban Experiments we concentrated our focus on two strands of research, city cultures and city materialities, maintaining particular interests in the material and cultural manifestations of difference and attempts to shape mobility through the urban environment. In the final year of CRESC we continue to pursue an interest in these dimensions of urban life, but we also want to continue the work we have already begun on drawing together the material and cultural aspects of the city and explore the ways in which these different facets are inter-related. We pursue this research through projects on urban ecologies, particularly on the role of water in the city as it is developing in different ways across the globe, and on the question of sustainable cities ranging from transport infrastructure to recycling and public health. We are also developing new interests in urban security and its histories, charting not only the ways in which cities present particular security problems for individuals and government, but also the ways in which cities have been shaped through security concerns.

    Theme convenors: Sophie Watson and Francis Dodsworth. 


Below is a list of the projects run by this research theme. Click on the title of the project for more information.

  • Human beings are constituted of water. 75 % of men’s body mass and 68% of women’s body mass is made up water. The water content of the organic world of plants can be as high as 80%. We not only...

  • This project aims to compare the economic, social and cultural models of eco-city development in four international settings (China, the Gulf, India, and Europe). It will

    • reconstruct...
  • This comparative international  project explores street objects as devices for understanding city cultures, sociality and the formation of publics.

  • In the field of urban studies and urban analysis there is a remarkable blindness to the place of religion, religious sites and religious practices in the making up of contemporary cities and...

  • The project develops a methodology for studying city objects by investigating  street bollards as socio-material practices that make up the city of London. I begin with posing a series of...

  • Sophie Watson has been awarded a grant of £5002 from Thames Water for embarking on her new research project into customer practices and attitudes to their water supply. Many...

  • In recent years a significant element in the governance of our cities has been the attempt to open up public space and to make it accessible to people regardless of age, bodily capacity, gender,...

  • This project explores cultures of in/security in the modern city. Despite falling crime rates across the Western world fear of crime remains high and our cities have become monuments to our...


Below is a list of the publications produced by this research theme.

Book Chapters


Below is a list of CRESC staff working on this research theme.

Centre Directors

Affiliated Academic Members, Research Fellows

Affiliated Academic Members

administrator, Research Fellows, webmaster

Research Fellows


Below is a list of the news items associated with this research item.

  • Fri, 15/11/2013

    The Open University in Camden will hold the book Launch for Mark Banks (cresc), Rosalind Gill (City University, London) and Stephanie Taylor (Open University) (eds) titled Theorizing Cultural Work: Labour continutity and change in the cultural and creative industries ( London: routledge 2013) on 15th November 2013. 

    A link to the book can be found here

  • Thu, 26/09/2013

    This book considers the state of the city and contemporary urbanisation from a range of intellectual and international perspectives. The most interdisciplinary collection of its kind Provides a contemporary update on urban thinking that builds on well established debates in the field Uses the city to explore economic, social, cultural, environmental and political issues more broadly Includes contributions from non Western perspectives and cities.

    Please find a link to the book here

  • Tue, 03/07/2012

    CRESC's Sophie Watson discussed David Harvey's new book Rebel Cities on BBC Radio 4's Thnking Allowed on Wednesday 4th July at 4.00. 

  • Tue, 08/05/2012

    CRESC and the Whitworth Art Gallery have joined forces to develop a programme of activities for Manchester schools in support of our 2012 annual conference, ‘Promises: Crisis and Socio-Cultural Change.’

    ‘Primary Promises’ involves 10 schools from the city in a summer of artistic activity, visits and workshops, which will culminate in an exhibition at ‘Promises’ in September.

    The first event was held at the Whitworth on 2nd May, and involved teachers from local primary schools, the gallery’s artistic co-ordinators and CRESC staff working together to develop an activity pack for KS2 children on the theme of ‘A Vision of Future Manchester’. 

    The pack is inspired by two of the Whitworth’s current exhibitions. Firstly, Victor Pasmore: Transformations, is a series of abstract images by the influential British painter and architect that include the lush, impressionistic  topography suggested  by Il Labrinto della Psiche (1986) (above), and, secondly, Building on Things: Images of Ruin and Renewal which includes images such as ‘Tower of Babel’ by Anne Desmet, and work by Cyprian Gaillard and Giovanni Piranesi.

    Over the weeks to come, children will be involved in devising maps and plans of the city of tomorrow, exploring the idea of urban promises and be invited to design their own ‘Promises Cube’ - a six-sided vision of Manchester’s future.   The maps and finished cubes will be used to create a collaborative installation that represents the voices, visions – and promises - from children of the participating schools.

    For more details contact: Mark Banks m.o.banks@open.ac.uk

  • Thu, 07/07/2011

    In the month of June Urban Experiments held its first two cross cutting theme workshops on city cultures and on city materialities. Stimulating discussion took place around a group of papers which at the City Cultures workshop included Michelle Bastian’s paper on ‘Transition Towns ‘, Mark Jayne’s paper on ‘Worlding a city: Twinning and urban theory’and Alban Webb’s discussion of cinematic representations of disaster threats to the city at the city cultures event. At the City Materialities workshop the papers included Francis Dodsworth and Sophie Watson’s paper on ‘Shaping Religious Community in East London’ and Evelyn Ruppert’s discussion of 'Methodological Experiments' illustrated by her bollards project, while others described their new research projects.

     Over 25 members in total attended from across the CRESC research themes, and new connections and synergies in urban research began to emerge. We are pleased to see that the new Urban Experiments ‘experiment’ is now fully launched following the annual lecture by Professor Andrew Ross on ‘Is Urban Sustainability possible in the Age of Climate Justice’, the launch of the New Companion to the City (edited by Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson), to which many CRESC members contributed chapters, and  we look forward to developing more connections and research agendas at the cross theme CRESC Annual Conference on ‘Framing the City’ in September. Three new CRESC working papers from Urban Experiments have also been published in recent months.

  • Sun, 19/06/2011

    The New Blackwell Companion to the City, edited by Gary Bridge and CRESC's Sophie Watson is reviewed in today's Observer by architecture critic, Rowan Moore, todether wth Living in the Endless City, edited by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic. 'Certain themes', notes Moore, 'emerge from both books, such as a suspicion for simple over-arching solutions, horror at inequality and division, support for intelligent public transport systems over super-highways driven through poor neighbourhoods.' For further details of the book click here.

  • Wed, 04/05/2011



    Call for Entries

    CRESC and the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester are pleased to announce a juried creative writing competition to accompany the CRESC annual conference to be held at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in September 2011.

    Prizes of £100 and £50 for first and 2nd places will be awarded to winning entries of up to 1500 words, which best capture the conference theme – Framing the City – and focus on the nature of change in the city of Manchester. Winning entries will also be published exclusively in the Centre for New Writing’s online magazine – The Manchester Review: http://www.themanchesterreview.co.uk/

    Entries will be judged by a panel from the conference committee, the Centre for New Writing and editor of the Manchester Review. Winners will be announced at the conference opening ceremony on the 6th September 2011 and receive a signed copy of either Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ or Martin Amis’s ‘Pregnant Widow’.

    Deadline for entries 6th August 2011.

    Entries (limited to one entry per person) may be submiited via email to the CRESC Conference writing competition address at:  cresc.annualconference@manchester.ac.uk

    Please note that CRESC reserves the right to withdraw the competition should there be insufficient entries.

    The CRESC Framing the City conference aims to scrutinise the processes by which cities are conceptualised, realised, lived and contested. For more information about the conference go to: http://www.cresc.ac.uk/events/cresc-annual-conference

  • Fri, 01/04/2011

    We would like first of all to offer all those who took part in this year's first ever CRESC Photography Competition our very sincere thanks. The standard was incredibly high and we were surprised at the sheer volume of entries we received. Having said this, we did feel that two photographs in particular most closely matched the brief and these were Wing Yin Chan's 'Ordinary morning in Spring' and Adam Swann's 'Bolton Ex-Victoria Mill'. Congratulations to both photographers on capturing such wonerful images, we look forward to meeting both at the opening of the CRESC Annual Conference on 6th September 2011.

    Wing Yin Chan - 'Ordinary morning in Spring' (1st Prize)

    Isle of Dogs, the East End peninsula of London, is one of the most divided districts in our capital. While the affluent, glamorous banking area Canary Wharf is merely 10 minutes walk away, life is close to the bread line behind these poorly-insulated windows.  Many struggle silently, day after day. 
    Having the district as its backdrop, this image captures an ordinary moment of minimal urban life.  It aims to serve as a reminder of the social divide in our society, an inconvenient truth we can no longer afford to deny.

    ‘Bolton ex-Victoria Mill’ by Adam Swann (2nd Prize)

    This is the only remaining part of Victoria Mill, Horwich near Bolton, Lancashire, built in 1903-04. The mill was operated by W T Taylor (1848-1925) who were the “the largest manufacturer of towels in the British Empire” and the second largest worldwide. The mill remained in use until 2007 when it was demolished and the doorway still stands on its own.

    I did not know about the mill and its history when I passed it in February 2008 and stopped the car to take this picture. Inside the doorway of the ex-mill, the fading orange afternoon light evokes a human presence and the activity happening within the now demolished walls in times gone by. In the distant background the Reebok football Stadium in Bolton marks the contrast between the new and the old, showing what comes to replace grand old mills like this one when they are sadly gone.

    The winning entrants will:

    • have their work published in the prestigious online magazine Manchester Review
    • have their work featured on the CRESC FRAMING THE CITY conference brochure (1st prize, front cover; 2nd prize, back cover)
    • receive a collectors’ item hardback copy of the work of photographer Stephen Gill
    • receive a cash prize (1st prize £100; 2nd prize £50)
    • have their work displayed at the Royal Northern College of Music during the conference
    • attend a prize giving at the conference opening ceremony on 6th September

    Copyright of winning photographs remains with the prize winners and use of the photographs will be limited to the conference brochure, display during the conference and publication in the Manchester Review as per the conditions of the Creative Commons Licence.

  • Fri, 04/03/2011

    The annual CRESC lecture at SOAS in London given by Professor Andrew Ross from New York University attracted an audience of around 100 people from across the UK. Andrew  Ross, who is Professor of  Social and Cultural Analysis and author of many publications including:

    • Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (NYPress, 2009).
    • Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade-Lessons from Shanghai (Pantheon, 2006; Vintage, 2007).

    Professor Ross gave a lecture entitled : Is Urban Sustainability possible in the Age of Climate Justice? Ross’ lecture provided a clear overview and critique of the different positions and politics of environmental social theory and politics. Through the notion of middle class environmental apartheid- ‘eco-apartheid’- he subjected current eco initiatives to close scrutiny and critique. Drawing on an ethnography of arguably one of the most environmentally damaged cities of the USA- Phoenix, he exposed the serious implications of extremely rapid urban and suburban growth, and the failure of market and governmental responses to it. Though largely a pessimistic account he concluded with identifying nodal points where positive changes and initiatives might occur in such spaces of environmental degradation. Notable here were the responses and involvement of the local indigenous community  in water issues.

    Following the lecture Professor Stuart Hall launched the New Blackwell Companion to the Cityedited by Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. He commended the breadth and range of the book which comprises 65 newly commissioned essays including 6 essays of reflections by the authors. The volume also comprises contributions from 10 CRESC researchers and affiliates.

    During his talk Professor Hall described the contents of the six sections: City Materialities, City Mobilities, City Affect, City Divisions and Differences, City Publics and Cultures, and City Politics and Planning, and drew attention to the international range and scope of the essays, particularly the engagement with urban questions in China and India.  Hall’s view of the book chimed very strongly with the concerns of CRESC, when he commended the vigorous interdisciplinarity of the project, at the same time as stressing the importance of the different traditions- sociology, history, cultural studies, geography, and political economy- from which it draws. Hall identified the urban turn as an important feature of recent work in social and cultural theory and interdisciplinary study, which, although not his own central concern, he could see provided a valuable lens through which to explore socio-cultural change.