Messy Methodologies: Proposing radical alternatives to the formal research plan

Presented at: The Space of Struggle | A Mini-Conference on Radical Planning. Portland OR.

Abstract: The city as it is conceived and constructed through urban planning theory and practice is a reproduction of the values and forces which shape it, leaving it vulnerable and blind to other forces which risk burdening those who fall outside its definition. Due to the fundamental challenges of engaging with radical positions, perspectives, and experiences of the city, a consciousness of the limitations of conventional methodology and methods must be carefully considered; not only for logical but also ethical consistency with the subject. This paper examines the challenges of proposing an experimental—what I call “messy”—methodology informed by alternative approaches and radical theories which, by their nature resist rational organization, normative structures, and formal processes. In contradiction to positivist methodologies, there is no clear separation between the subject of study, the researcher, and the process—nor between practice, theory, and pedagogy. This is how I come to center my doctoral research on city-users who fall outside mainstream assumptions and have to find/make space to satisfy their own needs either by negotiation with or circumventing the official city structures. In the process, my research similarly relies on developing ad-hoc and nimble tactics that sometimes align and sometimes diverge with the conventions of a formal research plan. I am rooted in and inspired by traditions of alternative praxes including Jewish philosophy, feminist and subculture theories, and everyday practices by marginalized/alternative urban groups.

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