Lions and robins

17 July 2017

I went over the student evaluations of my classes today. For the most part, The comments were quite positive, and I'm grateful that so many students genuinely seem to appreciate my teaching. It may sound trite, but it is one of the rewards of the job. There are always a surprising number of students who ask for more structure to the lectures and for the presentation slides or notes to be made available. It was especially prevalent in the new graduate class on international development and cooperation I taught this semester. And I have to admit that sometimes my lectures could use a bit more organization. But I don't feel that they are that bad overall, especially in the graduate class. They were challenging and sometimes rushed, but I thought they were fairly well processed.

And that got me thinking. I think some students want me to do all the information processing for them, while I see myself more as a guide to the students own learning. While some students want me to be a robin, I see myself as a lion. When robins hatch, the parents forage for food, fly back to the nest, and regurgitate the partially digested food into the gawping mouths of the chicks. Some students are like those chicks. They want easily digestible, already broken down ideas and knowledge. I, however, want my students to learn how to break down ideas and knowledge for themselves and build their own idiosyncratic understanding of how our world works. Like the mother lion, I see my job as wounding the prey, bringing it to my cubs, and giving them the opportunity to kill it for themselves so that they can later hunt on their own.

Of course, I am aware that robins also hunt once they leave the nest. The distinction is more one of species than right or wrong. But if you want to take my class, be a lion, not a robin.

Houses and happiness

10 July 2017

Today, finally, someone bought the apartment we are renting and saved us from months of rent on an empty apartment.

Love and bosses

19 May 2017

For the last week my youngest daughter has been trying to get her mother to say that she loves her more than her older sister. She would get very upset when my wife refused to say that she loved one more than the other. It was quite confusing for us until last night. I was trying to explain to her how love is a non-rival good (through obviously in different terms) and that her mother's love for her older sister did not diminish her love for the younger one. She refused to believe me. In the midst of her tears, my daughter told that there was only so much love to go around and that her mother's love for her older sister meant that she did not love her as much. Her source? Boss Baby. The whole premise is that there is only so much love in the world and the dogs are stealing it from the babies. She totally absorbed that and applied it as a theoretical framework to understand her world. Amazing!

Theses and feces

12 March 2017

This Thursday at 5pm somewhere in the International Studies Hall I will explain to all comers how to ensure that your theses are not feces. Over about an hour and a half I will explain what makes a good thesis question, how to structure your thesis, how to avoid plagiarism, and what tools you can use to be more efficient.

You can look ahead (or behind) for my suggestions and a copy of my presentation by visiting this page. Note that I hope to update it over the next couple of days, but the substance will be essentially identical.

Peace and preparation

25 February 2017

Just watched 150 of our students graduate. Congratulations! It's always a pleasure to watch the happy and well deserved smiles that indicate the passage from one phase of life to the next. Good luck to all of you.

And it also marks a small transition for me. My chaotic winter is over and the new chaotic semester is about to begin. But before it does I have two days of solitude to reflect on the winter and re-energize for the spring. Before I came back from the Campus Asia kick-off symposium in Kobe, my wife and daughters ran off to Okinawa for a few days (that will turn out to be much less warm than they were hoping!). Though I have to get some work done (so that I can have time when the family returns), at least I will have a bit of mental space to settle...and will increase this space by going for my now annual hike tomorrow morning.

At any rate, I think I am beginning to look forward to the new semester and the excitement it will bring. I have been reading some very interesting books for my development and globalization classes. And I hope they will provoke engaging discussions. In particular, at the moment I am reading Karl Mannheim's Man and Society in the Age of Reconstruction. It keeps offering observations about mid-20th century society that aptly capture contemporary uncertainty and reconstruction. Hopefully much of my time tomorrow will be spent reading more.

Tanzania and Cambodia

10 February 2017

I am primarily just writing a note to update things since it has been so long. Since I last wrote, Trump has assumed power, protests have erupted, and Park, Guenhye's impeachment process is getting unnecessarily dragged out (presumably seeking victory through attrition).

This winter was supposed to be a quiet one with a focus on writing papers. Instead it has turned into another whirlwind world tour. I spent a week in Hanoi conducting interviews and site visits to understand the market for apartments there. It was phenomenally productive and I still have to sit down to sort out what we have learned. My RAs were amazing at organizing our meetings and focus groups. We met a number of professors from NUCE who taught us a great deal about Hanoi's urban development (though it was surely rudimentary to them!).

One of the tidbits they taught us was that Hanoi's urban planning has always been tied to humans' relation to water, specifically the Red River. Interestingly, I just returned from a GPAS/KOICA sponsored study trip to Cambodia where we learned that the story of Angkor Wat is also a story where water plays the central role. So there may be something about SE Asia and people's relationship to water that lies at the core of spatial planning.

In Cambodia I was the senior faculty member and therefore in charge of our team's formal exchanges with Cambodian representatives. For me, this was a major learning experience and fortunately I was able to draw on what I learned by watching one of my former colleagues on a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Because it was just the two of us, I watched carefully how he connected (or not) with the other parties we encountered.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have taken from the last couple of weeks is that the world is full of endless possibilities. I may have lost some of this sense over the last few years of having kids and getting stable. In fact, it may be the very achievement of a degree of stability that has allowed me to recognize again the excitement of the world's abundance. Of course, having access to money is key to realizing many of the possibilities, but I have renewed faith that one can make things happen if one wants. Through the conversations I have had new ideas and potential projects have bubbled up and over. The move now is to choose which to act upon and realize.

Thieves and honest men

24 November 2016

This morning I read in Capital that there is an old English proverb that is often reduced to: "When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own." Marx uses it to describe the truth about the economy and labor that emerged in the early 1800s as the aristocracy and industrialists argued amongst themselves about who exploited the common person more. I wonder if this is what is happening in Korea today.

Cosmin Visan and participatory budgeting

10 November 2016

Congratulations goes out to Cosmin Visan, who today successfully defended his PhD dissertation and passed with flying colors. His dissertation, A Simulacrum of Participatory Democracy PB in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, builds on research conducted over a year in Cluj to show how local elites were able to capture a participatory budgeting initiative to provide legitimation for their own interests. Cosmin is my first doctoral student. I hope subsequent students produce equally high quality work. Here is the abstract:

In 2013, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, a Participatory Budgeting pilot failed as a result of elite co-optation and sabotage. This was a civil society effort at deepening democracy by introducing a form of participatory democracy in the second largest city in Romania.

This study asks the question, "Can civil society deepen democracy at the municipal level?" The focus is on the city of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania and the concept of deepening democracy is operationalized as the pilot Particpatory Budget that occurred in 2013 in the district of Manastur.

The study argues that, even though the enabling conditions for success were met, the pilot PB failed because the Mayor’s Office was only willing to implement a Simulacra PB—a version they could control. They did not want to share power with the citizens, and saw PB as a consultation effort that could improve efficiency and help build party power in the district. In order to prevail, they steered the conclusions of the working group toward their ends, blocked the demands for a dedicated sum in the budget, ensured there would be no independent executive board, and applied a Latourian classification strategy in order to steer citizen demands in the direction they desired. Civil society participants could not overcome the Mayor’s Office designs for sabotage and co-optation.

The case study is embedded in a theoretical framework that provides a model according to which genuine efforts at democratization will be structurally opposed by elites in a representative democracy. This has implications for other instances where civil society advocates deeper democratization—a regime change from representative democracy to participatory paradigms. The theoretical model used in this instance proposes that elite resistance to change is a defining feature of representative systems. Given this, civil society participants need to organize better, and to share their experiences of sabotage and co-optation through international diffusion networks, in order to counteract complex games of elite manipulation.

Trump and America

9 November 2016


UPDATE: Here is Peter Marcuse's take on the situation, one that is harmonious with my own.

Explaining the election:

  1. A critical shift in the organization of the economy post 1968, from industrial to hi-tech capitalism.
  2. Leaving many dependent on the old economy hurt and at a loss, largely the white working class, hold-over racism and sexism accentuated as scapegoats. (foreclosures, evictions, bankrupcies, struggling suburban homeowners – not the really poor, homeless)
  3. They reacted with anxiety and an emotional attachment to the past Deep Story (their traditional identity?).
  4. They blamed, quite rightly, “the” establishment, although not clear as to its membership, pushed by media etc. to blame "government" (social media, TV, not press?)
  5. Trump as politician picked up on this, despite his own membership in the new establishment (motivation? pathological egotism? Business).
  6. The anxious white ex-working class built up a deep story, a vision, abetted by Trump and the media that was heavily emotional (shaping identities?)
  7. That story, built on real anxiety-inducing experience, mis-interpreted history, and built a psychological/ideological barrier that facts and reason could not penetrate (high school or less education?).
  8. Trump offered the charismatic fairy tale leader, believe me, trust me, not them, they have failed you (over 30 years? Since Reagan? since Johnson?)
  9. Hillary offered no vision that addressed the grounded anxiety (health care costs? Real unemployment levels?).
  10. But Trump’s allegiance as a businessman is and always was to the new elite establishment, and he will unify the Republican Party around it. The holdouts will be those with a personal repugnance to Trump’s personal behavior, which they will swallow. (social circles, clienteles, customers, tenants?)

Mining and me

15 October 2016

I forgot that I should self-promote. An article I wrote with one of my current PhD students, Alexander Constantine Lupilya, has just come out in the Journal of International Development. Entitled ‘You have hands, make use of them!’ Child labour in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Tanzania, it looks at the socio-economic drivers of child labor in artisanal and small-scale mining in Tanzania. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines child labour in artisanal mining through ethnographic research in Tanzania. The poverty hypothesis argues that households send children to work to bolster household income. The sociocultural approach suggests that child mining offers valuable vocational training. This paper builds on a growing literature that complicates these approaches' straightforward claims by illustrating how household fragmentation is generated through the encounter of traditional cultural practices with mining's culture of consumption. This encounter exacerbates household fragmentation, which in turn increases child poverty and labour. These findings suggest that policy interventions should also address these mediating factors rather than poverty per se.

Marx and planetary urbanism

12 October 2016

This semester I taught that part of Lefebvre's Urban Revolution that introduces the emergence of the urban society as the urban incorporates the rural, as the town consumes the country. Additionally, in preparation for my ACSP paper, I have been reading the debate over planetary urbanism, in particular Richard Walker's response to Brenner and Schmid in City (19: 2-3). In his response, Walker argues that Brenner and Schmid have an unclear notion of the "urban" and often conflate it with capitalism in general. He argues that this all-inclusive treatment of the urban eviscerates the word of any tractable meaning. Instead, we should continue to use both concepts in a dialectical fashion. It is not enough, Walker says, to say that the urban is incorporating the rural; rather, we must also consider ways in which the rural is incorporating the urban. I think he has in mind urban gardening, rural-urban migrants, perhaps fashion choices, and so on.

This dialectical relationship seems to make sense, and my recent trip to Ethiopia suggests as much. Here is a picture of a sheep market on the edge of Addis Ababa. Farmers, I presume, bring their herd to this roadside in the hope that a butcher will purchase them.

Sheep market in Addis Ababa

But what has prompted me to write is a chance encounter with Marx and cities as I was reading Zerzan's Twilight of the Machines. He includes a quote from the Grundrisse (p. 479): "the modern [age] is the urbanization of the countryside, not ruralization of the city as in antiquity." Though I have yet to read the material preceding the quote, this is almost certainly one source of Lefebvre's inspiration for the urban society notion. The question Walker would then have to pose is whether Marx is letting go of the dialectical relation in this quote or if Lefebvre, Brenner, and Schmid have pushed Marx's concept beyond dialectics. And then I suppose one would have to ask if letting go of that dialectical framework is useful or not.

I don't think so.

Guns and love

7 October 2016

My trip to Ethiopia under KOICA's auspices is coming to a close...and a wonderfully fulfilling one at that. Thanks to Prof. Lee, Jin-Sang's extensive experience and consequent network in Ethiopia, other professors and I enjoyed dinner in the home of Ethiopia's Speaker of the House of People's Representatives, Abadula Gemeda. For me it was an incredible learning opportunity. Here is a man who started his adulthood fighting against the Derg in the bush with Meles in a Marxist-Leninist parth, rose to the head of the Ethiopian military, and is now Speaker in an actively capitalist government.

He shared a few bits of wisdom. The first was that if you can run a military, you can run any machine. The logic was that decisions in the military concern the most precious thing, life. He is certainly responsible for the loss of life, but he genuinely appears to care. I cannot imagine that he took decisions lightly. The second tidbit reinforces this thought. He said that the only way to win a war is with love. He argued that an army can't win by destroying the enemy (or at least trying). That only creates new enemies. The only way to win is to love the enemy. Give them water and food when they are captured. Talk to them. Teach them. Turn them into friends that you can live with. Further to this is that you cannot understand yourself without understanding why your enemy sees you as an enemy.

The last perhaps was that one must take every opportunity to live life. That is why he volunteers on the weekend. That is why he has adopted several children (despite being 60!).That is surely why he invited us over to dinner. And I'd like to think that is why I went.

Bikes and books

17 September 2016

Today marks another first for Sienna. She can now officially ride a bike. Though she still has much practice to do, she can now get started and keep moving for quite a distance without assistance.

Gian, meanwhile, continues to impress with her patience for and ability to sound out words. She's going to be reading alone in no time.

Fish and sharks

26 July 2016

We're staying at my uncle and aunt's amazing new place in Cape Cod for the week. They have a heated pool with a shallow end that is low enough for Sienna to stand. Their cousins swim like fish, despite the younger one's struggles staying on the surface. It seems that seeing this has inspired Sienna. Yesterday she figured out that it was okay to put her face in the water, and now she's diving and swimming like no one's business. She doesn't want to get out of the water. And that makes me happy.

Dogs and pigs

13 July 2016

Na Hyang-wook (나향욱) director general for Korea's Ministry of Education has been fired for calling for a formalization of Korea's caste system. He was quoted at an apparently drunken dinner as saying that, "Not everyone can be equal. We must accept reality.... I believe that we should solidify a class system in our society. The people should be treated like dogs and pigs. It's enough just to feed them and let them live." The people were defined as "the 99 percent". Of course he added that he belongs to the 1 percent. He made additional remarks that the 99 percent does not even try to improve themselves.

There is not much to add, since the former official's words are frighteningly plain. It indicates that Korea is already a caste society. I wanted to write "evolved into", but I think Korea has always been a caste society. The consciousness of this fact was disguised by the rapid growth of the past few decades, during which the lives of most people in Korea improved immensely. However, having caught up with the developed world, there is less growth to share domestically and people's lives are no longer improving. This, more than rising inequality, has led to reemergence of the consciousness.

Sienna checks one off the bucket list

11 July 2016

Thanks to a colleague of mine, the family and I were able to go on an experience trip to Incheon as part of a magazine that promotes tourism in the city. Fortunately, our trip was not to the city but to Shimnipo (십리포) on Yeongheung Island (영흥도) via Daebu Island (대부도). The fiction was that we went "glamping" (그램핑, or glamour camping, which is a current trend in Korea where you pretend to be camping by using camping gear but that really everything is basically done for you and your facilities are luxurious). The reality is that we were on a photo shoot and got to do a bunch of wonderful things as long as we posed properly at times.

We walked along the beach. We dug for clams and crabs. We barbecued tasty pork. But perhaps the most important thing was that we went on four-wheel ATVs along some paved and unpaved roads. This was fun simply by its nature, but there was an added bonus for Sienna. For weeks she had been telling me about her friend who gets to ride occasionally in front of her father on his scooter and how much she wanted to try. Scooters aren't really my thing, so I just kept the conversation moving. But thanks to the good people of Incheon, we knocked that one off of Sienna's bucket list with some serious aplomb.

Gian skates

25 June 2016

Yesterday we all went to the ice rink so that Sienna could get speed skating lessons so that she can be ready to take speed skating lessons from tomorrow through school. There's something painfully Korean about that, but I'll move on to the important thing. It was Gian's second of third time skating, and she had to guts to skate by herself. She was horrible and slow, but she didn't fall (except the one time I caught her). She didn't go far by herself, but she went with a kind of confidence that Sienna did not have at the same stage and (probably) age.

[Update one week later: We went skating again, and she was much more confident, even skating on her own at times. And one time venturing out on her own to catch up to Sienna and I! Apparently, she soon fell and crawled back to her mother, but the guts...! I also realize that I've forgotten to note what an amazing job she is doing learning to read and write in both Korean and English. She is kicking some serious butt.]

In other news, David Harvey has been in town this week. I saw him speak at an even hosted by 창비 Publishing and then in conversation with the mayor of Seoul in the middle of a Korean Association of Space & Environment Research (KASER) conference. This group is clearly where the progressive geographers belong. So I will be joining as soon as my grading is done. At any rate, there was nothing surprising in what David said...if you know his work. But it is always interesting to me to see how he string ideas together. The most interesting tidbit (and something new to me) is a figure (he said but I could not find) from The Enigma of Capital that he started with. Between 2010 and 2013 (or something like that) China consumed more concrete that the West has ever consumed. [Update: A former student guided me to a graphic for this.] Of course, this plays three roles. First, it is a spatial fix for surplus Chinese capital. Second, it buoyed up a flagging global economy. And third it protected the state from massive uprisings among the--at one point--30m unemployed workers (Enigma says 20m). Fun stuff.

Korea's corruption economy

20 June 2016

According to this article in the Joongang Daily, a new report has been released by the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI), run by the chaebol lobby group called the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI). The report claims that a new anti-corruption law designed to put caps on gifts/bribes to public servants, journalists, and teachers will potentially damage the economy by almost $10b USD in the coming year. Personally I think the law will be helpful at blunting the tip of corruption in Korea, but what strikes me is this. Korea's annual GDP is $1.3t USD. If the economy will potentially lose $10b USD due to an anti-corruption law, that means that roughly 1% of economic production is driven by corruption. And there is surely much more that is hidden.

The Korean urban development story

4 June 2016

Yesterday, as part of my project on the export of Korean apartments, I went to one session of a day-long conference hosted by the World Bank and the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (KKGTF) entitled "Investing in Green Resilience". Let's move quickly past the redundancy of "green resilience" given that resilience is an environmental term and that "green" has been appended simply because one host is the Korea GREEN Growth Trust Fund. And let's also move quickly past the "testifying" character of the presentations I saw ("Thanks to the $20m from the KKGTF we were able to leverage $60m in additional investment." It's all about "leveraging"). What interests me at the moment is that the speaker from LH (황규홍) provided a nice distillation of the key story that urban-oriented Korean development people use on a regular basis. There is a standard narrative that is used to promote and legitimate Korean involvement in overseas housing construction. And this is it.

Korea urbanized rapidly in the 20th century, especially after the Korean War. The war had destroyed a great deal of housing, and the country adopted apartment buildings as a solution. Korea's solution to rapid urbanization started with apartments in the 1960s, moved on to apartment complexes in the 1970s, and to New Towns in the 1980s. Land readjustment was a major tool that enabled its success. As a result, Koreans have shifted from living in independent homes to living in apartments. And apartments are the best management solution for all sorts of infrastructure and environmental services.

Buy Korean.

Note: To be fair, the LH representative did say that he was not sure that Korea's urban legislation was the "best" and that land readjustment may not work everywhere. So there is some well needed caution in some people's version of the story.

Bumps and bicycles

15 May 2016

A lot has happened since the last post. I've conducted research in Hanoi. I presented a fun paper on our economy's impending automatization and the precarity that will attend it. But the biggest developments are probably with Sienna, who has found new opportunities for physical development through elementary school.

She started first grade (and thus elementary school in Korea) a little before my last post. I presume that seeing all the things that the older kids do has generated new confidence and excitement about doing it herself. Sienna has always been a bit cautious about engaging physical risks, but she started jumping from high(er) places, climbing up the jungle gyms, flipping around poles, and other more risky but clearly exciting activities. As a parent, you just have to suppress your overly protective instincts and let them go. I formulated a theory though. I figured that some of her adventurousness was facilitated by the fact that she had not yet suffered any pain, that she had not fallen and taken a serious whack.

Within days of conceiving the theory, she did. Her feet slipped on a plastic slide and she tumbled more or less face first into the ground. I think she managed to get her hand in front of her face in time, because she wound up with a purple finger and forehead.

I figured she would return to her previous cautious ways, but I was wrong. If anything, she seems more empowered. This weekend she received a bicycle from a classmate and decided that she would learn to ride it. If anything, it's smaller and less easy to control than the bike we already have, but she likes it. And don't you know, she'll probably be able to ride by the end of the weekend. After three sessions, she is able to go about 25 meters. So she really is riding a bike, but she has some work to go to really be competent.

More importantly, she is just blossoming physically and it seems to be giving her much more confidence.

And lest I forget Gian, she is also growing rapidly. She has become much more engaged in learning Korean and English, not hesitating to speak in broken English to me. She's kicking butt, but she has not been attaining as mainly clearly demarcated milestones lately.

Jaque: Interaction to upset

21 March 2016

Last week my friend Marc Brossa gave me the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Andres Jaque and to participate in a panel discussion with students in his current super-luxury apartment studio at Princeton. Let me start by stating that I like his work. Because it is not going to sound like it. :)

Though he emphasized his focus on actor-network theory, to me the central focus of his work seemed to be on fostering direct, person-to-person interaction. I'll take both of these aspects in turn. My basic concern is that he does not dig into these things deeply enough. Rather, the engagement is superficial and almost pubescent.

He presented his comparison of Burlusconi's high end residential development with its underground media city, through which idealized lifestyles of the residents were depicted, and a building in Madrid or Barcelona that serves as a center for Senegalese(?) migrant workers. The core point---and a good one---is that the physical architecture of one site cannot be separated either from the socio-economic network in which it is embedded and the architecture that mediates other sites in the network. The import of this point is probably greater for architects than for urban designers and planners, to whom this must seem fundamental. My concern with the way it was presented (perhaps the documentation is different) is that a direct connection between the two projects was averred but never illuminated. The only thing I could see is that they are connected by both being actor-networks. If this is the point, it is a trivial one. Everything is an actor-network (if you follow Latour and other ANT theorists). To be meaningful, the comparison would have to identify homomorphisms or shared actors or something to have any real traction.

This superficiality carries over into the theory behind his interactive spaces. In many of the projects he showed, a major feature was that the design forced people to engage with other and potentially conflict. He began with the notion that architectural representations typically reflect what he called "happy endings", a delightful term. That is, architectural representations display highly polished spaces that hide the underlying conflicts and messiness of daily living. In much of his work there is an effort to either unveil the hidden realities that support happy endings, e.g., Phantom, or to create spaces that encourage new social interactions, e.g., the Plascencia Clergy House.

One intervention in the latter that I quite like and find indicative of the issue I have is the creation of a garden with numbered plots but no predetermined boundaries or paths. The point of the garden is to force the residents to interact and make decisions about boundaries and paths. I love this. I think it's brilliant. But it only goes so far. Once the discussions have taken place, once the conflicts have stabilized, once the decisions have been made, we are left with, in effect, a happy ending that disguises all the process that has led to the "final" organization of the plots. Following Deleuze's reading of Foucault, what the garden does is call forth power relations that over time stabilize and form a sediment that structures other interactions. My question to Andres was essentially this: "If these interactions are going to lead to happy endings, why stir them up to begin with?" I think there are some very good answers to this questions. One might argue that power relations should be constantly unsettled in order to encourage innovation (though to what end?). Even better, one might argue that existing sedimented happy endings are only happy for some and that creating spaces that upset these unhappy endings is a means of creating new forms of relationships that will improve society.

But Andres stops short of such statements. (Or at least he did when I met him.) One is left with (at least) two possible explanations. First, it is possible that identifying "enemies" might jeopardize his client base. Second, it may just represent the pubescent teenage boy drive to upset things simply to upset them. To the extent that architects and artists see themselves as "shocking"---and I think oftentimes this is the case---this sort of statement seems accurate. But we need better motivation for upsetting happy endings than simply the desire to make people unhappy. We need a more mature practice.

My life's most jet-setting month and some initial thoughts on Myanmar

16 February 2016

It was drawn to my attention that I have not updated in quite some time. Somehow I wind up busier and busier every semester and have lost the opportunity to add anything here. And since the coming semester promises to continue the trend, I thought I would post a quick update.

I have been home a total of four days over the past month. First it was a week in Japan (Tokyo for research and Kobe for a talk). After two days of recovery I was off for ten days in the US (Harvard and MIT for networking, archival research, and student guidance; a day at my folks' house; and Columbia/NYC for networking, research interviews, student guidance, and pizza and beer). Two more days of rest in Seoul and then on the night of the Lunar New Year, the family and I were off to Myanmar (Yangon for research interviews, family vacation, and cultural exposure for the girls). Quite simply, this has been the most jet-setting-est month of my life...and all because funds needed to be spent. It was also surprisingly grueling and productive.

So a few preliminary thoughts on Myanmar...or at least Yangon, where my research has inadvertently(?) focused itself. I am trying to understand how international actors are shaping the development of the city. For the moment I have a couple of preliminary impressions to note.

  • The range of international capital is fascinating. When one thinks of development, one tends to think of European or American firms investing in emerging markets. However, in Myanmar's case, it seems that much of the capital is Asian. There is Japanese, Korean, and Chinese capital to be sure, but there are surprising sources (to me). The high end shopping mall across the street from the (disturbingly) high end hotel we stayed at so that the girls could swim was built with Vietnamese capital. Inside, one of the signs for a coming coffee shop (Black Canyon Coffee) described it as "a Thailand original" and listed locations throughout SE Asia.
  • The construction coming in is remarkably contemporary. It makes sense of course and indicates more that I have not traveled much in the developing world recently. But I was still struck that the most prominent construction is generally high-end, modern construction. This creates a much more robust contrast between new and (probably) international wealth and existing citizens.
  • More romantically, I was reminded of Herbert Marcuse's observation about the park benches he saw when he visited Hanoi in the 1960s: they only seat two and thus foster romantic interaction. Yangon does not seem to have much for benches, but couples sit together everywhere. And the beautiful thing is that they use the umbrellas necessary to keep off the heat as a tool to create an intimate space for just the two of them. The result is a remarkable degree of privacy and intimacy in the midst of busy, crowded city.

Justice and the city virtual special issue

15 October 2015

I am pleased to announce that a virtual special issue on Justice and the City has just been completed and is available at Taylor and Francis's website. Inspired by Susan Fainstein's recent piece on The just city in the International Journal of Urban Studies, the virtual special issue (with free access until the end of the calendar year!) compiles some classic articles that inform her arguments and some more recent articles that engage and expand her work. All pieces are drawn from Taylor and Francis's extensive archives. The collection was put together with Jung Won Son from Bartlett (UCL) and help from Aletheia Heah.

Non-ideological Korean history

13 October 2015

I've just read that the current government has decided to reverse a seven-year-old legal change that replaced government-authored history textbooks with a list of textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education. From 2017 middle and high schools will have to use new government-authored textbooks. This "deliberation" of knowledge is surely another sign of increasing censorship in Korean society, but the thing that most caught my attention is the claim that the new books will be "ideologically neutral". According to the Joongang Daily, the Education Minister said, "We will dispel the people's worries over ideological biases and create textbooks based on constitutional values and objective facts to foster a proper view of the state and a balanced historical understanding for our youngsters." This effort is supposed to "end the controversy over ideological bias in history textbooks".

But of course there is no such thing as an ideologically neutral text. "Ideological neutrality" is what you get when those in power succeed in establishing their ideologically biased interpretation of history (in this case) as the mainstream view. This is generally done by establishing "objective truths" that are beyond question and by carefully curating which "objective truths" are incorporated into official accounts and which are not. We can see this move in the very language of the Minister. He specifically mentions "objective facts" in the quote above and refers elsewhere to a reliance on "verified materials". But the inevitable role of ideological interpretation is also clear in the quote above. The Minister argues that the textbooks will be "based on constitutional values", as if there is only one objective understanding of those values. The very nature of values is that they are interpreted based on experience and ideology. For example, one can interpret the constitution's environmental injunctions as trumping economic development or one can interpret environmental values as aspirational goals that follow development.

Values are ideology. And the government's reversal of limited freedom in historical interpretation is an ideological move.

Theories of Everything

3 October 2015

In a fit of procrastination I just read The Trouble with Theories of Everything by Lawrence M. Krauss. Quite simply, it argues that physics theories are scale-dependent. That is, theories that apply at one scale---however microscopic---do not necessarily apply at others. It goes further to suggest that attempts to unify theories lead to new mismatches. What I take from the article is that a theory like gravity may be suitable for one scale of analysis, say, an apple falling from a tree, but reveal theoretical flaws at other scales, say, predicting the behavior of subatomic particles.

I wonder if we should apply this notion to the social sciences. With my graduate students I've been reading two books so far this semester. The first is Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social, and the second is Martinelli, Mouleart, and Novy's Urban and Regional Development Trajectories in Contemporary Capitalism. Latour's book describes the actor-network theory (ANT) approach, in which our understanding is built up from the actors themselves and (kind of) decries the development and application of grand theories of the "social". URDTCC, meanwhile, is basically an anti-ANT approach that applies a host of macro-level social theories to urban and regional development. The further wrinkle with the latter is that the approach applies these theories to multiple time and spatial scales. And it enjoys variable success in doing so.

On some long term scales, the broad social forces (or "actors" in Latour's terms) create a smooth narrative, but one that feels hollow after reading Latour. For example, we are told in the context of financial capital's dominance in the contemporary development of London that, "The two fractions of capital---industrial and financial---eventually became antagonistic, a struggle that ended with the hegemony of financial capital and the decline of British industries"[66]. In other places, actors "positions" and "sociospatial structures" are "reinforced". But we are not told how they struggled, of what that hegemony consists, what the positions are, nor what "reinforced" means. These terms are shortcuts for summarizing what happened, and while I do not doubt their "accuracy", the shortcuts do not tell us "what happened" on the ground. And I guess I want that.

But this is where the scales come in. URDTCC primarily uses regulation theory for its analyses, and I think it generally does a good job of describing the big picture. However, it obscures so much of the local level dynamics that drive the processes. We need to know how certain financial capitalists pushed through regulation in their favor, for example. And this involves (perhaps) other theories that describe political action, psychological constitutions, investment decisions, etc., theories that in turn would not necessarily describe the macro-level outcomes.

Must we then rely on different theories for different scales of action? Krauss's article would suggest that we should. But it would also suggest that the effort to unify these scalar-specific theories should produce its own advances and new mysteries.

Bedtime stories

25 September 2015

More kids than business on this blog... This time it is because my older daughter finally seems to be getting interested in reading. She recently received a 만화책 (comic book) from a friend. Apparently it is their favorite, "I am Star". She told us that they even run around the playground during recess saying "I am Star" because that is what gives the girls in the book their power. Anyhoo, combine this with the extra work my wife has been doing with her to read, and suddenly Sienna is the one reading bedtime stories to her sister. For the last week or so, she has read to Gian from "I am Star" and other kids books until Gian falls asleep. Then she comes into our room, tells us that Gian is sleeping, and returns to their bedroom and puts herself to bed. I love it.

Bugaksan (북악산)

14 September 2015

There's a lot going on right now. I'm teaching a class that is simultaneously streamed to Nanjing and Fudan Universities. I'm getting my research project up and running. I am writing a biography of Susan Fainstein. I went to beautiful Urbino, Italy for the RC21 conference, where I ran into some old friends and made some new ones. And there's other stuff.

But I'm really writing because I'm proud of daughters for walking with little complaint (none on Sienna's part) from Sukjeongmun(숙정문) to Chunguimun(청의문) yesterday. Though it's only a couple of kilometers, here are links to a couple of links that show what a feat this is (1 and 2). Let's just say that to get some amazing views of the city, you have to do a lot of very steep climbs and descents. And the girls kicked butt. It made my weekend pretty awesome.

Big Week

29 July 2015

So this has been a big week for us. We have been in the US since early July. Most of the time has been at my parents' house, but the extended family also took a five-day trip to Sebasco Harbor Resort in Maine. It was fantastic in its own right, but the big news for us involves the little ones. First, Gian has started summer camp at Pequotsepos Nature Center, which she has been wanting to do for the last couple of years. Even though she screams bloody murder every morning when we drop her off, she is bouncing when we pick her up. Second, Sienna went ahead and lost her first tooth at the closing lobster bake in Maine. Then yesterday she lost her second tooth eating corn fresh from Whittle's. But the biggest thing is that this afternoon she swam by herself without support for the first time ever. It was only a meter or so, but it was independent...and amazing.

Research grant

30 June 2015

I have just learned that I will receive a $90,000, three-year research grant from the Korean National Research Foundation to study the export of Korean housing models to developing countries. I am a bit daunted and quite a bit excited, as this will quite clearly define my intellectual efforts over the next few years. The project combines two approaches to examining the role of housing in development. One aspect of the research is to examine how housing models are imported from more developed nations and translated into the local context. This will draw on actor-network theory, policy mobilities, and the interpretive policy analysis approaches to policy formation. The second is the cultural approach to housing, which seeks to explore how housing shapes culture and is in turn shaped by culture.

I will be working with Park, Jinhee, who recently received her PhD from the University of Sheffield's Town Planning Department. She will be central to the cultural approach, which she has been developing through her dissertation.

Tooth fairy

23 May 2015

Sienna's first tooth seems to be loose. Time for the Tooth Fairy to put us in her address book.

Talk about mmm...pop music

8 May 2015

It seems our domestic world has taken a new turn. Sienna came home Friday enthralled with 여자친구 (GFriend)'s pop song 유리 구술 (Glass Bead). She has watched it repeatedly trying to learn the lyrics and started practicing the dance moves the girls were doing. The other day it was The ABC Song and now suddenly it's K-pop time. Insane.

In a stroke of genius, however, YK printed out the lyrics to the song so the Sienna could learn them. But of course she has to practice reading to do be successful. :)

Shows I remember

17 April 2015

For some reason, I could not sleep this morning. I kept thinking about shows I've seen in my day. It is probably because I was talking to some students the other day about how I was a young man during the "Golden Age of Hip Hop" and how they did not know some of the big names from the time. So I thought I'd compile a list before I forget their names, too! But I can tell I've already forgotten many.

  • Jazz
    • Sonny Rollins (Harkness)
    • Les McCann and Eddie Harris (Yoshi's)
    • Mal Waldron with Eddie Black and Lew Tabacken(?) (Elm Street)
    • Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry (The Channel)
    • Sun Ra (SF)
    • Gil Scott-Heron (SF)
    • Charlie Hunter Trio (SF)
    • Eddie Palmieri (Columbia)
  • Blues
    • John Lee Hooker (club on Geary)
    • Albert King (SF)(?)
  • Hip Hop
    • Spearhead (club on Divisadero)
    • Public Enemy (Oakland)
    • Digital Underground (SF)
    • Jurassic 5 (without Chali 2na) (Columbia)
  • Funk and soul
    • P-Funk All-Stars (all sorts of combinations all sorts of places)
    • Fela Kuti (Norwich)
    • Budos Band (Brooklyn)
    • Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (Manhattan)
    • Nortec Collective (Brooklyn)
    • The Neville Brothers (SF)
    • Maceo Parker with Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis (Emeryville)
    • RiotGoinOn (Bay Area)
    • War (San Jose)
    • Brand New Heavies with Guru (SF)
    • James Brown (La Bastille)
    • Los Amigos Invisibles (Brooklyn)
    • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (Brooklyn)
  • Reggae
    • Yellowman (The Channel)
    • Reggae Sunsplash (CT, with Mutabaruka(?))
    • Lambsbread (Mystic)
    • Jimmy Cliff (Norwich)
  • Rock
    • Hard Lessons (NYC)
    • Acid Mothers Temple (NYC)
    • Metallica (Oakland, since they were playing with Public Enemy)
    • Tsunami (SF)
    • Eurythmics (Fairfield, CT)
    • The Call (Orpheum)
    • The Alarm (Orpheum)
    • Asia (first concert ever) (Hartford)
    • Styx (second concert ever) (Hartford)
    • U2 (Hartford, 1985)
    • Dead Milkmen (Tufts)
    • Tracy Chapman (Tufts, before record contract)
    • The Reducers (Groton)
    • The Cartoons (Groton)

The world is a summation of Others

13 April 2015

At a friend's suggestion, I watch Koreeda's Air-Doll (2009) the other night. It struck me in many ways that I'm trying to explain to him, but for you, you get the central poetic line from the film:

It seems life is constructed in a way that no one can fulfill it alone. Just as it's not enough for flowers to have pistils and stamens. An insect or a breeze must introduce a pistil to a stamen. Life contains its own absence, which only an Other can fulfill. It seems the world is the summation of Others. And yet, we neither know nor are told that we will fulfill each other. We lead our scattered lives, perfectly unaware of each other... Or at times, allowed to find the Other's presence disagreeable. Why is it that the world is constructed so loosely?

Swimming underwater but getting wet

23 March 2015

After we returned from the US in the summer, we went swimming at the local public pool rather often. But as Sienna started taking lessons, I stopped going. Yesterday, though, we went back again. And by the end of the visit, Sienna was swimming underwater without a life jacket for the first time...and loving it. She started by ducking under the lane separator and gradually graduated to freely going underwater, taking a few strokes, and then popping back up again. If she just kept going when she popped back up, she'd be full-on swimming. Nevertheless, she was really swimming freely.

I'm so proud. What a winter! Ice skating, inline skating, swimming,...and lots of fun doing math.

Meanwhile, Gian, who has never been afraid of the water, is splashing around swimming with her floatation device and kicking up a storm. Pretty sure she'll be a swimmer soon, too.

Dalai Lama's reincarnation

12 March 2015

So the Dalai Lama has stated that he is considering ending his lineage as the head of Tibetan Buddhism. This is presumably in response to the high likelihood that the Chinese government plans to take control of the reincarnation to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is amenable to Chinese control of Tibet. To me, this seems like brilliant political strategy on the part of the current Dalai Lama. It would in effect devolve opposition to Chinese control of Tibet to Tibetans themselves, decentralizing and strengthening the struggle.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government is not pleased with this possibility. Unfortunately, a recent government official's statement has reduced the Chinese government's position and strategy to farce. Zhu Weiqun, who leads the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that meets at the same time as the Legislature, made a statement that effectively positions the Chinese government as an all-powerful spiritual entity. His statement has certainly positioned the Chinese government as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mr. Zhu said that "Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China."

So the Chinese government is in charge of reincarnation. If you're Buddhist, you might want to apply for your visa now.

Winter break inventory

28 February 2015

I am just back from hiking over Knife Rock (갈바위) in Bukhansan. I have wanted to go hiking all winter since I didn't live up to my own promise to myself to go hiking regularly during the past semester. I was finally motivated by a family-free day and a desire to "finish" something, since my work seems only to be broadening with every step forward lately. During my ambulation, I decided that I should take stock of other things that I managed to "finish' over the winter in order to make myself feel better. I'm not sure that the following items represent accomplishments per se, but they are things that I wanted or needed to do.

  • Went for a solid hike...once.
  • Redesigned my website, learning a bit of HTML5 and CSS3 along the way.
  • Helped my older daughter learn how to ice skate. This is probably my major achievement over the break.
  • Watched all of Archer.
  • Watched the first season of Bojack Horseman.
  • Read the core of Asimov's robot series: I, Robot, The Caves of Steel, and The Naked Sun. These seem eerily prescient.
  • Bought and set up a new desktop computer for my office. This finally gave me the power I need and allowed me to create a consistent Arch Linux install across all my computers.
  • Reorganized my office.
  • Traveled to Shanghai for a conference.
  • Presented at a second conference.
  • Submitted a first stage research proposal to the NRF.
  • Wrote a short piece on some current arguments in urban development for KRIS, our house journal.
  • Committed myself to an hour of writing every morning (though we'll see how that holds up).
  • Started reading a number of books for academic purposes, but these are not "finished".
  • Made an effort to organize and streamline my approach to thesis advising.


26 February 2015

"Every truth forms in negotiation, however messy, with aspirations to the universal."
-- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection


15 February 2015

"You gotta know to be a hypocrite, baby!" -- Lupe Fiasco


12 February 2015

Though I launched the site a couple of days ago, I think the basic site is now assembled and ready to be put aside for a while, especially since I have a great deal of work left before the semester begins.

Over the last several days I experimented with jQuery and php as means of keeping the site simple and fast. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that as little as possible had to be repeated on each page (and thus potentially edited!). I started with php to load the sidebars and content, but then I decided I wanted the content pages in a separate subdirectory. Well, that messes relative links right the fuck up. So I tried jQuery, which created an ajax setup that would simply reload the main section. It worked, but the urls were not meaningful and thus could not be used for bookmarks or copy-and-pasting into emails to students and others. More irksome, though, was that it called the library every time I visited the site, slowing it down and creating an external dependence.Finally, I figured out how to create a php variable for the root directory. The code looks a little uglier on the navigation selector, but it seems to be working like a charm and keeps it in-house.

I'm sure there will be small issues as I go along, but I'm confident I have tight little site now. So it's time to move on to more important things.

Producing anew

10 February 2015

The spammers have won. As is obvious, I have chosen to put my Drupal site to rest for a while. Last semester students consistently complained that they were having trouble logging into my site to upload their response papers. Eventually I discovered that the innumerable requests from comment spammers were turning my site into a useless pile of mush. At the peak, spammers were requesting over 7GB of data per day and crippling my site.

Using .htaccess I finally got the traffic under control. But two things led me to decide to hard code my site and abandon it for now as a course management system. First, Korea University has now implemented Blackboard. And though I have heard a great deal of negative reviews of Blackboard, it certainly seems as though it will be as effective at delivering the syllabus and course materials and at allowing students to upload response papers and view grades. Plus, for the students, it will reduce the number of sites they have to visit to get their work done. Second, I realized that---in part as a labor of love---I have to put in a great deal of time each semester getting students' IDs registered, setting up the course page permissions, and whatnot. Third, it became clear that to keep the spammer assholes under control I would have to regularly put in time entering the latest compromised computers that were attacking my site.

And so, I have decided to simplify for now.