An email came around the Centre for Urban and Community Research mailing list yesterday advertising an event on the future of cities, or somesuch. I noticed there were more men called David on the panel than women (there was one woman on the panel of four and two Daves) but after noting this, I soon forgot about it. One woman on the panel = not a disaster. Then today my friend Ealasaid Munro posted a link on Facebook to a conference ‘Cities in Transformation’, where the list of 30 speakers were all male. I did not put all the names through Google but commentators on the Critical Geography mailing list pointed out it was also a very pale selection, i.e. entirely or almost entirely white.
I am used to going to urban events where the keynote slots are dominated by white men, but this myopia and total absence of women was particularly depressing, astounding even.
It is not difficult to find women working in the field of urbanism at all levels, although I am sure we are still under-represented. I tweeted a (not exhaustive) list of women based in the UK working on cities.
Urban studies in the UK definitely has a race problem. Aside from the overall pernicious and pervasive whiteness of the academy in general, my hunch is that the way discussions about ‘the urban’ are defined by those at the top, often white men, shape the conversation in narrow ways. I’d be interested to hear others thoughts on this. This means that discussions of the way that race and racism, sex and sexism, are reproduced in cities often get excluded and not discussed alongside the more convivial aspects of city dwelling or of other kinds of urban processes, such as gentrification. The importance of looking at those things in tandem was one of the motivations Anamik Saha and I had for organising our conference New Urban Multicultures: Conviviality and Racism.
Anyway, back to the man conference. After some Twitter reactions (including a few of my favourites)
and a lot of traffic on the Crit-Geog list, there was an apologetic response from the organisers to Ealasaid and others who raised this on the Crit-Geog list
‘You are absolutely right! Thank you for reminding us. Having nearly 30 only male speakers looks really bad. All we can say is that it of course has not happened intentionally (which is no excuse, and does not make it less bad…), and this is not yet the final list of speakers. We have of course also invited some female speakers (but they have yet to confirm), and we will now put in additional effort to get some gender representation.
We are still accepting abstracts, so submissions and additional suggestions for speakers are more than welcome.’
So on the one hand, good. Rather than meeting the criticism with defensiveness the organisers took this on board. But on the other… a. how could they send out that list without seeing the gender imbalance and pervading whiteness as a problem and b. as pointed out by Desiree Fields…
I suppose first you have to see the gender imbalance and then see it as a problem. And secondly, I agree with Desiree this isn’t about looking bad but a huge problem with the way that the conference has been put together.
I am writing about this because this conference season it seems that many are still sat fuming through #allmalepanels, or not noticing (see for example this article about the International Studies Association).*
This is also a moment for reflection as Kirsteen Paton and I are taking over as convenors of the British Sociological Association Cities Group. This strikes me as an opportunity to think about these issues within urban studies and to do better.
*In the first version of this I wrongly identified the conference as the ASA, rather than the ISA. Thanks to Gurminder Bhambra for pointing this out and apologies to the ASA!