My PhD research is an ethnographic exploration of the phenomenon of the global urban ‘solutions’ industry. (Claims to) solutions, and the suppliers thereof, proliferate wildly and unevenly in the realms of urban policy and governance on a global scale. Whether or not genuine solutions to actually-existing urban crises exist remains an open question. But there is an entire industry that has sprung up over the last four decades, increasingly centered on the assumption that ‘solutions’, ‘best practices’, and ‘models’ of all stripes can be unproblematically located, recovered, and reproduced across cities. How are solutions for cities co-produced and, relatedly, who are the principal and middling actors and organizations that contribute to these trans-local relations of comparison, coercion, and commoditization? What are the associated consequences for cities and their citizens? What do these norms and forms of solutionism reveal, ultimately, about the nature of contemporary urban policy?
My dissertation is a multi-sited ethnography of this slippery problematic of ‘solutionism’ in the global realms of urban policy and governance. In many ways, big and small, solutionism is very much a story of cultural imperialism that is constructed and produced through the ‘urban’ scale. Having completed nearly twenty months of ethnographic research within and across the global ‘churn’ and circuitry of solutionism in urban policy (2018 June — 2020 April) — which involved a combination of approaches of institutional/workplace and event ethnography across several cities and countries in Asia, Europe, and North America in order to problematize solutionism, as it were — I am now in the process of writing up my dissertation. I also spent a year (2020 Jan-Dec) teaching at Singapore Management University (both in-person and online) as the primary instructor of interdisciplinary undergraduate courses I had designed on the relationship between urban policy, technology, and society; and the political economy of globalization.