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Placing Research: 'City Publics' and the 'Public Sociologist'

Yvette Taylor and Michelle Addison
Sociological Research Online 16 (4) 6

Abstract: This article raises questions about who becomes the proper subject for (non)academic attention in a time when 'city publics' might be positioned as democratising and open or, conversely, as curtailed and shaped through specific and pre-determined economies of value and use. The use of the city and its residents are echoed in regeneration politics and objectives, attached to and brought forward by specific 'regenerative' subjects, now deemed 'resilient' and capacitated. Such rhetorics of inclusion and measurable impact are echoed within ideas of a 'public sociology', which the engaged researcher should practice as she re-engages differently located spaces and subjects. Here, questions are raised about the place of a 'public sociology' as part of a 'city publics', where understanding local disseminations and disparities is important in considering where different users, interviewees and indeed researchers are coming from. Having situated the fieldwork site, we initially focus on the expert advisory group and their constructions of the project's 'use-value'. We then consider the background 'shadows' in and out of 'expert' space, as a trailing presence of research intentions and trajectories. Ideas of public sociology – as with an open 'city publics' often assumes that all users are interested, willing to hear and appear as equal members of a 'community'. In contrast, the experience of engaging a user group may involve dis-engaging the research-researcher-researched and here we provide disruptions to a straightforward 'travelling through' research space as we walk through our research methodologies. This article presents professional and personal reflections on research experience as well as interpretative accounts of navigating fieldwork and city space.