Richer London

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Dr Sue Pell

Assistant Professor of Communications

Dr Sue Pell

Dr Sue Pell

Biography
I joined Richmond in the Fall of 2012. Prior to that, I was a Visiting Fellow in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths College (UL), where I researched social movement archives and documentation practices of radical political groups. This project was funded through a national Postdoctoral Fellowship (2011-2012) awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I hold an interdisciplinary PhD from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada). My published work has appeared in international journals, and I have presented at conferences in the UK and abroad.


Faculty Research

2014. “A Puzzle Constantly Changing Itself: Cultural Studies in the 21st Century.” Topia, 30-31: 310-318

2014. “Mobilizing Urban Publics, Imagining Democratic Possibilities: Reading the Politics of Urban Redevelopment in Discourses of Gentrification and Revitalization.” Cultural Studies 28 (1): 29-48.

2012. Co-authored with Emma Dowling, Anna Feigenbaum, and Katherine Stanley. “Occupy London.” South Atlantic Quarterly 111 (3): 608-615.

2012. Co-editor with Nick Mahony. “Creating Publics, Opening Democracies.” openDemocracy feature (October 1-7).

2010. Co-authored with Shaunna Moore. “Autonomous Archives.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 16 (4): 255-268.

2008. “Making Citizenship Public: Identities, Practices and Rights at Woodsquat.” Citizenship Studies 12 (2): 143-156.

2008. “Anxiously Entering into the 21st Century: Watching for Changes in Masculinity in Film.” Pp 505-512 in Pop Perspectives: Readings to Critique Contemporary Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill.

2006. Co-edited with Karl Froschauer and Nadine Fabbi. Convergence and Divergence in North America. Burnaby: Centre of Canadian Studies, Simon Fraser University.

2002. “Inescapable Essentialism: Bisexually-Identified Women’s Strategies in the Late 80s and Early 90s.” Thirdspace 2 (1).


Excerpt from Research

(Excerpt from “Mobilizing Urban Publics, Imagining Democratic Possibilities” Cultural Studies 28 (1): 29-48.)

Urban publics and democratic possibilities

Many studies of urban publics focus on space, looking at its democratic potential in terms of providing a platform for visibility and solicitation on political issues (Walzer 1995, Bridge and Watson 2003, Mitchell 2003, Kohn2004). Often in this approach either public or democracy is taken for granted (and sometimes both), as the political uses of space in the city are investigated. While these studies suggest that there is a deep-seated relationship between publics and democracy, what tends to be overlooked is that neither is stable nor certain. As a result, studies of urban struggles, whether they are about participation, inclusion or entitlement within various spaces of the city, often miss the ways in which the very meaning of public(ness), democracy and the relationship between the two are unsettled and subject to contestation. However, when publics and democracy are approached as dynamic, contested and contingent, the questions shift to: how are urban publics constituted and maintained? How is democracy defined and practised? What are the relationships between publics and democracies? Whose notion of public and democracy is privileged and, critically, how was that collectively decided?

These questions draw attention to the communication practices at the heart of political struggles and point to the role discourse has in the constitution of publics and democracy. A focus on discursive practices enables one to explore the emergence of publics as a dual process of forming a collective issue and addressing an (imagined) audience through various forms of publicity and collective action, as well as connecting these publics to different democratic formations (Dewey 1927, Warner 2002). In reading the discursive practices that underwrite public issues and public spaces (Patton 1995), this approach does not regard language as if it was layered on top of places; rather, it recognizes publics as communicative spaces generated through discursive practices that work to configure and enact the political. Studying urban publics with attention to discursive practices shifts the focus from clashes over different uses of city spaces to an analysis of assumptions about belonging and rights (that is, democracy) carried within urban discourses. It has the potential to expose implicit political logics operating within various urban struggles and to bring attention to competing notions of publics and democracy currently at work in the transformation of cities.

In this paper, I join others in the use of a discursive approach to urban struggles (Lees 2004, Jacobs 2006, Watt 2008), as I seek to understand the relationship between the formation of publics and possibilities for democratic participation. Grounded in an empirical case study, I compare discourses of gentrification and revitalization during the controversial redevelopment project of the Woodward’s building in Vancouver, Canada. The efforts to convert this locally iconic department store building into mixed commercial and residential space emerged as a key public issue in the inner city neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Spanning decades that witnessed Vancouver’s shift to a more neoliberal, globally imagined city, the ‘future of Woodward’s’ as the home of market or social housing figured prominently in debates over urban redevelopment. Some people expressed concern about economic decline and heritage preservation in the DTES, while others were concerned about the displacement of the neighbourhood’s poor and their meaningful participation in the redevelopment process. Considering these contradictory stories of Woodward’s, I analyse the formation of public issues about the redevelopment project, how the discourses of gentrification and revitalization imagine and mobilize publics and how competing definitions of democratic participation are subsequently (re)produced. To do this, I investigate the positioning of actors, practices and spaces of the political in discourses of Woodward’s within an anti-gentrification campaign, public hearings and local media representations during the initial redevelopment process. I locate the emergence of publics within various practices of publicity and collective action and through various modes of identification and authority. I compare the different ways in which belonging, heritage and rights circulate within these discourses, and the impact this has on participation and inclusion within the city. Using the case of Woodward’s, I argue that it is not only the urban space that is being transformed in the processes of gentrification, but it is also the possibilities of democracy. I end by suggesting an analysis of the mobilization of publics around urban issues contributes to understanding current struggles over democratic participation and citizenship more broadly.

Get in touch

I teach on:
Communications and Sociology


Some of the courses I teach:
COM 5200 – Mass Communication & Society
COM 6296 – Senior Seminar in Communications I
SCL 4110 – Gender and Culture
SCL 5200 – Social Research


Research Clusters:
The Study of the State, Power and Globalisation


Research Interest & Expertise:
My research focuses on public discourses, social movements, urban politics, and radical archives. I am interested in questions of collective identity, rhetoric and representations, public space and public spheres, and social transformation. As an interdisciplinary scholar, my research draws from the fields of communications, cultural studies, sociology, urban studies, and social and political theory. My work has focused on social housing and anti-poverty movements and the formation of publics, exploring emergent citizenship practices, public spheres, and possibilities for democratic participation.

My current work focuses on anti-gentrification campaigns in Vancouver and London. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in gentrification archives, I investigate the relationship between knowledge production and democracy, and bring together discussions of the politics of the archive with those of rights to the city. I am also interested in the relationship between research and activism, where I look at how these manifest in the university, archives and libraries, and social movements.