A progressive, generative, interdisciplinary conference & research series

SPIA initiaties Ridenour Faculty Fellowship conference & research series – A different conference format for generating different approaches to the pressing problems of our time.

Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs has initiated a conference and research series promoting interdisciplinary discussion in order to overcome the disciplinary limitations in understanding social phenomena and in suggesting solutions to problems. The first conference took place this April and focused on distressed cities.

Our approach is twofold: First we aim for a progressive interdisciplinary exchange during the conferences. Second, we generate a research network between SPIA faculty and students and external scholars and artists, with the goal of producing edited volumes from the research that sparks off at our conferences.

The conference format of our Distressed Cities conference featured structured yet free flowing conversation and allowed new explorations of empirical research and conceptual ideas to emerge. Conversations between social scientists, geographers, artists, public administration scholars, planners, landscape architects, economists, lawyers, and others highlighted new ideas, forged cross cutting themes, questioned the concepts and methods we use, and made intellectual and aesthetic connections not previously in place. This is the approach we generate.

Stay tuned for our ongoing research on distressed cities and for the 2013 conference.

Watch guest speakers Carol Becker and Robert A. Beauregard and other contributors share their insights and perspectives on distressed cities here.

Anne M. Khademian, Anja H. Bieri


Videos up: watch our scholars reflect on distressed cities

Watch our scholars speak about various aspects of distressed cities and about ideas triggered by this conference. The videos were made during the conference and reflect the interdisciplinary inspiration at work.

Watch all videos here.

Featured video of our guest speaker Robert Beauregard, Columbia University


Distressed Cities
Communities of varied sizes across the United States are struggling with the loss of industry, growing unemployment, foreclosures and abandoned properties, fiscal crisis, and the resulting strains across the social fabric. Scholars and practitioners label large communities facing the most obvious and significant challenges as “distressed cities,” and tremendous energy, scholarship, and effort has gone into understanding the causes and dimensions of distress, and to identify possible ways to generate or restore community health and vibrancy.

SPIA’s Conference 2012
Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) took a deep, interdisciplinary look at the empirical and conceptual issues surrounding distressed cities in the Ridenour Faculty Fellowship Conference on April 12 and 13th 2012. Our method was free flowing multidisciplinary discussions focused on key concepts and resources related to distress, and the result was a critical yet generative examination of distress as condition and as concept. The role of art, public participation, planning, passion, policy, leadership, emergency response, and more were rubbed against each other during our conference, and both the sparks and the smoke of this action helped us draw a bigger picture, raising epistemological, political and practical questions.

We will now work together to develop a volume presenting and further developing the theoretical and practical ideas of the conference to contribute to and advance knowledge and action for this crucial public challenge. We’ll keep you posted on this site.

Anne Khademian, Anja Haelg Bieri

Thinking in Place

In an interview about her book Thinking in Place, Carol Becker shared the following thoughts, which also reflect the spirit of our conference and which we would like to share with you:

“The writing is poetic in nature but it is also narrative, philosophical, and theoretical. […] The writing of each piece really reflects the way in which I thought about the place that generated the idea itself. […] The readers would come to understand that the book is also about them, about how they think, and they could then reflect upon their own method of thinking in place as I have reflected on mine. […] And the problems of the 21st century will not be solved by “disciplines” but by ideas and by the willingness of people to extend beyond themselves and their own culture, to recognize themselves in the Other, as part of a species whose evolution should be considered, whose future can be consciously determined.”
From: http://www.caroldbecker.com

Want to warm up with some reading?

The organizers of our opening panel on dimensions of distress collected some reading material for you:

Mallach, Allen (ed.). (2012). Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities. New Directions for the Industrial Heartland. New York: The American Assembly, Columbia University.

Dieter Rink, Annegret Haase, Matthias Bernt and Katrin Großmann (2010): Addressing Urban Shrinkage Across Europe –Challenges and ProspectsShrink Smart Research Brief No. 1, November 2010On behalf of the Shrink Smart consortium.Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research –UFZ, Leipzig

Matthias Bernt, Matthew Cocks, Chris Couch, Katrin Grossmann, Annegret Haase & Dieter Rink (2012): Policy Response, Governance and Future Directions, Shrink Smart Research Brief No. 2, March 2012,  Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Leipzig.