Comparative studies share a commitment todescribing, explaining and developing theories about sociocultural phenomena asthey occur in and across social units (cities, groups, regions, nations,societies, tribes). (Ward, 2010) This approach to urban studies is in somesense highly problematic to uncover the nuances within the complexities of urbanland issues.
Across disciplines, comparison is taken for granted as the one ofthe ‘ideal’ process of unpacking the grey areas within any research. Theproblem becomes when the comparative research forms the base forgeneralization, which in turn help in theorizing about contexts starklydifferent from one another. One such issue, which seems to manifest dueto such research, is the lack of attention on the relational nature of urbanland. In the words of Hart (2002) instead of taking as given pre-existingobjects, events, places and identities, start with the question of how they areformed in relation to one another and to a larger whole. Looking at the urbanland through such a frame, suggests that the land is not just a geographicalbound legally titled space. Rather it is geographically located but also tiedinto the various socio-economic, cultural, religious relations, which areconstantly interacting. A comparative study would at given time probablyprovide a cross-sectional view of these relations. Thus extrapolating suchmethods, as Grimshaw (1973: 3) said, the task of comparative studies is ‘todistinguish between those regularities in social behavior that aresystem-specific and those are that are universal’ is an issue.
The comparisontends to create an interface (Watson,2008) which could become one of generalizationof the deep difference and thus tend to reach consensus.Another point of concern while usingthis method is the possibility of misinterpretation of the urban scale.According to Ward, (2010) scale has to be understood as a dynamically evolving,as ‘a container, arena, scaffolding and hierarchy of socio-spatial practices'(Brenner, 2001: 529). Geographical scales are socially constructed (Smith, 1993; Jonas, 1994; Swyngedouw, 1997;Collinge, 1999; Peck, 2002). ‘Scales’ are the product of social relations,actions and institutions. Thereby a parcel of urban land would be located onmap of a city but it is constantly negotiating its place within the widerglobal networks. The scale of that parcel is not just its bounded territory butalso the flows of interactions that the land undergoes.
Comparative urbanstudies seem to pose an issue to understand the geographies of the space andterritory. An example to elucidate this problem would be a land which is anurban common, its spatiality and thus planning of it seems to with local scalebut on the other hand, the negative externalities might make the land contestwith regional and sometimes global scales. In a context of shrinking formal economies,competition between people and households becomes intensified, promoting boththe need to draw on a wide range of networks (familial, religious, ethnic,etc.) and continually to maneuver, negotiate and protect the spaces ofopportunity which have been created (Watson, (2008)Simone, 2000, 2004). As Castells (1996), and before him Jane Jacobs(1969), have made explicit, cities are best understood as processes (Derudder,et al, 2012). Through these processes, there has been little evidence of workthat approaches the city as ‘both a place (a site or territory) and as a seriesof unbounded, relatively disconnected and dispersed, perhaps sprawling activities,made in and through many different kinds of networks stretching far beyond thephysical extent of the city’ (Robinson, 2005: 763). The ‘city’ that Robinsonsmentions could be synonymous with urban land, which when studied using comparativemethods without the context specificity of theories, questions the degree towhich they can be universalized (McFarlane, 2008a; 2008b).
Robinson (2002;2006) has maintained that there is a need to take forward postcolonialcritiques of urban theories, rather than a research that uses ‘a prefabricated setof theoretical and methodological tools’ (Walton, 1975: 4).