The Berkeley Lab of Speculative Urbanisms is dedicated to the study of cultural and urban geographies, encompassing inquiry on the web of relations among cities, regions, and metropolitan areas. The urban laboratory has a long history in the social sciences, yet this tradition is marked by a colonial sensibility. With an emphasis on urban ecology, urban labs have historically focused on individual behavior and failed to recognize issues rooted in social, political, and economic structures. This approach renders marginalized communities, primarily Black and Latinx, as problems that need to be fixed. The resulting analysis of urban problems and proposed solutions frequently privileges the perspective of dominant social groups and objectifies communities, practices, and space in terms of racial difference, rather than the structures and power relations that produce urban problems. Furthermore, research analyses and prescribed solutions draw on normative judgments of what values should guide the process to achieve particular outcomes. The increasing complexity of cities--especially amid overlapping social, environmental, and economic crises--calls for a break away from approaches to urban research that interrogate cities, communities, and people as objects.

We are committed to an inter- and multidisciplinary approach to the study of cities rooted in critical social science, but integrating humanistic forms of inquiry and explanation that draw on individual experiences and conceptions of the everyday. Our aim is to cultivate purposeful research that reframes public knowledge and discourse about urban landscapes and enables communities to center their own narratives of place. Rather than experimenting with and on urban sites and their inhabitants, we take the lab itself as a representational/conceptual and material experiment in feminist mentoring and incubating the work of graduate students and community partners. The notion of “speculative urbanisms” guiding the BLSU thus refers to multiple and contested projects of urban future-making: those authored by capital and white supremacy, by urbanites, and by the academy.

The work of the BLSU is speculative in the sense of taking on risky projects with a high potential for significant future intellectual returns, i.e. pushing back on perceived logics about what constitutes the category “urban.” In other words, our aim is to engender a narrative shift in popular discourses about urban space as we train the next generation of academics and community organizers to contemplate the precarity, inventiveness, community, and critical re-imaginings of the city. The BLSU is grounded in feminist, collaborative, and interdisciplinary approaches to change the conditions of knowledge production and create a home to challenge mainstream thinking about the urban.

Berkeley Lab for Speculative Urbanisms
University of California, Berkeley