I consider myself an urban and environmental sociologist that is heavily influenced by cultural studies. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the intersection between built and natural environments. My current research revolves around three major areas. The first area is the role of natural disaster in shaping the built environment. In particular, I have been looking at the role of wildfire in shaping architecture and real estate development. My book Risky Cities is a critical examination of global urban development, capitalism, and its relationship with environmental hazards. It is about how cities live and profit from the threat of sinkholes, garbage, and fire. The book expands on work that I first explored in an article in Critical Sociology. This article examined Shelter-in-Place strategies that supposedly mitigate wildfire risk in Southern California. In this article, I argue that there has been a trend toward passive fire protection (such as the use of architectural restrictions and building code enforcement) which has operated in tandem with a neoliberal shift away from funding “active” fire suppression. With Utku Balaban (Amherst College) we have co-authored an article in Environment and Planning A. This article looks at institutional factors in urban development that exacerbate wildfire risk, yet benefit growth in real estate. In this article, we argue that wildfire shapes local rent-seeking behavior in fire-prone ecologies. This work was expanded on in a book chapter on wildfire as blowback for bad planning and environmental policy. I have since moved on to other types of disaster. I have an article in Environmental Sociology that examines the relationship between natural disaster, cities and capitalism. Specifically, I suggest disasters allow for circuit shifting in the absence of broader systemic (economic) crises.
The second area that I am working on is the idea of urban metabolisms. I have a paper published in Urban Studies that examines the growth of the logistics industry in Turkey, and its role in the privatization in metropolitan waste management. In this paper, I also look at how the current government’s neoliberal domestic policy and expansionist economic policy has also allowed for Turkish logistics firms to export services to countries such as Pakistan. Currently, I am working on a manuscript that offers a historical and environmental component to the story of deindustrialization in the American Northeast. In this piece, I argue that the shift from coal to oil as the world’s primary energy source in the early 20th century dramatically changed the way in which mid-tier cities (such as those in Pennsylvania) fit into the national (and global) hierarchy of cities.
My third major area of interest deals with the built environmetn and the landscape of the “Global Mediterranean” – how globalization has spread a particular understanding of the “Mediterranean” around the world. This project originates from my dissertation, Landscapes of Spanish-Colonial Revival: Visual Culture and Urban Development in Southern California at SUNY Binghamton (which is being reshaped into a book manuscript). In my dissertation, I examined the historical and political implications of Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture becoming a part of Southern California’s ‘heritage’ and vernacular landscape, and how it became known as “Mediterranean.” Specifically, I am interested in how this Mediterranean ideal is created, commodified and reproduced via the built environments around the world (such as Africa and the Middle East). In an article published in Home Cultures, I discuss the way in which this architecture is shaped by history, ideology, and the local political-economy. At the same time, I am interested in how buildings can be racist and/or produce racism. This is something I address in an article Sociological Inquiry. I have also examined contemporary and historical tensions regarding Islamic and Near Eastern themes and motifs in California architecture amidst rampant Islamophobia in an article published in Cities. Specifically, I argue that California’s contemporary landscape was constructed and legitimized by negotiating the paranoia of the “Other,” the fear of decay and creating a sense of security in architecture.
Looking overseas, in an article in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Martin J. Murray (University of Michigan) and I discuss the “fantasyscapes” of South Africa’s casino resorts. In this paper, we looked at the use of “Italian” themes in these hotels. Using this as a jumping off point, my article in City and Community looks at a gated community in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the profliferation of Mediterranean-style gated communities around the world.
Other Work: Visual Culture
My work on visual culture includes articles w/ Martin J. Murray on South African film published in African Identities and Black Camera. Also, I have an article published in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics on race and Spider-Man.