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A Call for Proposals for Interdisciplinary Initiatives at Stanford University

Urban Beyond Measure: New Urban Forms of the 21st Century

The 21st century is undoubtedly the urban century.

Demographers recently reported that half the world’s population now lives in cities, with most urban growth taking place in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Social scientists have also noted that the pattern and scale of this development is substantially different from the trajectories known in twentieth-century Euro-America. Even when formally planned and regulated, urbanization inadvertently produces a range of unanticipated social forms and phenomena, many of which could be characterized as “informal.”

Whether conceived as a zone, sector, or economy, “informality” is commonly understood as situated beyond the state’s capacity to account, audit and survey. Rapidly urbanizing regions outside Western Europe and the U.S. are often viewed as fragmented entities without strong formal institutions, at times even escaping effective state sovereignty. Not surprisingly, themes of opacity, unaccountability, volatility and lack of sustainability organize much of the academic discussion about urbanization and urban informality around cities such as Mumbai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Moscow, and Beijing. However, this way of thinking grinds against many readily observable efforts within such urban areas to keep records, to understand one’s surroundings, and to hold others accountable.

Urban Beyond Measure is an initiative at Stanford University supported by the Vice Provost of Research and the Stanford Global Studies Division (formerly ICA) that aims to focus critical attention on the many ways of knowing, gauging, divining, imagining, and accounting for social reality that operate within cities. This initiative aims at supporting and encouraging interdisciplinary initiatives and research that investigate how diverse and intersecting urban systems of knowledge, accounting, governance and social responsibility work in practice. This can include mapping people and their movements in urban space; measuring economic value and reckoning property rights in urban settings; delivering services like electricity and water, extending credit, providing physical security, dispensing justice and retribution of various kinds, and other efforts.

The initiative’s vision is to bring a diverse set of scholars of governance, social organization, and accountability into conversation with researchers working on emergent urban forms. This is part of a larger initiative to make Stanford University a site for developing theorizations of cities in the twenty-first century that are both more global and more empirically grounded than is presently the case.


Urban Beyond Measure will provide subsidies and support ranging from a minimum of $3000 to a maximum of $7000


This initiative raises a simple set of questions in the hope of inspiring innovative answers:

  1. What regulatory bodies, networks or mechanisms beyond the state operate within informal economies and networks?
  2. What practices of knowledge and accountability do such bodies utilize?
  3. What kinds of inequalities, dependencies and forms of violence do such forms of knowing and regulation depend on?
  4. Where and how do these limits collide with, or depend on, formal systems of knowledge, measurement and regulation?


We seek proposals for academic events at Stanford that address questions of urbanization, the experience of urban life, informal economies, and what have been called ‘twilight institutions’ in urban settings.

We are particularly interested in proposals and initiatives that promote an interdisciplinary conversation on campus, as well as a conversation across world regions. We encourage proposals that involve several academic units at Stanford.

The proposed events can range from speaker series, workshops, and conferences to smaller seminars, screenings of documentary and feature films, collaborative initiatives with universities and research institutions abroad, and so on.

All proposals should include:

  • Description of event/initiative
  • Objectives
  • Timeline
  • Names of participating units and faculty members
  • Budget

Proposals should be sent to:


The Urban Beyond Measure initiative was launched by Thomas Blom Hansen, James Ferguson, and Sylvia Yanagisako of the Department of Anthropology. In 2012 the initiative received initial support from Ann Arvin, Vice-Provost of Research, for its attempt to build and extend interdisciplinary conversations at Stanford. In 2013, Stanford Global Studies agreed to support the initiative as a part of its overall mission of strengthening international and inter-regional conversations and research at Stanford University. For more information about the initiative please visit their website.