Academic Writing

My research is generally not project-based, but rather a series of interrelated writing, editing, teaching and organizing projects with an interlocking cast of co-authors and collaborators.
My monograph for the University of California Press, entitled The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics, will be pubslihed in October 2018. The book brings together my work on the San Francisco Bay Area into a full length account of the restructuring of the greater Bay Area over the course of my lifetime, and subsequent production of the foreclosure crisis in California. While the book argues that the new geography of race and class in the region must be considered a new form of segregation, the focus on the book is a political explanation of how such a wealthy and supposedly progessive region could be at the epicenter of resegregation in the United States.
I have a growing focus on housing policy in the United States, work that brings me back to my roots as a housing organizer in New York City. Together with two American colleagues, Deirdre Pfeiffer and Jake Wegmann,  we have developed two fresh angles for examing housing policy. The first works to rethink housing tenure, and we are developing a novel means of doing housing analysis based on tenure diversity, with an initial pilot poject underway with the Oakland Community Land Trust. The second examines the understudied link between housing development and party politics, with the first paper forthcoming in 2019.
I have a long-standing interest in urban discourse, and in particular how and why and to what end we say mean things about places. I am thrilled to have published a recent article in Transactions led by Alice Butler, which examines what people in the UK mean when they call a place a "shithole". The work was featured in an article in The Conversationand we are currently working with our colleague Lex Comber to see if machine learning can build on this research. I also recently published a collaborative piece (including Leeds' Giorgia Aiello) in the French bilingual journal Metropolitiques  which looks at race and visual representations of new housing developments in French cities. This work combines my interest in discourse with a growing collaboration with the French scholar Yohann Le Moigne, work that includes another recently published work (With sociologist Greg Smithsimon) on the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis.
While most of my work focuses on urban politics in some way, I am a historically-minded political economist, and have recently moved to develop the economic side of my work more significantly. My first major contribution in this area focuses on challenging and replacing "three-sector theory", the World War II-era notion that gave us the idea of the services sector. The paper, "Replacing the services sector and three-sector theory: Urbanization and control as economic sectors", is the product of five years of writing and rewriting, and was co-authored with colleagues from across three different disciplines. I particularly welcome inquiries about this paper, as we are working to develop an empirical project to test and refine various ideas in the paper.
Along related lines, I am working on a new mongraph for the Foundational Economics series at Manchester University Press. Co-authored with the energy geographer Stephen Hall and the political philosopher Matthew Noah Smith, the book develops a framework for building a healthier political economy of foundational urban systems like water, energy, food, transportation and housing. A (very partial) working papercan be found on the foundational economy website, and the book should be out in late 2019 or early 2020.
Most of this work, like most good work, is collaborative. If you are interested in working on a paper, don't hesitate to contact me. Like with Schafran and Wegmann 2012 (below), unpublished appendices are available in the appendices section.


Alex Schafran, Conor McDonald, Ernesto Lopez-Morales, Nihan Akyelken & Michele Acuto, Replacing the Services Sector and Three-Sector Theory: Urbanization and Control as Economic Sectors, Regional Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2018.1464136

Developed during the Second World War, ‘three-sector theory’ popularized the notion of the ‘services’ sector. It has quietly underpinned understandings of economic structure ever since. The limitations and influence of this basic breakdown have led to many critiques and extensions, but no replacements. Inspired by Henri Lefebvre’s The Urban Revolution (1968), we develop a four-sector model that replaces services with sectors focused on urbanization and control. We argue that this model is a better reflection of material economic life, and a more useful way of approaching the 21st-century economy. It also offers scholars of urbanization and regional development a creative new way of seeing urbanization.

Alice Butler, Alex Schafran & Georgina Carpenter, What does it mean when people call a place a shithole? Understanding a discourse of denigration in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12247

This paper investigates what people mean when they engage in the discourse of denigration. Building on existing literature on territorial stigmatisation that either focuses on macro‐scale uses and effects of territorial stigmatisation or micro‐scale ethnographic studies of effects, we develop a novel approach that captures the diverse voices that engage in the discourse of denigration by tracing the use of the word and hashtag “shithole” on the social media platform Twitter in order to examine who is engaged in the stigmatising discourse, the types of place that are stigmatised and the responses to stigmatised places. Using a robust data set, we highlight two key findings. First, the majority of tweets were aimed at places where the tweeter was not from, a form of othering consistent with how territories are stigmatised by those in positions of power such as policymakers, politicians and journalists. Second, we note that an important and gendered minority of tweets can be characterised by a “cry for help” and powerlessness, where the stigma is aimed at their own places. We offer an interpretive lens through which to understand and frame these minoritarian voices by engaging with theories of abjection that allow us to see how minoritarian voices relate to place.


Alex Schafran, Giorgia Aiello, Theresa Enright & Yohann Le Moigne, Rendering a Redeveloped France, Metropolitics, 7 June 2017

Daryl Martin, Alex Schafran and Zac Taylor. From problems in the North to the problematic North: Northern devolution through the lens of history. In C. Berry & A. Giovannini (eds), The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse, Palgrave.


Alex Schafran and Zac Taylor. Slouching Towards Barnsley. In R. Hayton, A. Giovannini and Craig Berry (eds) The Politics of the North: Governance, Territory and Identity in Northern England. White Rose Consortium for the North of England.

Desiree Fields, Rajkumar Kohli and Alex Schafran. The emerging geography of rental-backed securitization. San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, 2016-02, January 2016

Yohann Le Moigne, Gregory Smithsimon, and Alex Schafran. Ni la race ni le 93 ne sont ce que nous croyons qu’ils sont, Herodote 162

Jake Wegmann, Alex Schafran, and Deirdre Pfeiffer. Breaking the Double Impasse: Securing and Supporting Diverse Housing Tenures in the United States. Housing Policy Debate, pp.1-24.

What might be described as a double impasse characterizes debate on U.S. housing tenure with advocates fighting for rental or ownership housing on one side and Third Way or mixed-tenure solutions on the other. Breaking this impasse requires disengaging from conceptions of an idealized form of tenure and instead advocating making virtually all tenures as secure and supported as possible, so that diverse households are able to live in homes that best fit their changing needs over their life cycles. This essay (a) presents data on the variety of tenures in the United States; (b) conveys a new two-dimensional map of tenure according to their degrees of control and potential for wealth-building; and (c) shows how U.S. institutions shape their risks and subsidies. Most U.S. tenures are at least somewhat risky, including those that receive the greatest federal subsidies. A new housing system is needed to secure and support as many tenures as possible.


Alex Schafran. The future of the urban academy. City, 19(2-3), 303-305.

Alex Schafran. “Beyond Globalization: A Historical Urban Development Approach to

Understanding Megaregions,” in Harrison, J. & Hoyler, M. (editors), Megaregions: Globalization's new urban form? Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, p. 75-96.


Walker R, Schafran A, 2014, "The strange case of the Bay Area" Environment and Planning A advance online publication, doi:10.1068/a46277

Abstract. The San Francisco Bay Area is hard to get one’s head around and is frequently misunderstood. It is immense, decentered, sprawling, autotopic, multiracial, divided, and more—a crucible of the modern suburban and exurban metropolis. It is distinctive in several regards, but illuminating of the dynamics behind metropolitan geography. Indeed, the Bay Area has been integral to the production of modern American suburbia and its urban system embodies many of the contradictions of the contemporary moment.

Keywords: cities, suburban, metropolitan, San Francisco, Bay Area, Silicon Valley, California, inequality

Alex Schafran, Debating Urban Studies in 23 Steps, City, Volume 18, Issue 3, 2014

This one just has to be read. It is tough to abstract, but you can skip to the 23 steps at the end.


Alex Schafran, Oscar Sosa Lopez and June Gin. “Politics and possibility in postsuburbia: Scale, social movements and the suburbanization of poverty,” Environment and Planning A, volume 45(12) pages 2833 – 2851

Abstract. Both the suburbanization of poverty and the growth of suburban social movements have been the focus of much academic discussion of late, even if these two discussions are not necessarily linked. One area that has been relatively underresearched when it comes to both phenomena are exurban regions, critical spaces of change and crisis, in particular in upmarket regions like those in Northern and Southern California. This paper presents a case study of the ‘social movement space’ of eastern Contra Costa County, on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. It argues that not only did propoor, social-justice-oriented movements arise over the past decade in response to changing geography, they exhibited a form of ‘scalar promiscuity’ which differs from the regionalization of social movements or other forms of ‘scale jumping’ well known in the literature.

Alex Schafran. “Rethinking Megaregions: Subregional Politics in a Fragmented Metropolis,” Regional Studies,

Abstract. The recent surge in mega-regional research in the United States has identified the need for analysis at a gargantuan scale. A corresponding set of arguments examines the difficulty for planning and political intervention at this scale. Using an empirical examination of one megaregion – Northern California – this paper argues for a rethinking of megaregional geography, one which differentiates between megaregions as an ever-expanding envelope and megaregions as a particular set of impacted spaces. This approach, which requires a more nuanced understanding of the historical formation of individual megaregions, enables a tactical, sub-regional intervention, even as the scale of analysis expands.

Kathe Newman & Alex Schafran. “Assessing the Foreclosure Crisis from the Ground Up (Introduction to Special Issue on the Foreclosure Crisis)”, Housing Policy Debate, 23(1)

The introduction to a special issue on foreclosure in America's top housing journal. Worth a read on its own, I believe. An honor to do this with the woman who opened my eyes to the academic world, Kathe Newman.

Alex Schafran. "Discourse and dystopia, American style," City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 17:2, 130-148

Abstract. This paper examines the recent growth in the popular media of new discourses of decline focused on the American suburb. This new discursive twist, which appropriates language traditionally reserved for inner cities, is rooted in both the city/suburb dialectic, which has long dominated American urbanism, and the empirical realities of the foreclosure crisis and changing geographies of poverty in the American metropolis. Scholars should be concerned about the rise of this new discourse, as it reinforces a dialectic long since outdated, roots decline in a particular geography rather than examining the root causes of the crisis, and has potentially deleterious effects on communities already facing social and economic struggle in the wake of foreclosure. Linked as this discourse is to academic research on the suburbanization of poverty, it gives pause to those scholars who would speak in terms of ‘suburban decline’.

Alex Schafran and Lisa Feldstein. “Black, Brown, White and Green: Race, Land Use and Environmental Politics in a Changing Richmond,” in SocialJustice in Diverse Suburbs, ed. Christopher Neidt, accepted by Temple University Press.

This chapter examines the underlying shifts in racial politics which led to the election of a white, Green Party mayor in a majority-minority city for the first time in US history. It argues that the land use and environmental politics, partially in response to years of environmental injustice, became important fronts for organizing amongst low income communities of color, leading many to break with longtime leaders and the business community.


Alex Schafran. “Origins of an Urban Crisis: The Restructuring of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Geography of Foreclosure,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol 37, Issue 2, pp663-688.

Communities on the fringes of the American metropolis have recently garnered attention as the centers of the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath. On the one hand, this attention to the urban nature of the crisis is welcome, as the metamorphosis of the mortgage fiasco into a financial crisis-cum-global economic meltdown turned popular attention away from the urban roots of this calamity. But this emphasis on the exurbs as the site of crisis lends itself to the misconception that they, rather than the restructuring of the metropolis as a whole, are the sole source of the crisis. This article works across multiple scales to examine how three interwoven factors — demographics, policy and capital — each reacted to the San Francisco Bay Area landscape inherited at the end of the 1970s, affecting the region in new ways, leaving some places thriving and others struggling with foreclosure, which leads to plummeting property values and the deep uncertainty of the current American metropolis. This restructuring can be seen as the convergence between the unresolved urban crisis of the postwar era and the various reactions in the neoliberal era. It demands a reimagining of both planning and geography, especially from the left. WINNER OF THE IJURR BEST PAPER PRIZE (2013).


Alex Schafran and Paavo Monkkonen. “Beyond Chapala and Cancun: Grappling with the Impact of American Migration to Mexico (Más allá de Chapala y Cancún: Lidiando con el impacto de la migración estadounidense en México).” Revista Migraciones Internacionales, #21, Vol.6, Núm.2 Jul-Dec. 2011

Abstract. Over the past two decades, a twist in the migratory relationship between Mexico and the United States has begun to attract the attention of policy makers and scholars: a growing stream of people moving permanently or semi-permanently from the United States to Mexico. Th e general understanding of this phenomenon until recently has been that these migrants are wealthy retirees moving to isolated resort-type complexes in beach cities. However, the present paper demonstrates that the migration is actually heterogeneous in terms of its people, places and impacts. Thus, we argue that study of the phenomenon must be expanded to include not only a better understanding of the migrants themselves, but also the impacts on the receiving localities. To this end, we propose a framework for a research agenda, creating a typology of receiving places and the settlements within these places.


Elvin Wyly, Kathe Newman, Alex Schafran and Elizabeth Lee. “Displacing New York,” Environment and Planning A, volume 42, pages 2602 – 2623. WINNER OF THE ASHBY PRIZE

Abstract. The capitalization of urban property markets intensifies the contradictions between housing as use-value affordability versus exchange-value asset accumulation, and exacerbates displacement pressures. Policies designed to deal with these contradictions, public housing and rent regulations, allow some low-income renters to resist displacement, particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the resulting empirical configuration has been interpreted in ways that cast doubt on the extent of displacement, its causal links to gentrification, and the necessity of protective policies. In this paper we present an alternative interpretation, using New York City as a case study to analyze the spatial evolution of displacement pressures amidst the restructuring of an embattled yet vital municipal welfare state.


Alex Schafran. “Outside Endopolis: Notes from Contra Costa County,” Critical Planning, #16, 2009. WINNER OF EDWARD W. SOJA PRIZE FOR CRITICAL THINKING IN URBAN AND REGIONAL RESEARCH

This article remixes a classic Soja essay as a means of grappling with a series of overlapping phenomena that are causes and consequences of contemporary American metropolitan restructuring— the changing geographies of race and class, new/old core periphery relations, the current foreclosure crisis and American neoliberalism, and the reconceptualization of suburbia. While Soja used 1980s Orange County to examine our changing conception of the sub/urban and articulate a postmodern urbanism, this essay uses eastern Contra Costa County, on the edge of the San Francisco Bay region, to consider the meaning of a new set of demographic and discursive changes, and the challenges they pose to overarching theories of the metropolis.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Iraj Imam, Ph.D. (Urban Planning, UCLA), a true student of Soja and a consummate intellectual.


Alex Schafran. “The Gringos are Coming, The Gringos are Coming….(Ahi Vienen los Gringos, Ahi Vienen los Gringos . . .),” Berkeley Planning Journal, Issue # 22, 2008.

Abstract. Mexico is seeing an unprecedented wave of Americans moving south of the border, many of whom are retirees. Rather than grapple with the either the physical or cultural impact that this migration will have on Mexico, most commentators have resorted to bombastic discourse of invasion. Yet rather than dismiss the hyperbole outright, the author argues that perhaps there is something to be learned from the rhetoric, for it anchors us in the history of Las Californias and allows us to question the utility of the border in the modern age.


Daniel Meier and Alex Schafran. “Strengthening the Preschool-to-Kindergarten Transition: A Community Collaborates”, Young Children, Vol. 54, No. 3, 40-46

Abstract. Describes a pilot program designed to strengthen children's transition from preschool programs to kindergarten. Discusses three major components: kindergarten registration drive for parents; a series of parent information nights; and kindergarten school visits over the course of the school year. Offers sample format for an hour-long kindergarten information night and outlines an ideal annual transition timeline.

Author's Note: This was in another life, long before I considered academia. But thanks to Dan Meier for giving me a glimpse of a path I would come back to almost decade later.

Popular Posts