TEACHING APPROACH

The content of my courses encompasses a wide topical range—from feminism, post-coloniality and development in the global south, to 19th-20th century urban landscapes in North America, from finance to planning theory. However, several key philosophical orientations and instructional practices unify my teaching across the curriculum as follows.

First is the conviction that technical skill, awareness of policy and political implications, and connections with theory are equally important ingredients of planning/geography education and practice. An unfortunate artificial divide between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ is often constructed in the pedagogical separation of skills from theory courses. In all my teaching I attempt to deconstruct this divide, by moving iteratively between conceptual and case material and by exploring the genealogy of ideas. This commitment also points to political implications: students learn to place theory in relation to wider political-economic currents, so that it does not float in the abstract space of disembodied ideas; and they have the genealogical and conceptual knowledge necessary to anticipate the normative dispositions of particular planning/development interventions.

Second, while my courses expose students to key canonical works, they equally require students to think critically by relating those works to contemporary political issues and personal experience, debating their implications for practice and spatial analysis, and defending well-substantiated positions. Thus my courses are designed to facilitate the move from comprehension to argument. Making an argument requires clarity about one’s own positionality, the capacity to move synthetically and comparatively across a range of literatures, and an attentiveness to narrative style. Course readings and assignments are developed with these goals in mind—both as models of good critical practice and as ingredients for synthetic critical thought.

Third, bringing an interdisciplinary approach into the classroom gives students an opportunity to recognize how geography and planning can enrich key debates animating the social sciences today, as well as how those debates inform current trends in geography and planning. Clarifying these disciplinary legacies, their genealogies, overlaps and synergies fosters among students a sense of identity as planners and as geographers, but one that is always relational to contemporary currents in other disciplines.

Fourth, all my courses broach intersecting forms of oppression based on gender, class, race, sexuality, and other aspects of identity. I do so for three reasons: [a] ignoring these issues would tacitly amount to supporting the status quo, [b] as a planning educator, I train professionals (or undergraduates still open to multiple career trajectories) who must be well-equipped to analyze and practice within rapidly diversifying urban regions characterized by dramatic spatial inequality; and [c] broaching issues and experiences of oppression builds a more robust community of inquiry within the classroom. Geography and planning are fields that tend to attract students with a desire to improve the world, and thus the appetite for gaining a theoretical purchase on the dynamics of oppression is formidable. Pedagogically the challenge is to shift the paradigm from charity to justice. I select course materials with this objective in mind.

A fifth tenet of my teaching philosophy entails mirroring procedurally the redistribution of power that is being called for substantively in course materials. To do so I take inspiration from Freirean models of popular education and critical pedagogy, to view learning as a dialogical process requiring peer interaction, recognition of experiential knowledge, and the solidarity that derives from engaging across histories of difference. In one sense, this just means transcending a ‘banking’ model of education in which the teacher deposits new knowledge in the empty vault of the learner’s mind. It also means requiring students to take responsibility for their own learning process, by contributing their perspectives and responding actively to the contributions of their peers and the professor. From a social justice perspective, the more challenging dimension of these commitments entails building inclusive processes that explicitly seek to confront relations of power in the classroom in terms of whose voices are present/absent, whose knowledge is recognized and how social identities shape interactions.

CLASSROOM TEACHING

Graduate

• PLA 2000 Advanced Planning Theory
• JPG 1615 Financing Local Economic Development / Planning the Social Economy
• PLA 1101 Issues in Planning History, Thought and Practice
• JPG 1509 Gender, Planning and the Politics of Development
• Feminism, Postcoloniality and Development
• PLA 1106 Planning Workshop
• PLA 2001 Planning Colloquium

Undergraduate

• GGR 217 Urban Landscapes and Planning
• GGR 361 Understanding Urban Landscapes
• CRP401 Urban and Regional Theory, Cornell University

GRADUATE SUPERVISION

I have supervised 29 Masters in Planning students, 8 Masters in Geography students, 2 post-doctoral students, and 12 doctoral students. I have also served on 22 doctoral committees in the department, 5 in other U of T departments and 2 at other universities.

Each year, depending on status of my external grants, I am willing to consider recruiting a very small number of students at the Masters and Doctoral levels. I seek students with strong writing abilities, diverse backgrounds, research interests that align theoretically or substantively with my ongoing research programs, and a capacity for independent scholarship.

My approach to supervision is to support students by helping them to design a program that ensures success both in terms of academic background and professional development. That requires careful attention to course selection, committee composition, and comps preparation, as well as helping to forge professional relationships, support conference participation and mentor early publishing experiences. At the dissertation writing stage, I try to combine ample positive feedback with a rigorous schedule of short-term, achievable deadlines, as well as sponsor and participate in writing groups among my supervisees whenever my capacity and student interest allows.

I have involved students in all of my research projects, including fieldwork. While student theses or dissertations might focus on another topic, the general themes and grounded practice using fieldwork methods linked to lived issues provides exceptional skill-building experience, opportunities for closely engaged mentoring, and practice in developing links between theory and fieldwork. In some cases, students leverage RA field experiences into extended fieldwork on related topics for their independent graduate research. In addition three funded research projects have engaged community-based researchers with whom student RAs have had the opportunity to partner in conducting and analyzing interviews—adding another layer of experience to the research process. Students employed on research projects have also been involved in library research, statistical analysis, mapping, and finally analysis of data and writing up material for dissemination. Where warranted, I have included student RAs as co-authors on peer-reviewed publications.

MENTORSHIP

Involving community-based researchers and Nepal-based research assistants in my projects has not only enhanced data quality and built communities of inquiry in the field; it has also furnished mentorship and professional opportunities for young researchers based in under-resourced communities. Employment as community-based researchers and research assistants on previous SSHRC-funded grants has segued into professional opportunities and graduate enrolments both in Nepal and Canada.

SERVICE TO TEACHING

In addition to ongoing teaching and advising, my service to teaching has involved contributions in the following areas:

• co-leading a University of Toronto Ethno-Cultural Diversity Initiatives Grant to enhance curriculum and revise graduate admissions processes
• co-organizing and –leading an international doctoral dissertation workshop on the theme ‘Markets and Modernities in Asia’ (2007)
• co-convening several interdisciplinary seminar series and research clusters at University of Toronto, including, Development Studies, Markets and Modernities in Asia, and Asian Futures.
• presenting research results at Toronto-based community forums
• serving as Director of Planning (2007-010) and Chair of the Membership Committee of the University of Toronto Faculty Association (2010-013)
• publishing and conference presentations (Goonewardena, Rankin and Weinstock 2004, Rankin 2013, 2010 and 2002).