As the first Editor of IJURR, it’s probably most appropriate if I say a few words about how it all started and the context in which this took place. As it happens I have recently completed a paper on the journal’s origins in which I describe it as a child of its times.[1] In a few paragraphs, I cannot summarise what happened forty years ago but just give a few indications.

The decision to found a new journal in 1977, first proposed by Manuel Castells to his colleagues on the Board of ISA Research Committee on the Sociology of Regional and Urban Development (RC 21) a year or two previously, was the product of several concurrent developments. From the mid-1960s, governments in North America and Western Europe (and in fact in Eastern Europe too) of every political persuasion invested heavily in urban modernisation and funded extensive programmes of policy-oriented research. Alongside this there was the rapid growth of social sciences in the universities and the growing influence of radical social theories, notably of course Marxism. What resulted was a new generation of politically engaged young social scientists, in Western and Eastern Europe and the USA notably, who were being drawn into this work (and frequently funded by the state) but who rejected the uncritical and ideological basis for much of the pre-existing urban social science.

Out of this, there began to develop an international network of critical urban research, centred on the ISA RC 21 which was formed in the early 1970s. There followed an outpouring of new work, of conferences and publications. But, as the founders of IJURR recognised, most of this activity was based in a few countries in Western Europe and predominantly involved sociologists (developments in radical geography were also occurring but somewhat separately). The hope, and it was fulfilled, was that a new international journal would eventually draw in a far wider range of research, academic disciplines and geographies than the RC could encompass. It is also important to note that from the outset, as my original introduction to issue 1 noted, IJURR welcomed and aimed to publish the widest possible range of critical work on urban and regional problems. It was not intended to be the preserve of any particular theoretical or methodological orientation, nor was it.

Many of these aspirations for a truly international and multi-disciplinary journal took years to achieve and the contents of Volume 1 (which you can find on the current IJURR website) strongly reflect the, in retrospect, limited concerns and scope of the ‘new urban sociology’ (as it was loosely termed) of the 1970s. In particular, the state and policy centred origins of much critical urban research now seems more narrow in scope and focus than it seemed at the time. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the opening pages of the first issue: a debate on urbanism and the state. Other key themes included work on urban social movements and urban politics, collective consumption, the urban fiscal crisis and capitalist landownership and rent. But the predominant focus was on state sponsored urbanisation in a limited range of advanced capitalist economies. Looking at the first decade of publication, it is notable how many focused on the UK and the USA, with far fewer from France and Italy, a few from Eastern Europe and Latin America but virtually nothing from elsewhere. In its first decade IJURR published about 200 papers; today, IJURR publishes about that number in a third of the time.  The journal published many papers on urban policy and urban social movements, reflecting the origins of what was called the new urban sociology, but relatively little on social divisions in the city, some pioneering papers on women and the city but nothing on race or ethnicity or migration, let alone work on many other aspects of the urban experience. And the disciplinary mix of contributors was much more limited than it is today.

So at the beginning IJURR only explored a narrow version of the urban world. By the late 1970s, we began to realise that the era (in the West) of steady economic growth, rapid urbanisation, expanding urban programmes and expanding funding for urban research had already passed. But the consequences of all this, in the new era for states, economies and societies, soon became reflected in the subsequent pages of IJURR.

In concluding, there is one other factor that has profoundly transformed IJURR since those early days: the revolution in the conditions of academic production and the growth of the intellectual networks on which it depends due to the internet, email, social networking and so on. Forty years ago, none of this existed and the scope and reach of RC21 and IJURR was tiny compared to what it is now. Even by the 1980s, IJURR, which was only available in hard copy of course, had a circulation of about 1000 and was confined to a relatively few university libraries.

Today IJURR publishes a much wider diversity of critical work than it started with theoretically, methodologically, substantively, geographically and culturally. It reaches a much wider readership through licensing, electronic publishing and online access than was possible at its foundation. In the decade from 2002 to 2012 full text downloads of papers grew from a few thousand to over a quarter of a million per year.

So yesterday’s child has now reached a rather successful and prosperous middle age, something that its parents could have hardly imagined.  Over these years, critical urban and regional research has become a part of mainstream social sciences and has to a considerable degree at least been institutionalised in the academy. I do wonder whether, for all its diversity and sophistication., it may have lost some of the sheer intellectual excitement of its early days, but that is perhaps inevitable and also perhaps a continuing challenge to its editors now and in the future. But if there is anything we should really regret, it is that the political promise of a critical understanding of urban and regional problems has not been realised due to wider forces affecting the social sciences and their role in society and social change.

Michael Harloe
September 2017

IJURR Editorial Statements

IJURR Editorial
Julie-Anne Boudreau, Matthew Gandy and Maria Kaika (2015) Volume 39.1

Reflections on the Academic and Economic Environment
Julie-Anne Boudreau and Maria Kaika (2013) Volume 37.6

IJURR: An Editorial Statement
Jeremy Seekings and Roger Keil (2009) Volume 22.3

The Origins of the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies, or the Advantages of Owning the Title and Having Charitable Status in the Running of Journals
Chris Pickvance (1998) Volume 22.4

IJURR: Policy Statement
Patrick Le Galès, Susan Fainstein and Linda McDowell (1998) Volume 22.1

IJURR: looking back twenty-one years later
Michael Harloe, Enzo Mingione, Chris Pickvance and Edmond Preteceille (1998) Volume 22.1

Founding Editorial Statement
Michael Harloe (1977) Volume 1.1


This is an open access essay under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.