MARTINEZ LOPEZ, Miguel Angel
1. Could you tell us a little about your background?
My university education was in Sociology and Political Science, with specialisation in the field of urban studies (BA and MA, University Complutense of Madrid, 1988-1996; PhD, University of Santiago de Compostela, 2000).
I come from Spain and studied most of my time in the Spanish academia, although I also enjoyed very valuable research stays at Colombia (University of Antioquia, Medellin), UK (University of Kent, Canterbury), USA (University of Chicago) and Portugal (University of Porto), apart from other visits in-depth to many other cities worldwide (Beijing, Buenos Aires, Newcastle, Berlin, etc.).
As a researcher and university professor my last position was in the University Complutense of Madrid, at the Department of Sociology II (Human Ecology and Population) where I taught different subjects, most of them related to the field of urban sociology. I started to teach in 1998 at the University of Vigo (Spain) and CityU is the sixth university to hire me.
Over the years, in parallel to my academic career, I also worked professionally as a private consultant for cooperatives and urban planners. In the public sector I was the chief executive of a Housing Department in the City of Vigo for two years. In addition, I was an active participant in many campaigns of social activism, gave talks and promoted workshops for many grassroots organisations.
2. What attracted you to Hong Kong, and CityU in particular?
First of all, I found out that CityU is a relatively young university but with a very remarkable recent growth. In particular, this is evident in the vibrant Department of Public Policy. Once I saw the call for a post and started to explore in the Department website, I was appealed by the high quality of the works published by many of its members. The existence of dynamic research groups, the good organisation of the university, the resources provided and the endorsement of democracy and freedom of speech, were also highly appreciated values by me at the moment of applying.
Furthermore, an English-speaking environment offers an easy access and a great opportunity to know local people as well as transnationals.
In regards to the city of Hong Kong, I always felt curiosity about different cities and social forms of organisation and politics. In spite of my scarce previous knowledge about Hong Kong, I think that many interesting urban and political changes are going on, so this is an excellent occasion for having a firsthand insight. These are close connected to Asia and to broader globalised processes which indicates to me the need to fuel cross-metropolitan comparisons. In sum, I consider this place provides with a lot of inspiring urban phenomena for both my research interests and my own preference for living where there is an active and rich street life.
Obviously, the severe economic crisis affecting Spain and many other European countries was a sort of “negative” motivation to look for better places where to develop my career, but I always prefer to see this point at a secondary level of things, not just a simple “push” factor. In my view, it is much more important to reach a good balance between professional goals and a favourable environment where to grow personally and socially, instead of just following the “pull” nodes. And I wish CityU will be capable of offering such a balance.
3. How do you see your research interests and goals as relating to that of your colleagues here in the Department of Public Policy?
I find quite common threads of research and also of theoretical approaches. It is too soon yet to tell more about that, but I wish to enhance further collaboration with many of them and, in particular, with those interested in urban affairs.
4. Who do you imagine as the audience for your work, and who do you see as conversation partners?
My work is essentially addressing civil society and public decision-makers. After two months in CityU and Hong Kong, I have detected some interesting civic groups and public agencies but, again, I think I need more time to know different groups and persons in order to engage with them in further dialogues about the issues I deal with. Of course, I consider CityU students and professors as the first “audience” and also the first source of information about the news, attitudes and opinions that are socially significant.
5. What are you researching at the moment, and what excites you about it?
Most of my recent research has been and still is about urban movements in Europe. In particular, I focused mainly on the squatters’ movement, but also on others such as the Critical Mass bike rides, urban gardeners and neighbourhood assemblies within the so-called M15 or occupy-like movement that emerged in Spain in 2011. Social movements at large and different aspects of urban politics (urban renewal, housing policies, sustainable mobility, citizen participation in urban planning, etc.) cover also my principal research interests. In the next future I want to apply this knowledge to Hong Kong and the Asian region, and to learn more from these urban settings about their specific aspects.
My passion about these issues lies in trying to figure out how more livable, just and democratic cities can be. I believe these potentials are usually pushed forward by the anonymous efforts of people, groups and movements beyond the institutional frames of politics, but also due to their interactions with the conventional procedures of regimes and institutions. Thus, the discovery of local conditions allowing eventual progress towards that direction and the transnational comparison of cases, drive my long lasting dedication to this field.
6. What are your particular teaching interests, and how would you describe your teaching style?
Favourite subjects: urban movements, citizen participation in urban planning, issues of urban politics, housing and social movements.
My teaching style is based on participation, self-discovery and group cooperation. I try to be context-sensitive and also learn from the students’ interests and particular situations in order to provide them with an adequate knowledge. This implies, anyhow, hard work of study, commitment and continuous dialogue. My major aim is to stimulate a critical reflection on the social and political processes. Therefore, I trust more on the outcomes of a mutual teaching-learning by discussing and doing research, than in the mere accumulation of data.
7. Do you have a sense of what you wish to accomplish in your first year here?
Not fully yet. I see it as a transitional year in order to get adapted to this new environment. At least, in terms of teaching. I understand that the Department has also to define priorities, gaps, overlapping and strategic goals for the future, so I should also find the best accommodation of my teaching interests within it. In terms of researching and publishing, above all I want to follow with the work done about squatted houses and social centres in Spain and Europe. A lot of empirical information already gathered needs to be analysed and compared. I am editing a collective book about this issue and hope to write another book proposal in the coming months, in addition to publish two new articles.
This year I also want to finish an article about the Critical Mass as a case of bicycling activism and would like to start a research in Hong Kong about different forms of promoting urban-commuter biking within the ongoing urban plans. Urban renewal, housing developments and governance in urban planning in the area of Hong Kong and mainland China may be my future areas for making research proposals, but I need to explore more this context and also would like to join other colleagues’ initiatives.
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