Dr Juan Miguel Kanai

Department of Geography

About Miguel

Miguel is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography. He joined the Urban Institute in late 2018 to design a research programme on the role that networked infrastructures play in shaping world urbanization and development.

Miguel’s international research projects have been funded by the British Council, British Academy, the Newton Fund, ESRC and AHRC. Previous funding includes the National Science Foundation in the US and Brazil’s CNPq. In 2015, Miguel was a recipient of the Ashby Prize for innovative research published in the Environment and Planning A journal.

Research interests

Miguel’s research seeks to understand large-scale spatial processes and socio-economic structures implicated in the worldwide growth of cities and the expansion of urban areas and their footprints. The theoretical basis for this research was published in ‘the urbanisation of the world’ a highly-cited book chapter co-authored with Edward Soja in 2007.

Miguel has since focused his research on how these dynamics take shape in South America. He has examined the role that Manaus’ metropolitan expansion has played in the transformation of Brazil’s Western Amazon and the region’s transnational connections to Venezuela and the Guianas; developed a critique of the pervasive market-orientation of the continent-wide IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America) even under the progressive national regimes of the 2000s; and most recently undertaken comparative research on how transnational actors are scrambling to finance, build, manage and control connective infrastructure projects throughout the global South.

Miguel has a concurrent interest in how people make sense, cope and carry on with their lives in the face of urban transformations. His past engagements with such ‘worlds of urbanism’ includes his doctoral project of neighbourhood activism in Buenos Aires in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis and the increasing socio-economic inequalities and fragmentation produced by neoliberal urbanism; a study on peripheral mobilities within and across the state of Roraima in the context of increased availability of paved roadways but ongoing forms of uneven territorial development and social exclusion; and research on how queer urban communities in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Miami mobilize aesthetic resources and digital narratives to cope with the threats of violence and discrimination and carve out a space of difference beyond the logics of homonormative integration. He is currently engaged in a collaborative project focused on the territorial futures of post-conflict communities in Colombia in the context of multidimensional regional transformations including the rapid expansion of connective infrastructures, agribusiness and tourism.

Miguel is also interested in advancing a critical reflection on the production of urban knowledge. He has contributed to the debate on the comparative turn and decolonization of urban globalization research, and is currently engaged in efforts to produce an inclusive and transformative planetary urbanization research agenda. He sees co-production and interdisciplinary collaboration as indispensable to these aims.