Staff spotlight: Alexia Yates

26 October 2017

In our second 'Staff spotlight' for the October-November MUI Newsletter, we asked Alexia Yates, Lecturer in Modern History, about her research, career highlights and more.

What is your career highlight so far?

That would certainly be my first book, Selling Paris, published with Harvard University Press at the end of 2015. The following year, I was lucky enough to be awarded the Wallace K. Ferguson prize from the Canadian Historical Association for the best book in non-Canadian history (i.e. the category that accounts for the rest of the world!), and this past spring the association hosted a roundtable on the book on which some of the historians whose work most inspired my own participated. I was floored by their generosity. Tough standard for the next book to follow!

Tell us about your current research and what you see as your key academic challenges over the next five years.

I’ve just finished an article that I’ve been working on for some time about the way people in nineteenth-century France – principally lawyers, bankers, and legislators – tried to understand and change the relationship between land and money. My current research is continuing to pursue the intersection of property, politics, and space that influenced my first book but turns to a study of how finance became a routine part of daily life for French people in the first age of global capital. There’s a strong spatial component to the project: tracing how people conceive of national and international financial networks, as well as how local financial districts were constructed. Scale is a crucial element of the exploration – for example, the idea that the police at the Paris Stock Exchange might influence the international economy by regulating the distribution of seats on the exchange floor. For me, the spaces and stuff of economic practice are both crucial technologies and entry points to how the production, circulation, and redistribution of wealth is affected.

What is the dream scenario for you in terms of the impact of your work?

I hope that over time my work can contribute to changing ideas and policy that continue to support homeownership as a privileged, normative status. The premium placed on ownership in many advanced capitalist countries is culturally and economically damaging, and has contributed to ensuring that real property ownership persists as a key component of economic inequality. We need to embrace – and support – a diversity of tenures beyond individual ownership, beginning by discarding the notion that renting is a second-rate form of occupancy, and moving to facilitating collective models of ownership that better distribute (and manage) property and its privileges.

What do you see as the benefits to working in a broad research institute like MUI?

Interdisciplinarity is one of the reasons I am drawn to urban studies, and one of special strengths of large public research universities. I have worked in interdisciplinary social science and humanities research centres for several years, and deeply value the intellectual exchange and collaboration they facilitate – they represent universities at their best. As a historian, I take inspiration and instruction from the work of social science colleagues who are consistently working to bring the university and the local community into better dialogue.

If you could take one book to a desert island what would it be?

Maybe Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. But don’t quote me.

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