2014 Abstracts‎ > ‎

Track 3: De-centering Urbanism


A wider range of urbanisation experiences from across the globe have been increasingly
acknowledged in urban scholarship over the last decade. Cities from the global South
increasingly feature in projects that seek a more inclusive urban studies. However, one
challenge for urban researchers remains: how to engage with empirical multiplicity in a
discipline dominated by theories and philosophies from North America and Europe, without
being caught by the traps of incommensurability and particularism. Comparative urbanism
seems to provide a basis for the construction of knowledge about cities while avoiding a
priori theorisation (Robinson 2011). We welcome papers dealing with explicit comparisons
across contexts from the North and South, as well as contributions from researchers dealing
with single case studies from the South that engage with broader urban debates. Of
particular interest are topics concerning urban governance, institutional networks, as well as
political and socioeconomic processes shaping urban policymaking. The session aims to
discuss the potential of comparative approaches to understand the purpose and function of
local governments, and their place in twenty-first century cities more widely while touching
upon the implications of comparisons for knowledge production in terms of theory and

Key Words: comparative urbanism, cities, global south, urban governance, institutions, politics,
policymaking, knowledge production.

Chairs: Niranjana Ramesh and Alvaro Sanchez-Jimenez


Water privatisation, regulation and governance: the case of India’s National Capital Region

Matt Birkinshaw, Geography and Environment, London School of Economics

Policy and institutions for water privatisation[1], regulation[2], and governance[3] draw from
global frameworks with assumptions derived from an Anglo-American context. Consequently, approaches to these areas in a ‘Southern’ context intrinsically require a
comparative perspective. This presentation will outline global frameworks for privatisation,
regulation and governance of water resources and then critically discuss features of each
that may be considered implicitly particularistic. Using public sector reform and water access
in India’s National Capital Region as a case study I will show how the adaptation of these
implicit universalisms in the Indian context matters for water users, and suggest what the
productive effects of this gap between different conceptions might be.

Techno-politics of urban water for a globalised sustainability

Niranjana Ramesh, Department of Geography, University College London

When seawater desalination plants were opened in two cities on either sides of the global
north-south divide - London, UK and Chennai, India – to feed into networked urban water
supply, they sparked debates on the sustainability of urban water, albeit in very different
ways. An apparent global consensus on normative ideals of sustainability was challenged by
local political resistance or support for desalination. These interventions contest not only the
technology of desalination or the employment of that technology in those specific places, but
also challenge whole systems of knowledge on the techno-science of urban water. Water
technologies, in other words, were adding a political dimension to what may well have been
a ‘post-political’ governance of urban water. I propose a framework of techno-politics,
understood as the politics of techno-science as well of knowledge, to understand the
emergence of a socio-culturally situated discourse of sustainability and urban water in
London and Chennai.

Influence of case studies in framing practice and study of sustainable development in

Paul Fenton, Management and Engineering, Linköping University

Case study narratives act as a functional and attractive tool for awareness-raising, exchange
of ideas and capacity-building. However, recent literature has highlighted problems with the
ways that case studies present concepts or information. A number of authors have noted an
imbalance in the presentation of “developed” and “developing” world narratives in academic
literature, leading to over-representation of cases from Europe and North America. Recent
work suggests that the increasing volume of case studies in academic literature on urban
sustainability may contribute to an over-representation of certain kinds of municipalities –
e.g. cities of a certain size or in certain locations – at the expense of others.
This paper will show that this trend is observed not only in academic literature, but also in
practical settings, e.g. the preponderance and domination of certain cities within international
municipal associations. The paper studies the continents, countries, municipalities and
themes represented in six collections of case studies published by an international municipal
association. The paper will assess the possible ways in which the case study collections, by
representing certain types of activities in particular locations, influence the framing of the
practice and study of sustainable development in municipalities. By doing so, the paper aims
to contribute to literature on comparative urbanism, urban governance, knowledge
production, municipalities, sustainable development, and international organisations.

A conceptual framework for urban disaster resilience: The case of the 2011 Bangkok floods

Pamela Sitko, Department of Urban Planning and Design, Oxford Brookes University

Rural assumptions have guided the traditional practice of humanitarian aid work, but with the
increase in urban populations, the challenge of urban disaster response has been called the
‘game-changer’ for international development and relief work (IFRC 2010; World Bank 2010).
Resilience is a political term that seeks to bind a wide range of urban actors, but is not well
defined or easily implemented in the aid sector (cite). This presentation aims to discuss a
conceptual framework of urban disaster resilience, which has been tested through a case
study of the 2011 Bangkok floods. While there is an extensive list of theories focused on concepts such as vulnerability, capacity and assets, there are fewer on urban resilience, and less on urban disaster resilience from a neighbourhood perspective. The framework has been developed using
evidence-based theories developed both by researchers and aid practitioners. The new
contribution to knowledge comes from conclusions about the socio-spatial factors that
improve resilience to Bangkok’s floods. The author will present the five parts of the
framework, namely: an analysis of the context, taking into account pre-existing vulnerabilities
and their underlying causes; a review of the type, scale and severity of the natural hazard
that caused a disaster; an examination of urban infrastructure and its role in building
neighbourhood disaster resilience, based on five categories (physical, political, social,
economic, and technological; a determination of the degrees of resilience a unit has; and, a
review of the degree of resilience by drawing conclusions about the types of disaster
response interventions that build long-term neighbourhood disaster resilience.

In/formal Lifeworks: obstacles and opportunities for collective action among slum dwellers in

Sally Cawood, The Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI), University of Manchester

Rapid urbanisation in Asian towns and cities of the ‘Global South’ is transforming the built
and social urban landscape, with millions of rural-urban poor living in unplanned informal
settlements. As opposed to passive victims of urbanisation, the rural-urban poor mobilise
social networks and resources to reshape the politico-legal, economic, built and socio-spatial
environment. Vibrant literatures on Urban Poor Federations, ‘insurgent citizenship’ and ‘DIY
urbanism’ demonstrate how slum dweller collective strategies fundamentally (re)shapes local
governance ‘from below’, and challenges eurocentric particularism ‘from above’ (Mariftab,
2009; Pagano, 2013; Mitlin and Satterthwaite, 2013). However, this investigation challenges
existing wisdom and provides nuanced interpretations of collective action in Bangladesh, a
unique case. This research explores the shifting relationships between collective strategies
and ‘in/formal lifeworks’ (livelihoods and social networks) of slum dwellers in bustees
(informal settlements) in Dhaka and Chittagong. Preliminary literature analysis reveals how
hybrid rural/urban, formal/informal actors and institutions (e.g. local authorities, politicians,
police, landlords, residents, CBOs, NGOs and mastaans) ultimately mediate access to
information, goods and services within and outside bustees. The urban poor must negotiate
this complex urban terrain to address daily needs and longer-term aspirations. Collective
action and collaboration with local government is regarded as central to longer-term poverty
reduction and pro-poor urban planning at the local, city-wide and national scale. Yet, the
notion of ‘the collective’ is problematic in an increasingly polarised and politicised
Bangladesh. Critical analysis of this unique case contributes to holistic understandings of
comparative ‘grassroots urbanism’ in the 21st century.

Producing subjects in Gurgaon, India’s ‘millennial’ city

Thomas Cowan, Department of Geography, Kings College London

Gurgaon, India’s ‘millennial city’ is said to represent an “urban metonym” for India’s embrace
of global capital (Kalyan 2011). Free from the vestiges of postcolonial urban compromise, the
city has been developed by a coalition of real-estate visionaries and a parastatal government
agency eager to attract transient, mobile capital to the hinterlands of India’s national capital
(Gururani 2012).

In Gurgaon like many other spaces of frontier accumulation, the State has withdrawn itself
from official governance, as a variety of de facto actors in parastatals, private developers
and empowered ex-villagers optimise spaces fertile for accumulation. Yet in doing so, the city
is fragmented into zones of exemption, optimization, and immiseration; the mall, urbanvillage,
and factory.

This paper, as such conceptualises the production of the new city as inherently conflictual,
attempting to trouble notions of the “urban” which fetishise ‘global’ modes of production as
the defining characteristic of socio-spatial production. Instead, the paper attempts to
explicate the everyday and informal processes of governmentality which produce the city as
a site of overlapping sovereignties and conflictual territorial claims.

Production of informal urban spaces and forms of spatial citizenship

Michal Braier, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University

My research explores the relationship between the production of informal urban spaces and
the establishment of various forms of partial citizenships. Through a comparative analysis of
'ground level' planning processes, I examine the ways marginalized groups utilize
professional skills and knowledge to negotiate their rightful stake in the city, and how these
interactions in turn shape their relationship with the state by bringing forth claims for rights
and participation.

I build on two case studies in the context of border regions: the Palestinian neighborhoods of
East Jerusalem, and the borderland colonias of south Texas. Both these urban environs are
characterized by wide-spread informal housing construction within an exclusionary planning
system, while their inhabitants are subject to a fragmented system of state membership
ranging from full citizenship to non-citizens. Although the origins of these liminal forms of
citizenship are radically distinct, in both cases negotiations over the inhabitance of urban
space play a central role in the processes of inclusion and exclusion. Hence, I intend to
empirically explore and analytically rethink "the political in planning" on the basis of conflict
rather than consensus.

The comparative examination of Israel/Palestine and U.S./Mexico is aimed at articulating the
two cases' structural resemblance while not occluding the difference and specificity of their
histories and presents. I also suggest that the two case studies reveal the complex ways in
which 'north' and 'south' or alternatively 'east' and 'west' are entangled with and diffused into
one another, unsettling any simple or clear separation between the two.

Urban Reconstruction And Coming To Terms With The Past: Dilemmas Of A Comparative

Gruia B descu, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge

My PhD thesis examines the connections between architectural reconstruction of cities after
war and the process of coming to terms with the past. What I would like to address at the
Stadtkolloquium meeting relates to challenges to making a case for a comparative approach
of cities across both geographic areas and historical epochs. At the beginning of my PhD,
the focus was how architects and planners have been addressing issues of coming to terms
with the past in urban reconstruction in contexts differentiated by the perceived nature of war
and political responsibility. In contemporary post-conflict situations, perceptions of blameexternal
or internal- and self-identifications as being victim or perpetrator are rarely black and
white, like they were for instance after the Second World War, when Warsaw's reconstruction
typified the victim paradigm, while German cities' reconstruction extolled the debates
between victimhood (destruction, refugees) and being a perpetrator. The thesis focuses on
three contemporary situations which reflect these ambiguities: Belgrade, bombed in 1999 by
NATO, with a “classic” external attack and different perceptions of its victim/perpetrator role;
Beirut- a battlefield rather than a target, with destruction provoked mainly by internal actors
in the civil war (1975-1990); Sarajevo- typical for Mary Kaldor’s “new wars”, blending
characteristics of international and civil wars and transcending categories.
Comparing/situating/contextualizing these cities brings a series of dilemmas that I would like
to address and discuss with the group in order to problematize and make a case for
comparing across regions and periods.