BLOG No. 3

Urban Transformation. Istanbul, Turkey.
Photo Credit: Defne Kadioğlu

Post-Session Discussion #1a: The vulnerability of doing things differently

By Will LaFleur

Dear Presenters, Discussants, Attendees and Participants-otherwise,

We thank you for your energy in generating last week’s discussions, debates and explorations. Hopefully your experiences in the sessions still have you thinking into this week, and the blog/discussion here will continue stoking your engagement over the next months. This will be our first of several post-workshop discussions over the next few months, and we ask that you please join us in advancing the discussions we began last week. Discussion prompts will be posted nearly every week from now until the end of May. We don’t mean to be overly ambitious, but if we can get a good running dialog here we hope to organise and publish them as part of the workshop series at a later point in time. But first, let’s quickly go through some practicalities for the discussion. The discussions will work something like this:

  1. In the following 2-3 weeks after a workshop we will aim to post one blog/discussion prompt to extend the dialog on issues that arose in the previous workshops.
  2. The blog posts will take a theme and ask a selection of questions aimed at collecting your reflections, opinions, positions and blind-alley thoughts as we continue digesting the workshop discussions and developing our thinking.
  3. In order to begin a discussion, simply click on the “Leave a comment” button on the top right side of the blog post, (or else scroll to bottom of page to reply to previous posts). If you have a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account you can log in with one of them to comment. If you do not wish to log in with one of those accounts, you can still comment, either anonymously or by typing your name in the appropriate box. You can also choose to enter your email so that you can receive notifications if another person replies to your comment. Your email will remain private, but your social media picture will appear if you choose to use it.
  4. To reply to another user’s comment, simply click on the “Reply” tab that appears on each comment. Your reply will appear indented underneath the comment you replied to. New comments will appear flush to the left.
  5. If you want to delete your comment, please contact us ASAP, as only the website moderators can remove comments.

As a reminder, don’t forget to check out our “Library” section for reading lists based on last week’s presentations. We’ve also added a bonus list of recommendations that Kanishka Goonewardena provided during his time as discussant. Be sure to have a look!

Right, now that the basics are covered, let’s begin the discussion!

Different, vulnerable, uncertain

In one of the final discussions last week, Jens Kaae Fisker and Letizia Chiappini took an avant-garde approach to platform urbanism in their presentation with Serres and Lefebvre. In the ensuing discussion, they remarked: “When you decide to do things differently, you open to a new set of vulnerabilities”. Considering the overarching theme of “learning from theories outside the canon”, questions of vulnerability and uncertainty seem inevitable if we take our learning to then ‘think’ and ‘do’ from outside the canon, perhaps daring to be epistemically disobedient. What might thinking and doing from outside the canon look (sound or feel) like when it comes to, for example, breaking with or ‘re-reading’ trusty binaries (North-South, centre/periphery, etc)? How can we reconcile or justify the messiness that may follow from doing things differently from the Eurocentric canon (perhaps John Law’s “Mess in Social Science Research” is instructive)? Should we even have to? A new dialectic seems necessary if we allow ourselves to turn down the blind alley, while nonetheless maintaining the ability to call on the knowledges that have led us there when necessary. With these considerations, we invite you to comment, provoke, stake out positions/movements, and engage on the myriad pathways from here. Question prompts given here are an amalgamation of thoughts drawn from presenters, discussants and participants of last weeks workshops, but these should not strictly delimit the discussion.

  • How do we think/do/make from “outside the canon”, without losing sight of what it means to be critical? Do we want/need theory to be transformative?
  • What is the role of a researcher? To be close to the official subaltern way of thinking? Or is it to think of different ways that identities are structured? Do the examples from the South help us to understand the globe in different ways?
  • What do we understand epistemic disobedience to be, and how can it be enacted? How can settler colonialisms, Black geographical thought, decolonial praxis or other such frames advance this work? How can memory be brought into force in research and theory building?
  • Did your thinking alter, change, remain or otherwise after your workshop experience? How? Why? In what direction? Engage us in the comments!

4 thoughts on “BLOG No. 3

  1. In response to the question of whether or not we want theory to be transformative, I don’t think theory itself needs to be transformative. It’s a way of making sense of what we see in the world so the theory itself doesn’t need to be transformative but the ends (goals) we are using it to accomplish must be.

  2. As a somewhat provocative response, I question the dualism of a canon and an outside clearly existing. In this framing are we not tacitly re-enforcing eurocentric and anglophone discourses as the core of urban studies? Certainly it is clear that the academic landscape systematically marginalises and disenfranchises scholars from “the South”, yet in subscribing to the idea of a canon we deny the possibility of scholars and theories from traditionally marginalised contexts occupying space within it.

    Or is the idea of a canon, with its reproduction of academic hierarchies and pushing of a “great man theory” of knowledge production, something that should itself be resisted?

    1. I think you make an important point, Ben. If we are to talk about a canon we cannot reduce it to a simple canon-outside dualism. A better approach, from my point of view, is to think about the constitutive outsides of the canons that we encounter. The key thing is to insist on retaining both terms in the plural. By thinking about outsides as constitutive of corresponding insides we can also avoid the illusion of outsides as irrelevant places somehow located beyond something more important (the canon). Occupying a position which is constitutively outside means that we can produce that outside in ways that reconstitute the corresponding inside in certain ways. Being outside is not being separated from an inside; it is to be in a certain kind of relation to that inside. And perhaps it is also the position from which we could flip the inside-outside relation, creating our own insides where the canons to which we respond become outsides. Perhaps the workshop series itself could be seen as an exercise of this kind. And perhaps I am over-complicating this.

      We could also just try to leave behind notions of canons, paradigm, and knowledge regimes, but then we would risk losing the ability to grasp what these elusive formations do to us, how they discipline our ways of thinking about certain things, how they preclude alternative ways of understanding something, how they devalorise or ignore contributions from positions deemed to be on the outside. So, the idea of a canon should be retained as a critical resource but without reproducing academic hierarchies. And this is a real challenge.

  3. Great questions Ben and there is certainly no easy answer to the questions you have posed. My first thought is that if there is a canon perhaps we have construed it so narrowly as to exclude or marginalise alternative knowledges and scholars from the global South. Perhaps it is just one big canon (as opposed to several distinct canons) in which all scholars and theories exist but our framing of the canon as (purely) western is what leads to marginalisation and is, therefore, the problem? I will have to think this through a bit more though

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