BLOG No. 5: Still “Off The Map”?

Still off the map?
Photo Credit: Ceren Gamze Yasar

By Will LaFleur

Helsinki, Fi—True to the theme of Workshop 2, presenters helped to shine a light on various unseen or under-appreciated processes of urbanisation. What we saw is that while the invisibility of such “off the map” cases may be a case of misdiagnosis related to stigmatisation (as Raffael Beier shows us in Casablanca), or the absence of material evidence of significant historical events (as Patricia Capanema Alvares Fernandes presents in Belo Horizonte), these processes are, significantly, not simply instances of forgetting, or unnoticed, misdiagnosed or stigmatised populations. Rather, many forms of urbanisation we heard about have come to be through deliberate erasure or neglect, and are contested or made invisible for political, social, economic development or nation building purposes.

Taken altogether, the presentations of Workshop 2 demonstrate the crucial importance that researchers must play in drawing out and dynamically “mapping” the lived realities of peoples subject to policies and practices that affect erasure of every day life and livelihoods. In this regard, several pertinent issues were raised over the two days of workshops which can (and indeed must!) be pursued further.

Below we lay out a series of comments, questions and exchanges that came up during Workshop 2, and invite you to engage with them further in the comments here and/or at our Twitter account @DislocatingUS.

Workshop: Follow-up Questions

Architectures

In Heini-Emilia Saari’s presentation on Finnish architectural competitions that reimagine ‘periphery’ cities, Saari stated “I chose [these] cases not because I see them as stagnant places, but to critique the public discourses that they somehow are”. A member of the audience expressed their interest in the research, stating, “When I trained in Zambia [as an architect], the library was filled with books by Finnish architects!”

What can be said about the imaginaries at play in the politics of architecture and development in Finland, which includes particular blindspots regarding place, and the fact that Finnish architecture seems to influence architectural training far beyond its borders?

What are the implications for the training of architectural imaginaries—or perhaps policy or research imaginaries—that seem to immobilise the dynamism of place?

What is your own experience with such issues?


Frictions

In discussion with presenter Thomas Betschart about the notion of frictions, discussant AbdouMaliq asked a question that is pertinent to ask anyone working with similar concepts:

“Frictions imply some kind of boundedness. In your experience, when does this become blurred? Or, when do these frictions become complementary and not necessarily frictional?”

Betschart acknowledged this to be a very difficult question—and it surely is—as well as an important one to grapple with to continue pushing the field.

Do you have an idea, based on your own experience, of how to answer such a query?


Representations

Multiple presenters brought cases to light in which so-called slums or squatter communities are often seen in public or policy discourse as crime-ridden, dangerous, destitute or otherwise. Yet, researchers demonstrate the organisation of such places in quite contrary ways to these discourses.

What, ultimately, are the aims of bringing such cases to light?

In what ways do researchers document such work beyond presenting at academic conferences? Can they? Should they?

What is your experience? What is your opinion?


Histories

In some presentations, presenters shared their detailed historical work. In the case of Laura Belik’s, in which moments and spaces of the past—the so-called concentration camps in N. Brazil—have been all but erased and require various reconstructions to make them known again, a participant asked: “Besides photographs and oral history, what other sources could you use to “rebuild” this history? Is there literature or music, or other ways of engaging in this work?

For example, Yegor Vlasenko told us about his experience being back in Ukraine, in the presence of one of the statues in his study, and how that embodied—or indeed, emplaced—experience was insightful as a way of engaging in this work.

What are your experiences and thoughts in this regard?


In what ways have you used various sources, media, or experience for research in your own historical research?

What kinds of sources can be used that go beyond the normative? What kinds of sources could be engaged with more?


Categorisation + Stigma

In one exchange between Anja Nygren and Raffael Beier, we saw the every-pernicious, double-edged sword of categorisation unsheathed:

Anja:
Terms like ‘informal settlements’ or ‘auto-constructed’ can be problematic. But what
about the term ‘ordinary neighbourhoods’? Does this not have an inherent comparison? Does it not generalise too much?
Raffael:
Yes, names are problematic, but I want to provoke this as a starting place the exceeds categorisation
Anja:
But could the state not then say: well, these are ‘ordinary neighbourhoods’ so they do not need special attention for infrastructure, etc.
Raffael: The discourses however, are generally based on ideas that slums are criminal, filled with terrorists and the like, and states act according to these narratives. But if the state had done nothing, the neighbourhoods may well have been better off. Then, places where there actually are problems in ‘non-slum’ neighbourhoods, the state does nothing because it does not see it”

So the question is:

where do we go from here? What kinds of situations require alternative categories?

When should we use those that are easily understood to wider audiences? What experiences with this tension have you found in your work?

Relatedly, the problem of categorisation implies the problem of stigmatisation. Yet, as Anja Nygren asked:
If we just take out the stigma, do these problems really disappear? What about biophysical or for example, maternal issues that go beyond a problem of stigmatisation? Can stigma be looked at together with all the other issues, policies, politics and more?

What would you say? What is your take? Is challenging stigmatised peoples and places an effective route to change? Why or why not?


Capitalism + Commons

In a serendipitous response to Professor Shin’s keynote, Asa Roast drew our attention to an under-researched city in China: Chongquing, introducing us to the ‘Kongdi’ or “empty land” spaces where informal agriculture was juxtaposed with a rapidly developing city. Professor Shin made an observation that is perhaps relevant in many other contexts, regarding the notion of commons: as there is also competition within these same spaces—a capitalistic notion that would seem to undermine the commons—how can we make use of notions like ‘commons’ within wider processes of capitalism?

To expand on this, what are they ways that such notions of commons, as Asa Roast brought to our attention, clash or work with, for, or against processes of capitalism?

What kind of room is there for co-existence? Is this even possible? What might be the outcomes of such frictions?


Children + Marine Environments

Aireen Grace Andal made a plea for the inclusion of children into processes of urbanisation, coupled with considerations of marine environments. Indeed, it seems relevant to ask:

Are children adequately considered in urbanisation processes? Is there a gap between our interactions with children in the field, and our representation of children in research or their inclusion in policy?

In regard to coastal cities, how does a renewed consideration of the aquatic environment interrupt or augment our understanding of urbanisations, or our concepts of space and place?

Discuss!

Do you have any of your own experiences, comments, opinions or stories to share? Go ahead and leave a comment below!

Sincerely,

The Dislocating Urban Studies Team

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