A non-occidentalist West: learning from theories outside the canon


Even though it has been several years since Jennifer Robinson’s (2003) encouragement to postcolonise and provincialise the fields of geography and urban studies, and Ananya Roy’s (2009) famous call for “new geographies of theory,” work to be done remains. In the anglophone world, scholars such as Tariq Jazeel, Helga Leitner, Colin McFarlane, Susan Parnell, and Eric Sheppard have added their voices to the need to engage with theory from the global South or the margins. Despite the slightly different starting points (e.g. subaltern, postcolonial, or decolonial), a similar aim is sought: dismantle the production of urban knowledge that is carried out through Eurocentric lenses. Theorising this way allows us to fight “universal grammars” that see cities in the margins as anomalies of what cities in “the West” are perceived to be (Roy 2016) and to pluralise the field of urban studies through an input of a multiplicity of urban experiences (cf. Robinson and Roy 2016). However, a more global or cosmopolitan field of urban studies can only be built through an active practice. Inspired by Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ (2010) concept of a “non-Occidentalist West”—theories or concepts that while produced in the West “were discarded, marginalized or ignored because they did not fit the political objectives of capitalism and colonialism”—this workshop seeks to explore theories or concepts outside the canon of critical urban studies, both from the West and elsewhere. Without disregarding the immense contribution of our to-go-to critical theorists (e.g. Frankfurt School), if we acknowledge that all theory (even critical urban theory) is loaded with power and embedded in context (cf. Brenner 2009):

  • What forgotten or little-known urban theorists from the global North or South can help us carry out anti-colonial and anti-capitalist critique?
  • What queer, feminist, postcolonial and decolonial theories or mid-range concepts can expand our understanding of the urban?
  • How does one navigate Eurocentrism when using “Western” theory in the global South, global East or peripheral context?
  • What are the challenges or limitations of using theory in contexts outside their locus of enunciation? In other words, how can/should knowledge travel away from its centre of production?