challenging methodologies and methods
Clara Rivas Alonso
Okmeydanı as a contested site of urban (re)production: occupying trajectories of hope(lessness) in Istanbul
Okmeydanı, located in the (symbolic) peripheries of urban narratives within Istanbul, is a site of historical (often violent) struggle for existence. Faced with the latest threat, an institutional urban renewal plan, it re-assembles itself in order to widen the horizons of possibilities available for its dwellers. This paper focuses on the recurrent nodes that allow dwellers to weave themselves in different time scales in relation to the threat of an urban plan: identity of the neighbourhood, family, earthquakes and material objects such as the tapu (or legally recognised ownership document). Through these moments and objects the dwellers position their histories in relation to a collective timeline of a so-called informal neighbourhood entangled in the different rhythms of the production of an urban renewal plan. The materials (or the lack of) are conjured up as signposting for the memories of dwellers that are compelled to find their place in a landscape built by themselves, ravaged by different forms of state intervention or inaction, and propelled into the wider collective imaginations as pariahs of the city.
Furthermore, how could this ethnographic exercise be tackled without understating the sheer richness of my experience of the neighbourhood, the value of the encounters I lived, the importance of the dreams that were relayed to me? In order to account for what could be accidently left behind, and aware that finally “acting in concert is something that takes place regardless of the forms we recognize as collective politics” (Simone 2012: 34), I believe an analysis rooted in relational approaches can help, as assemblage thinking “focuses on understanding the relations and dynamics between scales as socio-spatial change spreads up, down and laterally” (Dovey 2011: 348). This allows me to pay attention to processes that could be easily bypassed, and to consider the historical trajectories of different elements in relation with each other, moving in and out of processes, “as assemblages are not reducible to events or practice, but must be understood in the context of their historical production and transformation.” (McFarlane 2011: 27).
Indeed, dwellers in Okmeydanı have “learned” how to produce urban spaces, how to stay put in the face of continuous existential threat, whilst navigating a (mostly) hostile city that has uninterruptedly belittled them (and continues to do so) in search of some level of security that could help them rearrange the horizon of possibilities in an intelligible manner. This site of contestation where the urban is reworked allows for further insight into those locations of urbanisation whose productive potential is purposely concealed to ease the way towards more excluding spaces of controlled consumption and labour. The paper also adds to current methodological questions of ethics and positionality in relation to highly stigmatized and militarized settings, arguing for a kind of research that actively opposes institutional attempts at sanitizing, and embraces messiness, exchanges rooted in some shared idea of fairness, without losing from sight that “research practice needs be conceived of as nuanced and culturally sensitive” and that the multiple tactics researchers use in risky environments “demonstrates that there is no single solution to any of the tricky issues they confronted.” (Marks and Abdelhalim: 2018)
Dovey, K. (2011). “Uprooting critical urbanism.” City 15(3-4): 347-354.
Marks, M. and Abdelhalim, J. (2018) Introduction: identity, jeopardy and moral dilemmas in conducting research in ‘risky’ environments, Contemporary Social Science, 13:3-4, 305-322. DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2017.1388463
McFarlane, C. (2011) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage, Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Simone, A. (2012) ‘No Longer the Subaltern: Refiguring Cities of the Global South’ in Edensor, T. and Jayne, M. (eds) Urban Theory Beyond the West, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 31-46.
Designing a comparison on informal settlements upgrading policies in three Southern American cities
It has been commonplace to see informal settlements in Latin American cities analysed as resulting from a combination of the accelerated urbanisation that strongly impacted the region, especially from the 1950s to the 1970s, and insufficient housing policy responses. In this paper, however, I am interested in questioning this established rationale while seeking for alternative ways to understand informal settlements (re)production in three Latin American cities: Buenos Aires, Medellin and São Paulo.
In other words, I aim to understand the historical conditions in which the state constructed the difference between what is formal and informal in each of these cities. Drawing on Huxley (2013), I presume that discursive contexts created around informal settlements already envisaged solutions for them, in more or less explicit ways. Thus, I suggest that excavating how informal settlements were first acknowledged, as such, is fundamental to understand the policies subsequently formulated, at first, to remove and, on a later stage, to upgrade them.
Methodologically speaking, this proposal is an opportunity of practicing a genetic comparison (Robinson, 2016) between Buenos Aires, Medellin and São Paulo cities. By taking urban planning as a technology created by the modern state to intervene in cities, and the social effects produced by practical classifications (Bourdieu, 1989), I am interested in problematising the shifts and turns of urban classifications for the territories inhabited by the poor throughout the twenties in the three analysed cities. By exploring the genealogies of these classifications created to operate a differentiation between the planned and the spontaneous, the legal and the illegal, I intend to explore the interconnectedness of urban processes in one city to another.
In sum, instead of assuming informal settlements in Buenos Aires, Medellin and São Paulo are variegated outcomes of the relationship between capitalism and urbanisation in Latin America, I intend to examine the contingency of urban informality in each city in an initial effort to build a cumulative history of Latin American urbanisation, which might unravel new possibilities of action.
Huxley M (2013) Historicizing Planning, Problematizing Participation. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(5): 1527-41.
Robinson J (2016) Thinking cities through elsewhere: comparative tactics for a more global urban studies. Progress in Human Geography, 40(1): 3-29.
Bourdieu P (1989) O Poder Simbólico. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 1989.
Blasting dichotomies open: multi-scalarity, relationality and comparability seen from an “othered” North
Some 10 years ago, Ananya Roy argued that it was time to “blast open” theoretical geographies. That article (published in 2009 on Regional Studies) has become one of the lynchpins of southern critique in urban studies, whose recent flourishing has had an enormous importance in the enrichment of our understanding of relations of power, uneven development and urbanization at the global scale. And yet, post- and de-colonial approaches to urban studies have often ended up in reifying old and new “abyssal lines” (an expression by Boaventura Sousa Santos) among two “regions”: the “Global North” (or “West”) and the “Global South”.
More recently, Marcelo Lopes de Souza has, in an article published in 2019 on ACME), discussed some of the risks of building the “Global South” as a “region”, and particularly that of building an intellectual comfort zone that may end up concealing relations of power – and racialization, peripheralization and marginalization – within the Global South.
In line with Souza’s remarks, it is high time to blasting open the dichotomic thinking that has permeated much of our thinking, theorizing and conceptualizing at the global scale.
In this presentation, I will advocate for three epistemological steps that, together, can help us overcoming dichotomic thinking and working toward a truly global urban studies, where post- and de-colonial perspectives are at the same time analytically powerful and strategically useful to expose relations of power wherever and however they take place. I will argue for a multi-scalar, relational and comparative approach to global urban studies.
In order to do so, I will reflect on the place, in the global division of labor and in planetary urbanization patterns, of two regions within the Global North, but that have been historically “othered” and linked to the cores of their continental cores by quasi- when not fully colonial relations. These regions are Southern Europe and Southern USA, which are not only the geographical “Souths” of the “West”; but also two regions whose urban development is profoundly shaped by uneven patterns and whose societies have been long racialized and labeled “underdeveloped”, “backward”, “dumb”, “immoral”: indeed, “Third-World-like” – not by chance, Southern Europe was the birthplace of a thinker, Antonio Gramsci, whose idea have had a powerful influence for subaltern studies worldwide.
By reflecting comparatively on the peculiar patterns of urban development and marginalization within the “core” of the global division of labor, I hope to show the importance of thinking relations of power at multiple scales, therefore contributing to a more nuanced understanding of the vertical (global/regional/local) and horizontal relations central to contemporary urban development and transformation.
The local yet global urbanism: Research contexts in the mediatized world
Case of Cairo
“There are many splits, many divisions, one of which is the global and its separation from the local, which is wrong. There really should be no separation whatsoever between the global and the local. The very, very local is the very, very universal”
Nawal el Saadawi, in Obrist, 2013))
This paper builds on my Phd thesis, titled “Imaging Power: Mediatization of Urban Planning and Developed,” which examined, how and why, in the mediatized world, planning visualizations become a question of justice, taking Cairo as a glocal case study to trace spatial and visual justice.
I would like to work on “Glocal Urbanism” and offer a critical account of cultural and political translation, transnationalism, knowledge transfer, urban governance and knowledge production as a possible theory and politics of a societies. In the study, I will be working on the ways in which global/local thinking about urbanism is being transformed today through encounters with the recent pandemic, economic crises, issues of systemic racism and wide-ranging inequalities.
The core idea of proposed article is to move beyond divisions like developing/developed, north/south,….etc in order to co-construct new conversations, theories, and knowledge, with a focus on urbanism, yet beyond. This approach comes to play as in the current globalized, mediatized, digitalized, urbanized world, urban problems at the local levels reflect the global networks of capitalist neoliberal patriarchal urban schemes. In this sense, national divisions of societies are viewed as politically constructed not in favor of the public good.
Accordingly, I want to start the research by looking at the similar urban challenges faced in both the north and the south, and from there, see what this premise can change in the production of urbanism, urban knowledge, theories, and practices globally. To give some examples; I would like to shift the attention from looking at issues such as informality as an issue of the south, towards looking at informality also in the north. Similarly, I want to move away from discussing the north as a developed urban world, towards seeing how also the south contributes to global urban development.
To do that, I look at vertical and horizontal intersections and relations. This can be pursued by considering first making a list of similar problems and challenges when it comes to, let’s say, climate change or the capitalization of real estate and a globalized stream of money and economy that would support this, but then we can also take a perspective that it’s rather both global north and south, if we want to still think in this dichotomy, are bound together by transnational dynamics and global dynamics.
To this end, the article aims to create a framework that builds moments of comparability between urban cases worldwide which were otherwise from the challenges that they faced are viewed as very different. By addressing the similarities, the research reexamines rival world ideas that have challenged prevailing orthodoxies. The idea is to expand the space of comparability and solidarity across and within borders.
Instead of studying the potentials within under-represented contexts like Africa and Asia, or concentrating on the drawbacks of Eurocentric epistemologies, I would like to move beyond that by interrogating these core divisions by the showing what thinking about urbanism from a glocal perspective can change in the world.
The goal of this research is to understand how these ideas and practices came into being through comparative literature and politics. Subsequently, the main question addressed is, what are (in)visible intersections of global dynamics and local contexts, and how they came to being? Through concentrating on local yet global urbanism (glocal), the book aims to imagine and make visible how global relationships, came to be and could be different.