Abstracts and bios 6

18 MARCH
SESSION 3&4
places “off the map”: bringing to light the hidden locations of urbanisation

Clarissa Cordeiro de Campos

Situating the Right to the City: the meaning of centrality for squatting movements in three urban areas in Brazil, Spain, and the Basque Country

This paper proposes to develop one of the lines of investigation that arose from my doctoral research (completed in 2020). It refers to a general opinion expressed by different squatters and supporting activists in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, that despite all the hardships they face in land occupations in peripheral, unassisted areas of the city, these may offer better conditions for sociability and collective life than squats in better-serviced areas in the city center. From a comparative approach, the aforementioned research addressed aspects of squatting movements in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in the city of Madrid, Spain, and in six municipalities of the Basque Country, within Spanish territorial limits. As part of the discussion, I suggested that the right to the city constitutes a valid theoretical lens for studying squatting movements (squatting here understood as the unauthorized occupation of abandoned buildings or land) when critically applied.

Over fifty years after the right to the city theoretical framework was firstly formulated by Henri Lefebvre, it is still present not only in academic debates and governmental agendas (as limited or biased as they may be) but, remarkably, also in the speeches and practices of squatting movements, south and north in the globe. This paradoxical appropriation by different actors that may have conflictive interests can also be observed in Belo Horizonte. The majority of squatters in this city are poor families who occupy lands in peripheral areas for housing. Nonetheless, in the last decade, there have been important developments, including a stunning increase in the number of occupations—73% of all identified cases since 1990 started in the last ten years— with a significant share of occupied buildings—32% of the total—located, with very few exceptions, in central areas of the city.

Nonetheless, at least since 2018, some of the negotiated agreements referred part of the squatters back to peripheral locations. Curiously, this also reflected a preference expressed by squatters and supporting activists, after experiencing living in the city center, contesting themselves this permanence in central areas—a crucial aspect of Lefebvre’s theory. But why return to self-construction in the peripheries after a decade of squatting buildings in central and economically privileged areas of the city? Overwhelming maintenance processes, difficulties in identifying suitable buildings with sufficient area, and eventual conflicting situations are some clues to this question. I contend this is a key aspect for studying the squatting movement in this context, connected with what a right to the city should be in order to meet specific demands, calling for further investigation.

Laleh Foroughanfar

Negotiating (in)Visibility: Street-making on the Margins of Malmö

Accelerated by changes in the geography and capitalist social relations of production, the influx of labor migrants, refugees and asylum seekers has transformed the demography of cities in the global North. In the Swedish context, as the demography of the cities is altering, neoliberal urban planning and regeneration policies have emerged in the wake of socio-spatial polarization and racial capitalism in post-welfare era. In recent decades, Malmö has undergone fundamental transformation from an industrial city into one of the post-industrial, service economy oriented “frontrunners in the neoliberalization of urban Sweden” (Baeten, 2012: 22). Such processes have partly led to segregation and discrimination, with detrimental effects of social and economic deprivation for subaltern groups such as migrants with limited access to recourses.
This paper draws on empirical findings of my on-going PhD research project, exploring how urban marginalization intersects with global migration, resulting in de-territorialization and re-territorializations of socio-spatial and temporal relations. The focus of the study is the post-industrial street of Norra Grängesbergsgatan (NGBG) in Sofielund in the South-East part of Malmö, Sweden. Geographically central, yet peripheral, NGBG is a place of arrival, settlement; of care, solidarity, entrepreneurship and provision; but also of fear, precarity and resistance. Ironically, precisely such processes have also produced an ‘atmosphere’ deemed as ‘exotic’ and ‘alternative’, putting the street in the limelight of left-leaning activism and (increasingly ‘hipster’) cultural production and entertainment. This further marginalizes and destabilizes vulnerable residents of the area, “rendering them invisible or driving them out of a covered space” (Wacquant, 2008).
Even though the street has gone through de-industrialization process since 1980’s, it continues to be officially categorized as an industrial site in the planning documents of the municipality. As a consequence, only temporary building permits are issued for the street. This, in combination with the comparatively low rental prices and its peripheral atmosphere has transformed NGBG to mainly harbor amenities of livelihood forged by migrants, as well as ethno-cultural and religious associations. In parallel, the neighborhood has been stigmatized as a hub for illegal activities and crimes, designated as a ‘problematic area’ in public administrative and policing discourse. This, in turn, has justified the establishment of a Business Improvement Districts (BID) model and attracted other interests in upgrading and commodifying the ‘cultural diversity’ of the street.
Based on methods of critical, reflexive ethnography, this paper focuses on everyday spatio-temporal practices ‘from below’ derived from the subjectivity and spatial agency of migrants. Such practices so far have been ‘off the map’; discursively as well as materially invisible in planning and design policies and practices. NGBG is concomitantly the stage for and subject to process and practices of negotiations of ‘everyday urbanism’. Negotiations take place in various forms: bodily inhabitation, material object arrangement, emerging sign-scapes and a new architecture of transgression. I argue that through everyday resilience tactics migrants negotiate their right to the city and their unrecognized ‘urban citizenship’, encroaching on socio-political processes of integration and co-habitance.

Thomas Betschart

Intersections of Power. The Negotiation of Ethiopia’s urban future through Transportation Infrastructure along the Addis-Nairobi Corridor.

Ethiopia as a nation state looks back to a century long history of state-developmentalist economic and urban development. While the nation state is currently transforming at a fast pace since the inaugural of Abiy Ahmed’s interim-government in 2018, ending 27 years of autocratic rule, high-modernist plans of infrastructure development are still at the forefront of Ethiopia’s all-encompassing narrative of eradicating poverty. These ambitious plans manifest in the state-driven emergence of large infrastructural plans that focus on the establishment of international and interregional interconnectivity. They further aim at shifting towards clustering urban geographies and to disperse socio-economic development. As planned state logistics and transportation infrastructures are deployed, used and contested, they create local urban environments that are the results of specific localities and practices. In this paper, I refer to the urban as a segment of larger infrastructural endeavors and node in the assemblages of planetary flows, extraction, production and accumulation. Understanding urban space as a constantly altering multi-linear and into the virtual transcending product of differing and entangled relations and rationalities, this project aims to understand how interlacing territorial regimes can be located through the analytic lens of locating friction in terrains and disruptions in logistic flows and how these themselves constitute as elements of spatial production in the urban. By shedding light onto how the production of space is to be understood as a result of logistics, this investigation is ought to reveal a deeper understanding of Ethiopia’s current political transformation, and its entangled topologies of citizens, the state and international actors. Therefore, these understudied geographies reveal the tensions between incremental agency and statecraft and how the city can be thought as the locus of constant negotiation regarding its future outcomes. By assuming that all people have relationships to infrastructure—unconscious or intimate, expecting or indifferent thereof— and exploring how these change across contexts, these epistemic pathways allow for a critique on the binary emphasis on the everyday human and ‘incremental’ agency in the global South against the historicization of institutions of state and capital in the global North, which tends to attribute the notion of the ‘global’ to the north and to provincialize southern perspectives. Finally, they allow to bridge views of urban politics that polarize technocratic reforms from above and grassroots movements from below with a small-scale unit of analysis that seeks to understand changes through infrastructure by bringing the complexity of different sociomaterial experiences into a coherent analytical frame. Since infrastructure organizes social interactions, conditions subjectivity and brings about the material foundations of landscapes of inequality, critical research can look to moments of interaction between people and sociotechnical systems for insights into broader patterns—of inequality, of social understanding, of urban social life, of material politics and to the momentum of political transformations.

Ankur Parashar

Making of an Infrastructural Citizenship and Colonial Urban Space

Looking at the bundles of water pipes going haphazardly across the cities brings to mind the government’s failure in planning the cities. But this chaotic network has its rationality of claims and counterclaims. Studies on the colonial urban infrastructure have a very top-down understating wherein it is assumed to be given by the colonial masters without taking into account the claim made by the local people. I would try to bring out the infrastructural materiality of the petitions concerning the claims over access to water. Here, the archives give a peek into the process through which such claims were made. In this paper, I would look at the colonial archives of the claims around access to water in Shimla. Shimla being the summer capital of colonial India, inhabited people with a varying degree of power from the top echelon of the white bureaucracy, native royals to the local service class. A discursive analysis of claims brings out a fascinating view of the municipal infrastructure’s incremental expansion in the city led by the series of petitions demanding water. Archives bring out several techniques employed by people, from reminding the govt its duty towards the subject to bringing out the British Empire’s moral virtues to seek first access to the water infrastructure later its further expansion. Through this paper, I would bring out the interrelation of both citizenship and infrastructure claims and its impact on shaping the colonial cities.