a non-occidentalist west: learning from theories outside the canon
Unlearning within the canon: A critical reflection on navigating ‘Western’ theory’s Eurocentricism in the global South
The link between colonialism and research is inextricable and undeniable. Grounded in European worldviews, and consequently legitimizing Western forms of knowledge, conventional research methodologies have been, and continue to be, used to collect, analyse, represent data on the “Other” primarily to the West. The inherent Eurocentricism of research methodologies and methods has, in the words of Brayboy et al. (2005: 424), “estranged” academic research from indigenous communities. It has, in many respects, also estranged academic research from researchers who self-identify as Black, Indigenous and people of Colour (BIPOC).
Drawing on my experiences as a PhD candidate conducting research on informal land occupations in Cape Town, South Africa, this paper offers insight into how researchers can begin the difficult work of navigating Eurocentricism when using “Western” theory in the global South. In particular, the paper critically reflects on the nature of the unlearning process that is required in order for one to recognise and productively address the tension arising from the researcher’s geo-political and body-political standpoints and their positioning as the “Other” within Western theory. Inherent to this process of unlearning is self-reflexivity, which is a critical consciousness that requires not only constant interrogation of one’s subject positioning and location but an openness to alternative ways of knowing and being in the world, which can help us use research tools critically and creatively to co-produce knowledge that is of (greater) use to BIPOCs.
Nelson Carroza Athens
The Popular Habitat: Decolonizing the Genealogies of UrbanThought in Latin America
The popular habitat has been a privileged theme in the development of urban thought throughout Latin America (Connolly, 2013; Varley, 2013), recognizing diverse and divergent outlooks such as: “urban marginalization” (Germani, 1967; Germani & Dos Santos, 1969; Quijano, 1971; Nun, 1972), “urban informality” (Portes, 1995; Tokman, 2004, De Soto, Ghersi & Ghibellini, 1987); and “social vulnerability” (Busso, 2001; Katzman 1999), among others. Particularly, this presentation proposes that a great part of these perspectives focused on the Latin American popular habitat are founded on “modernist/colonial” epistemologies, which have promoted the
production knowledge about popular habitat settlements categorized as: a) dysfunctional b) exotic and c) structurally determined.
Under this assumption, the main contributions of the “decolonial turn” (Quijano, 2000; Dusell, 2012; Grosfoguel, 2007; Mignolo, 2011) are dealt with, particularly Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussell’s concept of “exteriority”. Furthermore, the struggles, resistance and proposals of the Pobladores’(Poblador: transcends the meaning of ‘inhabitant’ and is attributed with social and political connotations of those who fight for the rights of the poor majority within urban landscapes). Movement are understood as a case study and taken in two dissimilar contexts from Chile and Venezuela. As aforementioned, this work seems to problematize and overcome the assistentialism, dysfunctional and fatalistic conceptions of “popular habitat”, often elaborated throughout studies of central tendency within this field.
The study’s conclusions allow for the problematization of the modernist/colonial categories within construction and reproduction processes of popular habitats commonly explained as:
center/periphery, formal/informal, not poor/poor, not ulnerable/vulnerable. This allows for epistemological questioning of the production of such knowledge supported by the latter
dichotomies (periphery, informal, poor, vulnerable). Similarly, overcoming these dichotomies make it possible to further the recognition of the diverse forms of production of the popular habitat which currently exists in Latin America. The deployed proposal emphasizes visibility for the collective capacity that social movements and organizations possess, as construction agents and protagonists in regards to their own living environments. Considering the Pobladores’ Movement as an example, the involved multiplicity of efforts, knowledge and contradictions are analyzed in regards to habitat production, therefore opening a window to comprehend the diversity of sovereign and autonomous spaces politically promoted by such movements.
Finally, the opportunity to integrate the wealth of this interpretative framework allows us to epistemologically question the production of knowledge linked to the popular habitat, not only in Latin America, but also in other genealogies and geographies of the global south.
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Connolly, P. (2013). La ciudad y el hábitat popular: Paradigma latinoamericano. Teorías sobre la ciudad en América Latina, 2, 505-562.
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Bruna Ferreira Montuori
Cartography of hidden narratives: reconfiguring planning practices through the case of Maré, Rio de Janeiro
This paper aims to explore the role of narratives to unveil other epistemologies of planning, particularly in contexts of uneven cities in the Global South. Departing from the notion of insurgent planning, characterized as “counter-hegemonic, transgressive and imaginative” (Miraftab, 2009, p. 4), the paper looks at the imaginary embedded in urban narratives –including stories, testimonies, and memories of a place. It seeks to position narratives in the center of knowledge production for planning practices to reconfigure the development-driven attitude towards one focusing on a humane city, based on a just distribution of rights and communal matters (Rolnik 2019, Federici 2014, Lugones 2008). Taking Robinson’s (2002) reference of cities “off the map”, I bring the context of Maré, a set of sixteen favelas (settlements) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although Maré is a neighbourhood, its territory, formed by 140 thousand residents, carries a legacy of exclusion, maintained by modern and neoliberal policies that criminalise and stigmatise favelas (Silva 2016, Rolnik 2019). The first residents of Maré were from the northeast of Brazil and arrived in the 1940s to work in the construction of Avenida Brasil, a highway lying next to the area connecting the downtown with the Northside of the city. As decades progressed, Maré grew exponentially receiving more residents who were evicted from other favelas located in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Rio. Still today, Maré residents are consistently discriminated against and precluded from the provision of basic rights, such as clean water, sanitation, internet connection, and public security. As a consequence of a developmentalist urban planning, Maré has always had an incomplete cartographic base, reaffirming its geography of exclusion in Rio de Janeiro. Through the incompleteness of Maré’s cartography, showcased through a combination of maps from different sources, I seek to navigate from the hegemonic urban narratives to local counter-narratives of residents and local institutions that constitute this place. Using excerpts from my PhD fieldwork and the above-mentioned cartography, I aim to discuss: (1) the legitimacy of narratives to understand knowledge and space production (Santos 2014, Santos 2017); (2) the right to narrate (Bhabha 2014) as a right to exist and be part of a territory, its history, construction, and memories; (3) the ways narratives allow practitioners to reconfigure western dominant perspectives towards an epistemological turn for planning. These three sections encompass empirical reflections from my experience in Maré and theoretical ideas from urban scholars committed with plural worldviews for planning (Roy 2005, Robinson and Roy 2016, Rolnik 2019, Simone 2004, 2019, Miraftab 2009 and others), and from decolonial and postcolonial studies (Escobar 2017, Lugones 2008, Quijano 2000, Bhabha 2014). Finally, the paper addresses the relevance of narratives to enact planning practices concerned with spatial justice to tackle systemic oppression and to recognise the autonomy of subjects in the production of urban spaces.
Nipesh Palat Narayanan
Informality as a privileged manifestation of urban theory built on southern empirics
Urban theory, produced in North Atlantic centres, has been perpetrated as universal and recent urban studies have pointed to the limits of this theory, calling for a southern turn. The southern call is to dislocate the concentration of power and knowledge in the metropolis. Owing to this concentration, the concerns of the metropolis often becomes (or made to become) the concerns of the periphery. The paper will investigate the phenomenon of urban informality, outlining how the concerns of the metropolis has become the concerns of the periphery. Taking informality as a practice, not embedded in people (urban poor, marginalized) or places (settlements), I will outline how the study of informality has assured the lineage of metropolitan concerns. It calls for learning from informality (ontology) rather than about informality (epistemology). I therefore politically position, disrupting ‘concerns of the metropolis’ rather than ‘metropolitan theory’, as a means to dislocate urban studies.
Moving away from informal-formal dichotomy, the paper mobilizes, informal-urban dialectic to identify and dislocate the metropolitan concerns of urban theory. Taking empirical cases from Delhi and Colombo, I will build a narrative of privileged academic theorization of informality and juxtapose it with everyday narrative of its practitioners. The paper will outline urban informality studies along three epistemic manoeuvres of (i) studying south (locations off the map of urban studies): dislocation, (ii) revisiting and adjusting key urban studies concept: provincialization, and (iii) comparisons (seeing from elsewhere): decolonization. The paper primarily enquires, if southern theory is to dislocate, provincialize, and decolonize urban theory, then what does this dislocation, provincialization, and decolonization look like, when viewed through the concept of informality?