EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

The anthropology of urban development: its legacies and the human future
Location U6-1F
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Marie Kolling (University of Copenhagen) email
  • Martijn Koster (Radboud University ) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Anouk de Koning (Radboud University, Nijmegen)

Short Abstract

The panel will discuss anthropological legacies to the field of urban development through empirically rich and theoretically informed contributions, demonstrating the diverse consequences of urban planning on disenfranchised city residents and their futures.

Long Abstract

Urban anthropology has an extensive legacy in studying the impact of urban development interventions on human settlements and their futures. By offering in-depth insights into the diversity of situated experiences of local actors in urban development processes, anthropology has advanced and complemented theories in other disciplines that also study urban development, such as planning, urban studies, architecture, public administration, history and philosophy.

The panel will discuss anthropological contributions to the field of urban development that demonstrate the diverse implications of urban planning for local lives and livelihoods in their institutional and economic context. It sets out to connect such studies to current theoretical debates regarding the right to the city, governmentality, urban navigations, the co-production of space or the city as an assemblage.

We welcome papers that present an anthropological analysis of urban interventions from the perspective of local residents. We particularly welcome empirically rich contributions that examine the different ways in which disenfranchised urbanites are confronted with urban development projects and how they navigate processes of eviction and relocation, and the subsequent changes in their livelihoods and the materiality of their homes. Also, we are interested in ethnographies that elucidate how people's ideas about the future are reconfigured by urban renewal or how notions of futurity in urban planning resonate with people's imaginaries. Finally, we welcome reflections on how an anthropological analysis of urban development may not be delineated by the time of a particular intervention, but by people's life histories and new trajectories.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Against becoming city: notes on resistance in the peri-urban

Author: George Jose (National University of Singapore (NUS) & King's College London (KCL))  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates the manner in which 'urban planning', frequently positioned as a tool to exercise control over the market for land, and a modality to temper or prevent real estate speculation, ends up fueling it instead.

Long Abstract

In 2009-11 fifty-three villages in the northern periphery of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) opposed the State's order to be absorbed into the newly decreed Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC). The villagers organized themselves into a political party, fought municipal elections and succeeded in being represented in the Municipal Corporation; firm in their resolve to resist the move to declare this area 'urban'. These protests, which first began more than a quarter of a century ago, resolutely opposed multiple attempts by the State to impose a (urban) planning regime on this region.

The production of urban land is central to local and legislative politics in MMR where speculating in land fuels political power, and generates multiple resources. The surreptitious transfer of land-use, and extensive transactions involving land precedes the making of legislation that will regulate its use. However, the very enactment of these laws, in this instance, led to mass mobilization and protests against urbanization.

Why does the transformation towards becoming a city evoke determined opposition? How did the people of Vasai Virar resist state-led definitions of the 'urban' in India? And how has this movement - that has continued to be identified as a village-level agitation - gained support and salience over time? This paper is a contribution towards understanding citizenship in the periphery of the metropolis, in the wake of continuing attempts to impose planning regimes and re-scale urban processes.

Urban redevelopment and local responses in contemporary Beijing

Author: Jialing Luo (Southwest University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses spatial transformations and business development directed by local level government officials in the Street Office in central Beijing. It reveals new modes and styles of governmentality, their impact on daily life, and the varied responses of local residents.

Long Abstract

Drawing on in-depth fieldwork conducted in the disappearing hutong (neighbourhoods made up of alleyways) in central Beijing, this paper considers how a Yuan-dynasty (1271-1368AD) alleyway was transformed into a 'bar street with hutong characteristics' to represent Beijing culture for the 2008 Olympics. The paper provides a view of state-engineered consumerism, modernization and marketization in post-Mao China. Discussing spatial reconfiguration and business development led by the grassroots-level government, called the Street Office, this paper reveals new modes and styles of governmentality and their impacts on the day-to-day life of the local residents (the hutongers).

Part of an imperial legacy in terms of architecture and urban planning, this alleyway, though listed, has been redeveloped into what Ferguson and Gupta (2002: 995) might describe as 'a transnational "local" that fuses the grass-roots and the global.' Many indigenous people, while losing their previous way of life, which was largely defined by a socialist economy, have gradually engaged in self-enterprising activities informed by newly-emerging neoliberal ideologies and turned up-to-date state policies to their advantage. Their various responses to a rapidly shifting urban landscape and political economy in post-Mao China demonstrate their high degree of adaptability and flexibility. This has enabled their seemingly unlikely participation in state-dominated urban development and informs their on-going negotiation of their right to the city.

Possession through dispossession: urban development in Brazil, forced evictions and squatting for a better future

Author: Marie Kolling (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the housing struggles of squatters, wanting to be included in a slum upgrading project in the city of Salvador, Brazil, in order to be evicted and resettled to social housing. It analyses their dispute with the state and claims to the right to realize their dream of homeownership

Long Abstract

In recent years, slum dwellers have been removed from their homes in the community of São Bartolomeu, in the city of Salvador, Brazil. The forced resettlement was part of slum upgrading interventions under the urban development project 'Better Days', a name that alludes to the optimism it evoked. A key project component was the revitalisation of the São Bartolomeu Park, and hundreds of families who had lived in the park for decades were evicted and resettled to social housing.

These evictions attracted newcomers, who hoped that they too would be included in the project. They built a new squatter settlement on the fringes of the park next to one of the demolished slums. The squatters aspired to a better future as homeowners and by squatting they acted upon a rare opportunity for - hopefully - bringing this imagined future closer.

Through an ethnographic account of the squatters' struggle for housing, this paper explores the dispute between the state and the squatters and its outcome. It analyses their claim for the right to be resettled and why they both did and did not have this right. This is contextualized in view of Brazil's urban legislation that is based on the 'right to the city', and the national government's promotion of homeownership as a right for the poor.

From priority to poverty: urban redevelopment and the housing question in postsocialist Vietnam

Author: Christina Schwenkel (University of California, Riverside)  email

Short Abstract

The paper offers a materialist reading of the cycles of urban development across wartime destruction, postwar reconstruction and post Cold War renewal of a socialist city in Vietnam through the eyes of urban residents who were once beneficiaries of state protections that have now been withdrawn.

Long Abstract

Cities have long been at the center of state modernizing projects in socialist countries. In this paper, I examine urban development as an international project that endeavored to produce modern socialist citizens through a rational and scientific approach to urban planning. In particular, I focus on East German utopian designs for radical social change that were applied transnationally to build new urban futures in the city of Vinh in north central Vietnam. Between 1964 and 1973, the city of Vinh was demolished by recurrent US air attacks that left the landscape decimated. In the years following, East Germany pledged material and technological support to redesign and rebuild the devastated city. The first part of this essay examines the production of the socialist person through the modality of modern housing, the allocation of which reflected the division of society into priority and non-priority citizens. With economic reforms and the collapse of state provisioning of housing, these hierarchies changed in unforeseen ways. In the second part of the paper I examine how the transition to a market-oriented model of private ownership generated new forms of stratification as meaningful social identities and social status under socialism were recalibrated to fit the changing urban environment. Tracing the legacies of socialist allocations and their impact on urban lives today, I outline the uneven geographies of redevelopment in the city, driven by new imaginations of home and new aspirations to modernity.

Ambivalent engagements: resettled slum-dwellers' responses to the world-class city vision in Ahmedabad, India

Author: Jelena Salmi (University of Jyväskylä)  email

Short Abstract

Through ethnographic examples, this paper will examine the ambivalent ways in which displaced and resettled slum-dwellers in Ahmedabad engage with the world-class city vision personified around the figure of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Long Abstract

My paper explores displaced slum-dwellers' ambivalent accounts concerning urban renewal and development policies personified around the figure of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The paper represents a part of an ongoing doctoral dissertation project, which is based on ten months' ethnographic fieldwork in a mixed-community resettlement site located in the eastern margins of Ahmedabad, the biggest city of the Gujarat State. The city is known for being a stronghold of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and especially of Modi, who used to occupy the position of Chief Minister of Gujarat before his appointment as Prime Minister. Modi's agenda included transforming Ahmedabad into a slum-free "world-class city". Several large-scale development projects were put into practice under Modi's leadership. Thousands of people were displaced from city-center slums to resettlement sites located in the urban margins.

Through rich ethnographic examples, I will discuss resettled people's engagement with the world-class city vision. On the one hand, I will explore how residents of a mixed-community resettlement site mobilize 'world-class aesthetic' (Ghertner 2011) in their attempts to express moral superiority over new, unwanted neighbors. On the other, I will consider how residents' shared feelings of betrayal and anger targeted towards Modi challenge the world-class city ethos. Many displaced people hold Modi responsible for the loss of homes, livelihoods and social networks, but at the same time, the utopian green and clean mega city promulgated by Modi is an object of awe, admiration and desire.

Envisioning a new city centre: strategies, narratives, and experiences of [sub]urban redevelopment in metropolitan Atlanta

Author: Elisa Lanari (Northwestern University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on recent ethnographic research, this paper discusses how "revanchist" suburban tendencies and poor people's struggle for their "right to the suburb" intersect in the context of a large redevelopment project carried out by the newly-created municipality of Hillford, Georgia.

Long Abstract

In 2005, the affluent, historically white and conservative suburb of Hillford (a pseudonym), located about 15 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, incorporated as an autonomous municipality, ending a thirty-year struggle against majority-African American and Democrat-controlled Barfield County. In 2012, the new administration approved an ambitious plan to transform the area's main commercial corridor into a "unique, vibrant, walkable city centre." During 15 months of ethnographic research, I analysed media representations, official plans and narratives surrounding this project, seeking to understand how it served to inscribe a particular vision of the city's future onto its landscape. I also conducted interviews and participant observation among residents of different class, racial, gender, and age backgrounds, documenting how their present daily routines, housing choices, and community organizing efforts were being affected by future redevelopment plans.

While publicly advertising the future downtown district as a diverse and inclusive civic and community space, the local administration actively supported the demolition of nearby apartment complexes, favouring instead the construction of high-end mixed-use developments in the area. In my presentation, I will discuss some of the tactics that low-income Hispanic and African American families have deployed to cope with displacement, political disempowerment, and decline of affordable housing. I will then suggest that, in a context characterized by growing racial and socioeconomic diversity, the city centre project functions as both a strategy of spatial govermentality and a discursive opportunity for civic re-branding, opening up new avenues for contestation over meanings of citizenship, community, and the "urban."

Living in the continuously changing city: an actor perspective on urban planning in Recife, Brazil

Author: Martijn Koster (Radboud University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses an actor perspective on urban planning and its contributions to critical urban theory, taking account of the debates on temporality and diversity. Based on narratives of favelados in Recife, Brazil, it shows how urban planning is an intrinsic element in the lives of the poor.

Long Abstract

This paper presents an actor perspective on urban planning and discusses its contributions to current critical theory in the field of urban development, taking account of debates on temporality and diversity. It presents the life stories of residents of an underprivileged neighbourhood in Recife, Brazil, and shows how urban planning is an intrinsic element in these stories. Dealing with urban planning has become inherent in the lives of the urban poor. The viewpoint of marginalized urban actors contributes to our understanding of urban planning in three ways. First, while most analyses of urban development are temporally delineated by the time of a particular project, an actor perspective sees urban development within the timeframe of the lives of the affected urbanites. Second, this perspective emphasizes diversity, taking account of both the variety of residents and the diverse consequences of urban planning on their lives. Third, it shows how urban planning, beyond being a possible solution to a problem or a violation of people's right to the city, forms a continuous and high-impact element of the lives of the urban poor. The paper ends with a reflection on how an actor perspective engages with critical theories on urban planning, elaborating on the tensions between the creative agency of the urban poor and the relentless processes of urban planning they are faced with.

Urban planning and representations of diversity in the context of the 'refugee crisis'

Author: Maria Schiller (Max Planck Institute)  email

Short Abstract

Based on anthropological research on urban planning processes in two German cities, this paper discusses the selective involvement of immigrants and the polarized representations of migration-led diversification as part of larger processes of differentiating the right to the city.

Long Abstract

This paper presents findings from anthropological research on urban planning processes in two German cities in the context of the 'refugee crisis'. It analyses the ways in which diversity, and I am focusing here primarily on migration-induced changes of the local population, is explicitly or implicitly addressed in urban development projects. In both projects, migration-induced diversity has been perceived as a key characteristic of the neighbourhoods from the very start, and has been compounded by the allocation of large temporary asylum accommodation centres in these very neighbourhoods.

Based on participant observation in citizen involvement events and in so-called 'local partnerships', where local citizens regularly meet with the urban planners, I investigate how the right to the city is becoming differentiated in these urban development projects. I find struggles of urban planners as well as of the participating local population to negotiate diversity, as representations of diversity oscillate between idealizing diversity as profitable (connected with hopes for gentrification and a more dynamic future of the neighbourhood) and demonizing diversity as leading to ghettoization (connected with fears of the loss of value of one's property or of losing the status of the majority). I also identify the selection mechanisms for involving persons of immigrant background into urban planning projects, which also contributes to limiting the variety of represented conceptions of diversity.

Guilty of urban planning? Strategies and trajectories of first buyers, residents and the state in the Langas land dispute in Eldoret, Kenya

Author: Miriam Badoux (University of Basel)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores implications of urban planning in the neighbourhood of Langas in Eldoret, Kenya. As an original case study of how planning is used to support claims over urban space in a major land dispute, it invites us to reflect on the agency of various actors with regard to urban development.

Long Abstract

This presentation explores the implications of urban planning in the neighbourhood of Langas in Eldoret, a mid-sized town located in Western Kenya. Informed by rich and recently collected empirical data, the paper traces back the history of Langas Estate, a former agricultural farm of the 'White Highlands' which has developed into Eldoret's largest informal settlement. More specifically, it shows how past urban planning efforts - co-implemented by the government and the World Bank - have led to a major land dispute, and which role it plays therein. The parties involved, including the first buyers of the land, the state and the current residents of the area, invoke urban planning in various manners to support their claims. While the first buyers have sued the government for developing their land without their consent, urban planning is seen as a legitimation strategy by the current residents. Not only does planning allow them to claim their rights to stay on the land, but it also gives them hope to be eventually granted title deeds, thus opening new opportunities for the future.

Hence, Langas offers an original case study of how urban planning can impact a land dispute and support claims over urban space. Beyond this, my intention is to shed light on the broader implications of planning for urban governance and urbanisation, and invite the panellists and the audience to critically reflect on the agency of various actors with regard to urban development.

Traders versus the state: negotiating urban renewal in Lao Cai City, Vietnam

Author: Kirsten Endres (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores contestations over urban renewal from the perspective of small-scale traders in Lao Cai City, Vietnam. It analyzes strategies of resisting and negotiating the redevelopment of a public market in light of Vietnam’s urban geographies of power.

Long Abstract

Over the past years, the city of Lao Cai has pursued ambitious urban development plans as part of Vietnam's national campaign to "build rich, beautiful and civilized cities". The special location of Lao Cai on the Vietnam-China border and its envisaged role as a hub of trade and tourism on the Kunming-Haiphong economic corridor not only required major investments into infrastructure improvements, but also efforts to enhance the city's visual appearance vis-à-vis its powerful and prosperous neighbor, China. As part of the city's face lift, Lao Cai's largest public market was demolished in October 2014, to be replaced by a modern four-storied market building at the same location over the next two years. Although the current stall-holders generally welcome the prospect of a cleaner and more beautiful market environment with spacious vending conditions and additional storage facilities, they do not approve of the municipal government's decision to finance the construction through forced contributions from the traders. This paper analyses the contestations and negotiations surrounding the market redevelopment project and the various strategies of resisting its implementation in light of Vietnam's contemporary urban geographies of power.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.