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Accepted Paper:

Lives suspended in rapid change: on the role of emptiness in urban informality  
Julia Wedel (Oxford Brookes University)

Paper short abstract:

By exploring the notion of emptiness in discourses on urban informality, the paper analyses the possibilities and limitations of individual and collective agency in the pro-active construction of urban space and illustrates these proposals with data from an ethnographic study in Lima, Peru.

Paper long abstract:

In contexts of rapid urbanisation and informality, the struggle for space tends to obliterate the notion of emptiness. This paper engages with imaginations and memories of emptiness as analytical lenses to explore divergences between material advancements in livelihood construction and persistent land tenure insecurity in such contexts.

Drawing on a wider ethnographic study on resilience to water scarcity in an informal settlement in Lima, Peru, imaginations and memories of emptiness are explored to understand how, 12 years on from the occupation of an empty mountainside, residents' lives have become suspended within multiple and nested processes of rapid change.

The discord between residents' exhaustive investment into livelihood construction and continued absence of title deeds is charted along residents' memories of the empty landscape at the point of occupation; imaginations of the lives they hoped to create from this; and set against their lived experiences of struggles over now-scarce space.

As efforts to obtain land tenure are persistently thwarted by political obstructionism, yet communities continue to exhaust mental and material resources in pursuit of this goal, memories and imaginations of emptiness serve to unravel how processes of normalization and the interaction of multiple forms of scarcity have converged to obstruct feasible pathways towards the goal of titling provision.

As the empty fringes of rapidly urbanising areas continue to transform into highly contested urban spaces, the paper concludes by reflecting on the effects of being 'suspended in rapid change' on communities' sense of place and self.

Panel Pol02
Shaking the city from the bottom-up. Ideologies and practices in the making of a pro-active urbanity
  Session 1 Wednesday 17 April, 2019, -