EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Urban margins: new perspectives on the city
Location U6-28
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Ana Aceska (Humboldt University Berlin) email
  • Andrea Patricia Kaiser-Grolimund (University of Basel) email

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Discussant Barbara Heer

Short Abstract

By moving the urban peripheries to the centre of academic interest, the panel proposes the development of new anthropological perspectives on contemporary urbanity which do not only take into account urban margins, but reformulate the city from its margins.

Long Abstract

Cities have become increasingly divided. The inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods like the banlieues in Paris or Moleenbek in Brussels, and many urban dwellers and spaces in cities across the Global North and South become constructed in powerful discourses as deviations and aberrations from the city centres, which are conceived as the norm. The panel starts from the presumption that urban inhabitants living at the social, political and/or spatial margins of cities are not negligible minorities, but rather constitutive for the city and urban society as a whole. Urban anthropology has a long, important tradition of zooming into small-scale urban milieus and neighbourhoods. What is still rare, though, is the courage of anthropologists to let their cases speak to the urban in general and the city at large.

We invite papers which provide empirically grounded accounts of urban margins in cities across the globe, as well as theoretical reflections on how this shift in perspective from the centre to the urban margins may contribute to decentre hegemonic knowledge about cities and the urban. The papers may focus on agency and urban practices which produce or contest processes of exclusion and marginalisation, for example from the perspective of elderly inhabitants, women, migrants and/or refugees. We are also interested in papers that address how the urban margin-centre relation may become reconstituted by urban practices appropriating virtual spaces. We invite applicants to rethink in their papers the city from its margins, based on new, nuanced and differentiated perspectives of the urban.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Beyond marginal: “the city” as a political actor in a context of long-term ethnic conflicts

Author: Ana Aceska (Humboldt University Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

The city as such, as a specific spatial scale of human settlements, played a significant role in the big national narratives about the ethnic relations in postwar Bosnia. In this paper I focus on how policy makers constructed a powerful narrative in which “the city” is defined not as a marginal space, but rather as an important political actor in the ethnic relations in the post-war divided state.

Long Abstract

The city as such, as a specific spatial scale of human settlements, played a significant role in the big national and international narratives about the ethnic relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the period after the Yugoslav wars (1992-5). Based on interviews with policy makers and city officials, as well as ethnographic observations, this paper will give an insight on how national and international policy makers constructed a powerful narrative in which “the city” is not just a marginal player in the post-war reconstruction processes, but rather an important political actor and contributor to the ethnic relations in the post-war divided state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Indeed, since the earliest studies on cities it is commonly understood that ethnic and religious diversity is inherent to cities. The ideal city is always seen as ethnically and religiously diverse, and consequently, segregation in cities is always seen as a problem that needs to be solved. And yet, the case I will outline point to the need to understand how the city as such becomes bigger than the state and in which ways the political and ethnic fields of tension within the city relate to the big national narratives in places of long-term ethnic conflicts. I will try to answer what makes the city different from other spatial scales of human settlement, like the village, the neighborhood, or the region, in this particular context. Why planners chose cities as the most adequate spatial scale to address problems caused by ethic tensions? And most importantly, in what ways did the ethnic problems that are state-related or regionally based become just “urban”?

The city, the sea and the future: private interest and public good along the Beiruti coast

Author: Alice Stefanelli (Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Peripheries are a site of creative re-elaboration of notions of the public, based on resistance to their privatisation. Analysis of civic campaigning in Beirut shows that here new, inhabitant-centred visions of the city are being formulated in dialogue with as well as in reaction to hegemonic discourses.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the dynamic dialectic between centre and periphery in contexts of growing inequality. It does so by drawing upon evidence gathered through ethnographic fieldwork amongst a small but diverse civic coalition campaigning for the protection of Beirut's coast from privatisation.

I propose that within the context of increasingly unequal cities, peripheries may be seen as not only geographically or socially marginalised spaces. Instead, they can be understood as spaces that have not yet been subjugated by the exclusionary processes that progressively enfold previously marginalised areas through privatisation and luxurification within an overarching project of social cleansing of the city.

Analysis of the Coalition's practices and discourse suggests that peripheries under attack become symbolic as well as actual spaces where inhabitants are able to re-articulate their attachments and claims to the city in a language that contradicts and bypasses the dominant discourses based on private property and ownership rights. What emerges rather is the notion of respect for the collective public interest, particularly inhabitants' ability to enjoy a city which is hospitable and accommodates their enduring presence and livability needs. Central to their activity is a move towards the symbolic centre of the city, by pressurising public authorities to protect the urban public's interest against that of private subjects.

I contend that peripheries should not be seen exclusively as spaces of marginalisation but also as loci of public and collective re-imagination of the city at large for a range of urban actors whose permanence in the city is increasingly threatened.

Urban uncertainties: some notes on contested urbanity in Cartagena, Colombia

Author: Silke Oldenburg (University of Basel)  email

Short Abstract

Without being at the margins geographically, Cartagena’s neighbourhood Getsemani is facing social marginalization and urban change. By zooming into this contested microcosm I describe the overlapping from centre and margin and take it as laboratory for the definition of sociality in uncertain times

Long Abstract

Getsemani is a popular neighbourhood in Cartagena's city centre. Without being at the margins geographically, its population is facing social marginalization and displacement. By zooming into this contested microcosm affected by profound urban change, I describe the overlapping from centre and margin and take it as laboratory for the definition of sociality in uncertain times.

During colonial times, the neighbourhood Getsemani was the margin of the city, a place for slaves, workers and the market. Even if the spatial organization of Cartagena unfolded and left Getsemani in the city's centre, until the 1990s the barrio was still considered a place of criminality, prostitution and a decent poor population. 1984, Cartagena was recognised as a world heritage side by UNESCO, the booming tourist industry changed the social, economic and political landscape, led to intraurban displacement, gentrification and social contestation.

In my case study based on ethnographic fieldwork (July-September 2015; January-ongoing), I examine this overlapping of centres and margins that contribute to urban uncertainties not only in the neighbourhood but for the whole city as well. Shedding light on local commerce, illicit drug networks and a large tourist industry create new perspectives on local forms of sociality which at the same time allows us a glimpse into local politics and the functioning of local authority. A nuanced perspective of urbanity in a context like Getsemani provides a glimpse into imaginations of the urban and might offer a perspective of an alternative urban future.

"It's all about money": urban-rural spaces and relations in Maputo, Mozambique

Author: Inge Tvedten (Chr. Michelsen Institute)  email

Short Abstract

African urban scholarship tends to argue for the continued importance of rural spaces, values and relations. In the increasingly divided city of Maputo, Mozambique there are very diverse types of engagement with the rural primarily differentiated along class but also gender and age.

Long Abstract

Anthropological urban scholarship on Southern Africa seems to share a notion of continued, and in some cases re-emerging, importance of rural spaces, values and relations in African urban contexts. Recent studies have argued for seeing the city as (re-)ruralised in terms of its social structures and spheres of social interaction as well as its economic survival and coping strategies, engendering a new type of agrarian urbanity. In Mozambique's capital city Maputo, perceptions of - and relations with - rural spaces and values reveal a more composite picture. It is argued that associations with the rural are shaped in the interface/articulation between the city and the rural as material, cultural and discursive formations, and urban dwellers' different positions on a scale of social (dis)advantage. This has led to very diverse types of engagement with the rural among the urban population, primarily differentiated along positions of class but also gender and age. For the best-off and successful urbanites, who are able to live up to urban expectations, the rural is seen to have little to offer and is largely disregarded. For the poorest and most destitute, unable to fill urban-rural relations with material content, rural areas are effectively out of reach and unheeded. For the majority, however, the rural continues to be an important part of their cosmologies and struggles to survive - either by investing in rural relations and footholds or by pursuing urban agriculture and accompanying 'ruralised relationships'.

Istanbul through the marginal looking glass of Miniatürk

Author: Jeremy Walton (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I reflect on the ambivalent image of Istanbul curated by Miniatürk, a theme park within the city itself. I argue that the park's peripheral location within the city belies its aspiration to encompass the whole of Istanbul's built environment and history.

Long Abstract

Miniatürk, an Istanbul theme park that first opened in 2003, is a curious study in urban marginality and the aesthetics of miniaturization. The park is located in a peripheral working class neighborhood in European Istanbul that is a far remove from the splendor and bustle of the city's famous, central districts and attractions. Yet Miniatürk's aspiration to encompass the whole of Istanbul's built environment belies its marginal placement within the city. The theme park consists of 128 replicas of famous Ottoman and Turkish sites, monuments, and structures, each rendered at a scale of 1/25 of their original size. Approximately half of these replicas depict buildings and sites within Istanbul itself, including the city's most famous monuments: Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Maiden Tower. The section of the park that features Istanbul's monuments is also a synecdoche of the city, complete with an ersatz Bosporus. In this paper, I reflect on both the marginal location of Miniatürk within Istanbul and the comprehensive vision of the city that the park curates. In pursuit of my first aim, I draw inspiration from Walter Benjamin's famous meditations on urban walking to narrate an actual foot journey from one of Istanbul's centers, Taksim Square, to the marginal place of Miniatürk. Following this, I engage Claude Levi-Strauss' and Susan Stewart's reflections on miniaturization to analyze how Miniatürk expresses a new, radically decontextualized and fetishized image of the city and its history.

Addressing urban marginality and crafting cosmopolitan cities: a view from South Africa and Chile

Authors: Megan Sheehan (Lehigh University)  email
Angela Storey (University of Louisville)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the production of social and spatial marginality in cosmopolitan cities of the global south. Through ethnographic examples from Cape Town, South Africa and Santiago, Chile, we explore tensions between aspirations for global recognition and visibility of peripheral communities.

Long Abstract

This paper draws on ethnographic research conducted in Cape Town, South Africa and Santiago, Chile, to explore how processes of social and spatial marginalization overlap and juxtapose. By examining marginal communities located in urban centers and peripheries, we explore how processes of city-making prompt strategic engagements to position marginality within modern, cosmopolitan discourses.

Situated on the periphery of Cape Town, informal settlements in Khayelitsha face a range of infrastructural challenges, largely lacking sewage, water, and electricity. In the historic and geographic center of Santiago, an emerging Peruvian enclave has developed over the last twenty years. Migrants are often excluded from formal rental markets, and migrant use of public space is contested by Chileans.

This paper explores the implications of urban marginality on cities' international presence. Cape Town and Santiago both aspire to global economic, social, and cultural connections. For cities of the global south, however, persistent urban marginality and inequality challenge a city's self-presentation. This paper explores strategies through cities craft an international presence, suggesting that urban marginality remains a contested terrain. Chile positions migrants and the migrant enclave as part of regenerative multicultural resurgence in the center of the city, which Cape Town engages citizens around politicized rhetorics of individual responsibility in order to submerge political struggles for resource redistribution.

Rooting life at the edges: squatter settlements, immigrants and political subjectification on the northern border of Chile

Author: Angel Aedo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile )  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on immigrants living in squatter settlements in a border city of Chile. I argue that their experiences in the “in-between”, where urban margins and state borders are intertwined, have the potential to become pivotal instances where new forms of political subjectification are put to test.

Long Abstract

This paper starts from a paradox that people in squatter camps on the northern border of Chile made me notice during fieldwork. This is the widespread experience among immigrants living in squatter camps of feeling neither fully in nor fully out of the city. They live without basic services (water, electricity, sewage), constantly under surveillance by the police and threatened by the government institutions with the eviction from lands that they illegally occupy. Despite this situation, in their everyday practices, the diversity of lives inhabiting these zones, rather than assuming an attitude of passive submission and dependence, frequently express the force of the permanent reconstruction of self and the ambition of building a common world. The examination of these phenomena takes place through three key dimensions: event, situation and experience. In a nutshell: 1) the first one develops a genealogical approach of the irruption of squatter settlements in the border city of Arica. 2) The second one focuses on the interactions between settlers, state institutions and NGOs. Finally, 3) the third one examines how government and non-government policies - in the areas of entrepreneurship, humanitarian assistance and housing - make visible and treat a population of poor migrant settlers. Through this inquiry, I explore the ways in which internal borders produce the invisibility of precarious lives and how these zones of social abandonment can become critical turning spaces where the material existence and the forms of life of its inhabitants are played out.

Borders within: embodying frontiers in Skopje

Author: Goran Janev (Sts Cyril and Methodius University Skopje)  email

Short Abstract

Urban dwellers’ spatial practices negotiate daily the urban borders and delineation of a city center and its margins. Movement of bodies with ascribed identities across those borders challenges spatial divisions. Urban frontiers are constantly remade by trajectories of Skopje citizens.

Long Abstract

Infrastructural investment and aestheticized city centers make visible the social urban divisions. Marginalization of urban peripheries is rather a class and/or ethnic stratification effect. The social divisions that define marginalized citizens ("second", or even "third generation of migrants") are reflected in spatial organization. Movement of the urban dwellers across those borders of commercial, administrative and residential segregation shakes daily the established borders. As we move around the city we carry along our identities and lifestyle preferences, often determined/limited by our economic opportunities, and thus challenge the established urban order.

The social construction of space is not determined only by urban planners' decisions, but also by the direct users of urban space, their daily routines, habits and customs performed in the city. Unrests, and other occasional crisis situations, unwrap the existing social order by inverting the established spatial order. I will focus on the symbolic remaking of the city of Skopje and the changed patterns of movement of its citizens as well as on the movement of protesters in the last year's wave of demonstrations that swept the city. Those movements of ethnic bodies altered the established or intended urban divisions, where Macedonian nationalists claim the city center as exclusively theirs.

The mallification of a city: unraveling marginalities

Author: Carolin Loysa (Freie Universitaet Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

The worldwide emergence of shopping malls is an important and complex phenomenon. It needs to be investigated in relation to other central spaces of the city to demonstrate that the margin-center relation that urban studies still focus on needs to be rethought conceptually and theoretically.

Long Abstract

Urban margins as constitutive elements of urbanity have mostly been studied on a micro-scale level and from a subaltern perspective. Within this paper I intend to demonstrate that the idea of peripheries, hence the margin-center relation that urban studies still focus on, needs to be rethought conceptually and theoretically.

I argue that there is a complex relation between the different spatial margins in contemporary cities and that the way they are related to each other may present a new way to understand how cities and urban societies constitute and situate themselves in a global and local context. Focusing on the actors' perceptions and discourses I aspire to go beyond the question of what is the center, turning it into what are the centers, why and what for?

I mean to present a case of one of Mexico's most important cities where the emergence of malls has not only immensely changed the urban landscape, but has had an enormous impact on the urban society as a whole. To be able to understand the impact that malls can have in a Mexican context, it is important to consider the specific constitution of Mexican cites where the plaza mayor is the central public meeting point with a tradition going back to pre-colonial times. I will present empirical material collected in four emblematic spaces for urban conviviality (the plaza mayor, two malls and a so-called Towncenter) to unravel socio-spatial affiliations and negotiations that constitute the urban space.

Territorial stigmatization, social unrest and the creation of worth in a poor neighborhood of Bucharest

Author: Gergő Pulay (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

Instead of relying on simple dichotomies between the stigmatized and those who stigmatize, the paper connects the local urban scale of ethnography in Bucharest’s ’most infamous’ neighborhood to the marginalization that occurs at the level of the EU superpolity, in order to make sense of their entanglement.

Long Abstract

In states of postsocialist Eastern Europe, the search for local obstacles to the civilizing process took the shape of exposing society's 'dirty laundry' - as a public disciplinary exercise by politicians, the media, as well as by ordinary citizens - and has been conducive to the stigmatization of abject populations. The marginal and mixed Roma and non-Roma Romanian neighborhood of Bucharest that provides the field-site of this ethnographic account is known as an ultimate 'Gypsyland' (ţiganie) in town, an 'internal orient' containing the 'worthless' and 'uncivilized' of urban society. The paper advances the conceptual framework of stigmatization by connecting the urban scale of inquiry to the marginalization that occurs at the level of the EU superpolity. In this context, poor neighborhoods can obtain highly central positions not only as regular suppliers of 'hot issues' in the public sphere, but also because of the metonymic power by which they allude to the overall plight of the city and the nation at the European periphery. The paper focuses on the links between marginality, the popular politics of social unrest and the livelihood strategies with which inhabitants strive to create material and non-material value in their uncertain environments. The ethnographic argument departs from instances when local Gypsy traders found themselves in clashes with the police or the private security guards in the neighborhood as local traders of scrap-metal, and around Bucharest's open-air markets as street vendors, so as to explicate the forms and meanings of their self-defense against the state and institutional violence.

Urban margins as spaces of potentiality: lessons from a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank

Author: Dorota Woroniecka-Krzyzanowska (University of Lodz)  email

Short Abstract

Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in a West Bank refugee camp, the paper analyzes urban practices through which camp residents struggled to resist dispossession, inferiority and uncertainty of their protracted exile.

Long Abstract

Designed to provide temporary shelter to the displaced, in protracted refugee situations the camps become places of long-term residency and undergo processes of urban change. To understand the socio-spatial complexities of a protracted camp, it is necessary to escape the dichotomy between the city as a norm vs. the camp as an exception that underpins dominant theoretical models derived from the works of Giorgio Agamben. Instead of approaching the camp as a doomed to fail urbanization project, we should look at it as a space of potentiality where new forms of political engagement and spatial politics may develop. Contrary to popular imagination and much of the existing literature that tend to portray refugees as disempowered victims, the protracted camps have often become sites of symbolic and political struggles against marginalization and injustice. Such has been the case of Al-Am'ari, a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, the paper analyzes urban practices through which the residents have resisted the dispossession, inferiority and uncertainty of their protracted exile. Located on the margins of Ramallah, a Palestinian city known for its neoliberal aspirations and modern outlook, the camp remained a site of political and symbolic mobilization for revolution and change. Through a case study of the main local organization, the paper explores how the camp negotiates its position within the urban surroundings and national politics.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.