Urbanisation, Planning and Development

Seminar Series

These research seminars are a series of expert-led discussions. Unless otherwise noted, they take place at LSE on Tuesdays, 4:30pm-6pm in Clement House, room CLM 3.04. The seminars are open to all.


Centner UPD Seminar

Michaelmas Term 2019

Tuesday 9 October
Dr Malini Ranganathan (American University) 
“Unauthorised urbanism: Liberal property-making and the coloniality of rule”

Why does a city known for its technology-led modernism, its cosmopolitan ethos, and its governance “best practices” continue to be rife with illicit real estate and an uneven political ecology of water and flooding? Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in Bangalore, India, this talk argues that this paradox is rooted in liberal and colonial projects of property-making and the cultivation of proper legal subjects. Well-serviced, formal residential settlement was carved up largely for the economic and cultural elite, a category that shifted according to state priorities from the colonial to neoliberal periods. For the lower middle class and poor, unauthorized urbanism took root as the operating logic that enabled residential settlement. Through this logic, various state forms produce and penalize “unauthorized” urban development in the interest of capitalist accumulation. Today, this logic of unauthorized urbanism is increasingly catering to the global elite at the expense of the lower classes and castes in what can be understood as a new phase of coloniality. The talk discusses emergent activism that entangles anti-corruption with anti-land grabbing, anti-caste, and ecological concerns. It ends by reflecting more broadly on how globally-indexed state restructuring articulates with historical arrangements of class, property, and difference.

Tuesday 16 October 
Dr Megan Ryburn (LSE Latin America & Caribbean Centre)
“Dancing citizenship across borders: Bolivian migrants performing tinkus in Santiago, Chile”

Expression through cultural and artistic displays can be an important political outlet for migrants for whom there may be barriers to other political engagement, yet this has been under-acknowledged in work on migrants’ political participation. Drawing on ethnographic research with a Bolivian migrant dance fraternity in Santiago, Chile I reveal how performing Bolivian carnival dances in public spaces in Chile can be read as a transnational citizenship practice within the realm of the political. While many migrants in this research were excluded from political citizenship in the sense in which it is often understood, dancing in public spaces, accompanied by the cry “¿De dónde somos? ¡De Bolivia!”(“Where’re we from? From Bolivia!”), allowed them a means of making claims to greater recognition and inclusion across borders. This talk forms part of a wider project that explores the everyday citizenship practices of Bolivian migrants to Chile, and develops the idea of uncertain citizenship. As I explain, the use of dance that is discussed in the talk is indicative of the germ of possibility contained within the notion of uncertainty.

Tuesday 23 October
Laura Antona (LSE) 
“Being foreign, domestic and worker in Singapore: Understanding the structural violence of the state through its presence and absence”

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore, this paper will highlight the ways in which domestic workers are rendered dependent, deportable, deviant and defiant. Having spent just under a year in a shelter for domestic workers who were no longer willing/able to work for, or reside with, their employers, I will reflect on the ways in which the state, as decision-maker and arbitrator, mobilises its powers of presence-absence and visibility-invisibility when there is a breakdown in the relationship between an employer (as sponsor) and employee. 

Tuesday 30 October
Dr Sam Halvorsen (Queen Mary University, London)
"The Geography of Political Parties: territory and organisational strategies in Buenos Aires"

Abstract: There have been relatively few attempts to understand how and why geography matters to the growth, organisation and success of parties compared to the immense geographical literature on electoral campaigns and voting preferences. Based on qualitative research of a new political party in the City of Buenos Aires (2007-2018), the paper proposes a territorial analysis of party organisational strategies and in so doing demonstrates the scope for invigorating a research agenda on the geography of political parties. Taking forward existing literature on grassroots party organisation, the paper proposes five dimensions for understanding the relationship between grassroots territorial organising and party strategy, which are then analysed through the case study. First, territorial organisation facilities new party-building by accumulating resources, especially activists. Second, territorial organising promotes electoral success by visibly demonstrating a party’s strength and/or capacity for local governance. Third, once in power a well-developed territorial organisation provides a linkage with civil society and a means of mobilising support for government. Fourth, territory provides a strategic focus for parties in opposition, resisting government policy while also building alliances with social movements. A fifth dimension, territory as a clientelist strategy, is mentioned due to its prevalence in the literature but not included in the analysis due to its non-existence in the case study. The conclusion reflects on dilemmas of party organisation strategies and highlights the key role of a geographical analysis.

Tuesday 13 November
Dr Deepak Lamba-Nieves (University of Puerto Rico & Centro para una Nueva Economía)
“Promising austerity & disciplining disaster: Post-hurricane Puerto Rico, US interventionism, and a perfect storm for experimentation”

Tuesday 20 November
Dr Ruth Craggs (Kings College, London)
“Decolonisation, national development and geography in Nigeria”

This paper, part of a wider project exploring the entanglements of the discipline of geography with decolonisation, focuses on a two key preoccupations of the decolonising era: post-colonial national development and the Cold War. It explores how the discipline of geography was taken up and utilised in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in newly independent countries grappling with their post-colonial national and regional development, and how this trend was also influenced by Cold War geopolitics. The paper takes as a case study Nigerian geography, and in particular that practised by Akin Mabogunje – the first Nigerian professor of geography – and his colleagues at the University of Ibadan (the first Nigerian university). It argues that geography’s quantitative turn fed into broader debates about national development in the post-colonial state, highlighting how intellectual and theoretical developments in the discipline manifested themselves – and were also practiced – differently in locations outside of Anglo-American contexts. Alongside teaching and publishing, Nigerian geographers carried out applied geography, working on census and land reforms, and with the Federal Government on the location and development of the country’s new capital Abuja. Geographers were thus central to the practice of urban and regional planning, which itself was an important part of the project of post-colonial ‘national development’. Debates about the decolonisation of geography, its ‘real world’ applications, and its quantification, we suggest, look different when viewed from Nigeria

Tuesday 27 November
Dr Caleb Johnston (University of Newcastle)
"Unsettling scripts of disposability in Manila" 

Lent Term 2019

Tuesday 15 January
Dr Jamie Doucette (University of Manchester)
“The postdevelopmental state: A Gramscian interpretation”

Tuesday 22 January
Dr Tatiana Thieme (University College London) 
"When the day hustle goes down, the night hustle goes up’: Temporalities of the hustle economy in Mathare, Nairobi”

Based on ethnographic research in one of Nairobi’s oldest and largest informal settlements, this paper mobilises the notion of ‘hustle’ to ground the narratives of struggle, opportunity and place-making expressed by youth whose livelihood strategies have centred in part around informal waste labour. As everyday lives are mired by constant uncertainty, youth occupy a ‘precarious present’ (Millar 2018) caught in a state of suspension d but also versed in adapting to adversity and shaping local politics of provisioning in the absence of formal structures of support. The paper focuses on a set of ethnographic portraits and particular ‘bases’ in Mathare Valley, examining the non-linear and unpredictable vicissitudes of hustling as a survival, livelihood and political strategy to get by and get things done. The set of skills and knowledges that navigate ebbs and flows of makeshift urbanism include negotiating opportunity and set-back, hope and disappointment, waithood and rapid adjustments to emergencies, making work and loitering on the jobless corner. Finally, the paper examines the temporalities of the home-grown hustle economy of Mathare, as the younger youth seek to ‘redraw the maps’ of local informal economies such as garbage collection and older youth start getting involved in local politics alongside their multiple side hustles.

Tuesday 29 January
Dr James Ash (University of Newcastle) 
Phase space: a geography of smart objects”

This paper theorises how smart objects, understood as internet-connected and sensor-enabled devices, generates phases. Phases can be defined as spaces-times that are disclosed through the perturbations between smart objects, which work to modulate the spatio-temporal intelligibility of both humans and non-humans. Examining a range of objects and services from the Apple Watch to Nest Cam I suggest that the modulation of spatio-temporal intelligibility is actively designed to increase the use of, and reliance upon, these devices and alter how people experience and use space.

Tuesday 5 February
Dr Andrea Gibbons (University of Salford and LSE Geography and Environment PhD alumna) 
"The War against the Homeless and the Poor: The Racial Cleansing of LA’s Skid Row"

Book launch, City of Segregation: 100 Years of Struggle for Housing in Los Angeles (Verso Books)

This is the story of the struggle over space in central Los Angeles, where a fierce and fairly successful campaign to preserve the right to the city and its streets for all has driven business interests to carry out increasingly extreme campaigns to cleanse the poor and people of colour from the city centre. This presentation looks at the wider US context of housing, establishing how racial ideologies have been embedded into property value, and how this dynamic is part of what is driving the efforts to racially and socially cleanse the downtown area. It examines the use of Business Improvement Districts to privatise and secure downtown’s public spaces, efforts conducted in partnership with the city and district attorneys to criminalise and incarcerate residents over issues of quality of life and addiction, and partnership with the LA County Health Department in an attempt to use public health and hygiene interventions to displace those without homes. These efforts only highlight the power of the vibrant grassroots struggle in coalition against displacement, and how they have worked to build the existing community’s own vision of downtown’s transformation through art, rooftop gardens, and work to end violence. 

Tuesday 12 February
Dr Nathaniel Lewis (University of Southampton)

Tuesday 26 February
Dr Mara Nogueira-Teixeira

Tuesday 5 March
Carwyn Morris (LSE)

Tuesday 12 March
Dr Yael Navaro (University of Cambridge)

This series is organised by Dr Ryan Centner. Contact r.o.centner@lse.ac.uk with any questions.