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

Lent Term 2019

Tuesday 15 January 
Jamie Doucette (University of Manchester)
"The Postdevelopmental State: A Gramscian Interpretation"

The theory of the developmental state has long animated inquiry into East Asian development and continues to shape debates about alternatives to neoliberalism and austerity to this day.  And yet, the economies that once shared this label have been substantially transformed in the decades since the idea was first introduced. Moreover, geographers and other social scientists have provided a detailed critique of its understanding of the social, political and spatial determinants of East Asia’s rapid economic development. The presentation builds upon this work in order to advocate for reframing of the developmental state research program that moves its methodological foundations from Weber to Gramsci in order to better highlight the dilemmas raised by developmental state reform in South Korea. The postdevelopmental state is seen here not as an ideal type of state-society relation that valorizes forms of planning and rationality adjusted to the standpoint of the state or the market, but rather as a set of strategic challenges that are best grasped from the standpoints of a wide variety of progressive social forces that have sought to address the intersecting legacies of developmentalism and neoliberalism on the Korean peninsula. In this presentation, I focus on the nature of the economic imaginaries that have shaped domestic debates over economic democracy – and by extension the role of Korea’s large family-led conglomerates (chaebol) in the economy – as well as frustrations with fledging efforts to create a ‘labour respecting society’ through social partnership and income-led growth under the current Moon Jae-in Administration.  

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 Ryan Centner (LSE)
"Bricks, mortar & clashing power geometries: The transformation of centrality in Caracas"

This presentation examines the vicissitudes of creating a 'new power geometry' in the urban environment through physical and social interventions in the centre of Caracas, Venezuela, where the state elevated Doreen Massey’s axiomatic geographical concept into its revolutionary ('Bolivarian') program in the late 2000s. Although not formulated for direct practical application, Massey’s notion was embraced by the Bolivarian government in order to enact measures and promote popular initiatives that aimed to replace inherited structures of deep inequality in Venezuelan society. Focusing on the urban scale, the talk draws on fieldwork in the capital that surveyed several Bolivarian projects of place-making to show how power geometry was invoked as part of a new urban planning agenda intended to be both radical and 'popular' (or 'of the people', in Spanish). This has not been, however, a straightforward utopian project; it is tied up with competing interests and must contend with the Caraqueño landscape constructed under earlier regimes with priorities and economic scenarios that were vastly different. By using case studies in central Caracas (new social housing as part of Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela, and monumental public spaces along the axis of relative socioeconomic privilege running from the historic centre eastward through Sabana Grande), I highlight the intractable ways in which bricks and mortar are caught up in clashing power geometries, creating environments that transform centrality but call into question the limits of revolutionising the city – a project that has been prominent in numerous, politically dissimilar Latin American cases.

Tuesday 26 February
Dr Mara Nogueira
"The right to work in the city: struggles in the popular economy of Belo Horizonte, Brazil"

The paper aims to investigate the relations between work and urban space, focusing on the popular economy in the central area of Belo Horizonte/Brazil. It explores the case of a squatted building in the city centre (Ocupação Vicentão) occupied by local social movements for housing and street vendors in conflict with the local government. Drawing from the work of the Argentinian scholar, José Luis Coraggio, I use the concept of “popular economy” to discuss the connections between work and housing; between the economy, social reproduction and rights to urban space.

Tuesday 5 March
Carwyn Morris (LSE)
"The multiple spatialities of control and resistance in Beijing: How the low-end population do and do not stay still"

This presentation, based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing, China, looks at the events that took place in Beijing in 2017, a year punctuated by the bricking up of alleyways in central Beijing, the forced demolition of migrant foodscapes in the north of Beijing and a deadly fire in Daxing District in the south of Beijing that resulted in tens of thousands of people being evicted from their homes in all corners of Beijing. Using an approach that takes seriously the territories, places, places, networks and mobilities of those impacted by these government controls, the presentation examines the multiple-spatialities of government control and mundane resistance, with the former attempting to bring to an end migrant stillness within the city and the latter central to achieving that stillness. The modes of control used to end stillness are considered through their spatiality, particularly how the built environment becomes a medium through which the body is indirectly controlled by the state in an attempt to fulfil clearly stated policy aims. Stillness here is dynamic, with a number of multi-spatial strategies being employed to stay still in Beijing. This results in a stillness that may often look like mobility, and a stillness in Beijing that may look like leaving Beijing.

Tuesday 19 March
Carl Truedsson (LSE)
"Who belongs in Social Democracy? Xeno-cultural resentment and hegemonic whiteness in Norrköping, Sweden"

The 2015 migrant ‘crisis’ highlighted a new socio-cultural cleavage in Swedish politics, reflected in the meteoric rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats party, challenging the dominance of the Social Democratic Party among traditional blue-collar voters. In this presentation, I draw on findings from my fieldwork in Norrköping, Sweden to explore some of the key tensions facing the Social Democrats. 

Since the late-1990s, Norrköping has undergone a visible transformation from a stagnating post-industrial city towards a more ‘optimistic’ service/knowledge economy. Not able to entirely cast off its historic legacy, however, Norrköping still faces comparatively low-educational levels and high-unemployment. In addition, the changing experience of a growing presence of non-European migrants and the perception that the Social Democrats no longer advance a beneficial materialism, has heightened ‘xeno-cultural anxieties’ and seen a surge of support for the Sweden Democrats. This dynamic has not entirely been lost on the Social Democrats, hence why the party (ahead of the 2018 general election) increasingly articulated a distinctively harder tone towards immigration/integration than before.

Simultaneously, however, the Social Democrats have sought to retain the vote of ethnic minorities. Drawing from interviews with Somali-Swedes and critical race theory, I argue that the party’s allegedly ‘new’ hardened position towards immigration traces a much longer and complex history that deeply implicates the Swedish labour movement in the construction of an exclusionary hegemonic whiteness. These tensions, I argue, complicate the image of Sweden as a bastion of equality and progressiveness and what role the Social Democratic Party believes it can and should play in a demographically changing Sweden.  


Michaelmas Term 2018

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”

In this talk, I critically analyze the term “resilience” through the lens of planning and related literatures, as a point of departure for a more detailed examination of the intersections between colonial experimentation and post-disaster recovery, in the wake of Hurricane María's extensive and intensive damage to Puerto Rico in September 2017. I also explore how the US congressional imposition of a fiscal control board—to deal with an unsustainable public debt burden—and the extension of US federal programs for post-hurricane reconstruction are part of a long experimental tradition that finds its roots in a distinct planning mentality. Furthermore, I explain how the twin forces of austerity and reconstruction are creating another destructive storm in one of the world’s oldest remaining colonies.  

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" 

This talk considers the adaptation and performance of a documentary play in Bagong Barrio, a large migrant-sending community in Metropolitan Manila. The process of resituating the project from Canada to the Philippines sets the stage for a critical reflection on the conditions producing chronically precarious, ‘disposable’ lives; the conditions that are fuelling overseas migration from the Philippines. Finally, I unsettle scriptings of Filipino migrants’ disposability and look for what often falls away in our research and analysis, for ways of living that are both subsumed and excessive to the machinations of global capital.  

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