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For further information please contact Dr Laura Bear (L.Bear@lse.ac.uk|) or Stephan Feuchtwang (S.Feuchtwang@lse.ac.uk|), network directors.


For access to papers presented please contact Dr Bear using email above.

Uncertain Futures: Planning, Temporality and Globalisation

Conflicts in Time: Rethinking 'Contemporary' Globalisation seminar series

Edinburgh University, March 2009

Planning at central and local government level has always involved the management, representation and remaking of urban temporal rhythms. Yet for the past 15 years as practices of public-private partnership, participatory planning and reduction in funding of state institutions have become globally widespread the mediating role of these institutions has altered. Competing futures are produced by a wide range of political, community and corporate organizations and the technologies of planning have moved outside of state institutions and their forms of projecting the future. Urban cityscapes and everyday temporal rhythms are the product of the compromises between these projected futures. A sense of uncertainty about the planned future has also entered everyday life as citizens, community groups, politicians, businesses and civic bodies attempt to divine the outcome of long-delayed negotiations and unpredictable cycles of capital accumulation. In the meantime the temporal rhythms of political, economic and social reproduction continue in the gap between divergent plans and their realization. This workshop will bring together social geographers and anthropologists working in a wide range of global settings (India, UK, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, China, Norway) to analyse the new experiences , representations, forms of management of and conflicts over the future that are emerging in this context of uncertainty and decentralization.

As a way of provoking conversations across global contexts, I would like to offer a small recent vignette of this process from West Bengal (see photos). On the day the global firm Tata announced that it would be abandoning its alliance with the West Bengal government to produce the world’s cheapest car from Singur and instead would be relocating to Gujarat there was a steady flow of the citizens of Kolkata through a Durga puja pandal that reproduced in perfect detail the decaying factories of Howrah and the proposed plant at Singur tied up with a enormous lock and chain. As people moved from the spectacle of a past and present of decay and a disappeared future they entered the centre of the pandal where the eternal annual return of the goddess Durga (who is understood as a loved daughter returning from her marital home) was being celebrated with drumming and offerings of fire. The excitement for the crowd was the making explicit in a material microcosm of the rhythms of global capital, sacred time, personal reminiscences, kinship idioms, political temporality and symbols of the past and planned future. Not all representations of temporality are as compelling as this one, but all negotiations between planning institutions, citizens and other interest groups involve equivalent concretised representations of various temporal rhythms. In addition not all places make explicit such a variety of temporalities, but all spaces jostle with their multiple and sometimes competing rhythms of realisation . This workshop will examine this trading in representations of time and the multiple temporalities of urban spaces as they are activated in negotiations between urban planners, bureaucrats, politicians, communities, businesses and citizens.

The example of this pandal is suggestive for the workshop themes too, because of the moment of stalled hope and suspended future that it expresses. Although schemes have, of course, never been realized as intended current global forms of planning often share two central features. Firstly that the planning process is decentralized so that no single institution or group has ultimate control of the future and there is a constant “negotiation of value and unmapping of space” (A.Roy et al ). This leads in turn to an acute uncertainty and speculative sense of the future. Politics ,capital flows and the built environment emerge from the arenas of unequal negotiation that are created within this temporal uncertainty. Secondly that the future is made more dependent on the rhythms of global capital investment, which make its realization contingent on factors outside the control of political or bureaucratic institutions. Current planning is therefore often characterized as multiple unfolding uncertainties and a series of unrealized schemes. This workshop will address the effects at the level of experience and on the built environment of this decentralized, informalised and speculative process of planning the future. It will also trace the effects of this uncertainty on other more intimate practices associated with community, kinship and emotion. Importantly it will look at these issues in the lives of bureaucrats, politicians, urban citizens and corporate employees as they encounter each other in the planning process. We will not assume that any of these groups hold a single sense of temporality, but instead will investigate how they all incorporate temporal uncertainties and various temporal registers in their negotiations. The current uncertainty and decentralized negotiation associated with neo-liberal planning in fact make it even more likely that various temporal registers will be brought into play explicitly and implicitly in relation to schemes for the future.

In the workshop we will address the following key themes through pre-circulated papers. Any further suggestions for themes or alterations to these will be very welcome:

  • Delayed Futures: How do life, politics and economy happen in the moment of the suspended or never to be realized plan? What does the delayed return of political or state visions do to peoples understanding of what governance is or should be? What sort of temporary, improvised urban architectural and infrastructural environments emerge while waiting for the plan?
  • Decentralised Futures: What divergent and convergent forms of temporal representation meet in the process of participatory planning or within public-private partnerships? How do the divergent promises of multiple competing urban futures affect the strategies of politicians, citizens and corporations? How do popular representations of the future mediate between the temporal frames of governance, religion, capital and politics? What kind of temporal urban landscape emerges when fragments of various plans or compromises between them are implemented?
  • Uncertain Futures: How do individuals, families and communities organize and strategise the temporalities of social reproduction in an urban environment of uncertainty about the outcome of planning processes? How does capital accumulation occur in this context of instability and how does this affect labour practices and private investment in infrastructure? How do urban citizens, bureaucrats, families and communities attempt to divine the future?
  • Accidental Planning and Violence: What is the place of the accident or event in the fraught process of the negotiation of delayed or unrealized plans? How do accidents, fires and natural disasters become a way of advancing stalled futures? How are these events that apparently come from outside the normal temporal rhythms of social reproduction interpreted by citizens, politicians and bureaucrats in relation to the temporal realization of plans?
  • Secure Futures: To what extent do corporate and bureaucratic practices that attempt to make invisible the chaos of an uncontrollable global future by translating this into a language of risks and opportunities enter everyday life? How do urban citizens and communities represent the future or attempt to make it material for themselves?

Laura Bear, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics.

Economic and Social Research Council