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 Thursdays, 1pm-2:30pm in the Michael Wise Room, STC 3.14. The seminars are open to all. 

Centner UPD Seminar

Lent Term 2020

Our seminars this term will meet in weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.

23 January

Dr Marco di Nunzio (African Studies & Anthropology, University of Birmingham)
‘The act of living: Street life, marginality and development in urban Ethiopia’


Born in Addis Ababa’s inner city between the 1960s and 1970s, Haile and Ibrahim witnessed their country lifting itself from being a global symbol of famine and poverty to become the paradigmatic African success story by the mid-2010s. Amidst this transformation Haile and Ibrahim also experienced changes, not in their individual destinies, but in their relation with the fortunes of Ethiopia. Growing up during economic stagnation – the 1970s and 1980s – they had learned to recognise their poverty and marginality amidst widely shared experiences of scarcity and exclusion. But as their country prospered, and high-rise steel and glass buildings began popping up in Addis Ababa’s wealthier neighbourhoods, marginality persisted for Haile and Ibrahim’s cohort, now with a sense of being out of tune with history. Building on the book The Act of Living (Cornell University Press, 2019)this talk narrates the biographies of these two men. It follows how they grew up, entered the street economy of hustling and crime and then tried to find ways out through labour, migration, education, entrepreneurship and the city’s informal economies. By documenting how these two life trajectories intertwine with other urban lives as well as the unfolding of Ethiopia’s history, this talk explores why development continues to fail the poor, how marginality is understood and acted upon in a time of promise, and why poor people’s claims for open-endedness can constitute the grounds on which to imagine better and more just alternative futures.

6 February
Prof Donald Mitchell (Uppsala University)
'Mean streets, metastasised: Homelessness, public space & the limits of capital'


I will take as my starting point the hypothesis that we are in – or have already passed through – an ‘urban revolution’ in the sense that the hegemonic locus for the production, circulation, and accumulation of capital is now space (and particularly urban space) as opposed to the factory, as such.  Under such conditions, urban space does not so much take on new roles as but sees already existing roles – land and buildings as stores of value and means for the circulation of value – deepened and sharpened, with concomitant contradictions that define these roles deepening and sharpening as well.  To understand how, requires us particularly to understand the struggle for the production of ‘abstract space’.  A focus on abstract space will allow us to understand homelessness in new ways: not as a condition of individuals (as dominant ideology understands it), and not (merely) as a condition of houselessness (as much critical theory understands it), but a pre-condition of capital accumulation in the urban age.  In the process of making this theoretical argument I will show that the very real and increasingly harsh punitiveness of policy and policing towards the poor and homeless is not so much epiphenomenal to, as integral in, capitalism after the urban revolution. 

5 March 

Evennt cancelled
Dr Sarah Marie Hall (University of Manchester)
'Waiting for Brexit: Everyday life, temporality & participatory approachesin the shadow of Brexit negotiations'

19 March 

Dr Ammar Azzouz (City Journal, ARUP)
'Domicide: The destruction of home in Homs, Syria'

War on cities has been the focus of significant research that attempts to understand the relationship between cities and conflicts in fragile states. However, the research on the city at war has been explored mainly from the perspective of post-September 11th attacks and the implications of ‘war on terror’ and has privileged urban studies in certain regions with much less attention towards rethinking contested cities in the Arab world. In the last decade, cities in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Palestine have been radically reshaped by mass destructions of their urban fabrics, and we have witnessed the struggle to the rights to cities where public domains have turned into sites of struggle and contestation. However, despite the radical political, spatial and social change in the region, emerging scholarly work has focused heavily on cultural heritage sites in these regions but overlooked the destruction of home, domicide, and the everyday urban practices of communities who remain in these battered cities. I examine how the city has become the target of warfare and I focus on the Homs, Syria; where over 50% of neighbourhoods have been destroyed. The paper brings an ethnographic approach to the urban where narratives emerge on the loss of home and the sense of strangerness even for people who still reside in the city. In this seminar, a 15-minute film (Domicide: the destruction of home) will be screened, which is a collection of interviews with scholars who study violence and cities across different countries, including Spain, Bosnia, Poland and Syria. 


Michaelmas Term 2019

10 October

Dr Katie Meehan (King’s College, London)
‘Cities of the unplumbed: Race, income inequality and water poverty in urban America’

24 October

Prof Anna Secor (Durham)
‘The neighbour that might kill you: Difference, politics, and ethics in Turkey’

14 November

Dr Julia Corwin (LSE)
‘Analogue labour in a digital world: Repair and jugaad in India’s used electronics economy’

21 November

Dr Romit Chowdhury (Durham)
‘The social life of transport infrastructures: Masculinities and everyday mobility in Kolkata’

5 December

Dr Creighton Connolly (Lincoln)
'Planning “portopolis”: Melaka, Malaysia and the geopolitics of urban infrastructure’

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