Urbanisation, Planning and Development

Seminar Series

These research seminars are a series of expert-led discussions. Unless otherwise noted, they take place on Thursdays, 1pm-2:30pm online via Zoom. The seminars are open to all. 

Centner UPD Seminar

Lent Term 2021

21 January

Dr Eray Çaylı (LSE)
‘Urban political ecologies of emergency in Turkey’s Kurdistan: Notes from a neighbourhood on the banks of the Upper Tigris’

This talk grapples with urban political ecologies of emergency in late-2010s Turkey with a focus on its largest predominantly Kurdish-inhabited city, Amed (also known as Diyarbakır, in Turkish). A growing body of critique in geography and kindred disciplines shows how emergency increasingly figures in state techno-politics as a normalised condition to inhabit rather than simply as an abnormality to prevent. Some focus this critique on neoliberalism as a project that instrumentalises violence and disasters (or the risk thereof) for transforming the earth in a speculative-developmentalist, rentierist, and extractivist manner and producing docile (i.e., indebted and/or entrepreneurial) citizens in the process (included here are critics who emphasise the project’s imperfection and thus openness to subversion through citizens’ initiatives and political work).

Others, however, emphasise the racialised motivations and effects at work in what neoliberalism-focused critics tend to homogenise. Such emphases more specifically situate racialisation within the mutually entangled — and, in many cases, ongoing — histories of colonialism and nation-state building. In this vein, indigenous and/or local knowledges and practices are conceptualised as potent and persistent challenges against statecraft’s claims to scientific universalism and developmentalist standardisation.  

In conversation with these critical literatures, this talk presents ethnographic fragments from a neighbourhood located on the banks of the uppermost stretch of the Tigris River, where emergency has recently loomed large in numerous respects (e.g., both as the basis of a legal regime and as the result of a disaster). As many of the neighbourhood’s residents and their allies have responded to emergency by insisting on holding statecraft answerable to its own claims rather than simply repudiating them, I explore what critical imaginaries and practices relevant to the politics of ecology might be informed by this insistence.

4 February 

Dr Lewis Asante (Kumasi Technical University)
‘Politically induced displacement in Ghana: How clientelist politics shape African urban regeneration’

Several scholars have argued that existing North-centric theories are insufficient to explain the dynamics of urban (re)development in an African context. Through new concepts such as ‘hybrid gentrification’, ‘accumulation by urban dispossession’, ‘urban governance as decentralisation, entrepreneurialism and democratisation’ and ‘bold encroachment’, these scholars have demonstrated how African cases can inform new theorisations of urban development and governance. This paper builds on the discourse of Southern urbanism by introducing the concept of politically-induced displacement (PID) as a new theoretical construct for analysing displacement processes during regeneration of urban infrastructure in Africa. PID is a process whereby state-led transformation of dilapidated urban infrastructure is accompanied by the dispossession of supporters of opposition political parties in favour of individuals who are affiliated with ruling political parties. PID not only dwells on the theoretical framing of state-led displacement and clientelist politics but conceptualises both as nuanced characteristics of urban regeneration in Africa.

Through an empirical case of the regeneration of the municipal market infrastructure in Cape Coast, Ghana, the paper argues that PID is characterised by five features: the displacement process is based on political conviction and party membership; it strongly depends on urban regeneration; it occurs on a grand scale; it provokes a radical and sophisticated practices of resistance; and it is a colonial legacy of the political system. The task that lies ahead of us is to depoliticise urgently the apparatus and processes of governance of urban infrastructure in Africa.

18 February 

Dr Kate Dawson (LSE)
'Wulomei and waterscapes: Situating plastic pollution in Accra’s Anthropocene'

This presentation thinks with a significant sign in the Anthropocene – that of plastic.  Seen as a ‘technofossil’ and a fossil of the future, plastic pollution is examined in the context of Ghana’s capital city of Accra, and more specifically, the city’s waterscapes – or the sea and lagoons that feature prominently in the history and sacred geographies of the city’s longest residing inhabitants, the Ga. 

Drawing on interview data with traditional Ga Priests (Wulomei), the presentation considers the ways in which urban settings, plastic materialities and sacred waterscapes come together in both material and discursive formation, highlighting how existing knowledge forms engage and contest the material processes of the Anthropocene.  

4 March

Dr Sin Yee Koh (Monash University Malaysia)
‘The interurban migration industry: “Migration products” and the materialisation of urban speculation at Iskandar Malaysia’

Iskandar Malaysia is an urban conurbation and development region located at the Malaysia-Singapore border. State-led development of this regional economic corridor has attracted inflows of foreign investments and spurred the rise of mid- to high-end urban developments by foreign developers. This has resulted in the emergence of an interurban migration industry consisting of intermediary entities that are co-developing and co-marketing ‘migration products’ (real estate, education, and lifestyle migration) as an integrated package to middle-class, aspiring transnational investor/lifestyle migrants from the region.

This paper argues that this middleman industry is crucial to the materialisation of urban speculation, for state actors and investor/lifestyle migrants alike. Through interurban alliances that capitalise on the broader state-led speculative urbanism landscape, the industry co-creates an imagined urban future that is grounded in transnational lifestyle mobilities. This paper highlights the need to analyse speculative urbanism and transnational investment/lifestyle migration as intertwined processes. 

18 March

Dr Deen Sharif Sharp (LSE) and Dr Salem Al Qudwa (Harvard University)
‘Open Gaza: Architectures of hope’

This seminar celebrates the launch of a new book -- Open Gaza (American University of Cairo Press, 2021). Spatially speaking, the Gaza Strip is a hyper-dense string of Palestinian cities and refugee camps whose geographic smallness belies its global import. Implicating an international web of geopolitical interests (most saliently those of Israel, which effectively encircles it), it is also the subject of this new volume from Urban Research, the imprint of urban think tank Terreform, founded by the late architect and critic Michael Sorkin, who died in 2020. (One of Sorkin’s last works, the book is dedicated to him.) 

Co-edited by Sorkin and Deen Sharp, the contributions collated in the book range from architectural accounts of uniquely Gazan typologies to speculative visions of future development trajectories in the beleaguered territory. Gaza’s resilience in the face of abject desperation has long inspired the international community, making it a highly salient crucible in discussions of spatial justice, occasionally to the point of abstraction. Privileging 'substantive change', Sharp and Sorkin suggest any 'imaginative pitch' for Gaza must prioritise the recovery of its people’s agency and humanity. Oscillating between the poetic and the academic, the historical and the current, Open Gaza promises to be more than just another installment of armchair solutionism for the oft-discussed but rarely aided Strip.


Michaelmas Term 2020

1 October

Dr Ammar Azzouz (University of Oxford & Arup)
‘Re-imagining Syria: Destructive reconstruction and the exclusive rebuilding of cities’

Debates on Syria’s reconstruction have already started to emerge, often concomitant with new waves of violence, re-destruction and social exclusion. These debates are shaped by the elite and the powerful and sometimes by local architects, but in most cases their visions and projects fail to engage with ordinary Syrians, neglecting their struggle, suffering, aspirations and hopes for the future of Syria. Given this neglect, this paper brings the voices of Syrians to the debate on reconstruction and destruction of Syria in an attempt to link them to the fortunes of new architecture, and more broadly, the New Syria. The paper builds on a series of interviews with Syrians inside and outside Syria and emphasises on the importance of drawing on the voices of Syrians now, before major reconstruction has begun. With the lack of adequate voices of citizens, it is crucial to engage with Syrian communities to give them the right to be heard regarding their towns and cities at the time of imagining and re-imagining Syria and its future reconstruction.

The paper shows how reconstruction could be destructive and exclusive, and how it could be used as a tool of punishment and violence. It provides insights and perspectives for intellectuals, policymakers, architects and activists interested in exploring alternatives to reconstruing forms of Syria without being narrowed to the formulation of ‘heritage’. 

15 October

Dr Sarah Marie Hall (University of Manchester)
‘Waiting for Brexit: Everyday life, temporality and participatory approaches in the shadow of Brexit negotiations'

UK geopolitics for the last five years have been heavily dominated by Brexit. The lead up to the referendum, the result, negotiations, intervening general election, extensions, further negotiations, and impending exit from the European Union have captured both academic and public interest. This paper contributes to geographical and wider social science research on the everyday geographies of Brexit, with a particular focus on the temporal politics of waiting. Emerging analyses focus on Brexit as an event, as uncertainty and a discrete period for and of research on public moods. I illustrate how exploring Brexit through the lens of waiting provides new ways of thinking through the time-spaces of Brexit. Drawing on data collected during an ethnographic participatory project in Gorse Hill, Greater Manchester, in 2018-2020, findings make the case for waiting as crisis, as conjuncture and as method. More specifically, analysis of group discussions, community-led research projects, podcast recordings, vox pops and ethnographic fieldnotes highlights the embodied, everyday, endured experience of waiting for Brexit. The paper closes with a discussion of the pace and timeliness of research, and the implications of waiting for, in and with Brexit and other forms of socio-political change. 

Watch the recording here
Passcode: MBU2*m0w 

29 October

Dr Jessica Hope (University of St Andrews)
‘The limits to thinking sustainably: Approaching sustainable development through its socio-material geographies’

As climate change accelerates to become the “defining development issue of the twenty first century” (Taylor 2018:351), so too does the need for a response. Since 2015, sustainable development has fronted the United Nation’s Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), linking states, multilateral development banks and institutions, NGOs, civil society organisations and, increasingly, the private sector with a US$90 billion “plan of action for people and planet” (UN 2015). As sustainable development is being remade by Agenda 2030 and reconstituted through global development infrastructure, I argue for a move away from discursive readings of sustainable development (Becker et al., 1999: Redclift 2005: Swygedouw 2010) and rather for an analytical approach rooted in its new socio-material geographies.  

In this paper, I extend geographical treatments of infrastructure with political ecology to examine new road infrastructure in the Amazon, building on an assemblage reading of sustainable development (Hope 2020) to argue that doing more work on the socio-environment worlds, knowledges, and politics co-constituted with new infrastructures would take us further in our critique and analysis of sustainable development – revealing hard infrastructure as a crucial and determining component of sustainable development’s wider socio-technical-environmental assemblage, as well as how emergent socio-material geographies inform, frame and enable various socio-environmental behaviours, knowledges, politics and futures. 

12 November

Dr Niranjana Ramesh (LSE)
'Vernacular natures: Ecological politics along the urban shoreline'

Environmental politics in India today is frequently slotted within a spectrum ranging from ‘new traditionalism’ to ‘bourgeois environmentalism’; the former a romanticisation of pre-colonial or rural harmony between nature and society, and the latter an impulse to rid cities of what may be considered dirty or polluting from a middle class aesthetic of urban nature. It is in this context that this paper situates its account of an emerging vernacular politics of nature in the city of Chennai on the south eastern coast of India. It is vernacular because it isn’t attached to a particular grammar of ecological thought but is rooted within an experience of local socio-natures and its spatialisation of alterity. The paper illustrates how the city’s contested geographies of water have been important to mobilising this ecological politics and calls for attention to the social life of urban natures beyond processes of urbanisation and environmental degradation. 

26 November

Dr Jessie Speer (LSE)
'The shape of displacement: Examining housing loss through life narratives of homelessness’

Over the past decade, new oral history archives and self-publishing platforms have led to an explosion in the production of memoirs and oral histories of homelessness. This paper emerged from research on hundreds of contemporary memoirs and oral histories of homelessness from across the United States. I argue that testimonial accounts of homelessness challenge commonly held assumptions about urban housing displacement as a discrete, localized, or one-time occurrence. By taking the life course as the starting point of analysis, rather than a single neighbourhood or household, displacement no longer looks like a linear movement from point A to point B. Instead, a new shape emerges, one that is profoundly unstable and paradoxical, and that stretches beyond the scale of the home. 

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