LSE Southeast Asia Week 2020: Politics of city-making in Southeast Asia

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Online Event


Dr Wanjing Kelly Chen

Dr Wanjing Kelly Chen

Research Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Dr Ofita Purwani

Dr Ofita Purwani

Associate Professor at the School of Architecture, Universitas Sebelas Maret

Dr Kristian Karlo Saguin

Dr Kristian Karlo Saguin

Associate Professor at the Department of Geography, University of the Philippines Diliman

Dr Yimin Zhao

Dr Yimin Zhao

Assistant Professor in Urban Planning and Management, Renmin University of China


Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Director of Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, LSE

As part of LSE Southeast Asia Week 2020, SEAC hosted a roundtable panel discussion, chaired by SEAC Director Prof. Hyun Bang Shin on 29th October 2020. The roundtable invited four academics whose work had been related to the urbanising region's development challenges, and discussed politics of city-making and re-making in Southeast Asia, with cases coming from Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines.


Locating Speculative Peasantry in the Urbanizing Southeast Asia (Dr Wanjing Kelly Chen)

Much of the contemporary urbanization in Southeast Asia involves the dismantle of the rural hinterlands of cities. The phenomenon has prompted urban scholars to inquire how real estate capital access these spaces inscribed by property regimes and society-nature relations that are distinctive to the urban. Moving beyond dispossession-center analysis, this talk calls for attention to its ability to encroach on the rural through selectively co-opting and enrolling affected peasant communities. Drawing on experiences from agrarian groups caught up in urbanization in Vientiane, Laos, I elucidate nuanced politics and processes that nurture speculative peasantry who at once facilitate and rework real estate enclosure on rural land. Besides the governmentality of real estate capital, I highlight how it tangibly hastens peasants into frontier land gamble by remaking the lived materiality of the once agrarian friendly nature.

Tradition vs Modernity; The Power of Existing Monarchs and Urban Development in Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Dr Ofita Purwani)

Yogyakarta and Surakarta are Javanese royal cities with existing monarchs. The monarchs in both cities have different power which set different practices in both cities. While Javanese monarchs are usually considered ‘traditional’, the more powerful monarch of Yogyakarta tends to be more modern. Its domination over its people has made the traditional reserved for the royal court. In contrast the weak monarch in Surakarta has made the tradition copied by the people which in turn has made the city more traditional.

City-making at/from the margins (Dr Kristian Saguin)

This brief intervention charts the contemporary spaces of urban politics in Manila’s margins. As dynamic sites of mapping, unmapping and countermapping, urban edges embody a diverse constellation of city-making practices that attempt to reshape urban trajectories. I consider several stories of contested city-making from Manila’s multiple peripheries - masterplanned city dispossessions, everyday resettlement geographies, mega-infrastructure controversies and resource frontier political ecologies - and reflect on how these help rethink emergent, incremental and fragmented urbanization at/from the margins.

The entanglement of green urbanism and speculative urbanization in Iskandar Malaysia (Dr Yimin Zhao)

Focusing on the Forest City project in Iskandar Malaysia, this talk foregrounds the interconnections between the discursive politics of green urbanism and the actually-existing speculative urbanisation. It presents how and how far two versions of green urbanism - one from the Chinese developer and the other of the local state - have been integrated in Iskandar Malaysia into a concrete agenda that plays a critical role in producing the urban space. In addition, the local socio-political context is also worth our attention to understand better the micro-political dynamics that enables and confines speculative city-making at the same time, which in turns shapes the entanglement of green urbanism and speculative urbanization in Forest City.



A video of this event is available to watch at Facebook.


  • Dr Wanjing Kelly Chen obtained her PhD in Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2020. Currently, she is based in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as research assistant professor. Her work examines politics of making Chinese capitalism in Southeast Asia, with a regional focus on Laos. She samples an archipelago of cases from infrastructure, finance, and real estate sectors to decipher how Chinese state governs a variety of globalizing Chinese capital from afar, and how its interest and agenda fall at the threshold of realization in the middling processes of investment making.
  • Dr Ofita Purwani is an associate professor at the School of Architecture Universitas Sebelas Maret. She was a Visiting Scholar at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. She got her PhD from the University of Edinburgh. Her interests range from Javanese cities, Southeast Asian urbanism, traditionalism, tourism, urban studies, and spatial politics.
  • Dr Kristian Karlo Saguin is an associate professor at the Department of Geography, University of the Philippines with research work and publications on the urban political ecologies of food, infrastructure and resource-making in and around Manila.
  • Dr Yimin Zhao is Assistant Professor in Urban Planning and Management, School of Public Administration and Policy, Renmin University of China, and is Co-Investigator for the SEAC Research Project "The Urban Spectre of Global China: Mechanisms, Consequences and Alternatives for Urban Futures".
  • Prof Hyun Bang Shin is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies in the Department of Geography and Environment and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research centres on the critical analysis of the political economic dynamics of speculative urbanisation, the politics of redevelopment and displacement, gentrification, housing, the right to the city, and mega-events as urban spectacles, with particular attention to cities in Asian countries such as South Korea, China, Vietnam and Singapore. His recent projects on ‘circulating urbanism and (Asian) capital’ have also brought him to work on Quito, Manila, Iskandar Malaysia, Kuwait City and London. Prof Shin has published widely in major international journals and contributed to numerous books on the above themes. He has coauthored Planetary Gentrification (Polity, 2016), edited Anti-Gentrification: What Is to Be Done (Dongnyok, 2017),and co- edited Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement (Bristol University Press, 2015) and Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is a board member (trustee) of the Urban Studies Foundation, and sits on the international advisory board of the journal Antipode as well as on the editorial board of the journals International Journal of Urban and Regional Research; Urban Geography; CITY; City, Culture and Society; Space and Environment [in Korea]; China City Planning Review [in China]. 

Twitter and Facebook

You can get immediate notification on the availability of an event podcast by following SEAC's public lectures and events on Twitter, which will also inform you about new events and other important updates at the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. 

Event updates and other information about what's happening at LSE SEAC can be found on SEAC's Facebook page.