Ordinary and overlooked cities in conversation

Location: South Africa and online
Language: English

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Greyscale world map with orange points and lines joining together certain cities for the seminar series 'Overlooked Cities: Thinking and doing global urban studies differently'

In the seminar series ‘Overlooked Cities: Thinking and doing global urban studies differently’, we expand on the term “overlooked cities” to mark our collective critique of the indifferent views on cities, city-lives and city-ness that are marginalised, off-the-map and under-theorised (Ruszczyk et al, 2021; Nugraha et al, 2022). There is growing scholarly and policy attention to what are variously called secondary, small, intermediate and intermediary cities, as their relevance for global urban studies is increasingly acknowledged (Robinson, 2006, 2022). While the call to recognise the importance and dynamics of secondary cities is not new (see Hardoy and Satterthwaite, 1986), these spaces where the urban majority lives continue to be overlooked in both academia and policy-making. In Ordinary Cities, Jennifer Robinson (2006) already invites us to attend more to the differences and diversities among a world of cities. That work marks a key step in postcolonial urban critiques, where we are equipped with an alternative lens to shift our focus from selected Western cities to the urban majority (Bhan, 2019; Schmid et al, 2018; Simone, 2010, 2018), which has long been systematically neglected and under-represented in supposedly global urban theory and practice (Imhof and Müller, 2020; Jazeel and McFarlane, 2010; Roy, 2016; Robinson, 2016).

An analysis of “overlooked cities” invites us to shift the focus from a fixed category of cities to a form of neglect. Such neglect can be intentional or unintentional, but it is always underlined by a kind of indifference and this should be tackled (Jazeel, 2019; Kusno, 2020; McGee, 1991; Niranjana, 1992; Ruszczyk et al, 2021; Zhao, 2020). The colloquium ‘Ordinary and overlooked cities in conversation’, therefore, calls on scholars to engage with “overlooked cities”, and to critically and interrogate the hegemonic modes of urban knowledge production. This requires a reflection on the geographies of seeing: Instead of delimiting any single city or urban category, how can we approach “overlookedness” more relationally? How can we get rid of the limits of boundaries, borders or population criteria in these discussions? How do we acknowledge the overlooked context of the urban, such as rural-urban linkages? How do we see overlooked aspects of cities and city-lives?

Through the broader seminar series we aim to elaborate on how the concept of “overlooked cities” as well as the praxis of counter-overlooking provide renewed critical impetus for urban studies to think about, write about, care about, and act on urban lives. This hybrid colloquium is mainly aimed at locating “overlookedness” within existing debates, and we aim to build a dialogue between the concepts of overlooked and ordinary cities as a means to scope the research landscapes and key gaps in global urban studies.

This two-day hybrid colloquium will be held online and at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein Campus, South Africa. It is part of the broader seminar series on ‘Overlooked Cities: Thinking and doing global urban studies differently’, which was funded by the USF Seminar Series Awards.

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"I can’t emphasise enough how supportive the USF Fellowship has been. It has empowered me to engage with a diverse range of partners, collaborators and agencies in a fast-moving field of practice and policy-making. It has allowed me to extend beyond known geographic and disciplinary borders to explore and connect disparate fields and practices, across policy and academia."

Dr Sarah Barns, Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Urban Studies Foundation is a registered Scottish charity. Registration number SC039937.

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