USF International Workshop: Inside and outside ‘ordinary city’ margins

Location: Online

Register Here

Inside and outside ‘ordinary city’ margins

This virtual workshop brings four USF International Fellows together to exchange their research. Grounded in ‘ordinary cities’ of the global South, in Brazil, India, Nigeria, and the Philippines, the research conducted by this group of International Fellows critically engages with the notion of urban boundaries and their attendant questions of sovereignty, social justice and marginalization.

Their presentations will be discussed by India-based urban scholars Amita Bhide (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India) and Bhuvana Raman (Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, India).

The workshop will also offer a platform for a group of young Fellows from the Writing Urban India (WUI) initiative, supported by the USF, to share their work in an international setting. Six Fellows will present their research, followed by Q&A.

Hosted by the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in Chennai, India, the event will be chaired by Prof Loraine Kennedy (USF Trustee) and Prof Karen Coelho (MIDS), co-host of the event.

Date: Thursday, January 27th 2022
Time: 13:30 (Chennai, GMT +5:30 hours) until 17:30 (with break)
Format: online, hosted by the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India.
Register to attend: via Zoom


13:30-15:30 | USF International Fellows presentations and discussion.
15:30-15:45 | Break
15:45-17:30 | ‘Writing Urban India’ Fellows presentations and discussion.

Download poster (.pdf)

An ethnography of non-state policing in low-income neighbourhoods of a Nigerian city

Faisal Umar (Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Zaria, Nigeria)

This research examines evolving power dynamics among multiple security providers in under-resourced urban communities. It questions how communities and young offenders in a second-tier Nigerian city perceive and experience the plurality of actors and practices in the delivery of security and justice.

ABSTRACT: In many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, rapid urbanization, scarcity of resources and the rise in urban crime combine to overstretch the capacity of states to adequately deliver security and justice services. Non-state actors are increasingly involved in security provision, particularly in under-resourced neighborhoods where formal policing is somewhat lacking. In Global South contexts, this phenomenon of plural policing is generally framed as a question of state sovereignty and is often viewed from Western-centric experiences as a precarious solution to addressing the issue of urban insecurity. However, these non-state actors have not only become providers of security and order in many urban communities. In many cases, they also offer a crucial interim step of restorative justice where ‘dealing with crime’ focuses on rehabilitation of offenders through the act of reconciliation with victims and the wider community often based on local knowledge, community dialogue, and granting youth offenders ‘another chance’. This project provides a local insight into the complex nature of plural security provision in cities, the evolving power dynamics between multiple security providers, and how communities and young offenders from under-resourced neighborhoods in a typical second-tier city perceive and experience the plurality of actors and practices in the delivery of security and justice services.

Urban Ecologies on the Edge and Resource Frontier Urbanisms in Manila, The Philippines

Kristian Karlo Saguin (University of the Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines)

Revisiting the concept of the frontier, this research investigates shifting urban metabolic relations of provisioning and risk transfer between Manila and the lake on its edge. With a focus on their politics and paradoxes, it shows how urban edges become generative sites where multiple possibilities emerge.

ABSTRACT: In this presentation, I revisit the concept of the frontier to examine the multiple ecologies of urbanization in and beyond the city. By tracking the shifting urban metabolic relations of provisioning and risk transfer between Manila and the lake on its edge, I pose questions about the geographies and temporalities of resource frontiers and flows that sustain cities. I aim to cast light on the practical and imaginative work of making and maintaining that bring together an assemblage of natures, landscapes, infrastructures and peoples in search of solutions to persistent urban resource problems. Focusing on their politics and paradoxes, urban edges become generative sites where multiple eventualities emerge with expected but also unruly trajectories.

Property at the margins: popular/informal land markets and peripheral urbanization in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (2000-2020)

Joao Tonucci (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil)

This research examines how informal property markets are assembled on the margins of Belo Horizonte. Even as such markets provide access to housing for the urban poor this form of peripheral urbanization produces deeply segregated, highly heterogeneous, and poorly serviced peripheries.

ABSTRACT: In an age of neoliberalization and financialization, property remains a critical topic of scholarly research in urban studies. Yet while most research has focused on the metropolitan centers of the Global East and North, this study examines how popular/informal property markets are assembled on the margins of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In Latin American, as industrialization and urbanization gained breadth after the 1950s, most new residents had to carve their place in the city auto-constructing their residences over plots of land acquired through illegal occupation or informal buying. Beyond the focus on slums, this study shifts the attention to popular/informal land subdivision markets (“loteamentos populares”) that operate by dividing rural or peri-urban plots in the periphery. They have remained the main access route to housing for the urban poor and a pervasive modality of peripheral urbanization in the region, producing deeply segregated, poorly infrastrucured, highly heterogeneous, and increasingly distant and disperse peripheries. The same is true for the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, where these markets have continued to push the metropolitan boundaries, providing not only housing for the mostly black urban precariat but also a frontier of land speculation. This paper presents results from a larger qualitative and quantitative empirical material accumulated over the past five years: fieldwork, interviews, and georeferenced data for formal and informal subdivisions. By concentrating on the last two decades, I aim to update studies in peripheral urbanization and popular/informal land markets, as recent urban studies literature in Brazil and abroad has insufficiently addressed the topic.

Contesting the Company Town in India

Ashima Sood (Anant National University, Ahmedabad, India)

This study interrogates the boundaries and practices of elite informality in steel towns. Examining discrepancies between the de jure and the de facto borders of cities such as Bokaro and Jamshedpur, this paper outlines the methodological and socio-spatial disparities that have arisen in their wake.

ABSTRACT: What defines the boundary of the enclave? In the steel towns of postcolonial India, boundaries were planted by state and princely fiat amid Adivasi (tribal) territories. Despite the ostensibly sharp borders delineated by the provision of high-quality urban infrastructure in the urban-industrial core in these company towns, contestations around jurisdiction have continued to trouble their edges (Lynch 1960). Drawing on Ananya Roy’s (2009, 2011) insight that informality is the mode by which Indian cities are planned, this paper outlines the operations of elite informality in these steel towns.

Most specifically, official data sources function to excise traces of subaltern forms of informality in non-notified slums. Nonetheless, whether sanctioned or unsanctioned, the steady creep of encroachments by unplanned and informal settlements in both cities has blurred both the city’s conception of itself and the administrative edges of the enclave. Examining the contemporary discrepancies between the de jure and the de facto borders of cities such as Bokaro and Jamshedpur, this paper outlines the methodological issues and socio- spatial disparities that have arisen in their wake.

There will be a break before the remaining six short presentations.

‘A city to look at’ and ‘presenting the world to the city’: Worlding New Town, West Bengal

Debarun Sarkar (Department of Sociology, University of Mumbai)

Through a reading of two worlding spatial configurations in New Town, West Bengal—a planned city being developed east of Salt Lake City, east of Kolkata—Biswa Bangla Gate and Eco Park, the paper argues that a lack of engagement with the state-led designed and planned spaces has led to New Town being framed within a “dystopic” and “ghastly” register. The paper argues that such architectural punctuations are not exhausted by a framing of marketing for capital investment but are concrete interventions in the urban fabric by the sovereign to mark its arrival on the global stage. The paper reads the Biswa Bangla Gate, an elevated viewing deck and café maintained by a state-owned limited company and a part of the Eco Park which houses miniature versions of seven wonders of the world as architectural interventions to assemble ‘a city to look at’ and to ‘present the world to the city’.

Sensory boundaries between urban and non-urban: a study on playing film songs in private buses of Kannur, Kerala

Shahal B. (PhD scholar, Communications Department, University of Hyderabad, India)

This paper examines how changes in the soundscape, mark the boundary between the urban and the non-urban in the South Indian state of Kerala. I analyse the ritualised habit of playing Malayalam film songs in private buses of Kannur, Kerala, as a backdrop to the noisy, dull, and generally uneventful every day. I draw on extended conversations with bus employees, to first historicise this everydayness of the public transport and then interpret it in terms of transformations in public sphere. I posit the categories used by the bus employees to mark these soundscapes of everyday travel in terms of tactile and non-tactile music (as opposed to touching music) and set these categories against a 2007 judgement of the Kerala High Court regarding the playing of music in buses.

Becoming Waste: “Water and Commons in the History of Indian Cities”

Aditya Singh (Hyderabad Urban Lab)

Why are crises stemming from excesses of water in Indian cities framed as problems of encroachment—property and legality? This paper examines the origins of these crises by looking at the categories of ‘waste’ and ‘wasteland’ and the ways in which they have been key in driving urban expansion and creating property out of ecological commons in Indian cities. It starts by tracing the ideas around commons, waste and property that originated in England during the 17th century, were used to convert commons and wasteland into private property, the ways in which these ideas travelled to the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century and created land and private property in spaces where neither had any clear definition. It then draws upon the work of historians in the cities of Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Chennai to argue that ‘value’ in the form of commerce and economic activity was deployed in ecological spaces that the colonial state saw as ‘waste’ or ‘wasteland’. This logic continued to play out under the postcolonial Indian state for generating economic productivity, and in the 1990s, to make way for new spatial and economic arrangements: real estate, IT parks, Special Economic Zones. It concludes by arguing that recent crises in Indian cities need to be examined in the light of these historical processes.

Formalization sans decent work: Urban Informal Labour Market amidst Changing Cityscapes

Srujana Boddu (PhD scholar, Madras Institute of Development Studies, India)

Recent studies have emphasized the rise and growth in services in urban services over the past two decades in India, nurtured by economic reforms and pro-liberalization policies. Concomitantly, there has been growth specifically in the realm of business and ‘modern’ services (Ghani and Kharas, 2010). These changes in urban cityscapes via the rise in services also alter the structure of urban labour market. Besides direct employment created in ‘new’ modern segments, these changes also attract informal labour from India’s rural and city’s hinterlands into indirect employment opportunities. Informal workers account for around 90 percent of India’s total workforce (NCEUS, 2008; ILO, 2016). Yet, most studies of urban labour do not examine the effect of changing cityscapes on urban informal labour. Drawing on surveys and interviews with informal workers in Hyderabad city, this research examines the changing dynamics of urban informal labour in these transforming urban spaces. I look into the shifts in the urban informal labour market related to the rise in new service segments and their implications on labour. The research hypothesises that the expansion of the formal sector and informal employment opportunities in urban centers have failed to create secure jobs.

Where the state sees pollution: Caste, religion and environmental unfreedoms in Kanpur

Amani Ponnaganti (PhD scholar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States)

Tanneries, seen as ritually “polluted” under the caste system, have been at the center of environment governance since the late-1980s when the Supreme Court demanded the closure of tanneries in Kanpur’s industrial neighborhood of Jajmau to limit pollution to the river Ganga, ignoring the concerns of caste oppressed Dalit and minority Muslim workers dominant in the leather sector. Over time, as the state sought to “purify” the Ganga which is considered sacred to the country’s Hindu majority population; state discourses, techniques, and practices remained indifferent towards the livelihood concerns of working class and minority populations. By paying attention to the affective registers of caste and religion in the operation of environmental law, I argue that social and cultural power contributes to the reproduction of “environmental unfreedoms” (Ranganathan 2021). I conclude that recognizing the socio-spatial divisions encoded in hierarchies of caste and religion is critical to challenge exclusionary regimes of urban environmental citizenship.

Tea, War and Empire: Morphology of a Frontier Colonial Town

Evy Mehzabeen (Doctoral Fellow, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India)

This paper constructs an urban spatial history of the colonial town of Dibrugarh, in India’s North Eastern Frontier, directed by the production of tea, managing strategic relations apart from colonial administration. I discuss morphology as a key site of production of colonial urban processes and explore the becoming of the colonial town of Dibrugarh, capturing its diverse commercial, administrative and strategic spatialities, enacted at its British India’s premier colonial town of the frontier, with an absent pre-colonial urban history. I begin by exploring why Dibrugarh, as a place, was crucial enough to develop into a town for the colonialists. Secondly, the paper engages with the spatiality of a colonial frontier town and discusses colonial urbanisation spanning a period of fifty years through the evolution of the town’s morphology. Lastly, by documenting how certain places came to be, I exhibit the evolution and establishments of crucial sites, influenced by tea, war and administration. The paper obtains its data from the underutilised archival information from the Deputy Commissioner’s Office of Dibrugarh and builds a narrative of historical memory through resource person interviews from amongst the town’s inhabitants.

About USF International Workshops

USF International Workshops are a running series of events bringing together urban scholars from around the world. Focused on research funded by the Urban Studies Foundation, each workshop features work pertinent to better understandings of urban realities across the Global South. Moreover, the workshops are not only expected to generate insights regarding these different urban trajectories, but to contribute to the development of truly global urban studies.

Register Here

"Overall, the fellowship has enabled me to produce original research, publish articles in top-academic journals, learn new practical skills, make a documentary film, create a new research network, secure external funding, organise academic events and obtain an excellent permanent job."

Dr Cecilia Dinardi, Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

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

Privacy Notice