2012 Joint Area Centers Symposium

Cities and Inequalities in a Transnational World 

Thursday March 1 to Saturday March 3, 2012
Levis Faculty Center, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Symposium is free and open to the public.

Register at https://illinois.edu/fb/sec/9499126



Erik Swyngedouw University of Manchester, UK, School of Environment and Development

Every revolution has its square” Re-politicising the Unequal City

A CAS/Millercomm Lecture: Thursday, March 1, 4pm Spurlock Museum

There is an uncanny choreographic affinity between recent urban insurgencies in the Middle East and eruptions of discontent and urban protest in Athens, Madrid, Lyon, Lisbon, Rome, London, Berlin, or Paris, among many other cities. We shall explore how these insurgencies foreground the question of social justice and political equality and invite us to re-think what precisely urban inequality is all about.           

The contemporary urban condition I maintain, is marked by a post-political police order of managing the spatial distribution and circulation of things and people within a consensually agreed neo-liberal arrangement. Rancière associates this condition with the notion of ‘The Police’, conceived as a heterogeneous set of technologies and strategies for ordering, distributing, and allocating people, things, and functions to designated places. These managerial practices and procedures colonize and evacuate the proper spaces of the political; the Police are about hierarchy, ordering, and distribution. Spatialized policies (planning, architecture, urban policies, etc...) are one of the core dispositifs of the Police. 

I argue that it is precisely this suturing process that suspends political litigation, voicing or staging dissent or asserting polemical equality. These cut through the police order and tentatively open up the spaces of the political again. The staging of equality and freedom, the interruption of the normalized geographical order of the sensible, exposes the aristocratic configuration and in-egalitarian ‘wrongs’ of the given, and invariably encounters the Police’s wrath. 

I conclude that this constitutive gap between Police and Politics needs to be affirmed. Politics cannot be reduced to managing and ordering space, to consensual pluralist and institutionalized policy-making. This is the terrain of the Police; the ontic dimension of everyday socio-spatial management. The political – as the staging of equality in the face of a wrong – is nothing else but the affirmation of impossibility of consensual management, of autocratic rule; it is an anarchic interruption that affirms the foundation of the democratic invention, i.e. the equality of each and every one qua speaking beings – a condition that is predicated upon affirming difference and the dissensual foundation of politics.

Martin MurrayUniversity of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

New City-Building in Urban Africa: Implanting World-class City spaces or Creating New Forms of Spatial Inequality?

This paper seeks to uncover the introduction of new city spaces in urban Africa that replicate all the up-to-date amenities found in World Class Cities around the globe.  These city-building efforts have found fertile ground around airports and other transportation nodes, in emerging commercial centers, and in newly created tourist sites.  These new urban spaces are truly "city doubles," that is, they are mastere-planned cities built entirely from scratch constructed outside the boundaries of existing cities.  They offer business elites, large-scale property owners, and the affluent comfortable, up-to-date places to live, work, and play.  They bypass the nagging problems associated with crumbling infrastructure, overcrowding, traffic gridlock, and crime.  

Teresa CaldeiraUniversity of California Berkeley, Urban and Regional Planning

Peripheral Urbanization

 In the last years, several urban scholars have insisted that mainstream urban theories developed to explain processes of urbanization characteristic of North Atlantic metropolises are inadequate to frame analyzes of the types of urbanization that mark the metropolises of the Global South.   Following these arguments, this paper proposes the notion of peripheral urbanization to create a problem-space that allows us to call attention to other logics of the production of the urban and their political potentialities.  The modes of urbanization that I analyze under the rubric of "peripheries" have developed according to premises that are different from those that framed North Atlantic metropolises.  First, one of their most important characteristics is their different temporalities.  Second, peripheral modes of producing urban space generate new modes of politics through practices that produce new kinds of citizens, claims, circuits, and contestation.  Third, peripheral modes of producing urban space create distinct urban practices and institutions.  Finally, I will use cases of Latin American metropolises both to illustrate the notion of peripheral urbanization and to reflect about the ways in which patterns of inequality have been changing in the last twenty years. 

Asef BayatUniversity of Illinois, Department of Sociology

Politics in the City Inside-Out

Neo-liberal restructuring has engendered significant economic and social changes. The advent of deregulation, diminished role of the state, and the crisis of social contract have meant that a vast number of subaltern groups are now left on their own to survive and better their lives. Consequently, a strong view in the current debates seems to suggest that neoliberal city is a lost city—where capital rules, the affluent enjoy, and the subaltern is entrapped; it is a city of glaring inequality and imbalance, where the ideal of the ‘right to the city’ is all but vanished. While this conclusion enjoys much plausibility, I want to suggest in this presentation that there is more to neoliberal urbanity than elite rule and subaltern’s failure. For the new realities of these cities tend to engender a new discrete form of politics. I will elaborate on this distinct politics by discussing how a key spatial feature of neoliberal city, what I call the ‘city-inside-out’, is likely to instigate street politics and inform the political street.  

Urban Inequalities in Shanghai, Budapest and Mangalore


Mi ShihChina Research Center, University of Technology, Sydney

The Paradox of Weiquan Movements in Urban China: Social Inequality and Individual Negotiation in LandDevelopment

This paper begins with the premise that profit-oriented, land-centered urban development has become a significant source of social inequality and also of the rising weiquan (rights-protection) movements in China’s transformation to a market economy. Crucial to our understanding of weiquan and its dynamics with social inequality is its paradoxical nature; that is, although weiquan movements actively engage in an expansion of rights discourse, they also effectively result in a reduction of the definition of rights to economic terms. This paper argues that the weiquan paradox has deflected collective opposition to the existing dominant land regime to individualistic negotiation, thereby rendering fundamental challenges to land-related social inequality impossible.

To demonstrate the sociopolitical conditions under which this weiquan paradox has evolved, this paper presents an ethnographic account of Lee (a pseudonym), a long-term Shanghai citizen, and situates his relocation experience in the state’s handling of land development in the city. In particular, the paper examines three aspects of the dialectical relationship between Lee and the state. First, the paper discusses how legislation on residential relocation has created social inequality in terms of citizens’ rights to the city. Second, the paper shows how the state has consciously combined two governing strategies, political punishment and economic resolution, to shape and contain weiquan movements within the rationale of the existing land regime.

Finally, the paper describes how Lee came to internalize the state’s governing strategies into his weiquan actions, and in turn, learned to insert his weiquan endeavors to the very profit-driven land development that led to social exclusion. As this ethnographic account will show, various rights claims prevalent in the weiquan process, including procedural justice, distributive fairness, and universal rights, were reduced to economism-centered, individualistic negotiations for better compensation with the local authorities. The empirical analysis shows that the Chinese state’s “strategic selectivity” in land development and its effects on weakening grassroots weiquan movements to challenge land-related inequality.  

Virág Molnár, New School for Social Research, Department of Sociology

New Forms of Housing and Global Urban Change in Postsocialist Eastern Europe

The paper examines the rise of a new housing type, the so-called “residential park”, in post-1989 Berlin and Budapest as a case study to shed light on broader processes of post-socialist urban change in Eastern Europe. It argues that the evolution of this new housing type offers a lens into the combined effects of large-scale privatization, state decentralization, and increasing globalization. The paper shows that a residential real estate boom around the turn of the millennium led to the rapid diffusion of a new breed of planned housing developments across East European cities. These new developments were routinely labeled American-style gated communities by local media and declared symptomatic of post-socialist urban fragmentation and social polarization.  

The paper maps the complex interplay of public and private forces in the construction of this new form of housing around three key questions:  1) how these new housing developments reorganized urban space and public access to various parts of the city, 2) how the state at various scales (local, urban, national, global) interacted with local and foreign real estate developers in the completion of these projects, and 3) how this new housing type has altered the culture of socially mixed communal urban housing. The paper ends by highlighting the common regional features that characterize the relationship between the changing housing landscape and urban inequalities in post-1989 Eastern Europe.

Neema KudvaCornell University, Department of City and Regional Planning

Small Cities, Big Issues: Why Small Cities Matter in Debates on Urbana Poverty and Inequality

In 2025, about 61 percent of the world’s urban residents will live in cities with populations smaller than a million. Compare this to the 10.3 percent of the urban population that will live in the megacities that shape our imaginations, our spatial desires, urban theorizing, and policy-making. Demographics are not the only reason to pay attention to small cities and towns. Available evidence also points to a strong correlation globally between city size and poverty rates: the smaller the city, the higher the poverty rates. As troubling is data showing that access to services decreases with city size as well.

 In India, structures of poverty, inequality and exclusion are deeply embedded in the complex social orders of jati (endogamous sub-castes), religious affiliation and gender. The implications for emerging spatial patterns of urban growth, governance, politics and contestation are many. Urban theorists have long made the argument (including from within different ideological positions) that some exclusionary structures loose their significance in cities where populations and social groups mix in a way that they have not before. Through a close look at one small but economically vibrant coastal city, Mangalore, in south-western Karnataka, I will show that jati and religious affiliation not only remain salient, but that they interact in particular ways to produce different spatialities and forms. City size and relational structures, to its region for example, shape outcomes differently, forcing us to rethink interventions that would address the big issues of poverty and inequality in small cities. 

Faranak MiraftabUniversity of Illinois, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Multi Scalar Convergences and Tenacious Inequalities Across America’s Rustbelt

(presenting with David Wilson)


David WilsonUniversity of Illinois, Department of Geography

Multi Scalar Convergences and Tenacious Inequalities Across America’s Rustbelt


The current rustbelt in America is riddled with a deepening inequality.  In the realms of housing provision, household incomes, access to medical care and aggregate household wealth, disparities between the wealthy and non-wealthy continue to widen.    Our presentation highlights that inequalities in rustbelt cites are taking many forms, have many scenarios and have a multiplicity of dimensions (as they converge on the ground of “the local”).  We focus on two kinds of places beset by this reality:  large de-industrialized centers and small, industrialized places.  Our results suggest that a mixture of multi scalar forces embed in dominant facilitators of inequalities:  labor market dynamics, discursive formations and local state practices. This is a framing paper that sets the stage for the conference stressing the need for a conceptual framework that captures the heterogeneities and multi scalar connections in inequalities. 

Ken SaloUniversity of Illinois, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Social movements: Strategies and Tactics to Fight Urban Injustices

Location: Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway, Urbana, IL

Moderated digital town hall meeting with social movement activists: Anti Eviction Campaign, Chicago; Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, South Africa;US-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants; Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, Urbana