Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Cities
Secondary Theme: Resilience
In The Urban Revolution (1970), Henri Lefebvre famously proclaimed: “society has been completely urbanized…this urbanization is virtual today but will become real in the future.” As the majority of the world’s population now inhabits cities, urban theorists continue to explore the ways in which this prescient hypothesis is being transformed into a concrete social fact. In subsequent decades, scholars have noted how the virtual process of urbanization has undergone a planetary transformation to take on a form that is considerably real in shape and content (Brenner & Schmid 2015).
Rather than simply discarding Lefebvre’s initial distinction between the virtual and the real, we aim to recast it to clarify contemporary dynamics of urbanization. Urbanization in its virtual register addresses the hopes, aspirations, and fantasies that subjects harbor as they participate in urban hegemony over the city and the countryside (McFarlane 2011; Simone 2004). The real, beyond a simply outside reality, signifies the stubborn political economic, social, and ecological limits to our urban fantasies (Davis 2006; Smith 1996). We focus on how aspirations for urban habitation face limits posed by deepening disparities to re-examine what constitutes a politics of exclusion today (Holston 2008; Caldeira 2003).
This panel seeks to extend these currents of scholarship in two interrelated ways. First, it explores the ways in which urban elsewheres, i.e. social forms and practices characterized as ‘non-urban’, figure into processes that realize urban fantasies. More specifically, it asks the questions 1) what or who is not urban? and 2) how can something lie outside of the urban today, as its elsewhere?
Secondly, the panel investigates instances where the expansive proliferation of urbanization’s real content—i.e. the built world of cities, and their urban infrastructures, institutions, and technologies— mark a deep ambivalence within the urban toward its elsewheres. This panel demonstrates and interrogates the production of non-urban subjects within the process of urbanization—a contradictory process that integrates as well as differentiates, subsumes as well as expels. The papers in this panel attend to the emergence of the non-urban as internal to processes of urbanization.
They do so by exploring: how municipal sanitation deploys rural caste relations to manage labor in Bangalore, India; how the tribal ‘bandit’ is re-articulated as a culturally determined mode of governance in contemporary Karachi, Pakistan; how migrant Somali businessmen draw on pastoralist pasts to negotiate business relations in urban Jigjiga, Ethiopia; and finally, by exploring the symbolic and material forms emerging from the urbanization of rural Hunan, China. The papers in this panel encompass some of the most dynamic interactions between urban and non-urban social forms across Africa and Asia.
How does the ambivalence of real urban forms toward the non-urban transform notions of urban space and identity? How does it reconfigure the contours of contemporary urban politics and aspirations? How can ethnographies of such ambivalence help us reimagine an urban anthropology attuned to the relations that re-inscribe the non-urban, that re-state the metabolism between the urban and its elsewheres?