RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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313 Assemblage Theory in Urban Research (1)
Convenor(s) Güldem Özatağan (Izmir Institute of Technology, Turkey)
Murat Güvenç (Istanbul City University, Turkey)
Chair(s) Murat Güvenç (Istanbul City University, Turkey)
Timetable Friday 29 August 2014, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Huxley Building, Room 341
Session abstract Since its usage by DeLanda (2006), assemblage theory has re-emerged as a philosophical position to theorise the society and examine social structures. Recently the assemblage concept has come into use within urban studies, which gave way to the conceptualisation of the city as assemblage (Anderson and McFarlane, 2011; Farias and Bender, 2009; McFarlane, 2011). An explicit incorporation of assemblage theory to cities has been Farias and Bender (2009: 316), who build on DeLanda’s proposal of examining cities as assemblages ‘of people, networks, organizations, as well as, a variety of infrastructural components, from buildings and streets to conduits for matter and energy flows’ (DeLanda, 2006: 5).
This new theoretical approach brought new methodological challenges, which required a move away from looking to social-structural explanations of wholes towards examining and revealing networks and assemblages that constitute the city (Bender, 2010). Actor Network Theory (ANT) has been offered as a heuristic devise to move away from structural explanations of wholes towards examining the autonomous open components which make up coherent wholes (Latour, 2005; Law, 1999) and has so far attracted interest among those engaged in small scale, ethnographic research. However, Farias (2010) asks whether there will be ANT driven studies of typical urban issues such as urban poverty, urban development, urban governance, and the like. Thrift seems to think not:

‘’I think ANT works best in strongly defined situations and I think that’s difficult to deny, truth to tell. You talked about the laboratory, where in a sense ANT started out. It’s moved into the trading room; it’s moved into other milieux where you can be very sure of what you are getting... I think it is more difficult to work when you are looking at, if you like, everyday life as a whole, or even when you are looking at political movements... which... don’t have bounded spaces’’ (Farias, 2010: 112-113).

However, Thrift has been challenged by Bender (2010: 306) who states that ‘’In speaking of what has been done, Thrift is surely correct. Yet it is not one of the virtues of the ANT that it does not acknowledge bounded totalities. What are we to make of a social science that refuses boundaries yet is able to work only in ‘strongly defined situations’ and ‘bounded spaces’.’’

This debate then brings forth the following question: to what extent and how assemblage theory can inform and guide empirical research in urban studies? In addition, Delanda (2011) has recently published a book where he suggests multi agent modelling as a tool to put assemblage theory to work for empirical research.This session primarily aims to bring scholars together who are researching the contemporary city and its dynamics through the lens of assemblage theoryand are utilising different methodological approaches to put assemblage theory to works for urban studies. We are interested in not only theoretical and conceptual papers but also studies that connect assemblage theory to realities with case studies and empirical work. Potential topics and themes of interest might include, but are not limited to:

• Papers which link assemblage theory to the contemporary dynamics of cities, and other typical urban issues
• Papers which theoretically advance or critique the assemblage theory
• Studies which employ new methodologies as new ways of researching the city as an assemblage
• Papers which report empirical findings, theoretical and methodological advances, critiques of current methodologies as tools for researching the city as an assemblage
• Studies which tackle the methodological challenges of urban assemblage theory
Linked Sessions Assemblage Theory in Urban Research (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
The DeleuzeGuattarian Roots of Assemblage Thinking and its further Conceptual Openings to Critical Urban Theory
Adile Arslan Avar (Izmir Institute of Technology, Turkey)
Assemblage theory has strengths as one extending beyond being merely a social theory. Having been profoundly drawn on the Deleuze- Guattarian philosophical conceptions, it raises as a theory of socio-spatial processes, hence also a theory of cities (DeLanda, 2006). However, considering the conceptual and theoretical components of ‘assemblage theory’ in its current uses, as Venn (2006) argues, they only partially adhere to the philosophical apparatus of Deleuze and Guattari.This paper takes a departure from the exchange between McFarlane (2011a; 2011b) and Brenner, Madden and Wachsmuth (2011) about the assemblage theory and critical urban theory in the pages of City (Vol 15(2), 2011). Colin McFarlane uses the Deleuze- Guattarian conception of ‘assemblage’ (agencement). Assemblage is not only a multiplicity of different terms and materialities co-functioning in symbiotic and sympathetic, convergent and divergent relations and liaisons but also a movement of traits from the territorialized to deterritorialized, from near to far, from abstract to concrete (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 406; Deleuze and Parnet, 2007). The urban phenomenon, with its all properties, aspects and constituents, for MacFarlane, can be defined as an assemblage.

On the other hand, Brenner et al, accept the tenets of assemblage theory regarding that it offers useful insights for thinking space in terms of ‘indeterminacy, emergence, becoming, processuality, turbulence, and the sociomateriality of phenomena’ (2011a, p. 206), and as a relational, ‘overdetermined plenitude’. They distinguish essentially three implications of assemblage thinking for critical urban theory: theoretical, conceptual, empirical and imaginary. Circumscribing the conceptual, methodological, empirical parameters of the assemblage theory, they explore its promises in empirical research into urban inequalities, dispossession, materialities and power relations, all of which are also crucial for critical urban theory. However, they questions the concept of assemblage as a ‘basis for transforming the very ground of urban studies’, and as ‘an alternative ontology for the city’ (Farías, 2010, pp. 8, 13). Their objections here centre around the ambiguous status of political economy and capitalism itself, and an overemphasis on the multiple materialities of socionatural relations. They measure the contributions of assemblage thinking to the project of critical urban theory against its ‘bracketing’ or even bypassing the problematique (founding) concepts, exploratory tools of critical urban theory like ‘capital’, ‘state’ ‘accumulation’, ‘dispossession’, ‘deprivation’, ‘inequality’, ‘uneven spatial development’, ‘territorialities’, different structural contexts, and so on.

This paper seeks to answer the question how and what type(s) of theoretical work the assemblage thinking and the mode of analysis associated with it could avoid ‘naïve objectivism’, by making a re-detour from, on the one hand, the very Deleuze –Guattarian conceptions, especially from ‘apparatus of capture’, ‘capitalism and state’, and Lefebvre’s conception of space as ‘a social production (process)’, on the other. The latter also adheres to the critical urban theory’s Lefebvrian lexicon including immanently conflictual, hierarchized and differentiated urban ensemble which is also a differential field of the concrete and immediate, legible and illegible, visible and invisible aspects and components (Lefebvre, 2003 [1970]).
Could Urban Assemblage Approaches Take Some More Risk About the Future? The City of Alicante as a Case Study
Ester Gisbert (University of Alicante, Spain)
Enrique Nieto (University of Alicante, Spain)
Jesus Olivares (University of Alicante, Spain)
Throughout the XXth century social studies have built a set of tools for the analysis of human societies,that sought to legitimize its ability to measure specific aspects of their objects of study. Such processes of legitimation of disciplines by differentiating from others, has strengthened the dichotomous separation between science and humanities, between theory and practice, between analysis and design. However, along this path of self-demarcation of disciplines, there have been a series of visions that challenge these restrictive ways of approaching so extremely complex reality as is the city. Today we know that teleological systems are performative, and that project into the future the reality they describe. Therefore, any analytical approach must consider itself as a political tool for dealing with the future, just by describing some contingent aspect of the present.
The application of ANT to urban studies has allowed us to escape some static structural approaches taking into consideration its open and hybrid condition. However, it still continues leaving out some of the inputs undoubtedly affect both its future and its past, such as networks of affect, historical disruptions, the primacy of the visual, etc. Some authors such as Tim Ingold, have questioned the TAR precisely for its lack of commitment to the future, demanding greater involvement in analysis by growing linked with the object of study.
This paper tries to advance this way by assembling TAR approaches to the city with some of the debates coming from studies aimed to improve future conditions of living together, such as Urban Commons topics or that kind of ethics opened to a more dynamic and nomadic approach to human being. We are convinced that thinking on the conditions of present cities implies participating in the design of its future, topping the classical duality between theory and project. Thus, the work of architects no longer should be considered as opposed to geographers and sociologists, understood both as human agencies politically committed to the same world.
This work offers the mediterranean city of Alicante as a case study, where global tourism collide with local affairs enacted through countless practices. Our approach involves inhabiting the city from participating in some critical spatial practices aimed to problematize some of the descriptions that supposedly fix the identity of the city. This problematization supposes imagining networks that analyze and at the same time produce the city. RosiBraidotti's descriptions of affirmative ethics or Commons-based debates about the right to the city will be essential for improving the agency of urban studies, by expanding its assemblages to prospective methods.
Interpreting urban energy transitions with assemblage theory: a preliminary appraisal
Ludger Gailing (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning, Germany)
Timothy Moss (Leipniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning, Germany)
“Assemblage – whether as an idea, an analytic, a descriptive lens or an orientation – is increasingly used in social science research, generally to connote indeterminacy, emergence, becoming, processuality, turbulence and the sociomateriality of phenomena“ (McFarlane 2011:206). This statement, by one of the leading proponents of assemblage thinking in urban studies, captures much of the appeal, but also the conceptual and methodological range of this emergent field of research into the interplay of technologies, nature, social practices and norms in spatial contexts. This paper explores some of the attractions, ambiguities and challenges of using assemblage theory in urban studies, illustrating the points made with examples from Germany’s ongoing Energiewende. It begins by characterizing assemblage thinking in terms of four core themes: relationality, agency, contingency and embeddedness. Relationality refers to the importance of interactions between the symbols, artefacts, spaces, stakeholders etc. that constitute an assemblage, the varied configurations they can produce and the effects they can have (Deleuze and Parnet 2007). Agency is conceived by assemblage theory as the ability of an agent – whether human or non-human – to make a difference, to produce effects or top initiate action (Latour 2005). Contingency stands for the procedural, dynamic and ephemeral nature of assemblages (McFarlane 2011). Embeddedness is about how diverse actants – from the global to the local – become assembled (or de- and reassembled) in specific local sites (Farías 2010, Rutherford 2011). The paper then goes on to explore critically how, and to what effect, the assemblage literature draws on these four core themes to conceptualize the following:
• Socio-material configurations
• Change and transitions
• Space and place
• Institutions and power
Particular attention will be paid to literature relating specifically to socio-technical assemblages (e.g. Bennett 2005) as well as to recent critiques of assemblage thinking (e.g. Brenner et al. 2011, Rankin 2011, Tonkiss 2011). With the help of explorative cases of urban energy transitions in Germany, the paper illustrates the explanatory power, but also some conceptual and methodological shortcomings, of assemblage theory and suggests ways of advancing scholarship.
Assemblage and Practice Theories in Urban Research Compared
Huib Ernste (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)
Assemblage Theories and Practice Theories seem to have much in common but they also differ in nuances. Especially with respect to the ontological assumptions many similarities and some differences can be discovered. Which approach is more useful in urban research, is, however, also dependent on the objective of the research. Related to these research objectives different methodologies for researching urban assemblages and practices are to be developed. In this paper, linked to the debate in the literature on practice and assemblage approaches, I will elaborate on the comparison between these different approaches and especially also elaborate on the practical consequences this has for doing urban research. Examples will be derived from an international research project, involving cases from Vienna (A), Zurich (CH), Istanbul (TR) and Arnhem (NL), on Gentrification following the Assemblage approach.