RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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217 Urban limits: peri-urban transformations in the Global South (3)
Convenor(s) Tom Cowan (University of Bergen, Norway)
Claire Mercer (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Paula Meth (University of Sheffield, UK)
Chair(s) Paula Meth (University of Sheffield, UK)
Timetable Thursday 29 August 2019, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119
Session abstract This session explores social and spatial transformations in peri-urban areas of the Global South, with a focus on the roles which decidedly ‘non-urban’ actors, infrastructures and processes play in shaping heterogeneous urban landscapes. While urban studies has long drawn insights from the great metropoles, there is now a burgeoning body of work drawing analytical insights from peri-urban areas in the Global South posing questions for orthodox understandings of urbanisation. The peri-urban, caught between agrarian and urban modes of production and at the interface of rural and urban governance, serves as an often ambiguous, yet generative site for the working out of state development agendas, expanding property markets, infrastructural development, and new class compositions.

This session will build on recent analytical insights into suburban ‘boundary work’ (Mercer forthcoming, Ortega 2018); peripheral autoconstructions (Caldeira 2017) and peri-urban infrastructures (Gidwani and Maringanti 2016) to explore the peri-urban both as a set of peripheral physical locations and as a relational lens for uncovering processes of boundary-drawing and boundary-crossing which constitute uneven urban landscapes and social hierarchies. In rethinking the ‘peri-urban’ we seek to draw attention to the ongoing articulations of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’, periphery and centre which must be put to work at various sites and scales, to produce contemporary urban landscapes and subjects.

In doing so, in the session we seek to bring together work on peri-urbanisation in geography, critical urban studies, agrarian studies, area studies and anthropology to advance debates on the relational geographies, subjects and processes of urban limits; exploring how the contemporary urban is made and unmade through the complex relations which take place at its limits, and how a focus on these limits might help us rethink orthodoxies in ‘urban theory’.

With a particular focus on thinking through grounded empirical research, the session aims to focus on both socio-spatial infrastructures (labour geographies, political ecologies, planning technologies, governance, class compositions) of the peri-urban and how such infrastructures constitute particular configurations of the contemporary urban.

Possible contributions may include (although are not exhaustive of):

• Geographies and infrastructures of rural-urban migration and mobility
• Peri-urban land governance
• Autoconstructions and peri-urban informality
• Peri-urban planning technologies and infrastructural development
• Urban theory and its constitutive outsides
Linked Sessions Urban limits: peri-urban transformations in the Global South (1)
Urban limits: peri-urban transformations in the Global South (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Conflict Politics at Urban Margins: Comparative Learnings from Kolkata
Raktim Ray (Open University, UK)
Urban margins in postcolonial cities are sites of everyday conflict politics which attempt to unsettle the state through the reordering of socio-spatial arrangements. Here margins represent those zones of ‘awkward engagements’ which often oscillate between legality and illegality. The research attempts to identify two cases of urban margins in Kolkata on the basis of the nature of postcolonial capitalism. The first case represents primitive accumulation in the jute industry and subsequent conflict politics against that. The second case study showcases an anti-power grid movement in the peri-urban area of Kolkata called Bhangar. Peri-urban areas in Kolkata represent the ‘double reality’ of postcolonial capitalism through primitive accumulation by assets creation and virtual accumulation through financial investments. For both the cases land becomes an apostle in this process for higher value and velocity of capital circulation. The paper identifies spatial adhocism becomes an essential component of conflict politics which can be understood through the reordering of spatial arrangements. It also highlights how spatial adhocism enables the postcolonial state to grant selective allowance of rights at the urban margins. Finally, in a nuanced way using urban politics as a methodological apparatus, the research contributes to the theorisation of comparative urbanism.
Peri-urban statecraft: crafting property through the peri-urban land bureaucracy
Tom Cowan (University of Bergen, Norway)
Over the past decade there has been a growing body of research on the dynamics of city-making in the indeterminable and fluid space of India’s peri-urban. Here on the fringes of India’s traditional cities a host of city-making experiments are currently taking place, from privately managed elite enclaves (Cowan, 2015), to planned resettlement colonies (Ramakrishnan, 2014) to townships developed by peasant cooperatives (Sami, 2013), to the Indian government’s nascent project to develop 100 smart cities (Datta, 2015). This paper explores peri-urban land governance actors which mediate the transformation of agricultural land into legible real-estate.

The paper draws from six months ethnographic field research in the patwari office [village land records bureaucracy], examining the material and social processes through which property is first imagined and carved out in the record and consolidated on the ground by a host of state, peri-state and private real-estate actors. Building on anthropological literature on the everyday state (Fuller & Harris 2001; Gupta 2012; Das 2011) and geographical work on flexible, porous and informal state spaces (Roy 2009; Ghertner 2011; Doshi & Ranganathan 2016) alongside burgeoning work on India’s peri-urban geographies (Kennedy & Sood 2016; Mishra & Narain 2018), this paper seeks to explore the role of actors within the peri-urban land bureaucracy in shaping emerging real estate geographies in Gurgaon’s peripheries. How does the crafting and consolidation of property play out through ambiguous and flexible space of the local agrarian state? How does the patwari’s imagination of property shape the contours and consolidation of property? How are new “smart” bureaucratic technologies articulating with existing manual processes of consolidation? What role do non-state actors and non-urban subjects (dalals [brokers], company patwaris, private land surveyors and peasant farmers) play in imagining and contesting peri-urban configurations; and what does that tell us about land governance in peri-urban areas? In short I am interested in exploring how rapid peri-urban real estate development is being imagined and consolidated through the complex and intimate relations which take place in the field offices of the peri-urban state.
From collective to community: farmers-turned-citizens as community builders in peri-urban Chengdu
Jessica Wilczak (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)
Informality is often considered a hallmark of peri-urban development in the cities of the Global South. But informality hardly seems to characterize China’s recent national urbanization policy, which has ushered in a new era of state-led, infrastructure-driven growth. In the western Chinese city of Chengdu, social infrastructure and community-building policies are playing an equally large but underexamined role in urbanization planning. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this paper traces the policy rationales, genealogy, and activities of a new “model” community centre in Chengdu’s urban fringe. While it is possible to read the activities carried out in the centre as top-down initiatives aimed at managing a now surplus population of former farmers and cultivating patriotic, “civilized” urban residents, I argue that a bottom-up analysis—foregrounding the key role of former village institutions, residents, and leaders in managing the new community—helps reveal the persistant influence of the rural in shaping new forms of the urban in suburban Chengdu. Though far from informal, such attempts to stake a claim on village territory and identity might be thought of as improvisational reworkings of both current state-provided infrastructure and earlier collective institutions.
Accumulation, ambiguity and anxiety: middle class, sub-urban land grabbing in Dar es Salaam
Claire Mercer (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
The African land grab conjures a malevolent scramble for rural land as foreign investors including transnational companies, private equity funds and national states seek to increase their access to food production or biofuels in order to ensure either food security or profit. But there is much more to say about which actors are accessing what land and for what purposes in contemporary Africa. It is time to extend our understanding of the land grab phenomenon to Africa’s cities if we are to understand the ways in which the spatial political economy of the city is being shaped. The ‘urban land grab’ identifies the uneven distribution of urban land and wealth through acquisition and speculation by transnational elites, public-private partnerships, foreign and domestic companies and state agencies, as well as local elites, often resulting in evictions and displacements from downtown areas (Gillespie 2018, Goodfellow 2017, Mbiba 2018, Zoomers et al 2017, Steel et al 2017). This paper seeks to add to this growing body of scholarship by turning to the city’s edges to unpick the more ambiguous politics of accumulation that takes place there. In Dar es Salaam’s emerging northern suburbs, a growing middle class is slowly encroaching on the city’s former peri-urban hinterland. Based on qualitative fieldwork collected at intervals between 2012-2018, I trace how the accumulation of land and property by an emerging suburban middle-class is taking place on a less spectacular scale and scope than the kind of land deals usually considered characteristic of ‘land grabbing’. Fraught with ambiguity and anxiety, middle class accumulation is dramatically re-shaping the city’s edges.