RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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325 Citylife: Agency, Aesthetics, Politics (2)
Convenor(s) Colin McFarlane (Durham University, UK)
Michele Lancione (University of Sheffield, UK)
Chair(s) Michele Lancione (University of Sheffield, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122
Session abstract The idea of ‘citylife’ is one of the more pervasive to the history of the city. In that couplet, there is a suggestion of something distinct about life in the city, but that distinction depends significantly on how we define and come to know ‘life’, ‘city’, and their relations. What does it mean to be 'alive' in the urban? How might we think ‘citylife’ as a plural set of forces, agencies, ideas, epistemologies and aesthetics encompassing and going beyond what humans make of them? What are the affective qualities of such a life, and what kind of politics emerges when one starts to reconsider the 'citylife' couplet? While we may typically think of 'citylife' registering either excitement and opportunity on the one hand, or alienation and oppression on the other, what kind of politics emerge in-between and beyond these forms, and what is quintessentially 'urban' about them? This session asks contributors to explore these and related questions and concerns, including:

• Thinking ‘citylife’ in the age of global urbanism: meanings and possibilities;
• Race, class, gender and social structuration: thinking tensioned politics and ‘citylife’;
• Density and ‘citylife’: affective capacities and urban experience;
• Dwelling in the interstices: propositional politics from/of the margins;
• Improvisation: getting by, making do, getting on;
• Intersections: life at social, spatial and political conjunctures;
• Urban policy and the conditioning of ‘citylife’;
• Urban dark matters, affects and atmospheres: what kind of aesthetics?
• Methodologies of encounter and plurality for life in the city.

We invite speakers to discuss these and related questions in the form of short reflections. The aim is to invite an open dialogue with the audience and generate a productive discussion around the limits and opportunities of the idea of ‘citylife’.
Linked Sessions Citylife: Agency, Aesthetics, Politics (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
The ‘genius’ of the local: Citylife through thick and thin
Henrik Ernstson (The University of Manchester, UK)
What to make of the comings and goings of life in the city? And who is making something out of this life? This reflection on citylife centres on how a city so particular and in many ways strange as Cape Town could be a location from where to formulate theory about postcolonial and decolonial citylife. My reflection will connect with a Capeflatsian poet to carve out how he makes sense of the layered legacies of how particular histories and geographies of the city have been silenced out and off-staged when the city has been thought. First skarrel, or skarreling, to be on your toes, to look for possibilities; from selling stuff at the corner, to find and hold a job, to work your networks and get a foot hold. This has a long history in Cape Town, a city notorious for off-loading its majority, not caring. And still they are there, always been there, skarreling and keeping busy. Second, out of this constant movement at the crossroads to gain foothold despite not being seen or recognized as even having a history, there is a particular genius forming through living, breathing and chatting through the aesthetic and material interstices of the city. This locus for thinking and acting is also part of citylife, always was. I want to call this the “genius of the local”—my slight change of Andrew Apter’s and Harry Garuba’s “genius of paganism” (from Andrew Apter)—an ability to appropriate the outside world, connect with it for better and worse, while developing particular and able responses to pressing problems and political possibilities. The dialectic between skarreling and genius (that binds together alienation and excitement but is neither the one or the other) produces a set of practices and spaces: poetry, hip hop, dance, theatre, resistance, organizing, thinking, suggestions—locations from where we could start thinking decolonizing urbanism in practical terms. For the panel, I will offer a couple of examples to think with and see how these situated practices might travel and connect with citylife and other cities.
Intersection as life
Michele Lancione (University of Sheffield, UK)
Citylife is best understood as a particular genre of densities, velocities, accelerations, rhythms independent from human cognition, coloring urbanity in non-binary ways. Intersection can be used as a heuristic device to work with these substratums of life, on at least three levels. At first, it urges to look for intersecting processes of historic-material kind, that is, to trace how history (with all its shine and violence) reverberate on the present. What the city ought to be and has not become, and what the city has become that was not meant to be are questions to be found at the intersection. Secondly, there is a methodology of (poetic) attunement to the intersecting affects of the vitalist urban machine, that is, an invitation for a certain kind of bodily exhaustion that can rewire human bodies to let them perceive - enter in a differential contact with - the affect of intersections. This is a quest for marginal cracks within which an outlaw culture can be thought of. Thirdly, there is the question of the politics of intersection, which is not about asking 'what intersection can do' but about inquiring 'what can this body do through intersection(s)'. What is the life that can be found in intersection and what can one do through it? This short presentation illustrates these ideas through the use of visual panels evoking field movements, encounters and groundings.
Life at the intersection
Colin McFarlane (Durham University, UK)
Life in the city, with all its comings and goings, rhythms and ruptures, negotiations and articulations, does not comply with the categories and epistemes urbanists have inherited to describe them. Everyday urban life exceeds those categories and resists their normative silencing. We see this at the intersection. By intersection, we have in mind places in which density is not mere context, but active in the making of the condition of urbanity, and where multiplicities coexist, contradict, reach out, transform, and close off in different ways. Here, all kinds of small interactions, improvisations, learnings, and contestations produce the hum of the everyday. The intersection is particular kind of place and crossroads, where order and flexibility enable some forms of life and not others. But it is also a conceptual device that we can use to encompass the limit of bounded categories of the 'city' and its 'life', to approach a more nuanced reading of processes, affects and entanglements. This is not a romanticisation of processes and flows, but a ground from which one can appreciate the live and felt politics of everyday urban life, within it (un)makings. In this interexamine what this citylife is and why it matters for those interested in promoting life in the city.
Discussant
Jennifer Robinson (University College London, UK)
Discussant