Deadline: 27 April 2015 - 10:46pm

Dates: 19 - 21 November 2015


Where: Dortmund, Germany

“Who wins and who loses? – Exploring and learning from transformations and actors in the cities of the South”

With current developments around the world exhibiting increasing urban challenges, such as new urban forms and patterns of development, the expectations and responsibilities of politicians, policy-makers, urban researchers and the consultancy industry have arguably never been greater. The academic world appears inert while still struggling to disentangle disciplinary epistemologies and the attempt to overcome the exclusivity of established frameworks of knowledge production. Similarly, the policy-makers and politicians act within their own logic and schedules, and developers, donors, banks, NGOs and consultants have their internal agendas, scopes and working methods. Obviously, all these sectors produce significant knowledge on urban development; however their knowledge and action is often disconnected from each other and, even worse, it is often not transferable. The N-AERUS Conference will address these challenges by focusing on three issues:

Roundtable 1 provides the ground for discussion focusing on new spatial arrangements;

Roundtable 2 calls for going beyond the common approach of best practices and puts an emphasis on actors whose voices are not yet recognized;

Roundtable 3 addresses the three spheres of knowledge production in academia, consultancy/development agents and policy-makers.

1-Urbanization beyond megacities: new urban patterns – new constellations of actors

Discourses related to urban development tend to focus on major strands of discussion and lenses of analyses. However, beyond the dominating discussion on megacities, new forms of urbanisation are emerging: e.g. revitalisation of the inner-cities, development corridors, secondary cities, an urban-rural continuum, trans-locational and multi-locational households to name only a few. These new forms of urbanity come with a new set of actors beyond those institutionally and officially established. Not all of these new actors are involved in decision-making processes. While some actors will benefit from the emerging urban patterns, others will obviously lose, e.g. through displacement or even forced evictions and gentrification. This has to be addressed.

2-Learning from diverse experiences beyond ‘best-practice’

A predominant lens of how we understand and narrate urban development tends to focus on case studies, mainly ‘best practices’. The bases of these studies are analyses based on a single specific context with its individual connotations of conflicts and patterns of social spatial development. However, developing debates based on various experiences and understanding the complexity of comparison and the non-transferability of urban practices seem crucial in order to deepen the understanding of processes shaping urbanisation across the globe (Brenner 2012; Guarneros-Meza & Geddes 2011; Robinson 2011). This has become key in the understanding of specific contexts and plays an important role in the creation of knowledge in research and in the search for tangible solutions, as well as for monitoring and evaluation or improving living conditions.

3-The politics of knowledge in research and education

Consequently, assessing what forms of urban production are emerging, whose experiences are actually being expressed and in which ways knowledge is produced and disseminated has become a challenge in itself. To address these issues there is a need for more diversity in the major strands of knowledge production, including the plurality of research frameworks (de Sousa Santos, Arriscado Nunes, Meneses 2006; Roy 2009). There is also a need to consider various contemporary restructuring processes in the analyses of urban phenomena. It is inevitable to raise questions on how we understand, narrate and theorize urban practices in their relation to the urban change and actors involved.

Topics for the Roundtables in detail

Offering a platform to discuss such issues, the XVIth N-AERUS conference will consist of three thematic roundtable sessions following individual paper presentations to question and reshape academic, institutional and community-based agendas for the identification of innovative research frameworks, practices and the pedagogy related with built environment disciplines. It will bring different sectoral actors together, including academics, practitioners and consultants.

The roundtables are centred around the above stated questions on going beyond major strands of discussion and lenses of analyses as the common approach of best practices and puts an emphasis on actors whose voices are not yet recognised by raising the following questions:

*             What are the different spatial forms of urban development and their respective challenges and pitfalls?

*             How do planners, officials, politicians, consultants and other actors affect changes in urban development and disseminate the results?

*             How is knowledge produced and how does the engagement between universities, policy makers and urban communities work to achieve the best results in education, research and community services?

Submissions for individual papers related to the three roundtable themes are welcomed.

ROUNDTABLE 1 – Understanding new urbanities Keynote speaker from Urban Planning and Geography

Beyond the heavily debated megacities that have been a recent focus of studies, other contemporary urban changes have received less attention. One is the importance of (certain) small- and medium-sized towns figuring as regional employment centres and migration destinations. Another one concerns trans-locality or trans-nationality and refers to social, economic and political processes transcending urban (or even national) borders, while heavily impacting on local development opportunities. These developments have incited discussions on rural-urban linkages, development corridors and functional regions, including calls for transcending territorialized urban polices and planning. In our view, all this is important, but needs to be carried further not only to operationalize academic discourses for urban policies and practice. We are thus interested in discussing

*             methods, issues and critical views related to the concepts, narratives and discourses in the urbanisation processes beyond megacities,

*             New shapes of urbanities beyond the mega- or primary cities, for example development corridors, urban regions, the today relatively higher growth in secondary cities in comparison to the primate city,

*             urban–rural linkages and related trans-local or multi-locational livelihoods between different urban areas, the city and the countryside,

*             new forms of actors involved in shaping the urban fabric.

ROUNDTABLE 2 – Learning from diverse experiences beyond ‘Best Practices’

Keynote speaker (working in practices, practitioner)

The second theme proposes to interrogate the dimensions of how we understand, narrate and theorize urban practices in their relation to urban change. Considerable attention paid to ‘best practices’ is indicative of conceiving of development from a positivist perspective while it remains unclear whose experiences and goals are actually being expressed through ‘best practices’. We might question who determines the best practices and for whom are those ‘best practices’? Do the ‘best practices’ enable us to examine who is losing and winning in these transformation processes?

*             What ethical questions do we have to raise when relating to built environment and urban production ­– when shaping the city? How do we address the voice of the marginalised who are often represented by others, such as, for example, professional representatives and networks, and understand the conditions on the ground? This necessitates understanding who is participating in urban development and how and who is not. Therefore questions regarding actor constellations and their interests, forms of urban governance as well as the inclusionary or exclusionary spatial results of urban development will be raised in order to gain a deeper understanding of current urban practices.

*             If we switch the focus from ‘best practices’ to failures can we learn about conflicts and alternative developments? How do we facilitate exchange of different urban practices and learn from each other? We will raise the issue of how we compare development. What are in this context criteria and axes of comparison? How to incorporate citizen and users in the evaluations?

ROUNDTABLE 3 – The politics of knowledge in research and education Keynote speaker (working in both spheres research and education)

Roundtable 3 aims to foster a critical reflection on how we obtain, create and teach knowledge (policies, social actors and planning processes), both in the academia and among so-called practitioners, e.g. in the consultancy world. In assessing this endeavour the reflection on how knowledge is produced and disseminated is a challenge in itself. Obtaining and creating knowledge often means moving within complex or competing political settings where keeping a neutral voice or being overwhelmed by complexity are very close to each other.

*             Inevitably this also provokes questions in relation to urban theory and research practice and their relationship to learning and teaching about cities, even more so when raising the question of entering into foreign cultural ground. How do knowledge networks and knowledge dissemination work? What kind of channels are used? Are these rather inclusive or exclusive? Do they include different disciplines or actors or do they remain in their own ‘body of knowledge’ made up by a single professional domain? What methodological and epistemological issues evolve in addition to – and from experience and practices?

*             We will also raise the educational issue of exchange. Why is exchange important? What is its added educational value? How do we facilitate cultural exchange as well as learning from each other and creating north-south, south-north and south-south dialogue? How do we reconcile individual professional (academic) aspirations with the needs of the interviewed and studied communities?

*             In addition experiences from different countries suggest that there is a need for academia to actively take part in urban processes and associate with civil society. While different models exist from consultancy to advocacy the question is, how do we engage with diverse actors, what is the level of commitment? What pitfalls and challenges can emerge and what are common expectations on both sides?

Conference set-up:

The conference is organized around different conference formats e.g. roundtable, open space and panel to enhance the formal and informal dialogue between all participants. Following individual presentations (10-15 minutes each) in each roundtable, an informal discussion will be kicked-off by presenters on a number of participant-led topic choices. Subsequently, the roundtable chair will extend the discussion either on a broad question put to the session as a whole, or specific questions related to the session’s thematic orientation. Through introducing open conference formats such as an Open Space all participants are encouraged to participate and the formal as well as informal dialogue should be enhanced.

More detailed information on this setup will follow after abstract submission and selection.

Abstract submission:

150-250 words should be submitted in .rtf or .doc by 30th April 2014 12:00 pm CET, to the conference e-mail address [email protected] Abstracts and papers can be written in English, French or Spanish.

Abstracts should:

*             Indicate the roundtable

*             Indicate a title

*             Explain the state of objectives, methods and results and the issue to be addressed, define the context, and highlight the main arguments.

Important dates:

Abstract submission: 30 April 2015

Abstract review and selection for full paper by: 30 May 2015

Full Paper submission:15 October 2015

Conference: 19 and 21 November 2015

No registration fee accompanies attendance of the conference. There will be however a charge for all participants to cover the costs of documentation and coffee/tea during the conference.


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Photo via Jurgen Matern

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