Spaces of urban vulnerability: Abjection and resistance in the austericity

Deadline: 13 February 2015 - 12:00am

Dates: 2 - 4 September 2015

Where: Exeter, UK

Venue: University of Exeter

Conveners: Royal Geographical Society with IBG

Royal Geographical Society with IBG Annual Conference

This session seeks to explore the vulnerabilities, risks and political possibilities produced through contemporary urbanism.  Framing the risks that human actions present at a planetary scale and recognising the implications of social practices on the physical world have been assisted by using the Anthropocene as a particular way of articulating geo-politics.

The Anthropocene offers a different way of grasping long histories of the human impact on the earth and of anticipating dangers to future styles of life. Yet, if this idea is to allow sufficient analytical purchase on understanding the political dimensions of how we live, and to encourage interventions in such debates, we must think of ways of accommodating its lessons at different scales. In this session, we seek to consider how urban research might contribute to discussions over the politics of vulnerability, risk and abjection in the Anthropocene.

Our concern with the urban is not to dismiss the imaginaries of planetary politics often associated with the Anthropocene, but rather to suggest that there is a need to be wary of allowing its conceptual reach to overwhelm the vitality of other approaches to apprehending the risks to our social systems, community lives and cities. Alex Schafran suggests that political theory “largely has it backwards, theorizing the political system and then applying it to the thing to be governed” (2014: 327), and, as urban researchers, we should not let the Anthropocene assume the status of a master narrative imposed on questions that may be most effectively asked in other ways and at different scales. This session thus seeks to position urban research on vulnerability, abjection and the political potential of the urban within the Anthropocene, but never fully determined by the Anthropocene.

With this in mind, we call for contributions that assess the particular risks experienced in contemporary cities, in both the Global North and South. Specifically, we are interested in developing a comparative approach to understanding vulnerable urban spaces and the populations that they contain. There is a long history of using cities as a means of governing populations whereby social issues assume spatial forms (Osborne and Rose 1999); most recently these processes have been exacerbated in the context of austerity politics and its urban manifestations. As the costs and risks assumed in ensuring a continuation of institutional forms operating across borders have been devolved down to disempowered groups in urban settings, so new forms, and spaces, of vulnerability and precarity have emerged. As Peck has argued, cities and their populations are increasingly “where austerity bites” (2013: 629); they are vulnerable to rising levels of poverty and the fracturing of social relations.

As forms of governance increasingly seek to manage pressures and threats at not only the national level, but also the planetary scale privileged in a turn to the Anthropocene, cities may be seen to occupy a paradoxical position. On the one hand, they are argued to represent sites of global networking, collaborative problem solving and political potential (Barber 2013; Magnusson 2012), yet, at the same time, they are argued to be increasingly “post-democratic” spaces denied the political autonomy of their forbears (MacLeod 2011). In this context, this session seeks to ask how we might account for, and examine, the contradictions that produce and may challenge urban vulnerability.   How may “spaces of urban vulnerability” in what we might call the “Austericity” be conceptualised, and to which socio-economic purposes? Can politics be re-thought at the scale of the urban, drawing in lessons from thinking critically at other scales of the social? Can cities be the sites of resistance to the re-drawing of boundaries of risk and vulnerability being visited on their populations?

We seek contributions from geographers and others interested in these questions and the following:

•       How do we classify vulnerable spaces and urban populations within and between national territories?
•       What are the key factors implicated in urban decline and how can we map and measure them over time?
•       What forms of governmentality are involved in state/capital divestment and strategic withdrawal from discrete urban   settings and how and why do they operate?
•       How should we survey and acknowledge social harm in spaces of urban abjection?
•       How might academics and others work collaboratively and creatively to facilitate the voices of disempowered and silenced publics?
•       How do we integrate quantitative and qualitative methods and different scalar analyses in the service of developing cross-national research on spaces of urban vulnerability?
Speakers will each have 15 minutes for their presentation followed by 5 minutes for questions.

Abstracts should be between 200-300 words and should be emailed to all three convenors at the following addresses by Friday, 13th February 2015.
[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]


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