Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)


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Negri , p. In the face of the increasing escape variety of different relations. In this reading, from the city of encounter by elite groups and with echoes of the discussion on the into gated enclaves, the politics of assemblage commons, the role of the critic is to partici- thinking is to emphasise the democratic pate in the gathering process, meaning that equality of assembly itself, of assembling commonality as an open multiplicity. The critic is not the one assembly, we need to consider how assem- who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naive believers, but the one who offers the blage helps us to consider how that process participants arenas in which to gather … the of assembling might take place.

Has it those objects. Debunking this e. Atkinson, ; Sintomer et al. For how might we generate new associations example, a key instance of the possibilities of around water? How might we multiply the urban gathering are those of participatory range of opportunities and spaces in which budgeting from Porto Alegre, where differ- disparate groups might gather in the consti- ent groups come together across the city in tution of a different, more just, sort of water budget forums that function as a space for settlement?

Abers, ; Baiocchi, ; informal water economies and privatisation Sintomer et al. In critical urban schol- — to generate left assemblages that create arship, the most radical antecedent and new relations. If that radical ent direction and tradition—generating links urban tradition lives on, there are also a vari- with different publics in the proposing and ety of other, more everyday strategies for politicising of alternative urbanisms.

The idea assembling different groups and generating of generative critique has a history in urban multiple matters of concern, from focus debates that has taken quite specific forms, groups and public inquiries, to consensus some critical and some conservative. From one-off generative forms of critique see, e. Callon town hall meetings to sustained efforts at et al. For assembling of cities is often constructed as a urban critique and intervention, at stake here multifarious and generative matter of is the question of the collective, that is, the concern.

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Of course, the prospects for margin- forms of interaction, learning, discussion and alised groups to influence the trajectories of action—in short, critical praxis—that facili- urban change are often very limited in prac- tates more inclusive forms of urban produc- tice—indeed, critical urban literature has tion.

In approaching banisation of post-war USA, to the rapid agency as an emergent process that is distrib- urbanisation of China over the past 20 years. What is very different, within assemblages for how we conduct however, is the particular emphasis assem- urban critique, whether those materials be blage thinking brings to the agency of the glossy policy documents, housing and infra- materials themselves.

In this sense, assem- sometimes exceeds the confines of human life blage closely connects with much of the and comprehension. Bennett , p. Part of this vital materialism is to interactions alone. Housing is, concerned with the crucial role that various in short, both made and edited, in contexts of materialities play in the constitution and deeply unequal resources and precarious experience of inequality, and in the possibili- lives.

The material- pation of the monsoon or stored bricks for ities of the home—whether in the form of post-monsoon housing repairs. Construction housing objects ranging from sack cloth and often extends vertically, allowing generations corrugated iron to brick, breezeblock and of families to live together or to utilise roof hydroform, or infrastructures of drainage, space as a rental opportunity.

Employment sanitation, water or electricity—play a opportunities can demand a transformatory central role in the everyday lives and hard- effect on housing, from small tobacco shops ships faced by the poor. Housing within opened up within the domestic space to the informal settlements is typically—though not production of papads or the rolling of exclusively—constructed individually and incense sticks on porches.

Materials also incrementally, using locally available materi- feature as hazards, for example, in the form als, and often clustered in ways that depend of recycling plastic from discarded syringes, on closely shared roofs, walls and infrastruc- which can be infectious, or in damage to tures. Building materials might be gathered eyesight from needlework, or in the hazard- from local construction debris, riverbeds, ous chemical treatment of hides for leather manufacturing waste or patches of tree cover; production—the materiality of informal the city is both mined and recycled.

Kitchens labour can provide insights into the political might be supplied with portable gas burners economy of informality. The lack of space and cooking items might be hung up to save that characterises most neighbourhoods space, while a lack of windows often necessi- means that materials often spill over into tates creating space for fans. Washing laundry is often meaning that people are sometimes forced conducted outside the house in an alley into living in the sleeping loft area.

Toilets where lighting and drainage conditions are may be a long walk away, be unsafe, and due better. This material overspill disrupts to a shortage in number give rise to intensive boundaries of public and private space, and queues, especially in the morning and facilitates particular forms of sociability, evening. Infrastructures and the housing commonality, discussion and conflict.

The variegated relations Similarly, urban materialities can act as between the state, economy and informal important agents in urban resistance. For settlements are vital to the sorts of material example, Jockin Arputham, a high-profile configurations that become possible and Mumbai activist who founded the Mumbai durable within informal settlements.


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Attend- Slum Dwellers Federation, recounts how ing to the role of materialities can provide during the s a range of mundane materi- insight into how urban inequality is als featured as agents of urban activism: produced. We also water tankers to often desperate residents for learnt how to block the phones of ministers.

The destruction and reassem- In the Maharashtra assembly, there were bling of materialities like infrastructure, or of questions asked as to how 30 ministers could informal housing, can provide important have their phones cut at one time. Blocking their phones ; Jeffrey, McFarlane and Vasudevan, takes just a simple wire and two stones.

It made it sound as if the phone was forthcoming. A key question that emerges permanently engaged. From the brief descrip- Here, railway tickets, wires and stones, facili- tion above, materials are subject to and help tate coordination amongst activists and the to shape a variety of urban geographies for possibilities of resistance. In distributing the poor. They play a complex and changing agency across the social and the material, set of roles: they hard-wire the experience of assemblage thinking involves attending to urban poverty; constitute spaces of common- how a diverse set of materialities can play ality, interaction and conflict; are demolished multiple roles in the experience and possibili- through the sometimes violent nature of state ties of urban life.

It raises questions about how intervention; can be, to different extents, we see urban poverty being experienced and manipulated and can help people to cope where we see urban resistance emerging and with or respond to crisis; are sometimes recy- how. An examination of [] of the impoverished housing of the the ways in which materialities function as English working classes. There are two implications in particu- the agency of assemblage emerges in process, lar here for critical urban research: the first in bringing different actors together, in their around methodology and the second around dissolution, contestation and reformulation.

As feminist science studies theorist Karen In relation to the first, this brief survey of Barad has argued, agency in this read- some of the materialites of informal settle- ing is less an attribute or property and more a ments in Mumbai only begins to open up the name for the ongoing reconfiguring of the question of what attending to material agents world. For Barad , p. As Bennett , to take seriously the cultural, linguistic and p. For Bennett , p. The guiding aim here is to go blage troubles at where we assign responsi- beyond the self-evident claim that human life bility and causality when we conduct is composed of many material parts, towards critique.

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As Bennett , has argued an appreciation of these materials as active in the context of the blackout of the North and to understand the changing role of mate- American power grid in August , the rials in constituting daily survival, experi- inherently distributive and multiple nature of ence, inequality and possibility. One example agency within such a sociomaterial assem- here might be a micro-focused ethnography blage casts questions over where responsibil- of the ways in which urban materials func- ity, accountability and the ethico-politics of tion not simply as objects but as processes blame lie.

We problem of the distribution of agency as a might be talking here of informal settlements, binary judgement about where we strategi- or of policy documents, blueprints, models, cally wish to attribute blame: humans or infrastructures, and so on. One contribution material agents e. But urbanism here is through ethnographies of rather than choosing from one of two binary particular urban materials that would reveal options, it seems to me that a potential the changing uses and possibilities that mate- contribution of assemblage thinking to criti- rials shape and allow, and which would cal urbanism here lies in the particular and provide a potentially different lens for link- often unexpected agency of different materi- ing everyday life, uncertainty and larger alities.

We might ask, for instance, what the shifts in political economy. How do plans emerge, and through forms: a knowledge, of how difference might which sociomaterial geographies? For the be negotiated, or of how mutuality across critical urbanist, a focus on agency as distrib- difference might operate; a disposition, either uted through sociomaterial assemblages as a progressive orientation to urban cultural opens multiple space-times of intervention diversity or as a regressive exclusionary within assemblages, where the imperative to sensibility deployed in relation to other act critically is one—to borrow from Barad cultures; a resource, a means of coping, , p.

Sandercock, , of relations of history and potential, and in ; Harvey, An encounter between its conceptual focus on distributing agency assemblage and cosmopolitanism asks us to across social and material, assemblage think- consider how urban assemblage might offer Downloaded By: [Swets Content Distribution] At: 6 June ing diversifies the range of agents and causes an imaginary of a progressive form of of urban inequality, while potentially multi- becoming together, that is, as both a disposi- plying the spaces of critical intervention.

In this section, I examine uneven spatial development so well docu- the orientation assemblage can bring to ment in the critical urban literature. As Alain urban critique through the important issue of Badiou had recently argued, the same urban cosmopolitan composition, where the voices who would have us believe in the myth question at stake is whether the imaginary of of a globally accessible urban world for all are the assembling city might allow us to work also actively in the business of constructing towards, as a political implication, a progres- new walls in the proliferation of enclaves, sive cosmopolitan urbanism.

Perhaps the surveillance, controls and expulsions. So why attempt encountering, managing or negotiating to recuperate cosmopolitanism as a normative difference. In this sense, cosmopolitanism in political project of urban assemblage?

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He existing concerns through a spatial grammar writes: of progressive cosmopolitanism. The kitchen, the Moroccan I see digging a hole in right to the city, wrote Lefebvre: the road, the veiled woman looking after children in the park. One response, then, to the call for a of groups in the production of the city as a normative cosmopolitanism is a kind of exis- lived reality—closely connects to the tential cosmopolitanism as an image of image of urban assemblage as inclusive assembly and reassembly, and that locates a cosmopolitanism.

As Hinchliffe et al. In their work on urban wildlife and cities. It is, instead, to demonstrate that we ecologies in Birmingham, they extend are constitutive parts of those inequalities. One that constitute new collectives and politics. Assemblage under- versity Hinchliffe et al. I have offered three intersections here. First, This cosmopolitical experimentation aims assemblage emphasises thick description of to develop not just better, more inclusive the relations between history and potential, representations, but alternative ontologies of that is, of the different processes that histori- Downloaded By: [Swets Content Distribution] At: 6 June human—nonhuman collectivities that change cally produce urban inequality and the possi- in process, potentially evoking new possibili- bilities for those conditions of inequality to be ties for knowing and acting in the city.

Away contested, imagined differently and altered. Second, assemblage and see Heynen et al. As an approximation of cosmopolitan- material, and in doing so draws attention to ism, the assemblage imaginary recalls the the agency of the materials themselves as concern with the rights to the city but does processes within assemblages. If this resonates so through a politics of recognition that has with the long history of critical urbanism—for the potential implication of generating new instance, around the materialities of the urban knowledges, collectives and ontolo- commodity, the gated enclave or indeed of gies.

Ward at The Open University in June ; Assemblage thinking does not oppose the and seminars in Geography at both the long tradition of critical urbanism, but it does University of Cambridge and Kings College offer some specific orientations and questions London.

Finally, thanks to Dan Swanton for that could prove useful—three in particular.

First, it offers an emphasis on potentiality. This focus on Politics in Brazil. London: Verso. Oxford: Blackwell. Second, in drawing attention pp. And, third, assemblage offers an Anderson, B. Farnham: Ashgate. Arputham, J. Atkinson, R. I am Review 49 January—February , pp. Baiocchi, G. Two anonymous referees also Barad, K. Harvey, D. New York: Columbia Things. University Press. Brenner, N. New York: Routledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Keil, R. Kofman, E. Latour, B. Sciences into Democracy, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Deleuze, G. New York: Columbia University Press. Gregory and N. Castree eds David Latour, B. Oxford: Clarendon. Dovey, K. Engels, F. Class in England. London: Penguin Edited by V. New York: Harper and Row. Kiernan, Introduction by T. Hunt Lefebvre, H. Bender eds Li, T. London: Routledge.

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Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)
Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)
Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)
Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)
Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)
Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series) Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage (RGS-IBG Book Series)

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