Track 4: referential dissonance

Cosmopolitanism's manifestations of referential dissonance

Summary
Most cities aren’t built on nothing, but rather are built into and onto pre-existing socialites, geographies and ideologies. This panel is concerned with the “shards of genealogies through which present forms [of urbanism] have emerged” (Tsing 2004: 127). It calls for a discussion on the accumulation, appropriation and mediation of distant and recent pasts into the present, and what new forms of sociality, subjectivity and intersubjectivity emerge out of this.

If the city is a reference point (temporally, ideologically, spatially) for citizens, what kinds of “referential dissonances” (Han 2004: 183) and/or harmonies do citizens experience between the various social contexts they have experienced as a consequence of geopolitical transformations in their cities in recent history? And how do they “weave themselves into the new fabric of signifiers” (Han 2004: 173) that their cities take on today? This panel encourages submissions from a wide range of city experiences. We hope ultimately to consider “subjects whose institutions of meaning have been radically altered [as their]...historical signifiers have lost their signifiers” (Han 2004:183), and to discuss what ‘hybrid’ signifiers and socialities may have emerged out of this “cosmopolitanism” (Humphrey et al. 2009).

Keywords: temporality, cosmopolitanism, dissonance, subjectivity, transformations

Chair: Aeron O’Connor

Papers

From defence of the border to ‘Opening up the West’: making the urban in rural Inner Mongolia, China

Thomas White, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

This paper examines contemporary urbanisation in Inner Mongolia, China, and its relationship to earlier forms of settlement, in particular military-agricultural colonies. It draws on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork among ethnic Mongolian pastoralists, conducted in the remote Alashan region, on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Scholarship on urbanisation in China often focusses on the movement of migrants from rural areas to big cities; in the case examined here, however, rural space itself has become urban by administrative fiat. In 1999 the pastoral centre (Ch. sumu) of Ulaanelis was subjected to administrative ‘scaling-up’, becoming a town (Ch. zhen). At the same time, the settlement was moved 20km to the east, to the site of a former military-agricultural colony (Ch. jianshe bingtuan), founded in the 1960s at the time of escalating tension between China and the Soviet Union (and its satellite state the Mongolian People’s Republic). This scaling-up and relocation was undertaken in the interests of modernisation and economic development: since the end of the last century the Chinese state has sought to encourage urbanisation in its relatively impoverished Western regions as part of the Open Up the West (Ch. Xibu Da Kaifa) development plan. This paper investigates the transformation in spatiality that this scaling-up and relocation entailed, as locals reoriented themselves around a new centre, one with very particular historical associations. I will argue that the state’s development plans in Ulaanelis are haunted by the socialist-era history of military-agricultural colonisation and its inscription on the physical environment.

 

Modernity, Representation and Everyday Life in “the biggest city you've never heard of”

Asa Roast, Cities and Social Justice, University of Leeds

The city of Chongqing in South-West China enjoys the dubious honour bestowed upon it by Western media of being “the biggest city you've never heard of”. Its geographical isolation from the highly urbanised coastal provinces has encouraged its reputation as a “boring” city, emblematic of the popular notion that the Chinese interior is now dotted with faceless, industrial megacities, which are by implication far less modern and cosmopolitan than financial centres such as Beijing and Shanghai. My proposed research challenges this notion, by exploring Chongqing as a space in which the dissonances and tensions of rapid urbanisation are mediated and represented quite differently from the Western-facing neoliberal models of urbanisation typical of most “world cities” of the Global South. In terms of political-economy, this is evident in the emergence of the so-called 'Chongqing Model', which challenges the neoliberal urban models of the coastal cities, whilst adopting aesthetics which simultaneously draw upon “red” nostalgia for the Maoist past and a profoundly post-socialist vision of global urban modernity and cosmopolitanism. Moreover, I plan to conduct ethnographies of the public spaces of Chongqing to examine how this alternative model of modernity impacts upon urban subjectivity, and how the dissonances of socialist and post-socialist narratives of modernity are reflected in the everyday lives of Chongqing residents. My planned research thus interrogates the provocation that if we wish to look for a new mode of urban subjectivity emerging from China's great urban transformation, we should search amongst the quotidian life of Chongqing's thirty-three million citizens rather than amongst spectacular sites of capital accumulation.

 

Tajik Lost Cities, Mute Dreams and Deep Play

Aeron O’Connor, Anthropology, University College London

Most cities aren’t built on nothing, but rather are built into and onto pre-existing socialites, geographies and ideologies. This panel is concerned with the “shards of genealogies through which present forms [of urbanism] have emerged” (Tsing 2004: 127). It calls for a discussion on the accumulation, appropriation and mediation of distant and recent pasts into the present, and what new forms of sociality, subjectivity and intersubjectivity emerge out of this.

If the city is a reference point (temporally, ideologically, spatially) for citizens, what kinds of “referential dissonances” (Han 2004: 183) and/or harmonies do citizens experience between the various social contexts they have experienced as a consequence of geopolitical transformations in their cities in recent history? And how do they “weave themselves into the new fabric of signifiers” (Han 2004: 173) that their cities take on today? This panel encourages submissions from a wide range of city experiences. We hope ultimately to consider “subjects whose institutions of meaning have been radically altered [as their]...historical signifiers have lost their signifiers” (Han 2004:183), and to discuss what ‘hybrid’ signifiers and socialities may have emerged out of this “cosmopolitanism” (Humphrey et al. 2009).

 

Brussels Quartier Midi: Enacting Transnationalism and Debating Cosmopolitanism

Katherine Prater, Architecture and Urban Studies, University of Cambridge

The status of Belgium as defined by historic boundary conditions between Flanders and Wallonia can be traced back to the 9th-century division between the dominant political paradigms of Latin and Germanic Europe. As an international enclave within the Flemish region of Belgium, the city of Brussels is expressly defined through the politics of its borders. In a city that is subject to highly politicized municipal, regional, national, and supranational boundaries and hierarchies, this research examines the spatial conditions and social praxis that have contributed to Brussels’ capacity to host diversity in spite of ideological, cultural, racial, and socio-economic heterogeneity. Consequentially, this study of Brussels is useful in its provision of perspectives on urbanism and contemporary transformation in Europe, contributing to topical debates on identity politics, urban conflict theory, migration, cosmopolitanism, and transnationalism.

This research explores the frontier between the cosmopolitan and the provincial, examining three fundamental questions: 1) To what extent can one conceive of Brussels as materially and symbolically representative of and meaningful to the internal and external boundaries of the European Union? 2) How are these national and supranational values and aspirations made visible in the social praxis of Brussels, and how is this evidenced in the spatial context and evolution of the city? 3) Given the recent rise in far-right, “illiberal” politics in certain areas of Europe, to what extent does the diverse, cosmopolitan socio-spatial reality of Brussels offer a counter-narrative? Further, are cosmopolitanism and transnationalism the most appropriate frameworks for investigating the urban conditions of Brussels?

 

 

‘British dDeaf Diaspora: musings from the field on roadblocks, (dis)integration, and interconnections’

Kelly Robinson, Anthropology, University College London

 In this paper I will begin to engage with dDeaf understandings of diaspora. Many dDeaf interlocutors have expressed that the interconnections and complications which arise amongst their social circles in London mean that they feel more culturally and ethnically bound to other non-local/global dDeaf people by virtue of their shared dDeaf experiences, in some cases more-so than to their own families. I will offer ethnographic data which engages with this inverted sense of diaspora, one without a specific geographic homeland, and how this links with dDeaf experiences of ​London. First, I will present instances in which interlocutors experienced ‘foreign-ness’, despite geographically remaining ‘at home’. I will then tally some of these reported experiences by British dDeaf persons with, in particular, the definitions offered by Nigel Rapport of cosmopolitanism, and Ghassan Hage of diaspora (2005). I will consider what happens when the flexibility of physical human variation meets rigid constructions – social and physical – settings which are built for certain static modes of behaviour generated by particular kinds of bodies with specific sensorial hierarchies.  Using my ongoing field research as the primary resource, I will present how many Deaf people, facing a social and physical environment deemed unsuitable to accommodate dDeaf communication methods or ways of being, find greater affinities with other persons from elsewhere who share the same physical, cultural, and ethnical experiences of dDeafness. They do so without necessarily moving from the geographical particularities of Britain, generating a separate, non-geographically specific place/space emically defined as Deaf Diaspora.

 

Ageing and the City: Urban Resilience and Socio--Spatial Marginalisation of the Elderly in East London

Theodora Bowering, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge

This research proposes to interrogate cities and their civic spaces through the lens of the elderly. The currency of this questioning is driven by two main factors: growing ageing populations that will see over sixty-fives in the UK rise from 18% today to 29% in 2050; and an increase in the UK’s population from 64.5 million to 77 million in 2050. These powerful dynamics are developing out of a historical context of political, economic, social, scientific and urban changes that saw the establishment of nation-states and the growth of capitalist structures. At the core of these was the biopolitical agenda of the “right” to life visible in practices of medicalisation, institutionalisation and urbanisation that are currently failing to meet the needs of the elderly. It is neither a positive nor negative declaration of effect, however, that this research looks to define. Instead, it is to understand the framework within which medicine, social sciences, philosophy (Foucault, Agamben, Wacquant), architecture and urbanism, as disciplines and practices, intersect with ageing at the scale of the body, the institution and the city. This framework will reveal the need for age to be recognised as an arena of contestation and marginalisation, and for practices and forces to be explored as a rising source of social conflict and inequality in cities. Key zones within the London Borough of Newham will then offer a specific ground for qualitative and quantitative analysis. Evidence of urban resilience and socio-spatial marginalisation will hence be rendered visible enabling new approaches concerning the elderly and cities to emerge.

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