Event — UKNA - Urban Asia presentation series

Urbanisation beyond Dichotomies? Making Sense of Complexity in Contemporary Urban Practices

Through case studies presented by the panelists, we explore the prospects for a new lexicon and 'way of seeing' in urban studies—one which embraces complexity rather than creating neat, opposing categories.

PLEASE NOTE: this event has been postponed until 12 November 2024.

Venue and registration
We will announce the exact location closer to the date and then also publish the registration form for attendees.

Panel Abstract

Urban planners and theorists have long adopted dichotomies to try to make sense of complex realities in cities. Classic dichotomies include rural versus urban, formal versus informal, legal versus illegal, rich versus poor, public versus private, global South versus global North, and expert versus non-expert knowledge—to mention but a few.

It is increasingly apparent from current urban trends, including the affordable housing crisis worldwide, the collapse of global conglomerates, the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and others, that while these binaries are useful to help us categorize information and introduce hierarchies in concepts, they obfuscate rather than help us understand complexities.

Binary analyses are problematic not only because they involve various biases against space-making activities by the people but also because they fail to consider other city-making activities by different social groups. In a world where the global North and South seem increasingly intertwined, where rights to land can be formal yet at the same time precarious, and where the rural and the urban are meaningful distinctions only on administrative maps—does it still make sense to apply these binary worldviews?

We may need new analytical tools that allow us to explore urban phenomena in all their multiplicity and complexity while at the same time acknowledging the purposive deployment of urban binaries against the urban poor, often rendering their acts of claims-making invisible, if not illegal. 

In this panel discussion, through case studies presented by the panelists, we explore the prospects for a new lexicon and “way of seeing” in urban studies—one which embraces complexity rather than creating neat, opposing categories. Panelists include newly published authors whose work is in scope worldwide and who are interested in interdisciplinary and comparative work on urbanized regions everywhere.

The Speakers/Panelists

Dr Hoai Anh Tran (Malmö University, Sweden) is an Associate Professor of Built Environment at the Department of Urban Studies, Malmö University, Sweden. Her research provides a critical analysis of the relationship between the state and society in urban space production, in the formulation and implementation of urban and housing policies, as well as the relationship between people and the built environment, with studies from Vietnam and Sweden. Her research topics include urban development policies and social justice, sustainable planning, urban space production, housing research, gentrification, everyday mobility, informality, and rhythm analysis. Dr. Hoai Anh Tran’s most recent book (co-authored with Ngai Ming Yip) is entitled Urban Space Production in Vietnam: Interstitial Practices and the Production of Differential Spaces in Hanoi. The work explores tensions and synergies between state visions and the everyday life practices of ordinary people and analyses power relations and social hierarchies that are embedded in the interstices of urban phenomena.

Dr Stephen Marr (Malmö University, Sweden) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Global Political Studies at Malmö University, who works at the intersection of the politics of grassroots mobilization, urban inequality, the politics of sustainability, and comparative urban theory. His current research engages two interrelated areas of interest: a) the role DIY urbanism plays in community-driven adaption to climate change in cities with limited state capacity and b) the extent to which urban practitioners in the Global North can learn from community-initiated urban interventions undertaken in the Global South. Marr's geographic focus in addressing the aforementioned themes is the post-industrial American Midwest (Detroit, specifically) and Southern Africa. Dr Stephen Marr's most recent publication (co-edited with Patience Mususa) is DIY Urbanism in African Cities: Politics and Practice (Bloomsbury Academic, 2023). The book presents a series of case studies from urban localities across the African continent to demonstrate how residents invent new DIY tactics and strategies in response to security, place-making, or economic challenges.

Dr Anitra Baliga (Erasmus University, The Netherlands) is an urban sociologist with a background in architecture. She researches real estate development, financialization, and the commodification of land within the context of liberalization. Anitra completed her PhD in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 2020 and has been at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam since 2022. She has particular interest and research expertise in urban and economic sociology, economic geography, urban studies, and urban development. In the professional world, Anitra has fulfilled various roles within diverse sectors ranging from real estate consulting, housing finance, policy research, and urban planning. Anitra is currently carrying out a comparative study of slum redevelopment programs in Mumbai and Delhi.


We will open the registration form for attendees closer to the event date.