Global Urban Justice @RC21

How does citizen participation challenge or reinforce power relations in urban governance? What might an urban politics look like which values dissent as well as consensus? How can we contribute to realising global urban justice through critical methodologies?

These were just some of the questions which shaped the Urban Institute’s contributions to the recent RC21 ‘Rethinking Global Urban Justice’ conference, which was held in Leeds from the 11th to the 13th September 2017.  The event was organised by Research Committee 21 (RC21) on Sociology of Urban and Regional Development of the International Sociological Association.

The UI’s Realising Just Cities programme organised two sessions. Bert Russell and Beth Perry ran a session entitled ‘From Participation to Power? Possibilities and Pitfalls in Co-Producing Urban Governance’. The session drew on the UI’s Jam and Justice project and brought together contributors from Sweden, India, Spain, UK, South Korea and Singapore to explore the limits and outcomes of participatory initiatives. Through a series of short provocations and discussions, the groups debated what ‘good enough’ participation might look like, the temporality of effect and multi-scale dynamics which shape degrees of urban autonomy.

These themes continued into a further session organised by Vicky Habermehl and Beth Perry entitled ‘Valuing Urban Dissensus’. Drawing on one of the UI’s Open Research Area projects, Whose Knowledge Matters, the sessions explored questions relating to the role and value of citizens’ knowledge in sustainable urban development projects. A plurality of cases had been selected to draw out themes around dissensus as community contestation, dissensus in everyday life and challenging business as usual. Urban case studies were presented from the UK, Spain, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and India. A common theme was the need to avoid presenting over-simplistic binary cases of success or failure.

Also presenting at the conference were Sophie King, Jon Silver, and Desiree Fields.

Jon Silver and Sophie King contributed lessons from respective research initiatives exploring new discourses of urban comparison within a session on ‘Critical Methodologies for Global Urban Justice’. Jon explored the value in engaging in ‘unexpected comparison’ of infrastructural injustice in contexts as diverse as Cape Town and Camden, New Jersey. Sophie shared experiences of working with low-income women’s groups in Greater Manchester to ‘see’ neighbourhood organising through the lens of social-movement organising in the global South. Sophie also presented a comparative paper on experiments in state-social movement co-production within urban poverty reduction programming in India and Uganda as part of a series of sessions examining the ‘Impacts of urban social movements on local governance’.

In a session on ‘New Forms and Practices of Dispossession through Housing and Land Financialization’, Desiree Fields presented her work on the ‘Automated Landlord’. The paper showed how the intersection of platform and financial capitalism have afforded new forms of digital value grabbing in the housing sector since the 2008 crisis.

Along with Zac Taylor and Joe Beswick of the University of Leeds, Desiree Fields organized a series of sessions on ‘Reconstructing the Real Estate-Finance Link: Housing Financialization after the Crisis’. Across three paper sessions, we examined new modes of housing financialization in the global north, the role state and nonprofit actors play in treating housing as a financial asset, and perspectives on this process from the global South. The sessions included lively discussions of the political economy of eviction, credit scoring as a disciplinary mechanism, and the transformation of English housing associations.