• - March 13, 2014


AESOP Young Academics Network is proud to announce the 8th annual Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, 10 – 13th March, 2014: Cities that Talk. The conference theme responds to the contemporary phenomena of urban resistances that have significantly challenged traditional practices of urban planning worldwide. Urban resistances range from everyday life insurgencies, through protests and riots, to urban social movements. These resistances request planning systems to stop the invention and authorization of particular traditions, histories, meanings, identities, landscapes, and lifestyles in their cities. Instead, planning systems ought to situate urban policies and strategies in the local contexts of development with particular attention to the recognition of the diverse cultural and social identities in a city based on social and environmental justice, wellbeing and quality of life, and coexistence and equal representation. 

Several intellectuals have debated urban resistances in relation to the right to the city (Lefebvre), social justice and the city (Harvey 1973), the urbanization of injustice (Merrifield 1996), invented traditions and identity making (Hobsbawm 1983), orientalism and cultural prejudices (Said 1978), imagined communities of nationality (Anderson 1983), and cultural representations and difference (Hall 1997), urban segregation and territorial stigmatization (Wacquant 2007); insurgent planning and the remaking of public spaces (Hou 2010; Friedmann 2011), squatting spaces and the institutionalization of urban movements (Pruijt 2011; Mayer 2000; 2009); rebel cities and anti-capitalist resistance (Harvey 2012); and occupy politics (Grusky, McAdam, Reich, and Satz 2013). These debates in addition to the diverse urban resistances in Paris, London, Athens, Bombay, Honk Kong, Stockholm, New York, Cairo, and Istanbul have brought the crisis of public space to the forefront of our attention pressing us to rethink cities and listen to their “voices”. In Sweden, various protests and riots have evolved against the gentrification and segregation in the suburbs of Stockholm, Malmö, Uppsala, and Gothenburg. Sweden had not seen such unrest since the bread riots in 1917. The recent uprisings in the Stockholm’s suburb, Husby, where most inhabitants are unemployed and come from ‘foreign’ cultures, demonstrate an example of local resistances to urban segregation and gentrification as well as socio-cultural discrimination. In Gothenburg, the implementation of a development plan in the suburb Kvillebacken has resulted in massive gentrification and displacement of the whole area, ignoring local voices and values. Local protests were silenced through powerful narratives framing Kvillebacken as a place of crime where people fear to visit. In the Gothenburg suburb of Backa, informal community gardening projects were seen as social mobilization against the current urban planning processes that constrain sustainable food production and urban agriculture practices. A community-based tourism in the suburb of Bergsjön, among other initiatives, has also emerged in response to the dominant tourism discourse that marginalizes stories told from the suburbs. In the calm, peaceful and well-preserved medieval town of Ystad, southeastern Sweden, the crime novels about the fictional character of Kurt Wallander have promoted subversive discourses making the town talk crime and horror, inventing new images about the town not only among the visitors but also among the residents.

In this conference we would like to go beyond these examples and understand ‘what happens’ in cities (Thrift 2007). Our point of departure is Urry’s (2000) conception of cities as spaces of ‘co-present interactions and fast flowing webs and networks stretched corporeally and imaginatively across distances’ (Urry 2000, pp. 139–40). Harvey (2008) also gives a deep understanding of these spaces, unfolding their ‘diverse networks of social interactions’, ‘language games’, ‘monetary circulation’, ‘commercial networks’, ‘networks of spatial elements’, and other kinds of diverse telecommunication networks. The ambition in the conference is to expand on these conceptions in relation to urban studies, geography, planning and governance research, and critical heritage studies. The conference poses the following questions:

How do planners talk to cities? Do planners, architects, heritage practitioners and other policy makers tell cities what to “say” and how to “perform”? To what extent are sub-identities challenged or recognized by formal planning systems? What socio-political forums and arenas are there for cities to talk?

What happens when cities talk without uprisings and riots? What talks are silenced or listened to? How do certain myths, fictions and ideas about cities emerge and become institutionalized in policy documents and discourses?

What role does the physical environment of cities play in urban resistances? Can informal urban resistances and “politics of occupy” be institutionalized in a more responsive formal planning process? How should we understand the institutional design of planning and the role of planners in a post-policy governance setting?

Young scholars - PhD students, post-docs and early career academics – are invited to discuss these questions in relation to the re-conception of cities. The conference is expected to help us make theoretical sense, political use, and practical approaches to deal with the perpetual insurgencies, struggles, riots, and urban social movements that take place in the different parts of the world.