City Forum: "Politics of Public Space: Control, Survival, and Resistance in Three Global Cities"

Fri, November 13, 2009 | Texas Union, Eastwoods Room

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Cities are both real and imagined.  Social constructions and narratives
influence the way we think about neighborhoods, streets, buildings and
public spaces, and these imaginaries in turn shape policy strategies and
planning practices. In this City Forum, three University of Texas scholars
will examine the connections between such social constructions, state
control and planning practice, and everyday efforts by people to claim
access to urban spaces. Their presentations draw on their research in
Karachi, Pakistan; Ahmedabad, India; and Vienna, Austria.

Panelists and Abstracts:

Kamran Asdar Ali, associate professor, Department of Anthropology,
University of Texas at Austin

*Gender, Ethnicity and Class: Living with "Disagreements" Among Karachi's
How the poor survive in their private and work life in Pakistan's expanding
cities are stories and histories that are yet to be seriously explored. In
this paper, I argue that in response to the total abandonment of the state
to provide for its own citizens and the non-existence of welfare regimes,
many turn to informal forms of "getting by" through kin networks and by
manipulating social capital. Hence the paper is an attempt to understand
some of the ways in which the poor experience life in Karachi. In pursuing
this goal I engage with gender as a category of analysis and follow the
social life of working class women. Based on fieldwork within working class
communities in Karachi, I will give examples of the various ways in which
women experience public spaces and confront ethnic and gendered difference
in their daily lives. In conclusion, the paper will seek to represent a
social and political space that may be emblematic of contemporary Pakistan
where a diverse, multi-lingual and ethnic population considers the
challenges, pitfalls and compromises of co-existence.

* *

Ipsita Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and the
Environment, University of Texas at Austin

Violent Morphologies: Spatial Complicity in Violence

Violence represents annihilation of life and livelihood through death,
entrapment, exclusion. In order to comprehensively comprehend how injustice
and alienation acquires longevity through violence, it is important to
analyze how processes of exclusion and marginalization are intertwined with
space. Socio-spatial processes like landscaping, bordering and scaling play
an important role in constructing violent morphologies that are deeply
exclusionary. Cities in a globalizing world embody violent morphologies of
exclusion. Using examples from Ahmedabad, India, I will explicate how
landscapes are destroyed to annihilate material existence, new and unjust
landscapes are erected to extend hurt and trauma, segregation and entrapment
are produced by re-imagining borders, and scaling strategies are adopted by
actors with greater global reach to intimidate those who are more spatially
fixed. A combination of ethno-religious identity politics and neoliberal
urban renewal strategies are used to spatially inscribe an unjust city. I
will argue that justice entails democratization of space by altering violent
morphologies in cities like Ahmedabad.

* *

Steven Hoelscher, Professor of American Studies and Geography, and Chair,
Department of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

The Social Construction of a Good Vibe: Ambient Power in the
MuseumsQuartier, Wien

Few topics in contemporary urban studies have generated more scholarship in
recent years than concerns over the “end of public space.” The privatization
of the public realm, the invasion of the market into the sphere of public
culture, and the rise of the omnipresent shopping mall, commentators agree,
have seemingly done much to undermine the variety and uniqueness of urban
life. Such trends, moreover, have been supported by a “militarization” and
“hardening” of public space, whereby unsettling modes of electronic
surveillance and increasing forms of physical barriers wall off glitzy,
sanitized festival marketplaces from the “real” public realm of diversity.
While evidence for these developments is readily evident, in this
presentation I wish to complicate our understandings of power in public
space. In particular, I argue that ambient power—or the creation of a
particular character in an urban setting that is felt and experienced—has
become an important way of controlling public space, beyond our typical
expectations of guards and gates. As a case study, I present the
MuseumsQuartier Wien, a major cultural complex in the heart of historical
Vienna, where innovative and seductive design effectively encourages a real
experience of public space, at the same time that it closes down
non-conforming options and behavior.

First-come, first-served light lunch will be provided.

City Forum is an urban issues speaker series hosted by the Community and
Regional Planning Student Organization and the School of Architecture's
Community and Regional Planning Program.

Please contact Kathryn Howell with questions, e-mail

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