The ‘Activate!’ seminars, jointly organised by the ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster and the NUS Department of Architecture, has launched its third series for the Fall semester of the NUS 2018/2019 academic year.
The emphasis of this series is on ‘pedagogy’; how civic practices and aspirations are actually being enacted in Singapore. This question will be explored through the lens of four different ‘spaces’. First, there is the space of liminality and precarity experienced by migrant labourers; then there is cyberspace, represented through the growing prominence of social media and online platforms in everyday life; physical space allowing for people to congregate and interact; and representational spaces, whereby ideologies are conveyed through artistic media such as photographs.
Seminars are open to all. They will take place at the ARI seminar room (AS8 level 4), from 4:00pm-5:30pm, on the following dates:
12th September 2018
‘Materializing Change for Migrant Workers’ Dr. Stephanie Chok, Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics Ms. Debbie Fordyce, Transient Workers Count Too, and The Cuff Road Food Program Dr. Natarajan Rajaraman, HealthServe
(This session has been convened by Dr. Karen McNamara and Mr. Marcel Bandur)
19th September 2018
‘Fostering Civic Participation through Online Platforms’ Ms. Kirsten Han, New Naratif Dr. Johannes Mueller, Future Cities Laboratory A/P Weiyu Zhang, National University of Singapore
24th October 2018
‘The Promise of Hong Lim Park: Pink Dot and the Activism of Love’
The AUC, and Associate Professor Chris McMorran of the NUS Department of Japanese Studies, have put together an ARI Asia Trends Event titled ‘Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life of Home in Singapore’. The event will explore vernacular conceptualisations and constructs of ‘home’ in the contemporary city, and what this may mean for understandings of the self, society, and space.
The event will take place on 12 April 2018, at The Pod at the National Library. Doors will open at 6:45pm. The registration link for the event can be found here.
Home is at the center of human experience. We spend our lives designing, maintaining, enjoying, escaping, and defending what we consider home, a word which can refer to the intimate space of an HDB flat and also to the larger scale of the nation. But home is more than a location. It is an idea and a process, linking seemingly unrelated social, economic, political, and cultural spheres.
We can learn a lot about Singapore by taking the topic of ‘home’ seriously, by exploring the meanings embedded within the word. The study of home raises important questions about our residences, our neighborhoods, and our identities. What is home? How do we make a house a home? Who belongs and who doesn’t? And who decides?
This event gathers artists and academics who ask such questions in their creative and scholarly projects. During this panel, they will discuss why constructs and imaginings of ‘home’ are so important in today’s world, and will share their recent work related to the place, idea, or process of home. Collectively, their work opens the door to the ‘home’ in Singapore, revealing the secret life of this complex word we often take for granted in our everyday lives.
Keyakismos is the artistic pair of Eitaro Ogawa and Tamae Iwasaki. They are co-authors of HDB: Homes of Singapore (Gatehouse Publishing, 2017), a book featuring hundreds of photos celebrating the art and culture of humble HDB interiors, which was featured at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016. Derived from the Japanese word “keyaki” (Zelkova tree) and “cosmos” (flower), their alias stands for their shared creative philosophy that the collaboration among different elements achieves much more than one. Motivated by their life motto – “love God, love people” – Eitaro and Tamae are involved in art and community projects such as Pameran Poskad, which encourages all sorts of collaborations, with the goal of creating opportunities for people to experience art in daily life. They have two lovely daughters.
Lilian Chee is Associate Professor and History Theory Criticism Research Cluster Leader at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore (NUS). She is a writer, designer, curator and award-winning educator. A recipient of the NUS and Faculty Teaching Honour Rolls, she has lectured at the Bartlett, Delft, ETH Zurich, Melbourne and the Berlage Centre. Her work is situated at the intersections of architectural representation, gender and affect in a contemporary interdisciplinary context. Her research explores the emergence of architecture through, and from within, everyday encounter and its archives. Influenced by film, art and literature, she is engaged in how an affective construction of architectural discourse might change the writing of its histories and theories. She conceptualized, researched and collaborated on the award-winning architectural essay film about single women occupants in Singapore’s public housing 03-FLATS (2014). 03-FLATS won the best ASEAN documentary Salaya 2015; was shortlisted for the Busan Wide Angle Documentary Prize 2014; and was screened at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016. Her publications include the forthcoming monograph Architecture and Affect: Precarious Space (Routledge, 2019) and a co-edited volume Asian Cinema and the Use of Space(Routledge, 2015). She is working on a book about public art in the Singapore city core, and co-editing a volume on domesticity in architecture. Lilian is on the editorial boards of The Journal of Architecture and Architectural Theory Review.
Daniel P.S. Goh is Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. He obtained his PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, in 2005 and has been with NUS Department of Sociology since, where he serves as the Deputy Head. He specializes in comparative-historical sociology and studies state formation, race and multiculturalism, Asian urbanisms, and religion, and has published over 40 articles on these subjects in internationally refereed journals and edited books. He has edited and co-edited several books, including Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (Routledge, 2009), Worlding Multiculturalisms: The Politics of Inter-Asian Dwelling (Routledge, 2015), Precarious Belongings: Affect and Nationalism in Asia (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), and Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity: Past and Present (JOVIS Verlag, 2018). He has also co-edited special issues in Urban Studies, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Ethnography, and International Sociology. He was co-Principal Investigator of the Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 2 project, Aspirations, Urban Governance, and the Remaking of Asian Cities(2013-2016). He is currently co-Principal Investigator of the Ministry of Education Social Science Research thematic grant project, Christianity in Southeast Asia: Comparative Growth, Politics and Networks in Urban Centres (2017-2020).
Toh Jia Han is a Year 4 Japanese Studies and English Linguistics double major at the National University of Singapore. He is currently working on a graduation thesis regarding the internationalisation of Japan through education, and he hopes to work in Japan after graduation. He is also an editor and producer on the NUS “Home on the Dot” podcast.
Shriya Sharma is a Year 1 student at the National University of Singapore. She plans to double major in Communication and New Media, and Political Science. She hopes to pursue journalism in the future. She is also a producer on the NUS “Home on the Dot” podcast.
The ‘Activate!’ seminar series, jointly organised by the ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster and the NUS Department of Architecture, will continue through the Spring semester of the NUS 2017/2018 academic year.
Whilst the first seminar series focussed primarily on the Singaporean context, the four new sessions will expand the geographic scope to discuss issues, ideologies, and practices in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Seminars are open to all. They will take place at the ARI seminar room (AS8 level 4), from 4:00pm-5:30pm, on the following dates:
17th January 2018
‘Affect and the New Era: Reflections on Compassion, Care and Middle-Class Subjectivity in China’ Prof. Lisa M. Hoffman, University of Washington Tacoma
7th February 2018
‘Government Policies and Community Actions for Regenerating Inner City Taipei’ Asso. Prof. Huang Liling, National Taiwan University
14th March 2018
‘Transforming a Dystopia into an Utopia: A Case Study of Hong Kong’ Prof. Ng Mee Kam, Chinese University of Hong Kong Dr. Minna Valjakka, National University of Singapore Dr. Sonia Lam-Knott, National University of Singapore
The Asian Urbanisms Cluster is pleased to invite Dr. Chloe Lai of the Urban Diary (webpage and Facebook) to ARI to give a talk about her experiences and observations regarding the making of the film ‘Rhymes of Shui Hau’.
The film documents the lifestyles and songs of the elderly inhabitants of Shui Hau, a village located on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Examining the practices of these villagers offers a glimpse of Hong Kong’s vernacular heritage, of what life in Hong Kong was like before the territory underwent rapid industrialisation and urbanisation since the mid-twentieth century. More importantly, the film brings to the forefront the voices of communities that have long been marginalised within mainstream societal and academic discourses.
The film screening will be immediately followed with a discussion by Dr. Lai, titled ‘Everyday Life as a Cultural Right in Postcolonial Hong Kong’. The talk will feature themes addressed within the film; introduce what the Urban Diary aspires to do; and broadly explore the importance of taking vernacular stories from the domain of everyday life into account, as a means of developing a more sustainable way of urban living for the future.
The event will take place on 26th January 2018, from 3pm until 5pm at the ARI Seminar Room (AS8, Level 4). It is open to all, and attendance is free. More information about the event, and the registration link, can be found here.
Details about the film:
Executive Producer: Chloe Lai
Director: Chan Ho-lun Fredie
Aerial Cinematographer: Herman Lau
Wai Tau Waa Translation: Mink Chan, Chu Tsz-yui, The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society
Text: Haider Kikabhoy, Teresa Ho, Hung Wing-hei, Charlie Lam, Jenny Li
Length of Film: 49 minutes
AUC member Fiona Williamson spoke recently at the 2017 Association for East Asian Environmental History conference in Tianjin, China on the theme of historic urban flooding. Her paper, titled ‘Cities and Disasters: Floods and Urban Development in Colonial Singapore’, explored urban development and social responses to floods in the city between the late 19th to the early 20th century. It paid close attention to how the British authorities and the city’s inhabitants understood and reacted to serious inundations, and in turn, how these responses shaped the city’s social and physical development. Based on data collected from primary archival sources relating to governance and urban life in the British Straits Settlements, municipal records, and contemporary newspapers, it also argued that the lessons learned (or not) by cities facing disasters in the past can be useful in addressing urban disasters in the modern world.
The paper noted how urban development (especially with the spread of infrastructural projects and industrial growth across the landscape) and the clunky processes of colonial administration hindered, rather than advanced, progress in flood mitigation for much of this time. For instance, although river management was considered important for economic reasons, flood control for its own sake was given lower priority. In all the flood disasters to have affected Singapore during this period, it can clearly be seen that human, rather than natural, exigencies exacerbated their severity. Within a social framework, what we witness over the 19th and 20th centuries was a major shift in how floods were viewed. In the 19th century, floods were disliked but normalized within urban society, and people accepted that there was little to be done. Emphasis was on the individual or the community to tackle the immediate issues surrounding floods, with the government later stepping in to provide financial aid and longer-term solutions. But by the early 20th century, there was an expectation for the government to assume a more proactive stance, to take more responsibility in providing financial and technical preventative solutions. What this shows is less revealing of the nature or trends of floods themselves, but more revealing of a changing culture and society– especially the relationship between government and society and notions of social justice and expectation.
Some of Fiona’s work on these themes will be available to view in the forthcoming publication titled: ‘Crossing Colonial Borders: Governing Environmental Disasters in Historic Context’, in M. Miller, M. Douglass, M. Garschagan, eds., Crossing Borders:Governing Environmental Disasters in a Global Urban Age in Asia and the Pacific (Singapore: Springer). She also has a recent article titled: ‘The Great Flood of 1926: Environmental Change and Disaster Governance in British Malaya’, Journal Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, Environmental Impact of Disasters – special issue, 2:11 (2016).
The Asian Urbanisms Cluster (AUC) organised a two-day interdisciplinary conference titled “Remapping Arts, Heritage, and Cultural Production: Between Policies and Practices” on 16 – 17 August 2017. In order to extend our discussions beyond the classroom setting, with the support of members of other departments and institutions, we also held several excursions to heritage sites and cultural institutes across Singapore.
On a sunny Friday morning, Dr. Imran bin Tajudeen, Assistant Professor of the Department of Architecture, led the conference speakers on a guided tour titled “Cultural heritage district framing, architectural clues, and toponymic palimpsests: A walk through the other port town at Kampung Gelam” (more information about this walk can be found at the end of this post).
Starting our tour at the Lavender MRT Station, we walked past the Rochor River, where Dr. Imran showed us the location of this “forgotten” port settlement in what was the Kampung Rochor ward, once the merchants’ quarter within Kampung Gelam, now overshadowed by the Singapore River. Dr. Imran discussed the gradual demolition of the shophouses and street networks within the Kampung Rochor ward, and its overwriting as ‘Precinct N1’ with public housing blocks. Although the history was overwritten by urban redevelopment projects, the prosperity of the port town could still be seen from the now conserved Masjid Hajjah Fatimah (Hajjah Fatimah Mosque).
In this multiethnic vibrant merchant’s quarter of Kampung Rochor, men and women were permitted to own businesses, and under Islamic law, women had the sole right to their property and income in a marriage. The prominent role of women in the business domain is reflected by the fact that there are four mosques in Singapore named after their benefactors, who were women (one of these mosques has since been demolished, and sadly, its successor bears a different name). For example, Hajjah Fatimah was a very successful businesswoman of Bugis descent who hailed from Melaka, and was in Kampung Gelam during the 19th century. She donated finances to build one of the earliest mosques in Singapore.
According to the URA, the Kampung Gelam conservation area is officially recognised as a Malay-Muslim “ethnic enclave”. But as Dr. Imran emphasised throughout the tour, the area was historically an ethnically-mixed neighbourhood. (Different ethnic groups were able to communicate with each other by using the lingua franca of commerce in the region, which at the time was Malay). Yet this multiethnic past is lost in the process of state-led heritagisation. This is seen from the designation of the former Istana (palace of the former sultan) as the “Malay Heritage Centre”, as opposed to using a more encompassing label such as the “Kampong Glam Heritage Centre” which would project the diver array of communities and histories associated with the place. By focussing solely on the racial/ethnic tag “Malay”, the historical diversity of the area was undermined. For instance, the Javanese community had a significant demographic presence in Kampung Gelam, but because the physical makeover in the early 2000s followed an emphasis on Malay and Arabian identities, their histories have been subsumed under the new heritage narrative and urban design packaging. Meanwhile, in order to promote an exotic image for the tourists, Turkish and Lebanese restaurants were introduced to convey a sense of “Arabian ambiance”.
This walking tour, which was enriched with insightful historical details of cultural history, architecture, and urban policies, lasted for 2.5 hours. At the end of the event, our group stopped at the junction of North Bridge Road and Ophir Road. Looking at the wide highway and new developments in the vicinity, Dr. Imran concluded the walk by remarking that the city once harboured a continuous multiethnic landscape. Yet, in the process of urban redevelopment, Kampung Gelam now seems to be self-contained, thus creating the image of a separate ethnic enclave.
We sincerely thank Dr. Imran for his informative walk. It provided a chance for both Singaporean and non-Singaporean conference participants to better understand the history and heritage of Singapore.
Cultural heritage district framing, architectural clues, and toponymic palimpsests: A walk through the other port town at Kampung Gelam
by Dr. Imran bin Tajudeen
This walk will bring you through areas of erasure and re-inscription in the built landscape of Singapore in selected portions of the northern half of its historical town. We visit the expunged neighbourhoods and extant streets of Singapore’s other port town at Kampong Glam (Kampung Gelam), which has undergone a variegated history of framing and reframing by Singapore’s cultural tourism policies.
We will observe the spatial complexities in the significance of places and sites for different communities, viewed against their re-naming/re-branding as mono-racial blocs. As an alternative framework we consider the evidence from the forgotten Kampung/Campong urban ward toponyms from Singapore’s historical lingua franca, Malay, that was shared across multiple linguistic groups in colonial Singapore, and from a number of old Compound Houses, shophouses and key cultural landmarks.
The Asia Urbanisms Cluster (AUC) recently hosted the final event in a three-year project to investigate the impact of disasters on urban life. The disaster governance theme has been facilitated by an MOE Tier-2 grant on Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia [MOE2014-T2-1-017], awarded in 2014. This 3-year multidisciplinary programme was spearheaded by the AUC, working in concert with ARI’s Science, Technology and Society Cluster. Its aim has been to improve understandings of the changing risks, vulnerabilities, responses, and resilience to compounded environmental disasters in an increasingly interconnected urbanizing Asia. In particular, the grant has been instrumental in facilitating an inter-disciplinary dialogue across the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and related technical disciplines.
The final two-day event on ‘Climate Disaster Governance’ has seen these aims achieved by drawing together one of the widest cross-disciplinary dialogues to be held during the course of this grant. Involving people from climate science, geography, sociology, history, public health, applications, agricultural sectors, and more, this conference explored avenues for collaborative work and dialogue to take place. Such an approach is critical to tackling some of the climate related challenges of the 21st century, which will see all basic facets of human life impacted by nature-induced disasters, perhaps to a greater scale than ever before.
In Anthropocene Asia-Pacific, climate change is driving the nature and scale of environmental disasters (especially floods, droughts, and heatwaves) that combine and interact with processes of planetary urbanization. Livelihoods, food security, urban infrastructure, and health will be more frequently and deeply impacted by climate change, and therefore disaster risk governance will face increasingly tough, interconnected, multi-dimensional challenges. One is the merging of conflict disasters with environmental disasters over, for example, water and food. Populations facing disasters of these kinds will increasingly migrate across national borders as home regions become unlivable through the loss of, and resultant conflicts over, various basic life supporting resources. With refugee flows across borders expected to exponentially increase with the intensifying impacts of climate change, national governments will also increasingly default to migrant-receiving cities to cope with climate change refugees. This puts pressure on existing resources, imposes additional stresses on infrastructure, and worsens urban tensions. The increasingly extensive repercussions of climate change-related disasters demand joined up responses as a matter of urgency. Solutions need to run across the board and take account the connectivities between the causes, impacts, and experiences of climate change.
The conference was organised by Fiona Williamson, Michelle Miller, and Mike Douglass (ARI, NUS). Participants included representatives from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Vietnam; University of Southern Queensland, Australia; University of Hawaii, USA; Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, Thailand; Institute for Population, Family and Children Studies, Vietnam; United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Germany, and Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Chiang Mai University, Thailand; University of Newcastle, Australia; Singapore Management University; University of Brunei Darussalam; National Institute of Advanced Studies, India; Social Policy and Poverty Research Group, Myanmar; University of Colorado Denver, USA; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, as well as National University of Singapore. The full programme and speaker details can be found here.
This conference was organized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; with support from Singapore Ministry of Education Tier 2 Grant – Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia.
The ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster, together with the NUS Department of Architecture, have convened a seminar series that will take place during the Fall Semester of the NUS 2017/2018 academic year.
The seminars will critically present and examine the novel forms of civic practices that have manifested in the Asian urban context through a transdisciplinary framework. Bringing together a range of individuals (for example, academics, practitioners, students, and the general public) who are interested in urban spatial strategies, and the relationship such actions have with civil societies across the Asian region, the seminars will attempt to initiate discourse on two main themes:
First, to explore how the varied stakeholders involved in civil society groups, including academics and educators, activists, artists, NGOs, NPOs, informal interest groups and community associations, political parties, and governmental organizations currently de/reconstruct the contextual and physical understanding of shared urban space in Asia. It is of interest to review the main goals of the novel civic practices, and the extent in which these aspirations are realised.
Secondly, these seminars articulate how stakeholders engage in the process of collaborative knowledge production through these practices. More importantly, the aim of the series is to conceptualise civic practices as a product of the distinctive trajectories of socio-economic development, spatial/cultural policies, and the structures of political governance in the Asian region. To reiterate, these seminars provide an overview on the distinctive challenges and opportunities that contemporary Asian cities pose for civil societies, and the kind of local and global characteristics that are emerging in these locales.
Seminars are open to all. Please see below for details on the forthcoming seminars and on how to register:
11th October 2017
‘Becoming Heritage: Bukit Brown Cemetery’ Dr. Liew Kai Khiun, Nanyang Technological University
25th October 2017
‘More Grows in the Garden than the Gardeners Sow: The Roots and Shoots of Social Agriculture in Singapore’ Ms. Sarah Ichioka, Urbanist and Curator, Former Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, NParks, Singapore Mr. Bjorn Low, Edible Garden City, Singapore Ms. Ng Huiying, Foodscape Collective, Singapore
1st November 2017
‘Rethinking Cyber Activism in Asian Democracies’ Dr. Natalie Pang, Senior Research Fellow at The Social Lab, Institute of Policy Studies in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Policy Studies Dr. Donghyun Song, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
8th November 2017
‘Working with the “Grassroots” for Built Heritage Conservation’ Mr. Kelvin Ang, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore
This interdisciplinary conference brings together a dynamic range of both established and early career scholars, activists, and creative practitioners to explore the role of arts, culture and heritage in developing more progressive societies in East and Southeast Asian cities. The conference includes case studies from numerous cities throughout the region, from South Korea to Singapore, on topics from art districts and art activism to heritage walks and cultural activism. Questions that guide the conference proceedings speak to integrated themes across these topics and sites to further conceptual and policy-relevant insights on the critical role of arts, heritage and creative practices in contemporary cities. For instance:
How do arts, heritage, and creative practices provide opportunities for ‘creative communities’ to resist the encroachment of the corporate economy (Douglass 2015)? What challenges do they face in asserting their right to urban space?
How and to what extent could ‘gentrification aesthetics’ (Chang 2014) open up new approaches for analysing both positive and negative impact of urban redevelopment?
What kind of innovations in governance are needed to support art communities, heritage preservation, and cultural and creative industries in ways that are socially inclusive, viable, and enhance civil participation? Can an approach based on the interconnectedness of cultural and social sustainability (Kong 2009) benefit the understanding of the collective processes emerging in cities today?
How does public art reflect the ways in which forms of vernacular heritage, culture, and socio-spatial identity are bound up with the representation and (re)shaping of place and landscape in cities? What controversies and political fault lines might emerge through these processes?
What kind of novel forms of ‘art activism’ or ‘cultural activism’ are emerging, and how do they benefit, interact, or hinder the aims of social transformations?
To what extent are arts, heritage, and cultural productions contributing to the development of ‘tourist cities’? How is this being resisted or embraced by local populations?
Finally, what new approaches are emerging that transcend purely physical space? Can intangible forms, such as digital networks, forums and sites, benefit the survival of local communities?
Please visit our website to download the Conference abstract and register. Admission is free and open to the public, we hope to see you there!
Prof Douglass’ presentation at Comenius built on his earlier work on alternative futures of city life in East Asia, which is an increasingly pertinent topic in the face of rapidly intensifying urbanization processes. This work positions developing cities as having two primary choices, one of ‘Globopolis’, which is characterized by new towns, gated communities, mega-malls, skyscrapers and business parks; or on the other hand, ‘Cosmopolis’ refers to cities where, “inhabitants can assert their differences and negotiate them in a productive and affirmative manner” (Douglass, 2009). Douglass argues that in achieving the latter vision of urban futures, the governance interventions of civil society is crucial. His talk at Comenius thus reasserts the importance of the democratization and progressive, grassroots movements in cities in an age of ‘planetary urbanization’, in which proponents (provocatively) argue that the whole world is now being impacted by urbanization processes. The seminar also included a discussion aimed at pinpointing the origins and potential of progressive cities, with reference to various case studies.
Prof Douglass’ presentation at Charles University, titled: ‘Progressive Cities: Inclusion, Distributive Justice, Conviviality, and Environmental Well-being in Asia‘ served as an overview of key urban challenges, and the threats that they pose to the issues in the talk’s title. Like his talk in Bratislava, Douglass started with reviewing the concepts of planetary urbanization and ‘the Asian Century’, and how these relate to the concepts of globopolis and cosmopolis. He then went on to discuss issues related to urban form, including the proliferation of ‘supertall buildings’ and observation wheels as a means to plug cities into global circuits of capital investment, and the associated implications for public space. Building from this, Douglass discussed the development of private urban enclaves, which are often, problematically, branded as ‘eco-cities’. This subject in particular has received considerable criticism from urban scholars in recent years, such as UK-based scholars Federico Caprotti and Federico Cugurullo; as well as NUS’ own Harvey Neo, C.P. Pow and former graduate student Rachel Bok. Douglass then reviewed the threats posed by climate change, and the ways in which large cities are increasingly vulnerable. Finally, he considered civil society initiatives which have sought to provide urban communities with some measure of resilience from these various threats.
Any questions or comments on the above? Please comment below, or contact us, and also stay tuned for upcoming activities of Asian Urbanism Cluster Colleagues.
On the 6th of April, I gave a talk at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Cities Cluster, titled A ‘model state for Malaysia’? Competing visions of redevelopment in a UNESCO World Heritage City. This presentation critically examined controversies over the extensive urban redevelopment and regeneration projects that have emerged in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Penang, Malaysia, since 2012. In particular, I focused on the ambitious Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) (mentioned in a previous post), which has posed numerous threats to the city’s cultural and natural heritage, as well as questions about the future socio-economic and environmental sustainability of the island.
The paper particularly focused on the competing visions of Penang’s future, which have been identified by various stakeholders, from the State Government, to developers and civil society members. Given that the Penang Forum, which is a ‘loose coalition’ of NGOs in Penang, has been the primary civil society voice involved in these disputes, the question was raised (from the audience) as to what extent Penang’s ‘civil society’ is really one cohesive group, with a collective vision for the city’s future. This question was put to the test on a subsequent field visit to Penang (immediately following the seminar) to attend the 7th Penang Forum, which was a public forum to discuss the future of Penang’s off-shore island of Pulau Jerejak. The event had a surprisingly high turnout and filled the venue at the Penang Institute. The forum was led by speakers from the Penang Forum and Penang Heritage Trust who shared insights on the island’s natural and cultural heritage significance, followed by the development of some recommendations to forward to the State Government regarding its conservation. This was an open process, and most audience members seemed to share the general consensus that the island should be largely conserved and saved from development (summary).
This event did offer more insights as to how civil society organizations in Penang are actively involved in both resisting and actively co-producing new developments to (re)shape the city in both sustainable and culturally distinctive ways. However, as noted in the talk, Penang does have limited local engagement and interest in cultural and natural heritage conservation, which is a significant challenge for local resilience to the socio-environmental harms posed by intensifying development on the island. Any insights, thoughts, or questions on this problematic? Please comment below.
On the 5th of April, Dr. Rita Padawangi gave a presentation in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS, discussing her research on ‘Urban Heritage in Jakarta’s Riverine Communities’.
Riverine communities of Southeast Asia have often been the foci of urban transformation or ‘revitalisation’ projects, which have sought to ‘clean up’ such communities to make them more amenable to capital accumulation, largely as sites of consumption for upper middle class members of society and foreign tourists/visitors. Examples include the Malacca River in Malaysia, which was redeveloped to attract tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage City (see Bunnell 1999; Cartier, 1998); or the Singapore River, which is now host to numerous bars and restaurants in the lively Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay Districts (see Chang et al, 2004). Such projects involve the removal and forced relocation of local residents and dwellings, thus replacing the vernacular (in)tangible heritage of the area with a reconstructed heritage landscape. As Dr. Padawangi noted in her presentation, rhetorics of health and disease are often used as official justification for the clearing of these areas (see Connolly et al, 2017).
In Dr. Padawangi’s talk, she used data from ethnographic interviews, field observations and discussions with residents of Jakarta’s riverine communities to examine how meanings of local places relate with the perceived historical significance and impacts of urban development in the affected areas. She contrasted this with official heritage discourse in the city which has long valorized the colonial heritage of the area, which is seen as more attractive to foreign tourists. Dr. Padawangi thus questioned the logic of replacing rather than preserving vernacular riverine communities in heritage and tourist development.
Dr. Padawangi has been Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanisms Cluster for the past four years, but will sadly be leaving us for greener pastures at the Singapore University of Social Sciences this July. She will also be organizing a symposium at Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia, December 11-12th, 2017, titled: ‘River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History‘. If you are interested in this topic, please consider submitting a paper proposal. The deadline for abstracts is 1 May 2017.
The New Urban Agenda was recently adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Equador on 20 October 2016. This goal recognizes that we cannot address global socio-environmental problems without also addressing urbanization processes, as urban scholars have been arguing for quite some time now. One of the development goals for this agenda is the broad objective to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This has been a central point of focus by local governments and universities around the world, including in my own research site of Penang, Malaysia, as captured in the below photograph:
Resilience, in particular, has been a key buzzword amongst academics, policy makers, and journalists in recent years (example), and is the topic of an upcoming conference organized by the Asian Urbanisms Cluster at ARI entitled: “Resilient Cities for Human Flourishing: Governing the Asia-Pacific Urban Transition in the Anthropocene“, taking place at NUS in March, 2017. This conference intends ” to explore innovations in governance aimed at building urban resilience to various forms of environmental harm while protecting human flourishing through the creation of civic cultures centered on more sustainable forms of resource consumption”. To date, much of the focus on building sustainable cities in the popular media and in planning discourse has focused on techno-managerial solutions and pursuing ‘ideal’ sustainability indicators. The New Urban Agenda put forth at Habitat III is no different. Yet, as a new paper by Maria Kaika in Environment and Urbanization has convincingly argued, these pursuits do not work, and actually exacerbate (rather than reduce) socio-environmental ills through the deepening of inequalities between places and social groups. For this reason, our upcoming conference intends to spark a shift in thinking about what human flourishing means away from narrow economic indicators centered on consumptive patterns, and towards wider conceptions of flourishing and linked notions of human well-being that encompass our interdependencies on non-human species and wider city-environment relationships.
We thus encourage participants to propose new forms of urban environmental governance which can move beyond a mere focus on resilience, which, as Kaika demonstrates, has been criticized for “vaccinating citizens and environments so that they can take larger doses of inequality and degradation in the future”. Thus, instead of directing policies, research and resources into the pursuit of resilient city models, we should instead seek to fix the things that create the need for community resilience in the first place. One key goal for our conference should thus be to re-frame the concept of resilience into one that is community based and driven from the ground up, rather than something imposed on communities by their leaders.
Additionally, Kaika argues that the New Urban Agenda’s focus on ‘inclusion’ in the creation of sustainable cities is also problematic. For instance, an article in the Guardian noted that “one of the Habitat III billboards around the site’s perimeter stated, ‘INCLUSIVE CITIES'”, but that the impact of this sign was ironically reduced by the fact it was attached to a wire security fence around the venue’s perimeter. The same article interviewed a local community activist (excluded from the Habitat III conference), who argued that “the municipality invests a lot of money in projects, but there is no integrated plan to make things work for the majority of people here”. The sign thus seemed at best a reminder to participants, or at worst a mere façade, raising the question of inclusive cities for whom?
Moreover, as Kaika further argued, even when communities are included in urban governance, ‘inclusion’ often does not change underlying power relations or development practices that have often only exacerbated environmental injustices. For example, civil society groups and members of the public in Penang are often ‘included’ in the government’s (re)development plans, but only after key decisions have already been decided upon (and developers’ contracts signed). Therefore, rather than being merely ‘included’ in predefined urban policies put forth by elites, communities affected by environmental injustices should play a central role in setting development goals and allocating resources. This is a particularly urgent goal in the rapidly urbanizing and developing regions of Asia-Pacific, which will need to play a central role in ensuring our planet’s future social and ecological well-being.
Maria Kaika (2017) “Don’t Call Me Resilient Again!”: The New Urban Agenda as Immunology…or what happens when communities refuse to be vaccinated with ‘smart cities’ and indicators. Environment and Urbanization DOI: 10.117/0956247816684763
by Michelle Miller and Marcel Bandur
On November 17-18th, the Asian Urbanisms Cluster at ARI hosted a two-day workshop on ‘Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia’. Organised by Michelle Miller and Mike Douglass, this interdisciplinary conference brought together 28 scholars representing 11 disciplinary backgrounds to show how research on environmental disasters in the Asia-Pacific region illuminates questions of disaster justice from historical and contemporary perspectives. The event combined the richness of on-the-ground research with new insights into how to conceptualize and govern disasters from normative as well as explanatory perspectives. Our central organising premise for the conference was that disaster justice as a moral claim on governance arises from anthropogenic interventions in nature that incubate disasters and magnify their socially and spatially uneven impacts. The conversations generated by the event yielded rich insights into how the changing geographies of vulnerability accompanying the urban transition in Asia and the Pacific are adding new dimensions to disaster governance and justice.
As all disasters occur in political space, disaster justice is situated in spheres of governance and in the context of the rapidly urbanizing societies of the Asia-Pacific that are increasingly impacted by the advent of the Anthropocene, namely, the destructive human transformations of nature that are significant drivers of environmental disasters. Growing awareness of human complicity in creating socially and spatially uneven vulnerabilities to disasters is generating discontents and mobilizations for disaster justice as moral claims for more effective and inclusive modes of disaster prevention, mitigation, management and redress. Posing disaster justice as a problem of governance thus covers a set of issues that encompass but are also differentiated from such allied concepts as environmental and climate justice. As intense events that cause widespread harm and overwhelm existing capacities to respond, disasters generate highly charged but exceptionally complex questions of justice. These factors, combined with the increasingly compound characteristics of environmental disasters (for instance, when a tsunami leads to a nuclear power plant meltdown) further complicate issues of justice in establishing causalities, attributing blame, identifying victims and (re-)establishing working solutions.
Keynote speaker Robert Verchik from Loyola University opened the conference by laying out the social, legal and policy dimensions of managing physical exposure to, and social vulnerabilities rooted in spatial inequalities to explicate the linkages between building community resilience and fighting disaster-related injustices. He emphasised that “in the Anthropocene, there is no such thing as a natural disaster”. Indeed, disaster justice as a moral claim on governance arises from anthropogenic interventions in nature that incubate disasters and magnify their socially and spatially uneven impacts.
D. Parthasarathy of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay opened the second day of the conference with a keynote address on the moral imperative of interrogating uncertainty at multiple scales of governance and from diverse perspectives as a pre-requisite for enhancing resilience, coping and adaptation for long-term disaster risk reduction in urbanising populations across the Asia-Pacific.
Isaac Kerlow from the Earth Observatory of Singapore screened his short film titled “Change”. The conference participants were only the 2nd audience to watch the film, after it premiered the day before. The short film explored the disruption of the Earth’s natural balance due to rapid changes caused by our growth and prosperity.
The conference included themed panels based on paper presentations that spoke to questions of historicising disaster justice, justice in anthropogenic disasters, the politics of inclusion and exclusion in disaster (in)justices, the role of civil society in claims for disaster justice, and a special panel on disaster justice in South Asian localities, namely India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of the conference, the discussions generated significant insights drawing from a wide range of conceptual lenses and on-the-ground research.
Finding a consensus on the definition of Disaster Justice was not the goal of the conference. Rather, the conference highlighted what Disaster Justice mean for various communities and polities. The notion of Disaster Justice is yet to be played out, especially in light of raising consciousness regarding the anthropogenic essence of disasters. More importantly, this conference succeeded in fostering a diverse community of scholars and practitioners alike to draw Disaster Justice closer to the centre stage of academic and socio-political discourses.
Taken together, the conference surpassed expectations in pushing the parameters of theorising on the understudied concept of disaster justice within and beyond the rapidly urbanising societies of the Asia-Pacific, which are increasingly vulnerable to environmental disasters and their cascading impacts.
The interdisciplinary conference “Disastrous Pasts: New Directions in Asian Disaster History” will be held on 21-22 November at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Its focus is the role played by disasters in the history of Asia what past disasters can teach us about present conditions. It aims to explore the following key themes:
How did historic communities cope with disasters?
How have perceptions of environmental hazards changed over time and varied between cultures?
How can scholars develop cross-disciplinary dialogues to improve the understanding of disasters?
How have environmental hazards interacted with famines in the history of Asia?
How have epidemiological transitions and changes to public health influenced the outcome of disasters?
The full program and more details are available here: https://ari.nus.edu.sg/Event/Detail/f9b3d624-abc3-4564-8c79-450a1a3a5f32
What are the issues surrounding the conservation of urban heritage in Malaysia’s rapidly urbanising cities? This is the seemingly simple question that I set out to explore in my current postdoctoral work at ARI, focusing primarily on the UNESCO World Heritage City of Penang. However, the more that I thought about this question, and began some preliminary research, it quickly became evident that there is more to the question than I initially thought.
I first set out to focus on cultural heritage, as this seemed to be at the core of disputes surrounding redevelopment and urban regeneration in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site of Penang. However, I soon realised that the ongoing conservation efforts in Penang, and concerns about urban (re)development are about more than just the island’s cultural heritage. Rather, the concepts of cultural and natural heritage, which have been largely kept apart both in academic studies on heritage conservation, and UNESCO’s distinction between Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites, are both deeply intertwined. This is particularly true in South/East Asian cities like Singapore, Penang, and Hong Kong, which have an abundance of both cultural and natural attributes that create attachment to place amongst locals and visitors alike. As Jenkins and King (2010: 48) have noted: “recently there has been an emergence of conservation awareness and the realisation among some local groups of the importance of their urban heritage for the general well-being of their environment”.
The importance of both natural and cultural heritage to Penang’s inhabitants have become particularly discernible with the announcement of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP). Penang’s civil society organisations, most notably the Penang Forum, which subsequently released its detailed critique of the Plan, encapsulated by the slogan Better, Cheaper, Faster. This document critically evaluates the perceived social, economic and environmental unsustainability of the PTMP, while offering a revised plan that would be better, cheaper and faster. Amongst the numerous areas of concern, particular issues are related to the proposed LRT system, which would pose both aesthetic and physical threats to the heritage landscape of George Town. In addition, the proposed undersea tunnel linking Penang Island with Peninsular Malaysia, and the substantial land reclamation required to finance the project, have posed additional environmental concerns.
Perhaps surprisingly, land reclamation is a recurrent theme in heritage controversies in South/East Asian Cities. Singapore, Melaka, Penang and Hong Kong have all experienced substantial land reclamation, which has been hotly contested by local civil society organisations. In Hong Kong, land reclamation emerged for two reasons: first, given the island’s limited amount of developable land and the high population; and second, the State’s dependence on it as a revenue stream, particularly in the 1980s (see Lu, 2009). This situation is similar to Penang, which receives a limited budget from the Malaysian federal government and thus relies on the unsustainable income stream of land sale to corporate land developers. Since the State Government has now sold most of its remaining land, it now must reclaim additional land, which will mostly be used for the development of high rise luxury condos, hotels and cruise ship terminals. Penang has now also been digging into its forested hillsides for condo development, which has caused landslides, and sinkholes under the nearby roads and properties due to the changing water table. The reclamation of land in these cities is also dialectically related to heritage conservation, because the local governments have sought to overcome heritage-related constraints on development (i.e. UNESCO zones in George Town and Melaka) by reclaiming land to ‘take the pressure off the historical parts of the city’ (King, 2016: 153).
For instance, in Melaka, the State Government’s focus on megadevelopment and tourism revenue has resulted in the destruction of the city’s harbour and waterfront area – which is arguably its historic raison d’être – only to be replaced by a large swathe of reclaimed land (see King, 2016: 151; Cartier, 1998). This reclaimed land has been used primarily for high-rise buildings, hotels, shopping malls, and some semi-detached housing. Despite the failure of the Pulau Melaka development (Melaka Island – constructed of reclaimed land), work is currently underway to reclaim even more land along the Melaka coast, known as Melaka Gateway. This development would envelop the Pulau Melaka development, in order to rid the State Government of the white elephant that it has created since its completion, over ten years ago. Such developments pose not only environmental consequences for the region, but also social issues, particularly for the Kristang (hybrid Malaccan/Portuguese) community and their sea-based livelihood, as their “coastal location has been transformed into an inland one” (King, 2016: 153).
Of course, the dynamics between government, civil society and other stakeholders is also a central component of this research. Penang has been credited with having a more vibrant and successful civil society community than other Malaysian – and, indeed, Asian – cities. The success of heritage preservation there has been credited to the “interplay of fight and talk” between the government and civil society (ibid). Yet, the relationship is far from perfect. For instance, a Penang Forum Member recently wrote a letter to UNESCO, highlighting the considerable impact that the proposed PTMP plan would have on the heritage value of the city. In response, the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng said the letter was “like a stab in the back”, given that the author of the letter is an elected MP in Penang. Lim explained that the PTMP is “crucial, a life changer that can affect every citizen in the state, and will provide for the economic prosperity of Penang until 2050” (ibid). These comments are evocative of the attitude of the Malaysian government’s narrow focus on (capital D) development as the way forward for Malaysia. It also highlights the extent to which constructive criticism on behalf of civil society, and other stakeholders is (not) valued by the government. As Jenkins and King (2010: 46) have lamented: “there appears to be confusion in the Municipal Council (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang [MPPP]) as to what is meant by conservation as an integral part of development…just as there is a preoccupation with ‘the tallest, the biggest, the longest and the widest”.
If you are interested in discussing these issues further, I would encourage you to attend ARI’s upcoming seminar ‘The Natural Heritage and Environmental Costs of Penang’s Development’ by Dr Kam Suan Pheng, an activist/scholar, and a Penangite, who has been actively campaigning for the conservation of Penang’s urban heritage for a truly ‘Cleaner, Greener Penang’ (31 October, 2016). I will also be presenting a longer version of this post at the later ARI Workshop ‘Resilient Cities for Human Flourishing: Governing the Asia-Pacific Urban Transition in the Anthropocene’(March 2-3, 2017).
References and Further Reading
Cartier, C., 1998. Megadevelopment in Malaysia: From Heritage Landscapes to “Leisurescapes” in Melaka’s Tourism Sector. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 19, 151–76.
Jenkins, G., King, V.T., 2003. Heritage and development in a Malaysian city: George Town under threat? Indonesia and the Malay World 31, 44–57. doi:10.1080/13639810304441
Lu, T.L. 2009. Heritage Conservation in Post‐colonial Hong Kong. International Journal of Heritage Studies 15, 258–272. doi:10.1080/13527250902890969
Asia’s rapid urban transition is adding a new level of governance below the level of the nation-state as cities are fast becoming the locus of public decision making over a broad array of concerns about human well-being and livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and social life. Cities are also becoming more socially and culturally diverse, magnifying issues of inclusion in a global age of rising inequalities and high levels of economic and political turbulence. In this context, even within the same national setting, local governments exhibit strikingly different capacities to contribute to human flourishing for all who reside in cities. More specifically, as political reform in Asia proceeds with elected local government appearing in previously authoritarian political settings, progressive urban governments are selectively rising from political coalitions that are able to go beyond populist platforms to successfully pursue policies of redistribution, inclusion and creative engagement of residents in the life of the city. This presentation explores 5 questions about the rise of progressive cities in Asia:
(1) what is a progressive city
(2) what are the drivers of the rise of progressive cities
(3) how are they formed in specific cases
(4) in what ways are they being effective (or not)
(5) what are their prospects for the future?
Mike Douglass is Professor and Leader of the Asian Urbanisms Cluster at the Asia Research Institute and Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, where he teaches and does research on cities in Asia. He is Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning and former Director of the Globalization Research Center, University of Hawaii. His Ph.D. is in Urban Planning from UCLA. He has been a consultant on urban policy and planning for major international development and donor agencies as well as national and local governments in Asia. His current research focuses on three areas: the vernacular city, spaces of hope, and disaster governance in Asia. Recent books include: Globalization, the Rise of Civil Society and Civic Spaces in Pacific Asia Cities, Connected Cities: Histories, Hinterlands, Hierarchies and Networks, and Building Urban Communities: The Politics of Civic Space in Asia.
What is the possible city? For the third time, the CityPossible Film Festival brings together a collection of short films that allows us to imagine the breadth of possibilities to make better cities, showcasing stories of people who have joined together to resist the loss of their life-spaces and to remake the city through their own visions of what could be. With current urban development trajectories that encourage commercialization and unfettered capitalism pushing cities to become engines of growth rather than theatres of social life, meaningful communities are challenged to find space, time, and resources diverted to focus on lifestyle and consumption within placeless architectures. From the street corner to the metropolis, these films inspire us as we celebrate the human spirit through cinema.
New Housing for Bangkok Slum Residents | Next City
Georgetown: The Story of Becoming | Community Architects Network
A Loud Color | Brent Joseph
Do Not Blame the Sea | The Perennial Plate
Thailand’s Sea Gypsies | Giorgio Taraschi
Do Robots Have Souls? | Digital Global Mind
Valley of Dolls | Fritz Schumann
Kolor Kathmandu | Suraj Ratna Shakya
Hong Lim Park | Henry Mochida
Yang Ketu7uh | WatchDoc
8:00 – 8:20 pmINTERMISSION | Light snacks will be provided.
PERFORMANCEBY BLUES 77
Blues 77 is Singapore’s newest beats and blues band. Formed among the guitars and gear available in Guitar 77. Blues 77 plays an eclectic mix of beats and blues classics and originals echoing the roots sounds of 1960s Singapore and the world.Blues 77 is world music then and now. The special appearance will feature Kiang Lim (Straydogs-bass), James Tan (Straydogs-drums), Steve Ferzacca (University of Lethbridge, Canada)
8:20 – 9:30pm PART II
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
A Day in India | The Perennial Plate
A Pakhtun Memory | Yaminay Chaudhri
Surfing Possibility: India’s First Surfer Girl | BrownGirlSurf
For Udon and Country | The Perennial Plate
The New York Street Vendors | Samuel Enblom
Dhaka Stories: Calling Home | Shadman Alvi
Head Porters Become Business Women in Accra’s Slums | Next City
ARTS AND COMMUNITY
Stand by Me: Playing for Change | Mark Johnson
Voices to be Heard | Henry Mochida
9:30 – 9:45 pmMEET THE FILMMAKER SESSION
Yaminay Chaudhri visual artist based in Karachi and New York
This workshop is jointly organized by the Science Technology and Society Cluster, and Asian UrbanismsCluster at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
Asia’s urban transition has radically transformed the region’s societies and its ecologies. The evidence is everywhere: factories and concrete tarmac have replaced Bangkok’s wetlands; Japan’s coastal communities are surrounded by ever-growing seawalls; and in China, smog has become a major political concern. If we are indeed living in a period marked by the deep effects of humans on our environment, what many have called the Anthropocene, then such phenomena would seem to exemplify the stakes associated with these changes at their broadest levels. Yet, closer inspection reveals that such macro-level environmental changes are in fact enmeshed in micro-level social shifts, political contestations, and cultural transformations.
For individuals and communities living in Asia’s burgeoning mega-cities, growing provincial centers, and changing hinterlands, social and environmental rupture has become constant and routine, its logic embedded in everyday practices and emerging policies. In many parts of the region, disaster is no longer experienced as acute, isolated, untoward events; it is now the “new normal.” Even when not coping directly with an ongoing disaster’s impacts, many Asian communities are engaged in either pre-disaster preparation or post-disaster recovery. Moreover, state and non-state actors strategically invoke the memory, or threat, of changing environments in order to justify their own agendas, projects, and policies. Patterns of migration and resettlement, urban infrastructure development, capital investment, and social policy are co-produced along with these shifting environments, modifying social relations, exacerbating inequalities, and generating fierce political struggles. At stake in these conflicts are normative, pragmatic and theoretical questions about citizenship, about the shape and relations of the built and natural environments, about the respective roles of local and expert knowledge, and about the constitution of just and resilient communities, in an age of unprecedented transformation. The lived experience of such contestations, the disruption that provokes them, and the practices that produce that disruption, shows how the epochal Anthropocene is found in the normal, the routine, and the quotidian.
The Quotidian Anthropocene: Reconfiguring Environments in Urbanizing Asia explores the quotidian processes associated with Asia’s changing environments by bringing together scholars from the Social Sciences and Humanities at a multi-disciplinary workshop. In exploring such topics together, we offer a window into the production and re-ordering of local, regional, and global ecologies. We consider how, even as seismic ecological rearrangements occur, human actors — including experts, authorities, and citizens — produce, feel, respond, and adapt to such changes. We interrogate these issues from situated vantage points across Asia’s urban-rural matrix as a means of considering how the Anthropocene is tied to everyday life, and how past and present struggles are shaping our environmental futures. This workshop provides insight into how such political endeavors re-imagine the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, as well as the roles played by local and expert knowledge, in re-making the new Asian city and preparing it for life in this precarious era.
Admission is free, however, registration is required. Kindly register early as seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Please email Valerie at email@example.com to indicate your interest to attend the talk.
Dr Eli Elinoff
Asia Research Institute & Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
E | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Tyson Vaughan
Asia Research Institute & Tembusu College, National University of Singapore
E | email@example.com
The surge of protests and mass movements we witness across the globe are intricately connected and facilitated by the Internet, but often also occupy politically potent spaces in the city where they gain political leverage for pursuing reform. Connecting these two elements remains inadequately studied. The many conferences aimed at understanding the role of new and social media as tools of protest tend to remain in networks of cyberspace, and urban studies have also lagged in linking urban space with cyberspace.
Our conference theme thus emerged to conceptualize the connection between the cyber and the urban. As individuals live in a networked society, with one foot in the virtual and the other in the material world, an understanding of the changes and transformations in society ought to include an interrogation of the interdependencies between online and offline domains. How does cyber-activism translate into the production of urban spaces, and, conversely, how does (lack of) access to urban spaces reflect back to online mobilizations?
We have brought together young scholars and leading experts from inter- and multidisciplinary backgrounds to better understand and re-theorize the ways in which the ‘cyber-urban’ connections in urban Asia and the Middle East affect people, networks, and social and built environments (click here for full description and programme). Vibrant discussions have yielded many insights, on the specificities and commonalities of case studies in various countries in Asia (including but not limited to China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Singapore) and the Middle East (including Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia), but also on how to better conceptualize cyber-urban connections.
Keynote speaker Merlyna Lim (currently a Visiting Research Scholar at Princeton University) opened the conference by mapping out the spatial dynamics of contemporary social movements. The first day of the conference was loosely based on paper presentations that speak to the social movement literature, while the second day focused on other cyber-urban connections. The two morning sessions were opening up conceptual avenues of thought, and the afternoon sessions would then provide empirical profusions. It turned out that this made for vibrant participation and discussions throughout the two days. Each session comprised three speakers (except for one session comprising four), and would address in turn new ways of seeing digital materialities; protest sites; movement narratives & interdependencies; grounding the cyber and augmenting space; protest forms; and other forms of mediated resistances.
Together, we have gone far beyond the questions posited at the outset, and have come away with a strong desire to further deepen our understandings of both the origins (roots) and processes (routes) that precede or lead to highly visible urban protests. These issues remain understudied yet highly important conceptually. Together with Merlyna Lim, whom we involved in selecting the papers for this conference, we thus decided to pursue an edited book with a renowned university publisher. Addressing the reflexivity of cyber and urban spaces, both empirically and theoretically, the volume’s general focus will be on investigating the origins (roots) and processes (routes) that undergird contemporary social movements in particular and the cyber-urban in general.
Thank you all for your interest and participation!
Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore)