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Extensions of and beyond the notions of suburbs, peripheries, diasporas - Part I

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Photo credit: Marion Poussier, 2023  

About this event

This event is part of the Urban Life at the Extensions Programme which draws together five thematic working strands in an intensive 5-day series of ‘dialogues’ convened in Paris, at the Institute and locations within travelling distance from central Paris, and led by scholars, activists and urbanists drawing from their respective domains and locations.

Metropolitan areas concentrate, on varying scales, the supply of services, jobs and goods in a centre around which other areas, which are much less well endowed, find themselves subordinate. The downside of large metropolises is less glorious but just as spectacular: dormitory towns with no access to public services, suburbanization empty territories and even shrinking towns. It is this placing on the periphery that gives a primary form to many urban territories. The dynamics of polarisation at work, which result in forms of unequal development, subordination, appropriation of resources or relegation, can be analysed at global, regional or local levels. An important step then is to analyse not how capital constructs territories in its own image, but how the inhabitants invent their own vernaculars for dealing with the new contexts in which they live and work. How might we more judiciously engage and work with these vernaculars?

We know a great deal about how collective life is impacted by significant numbers of residents operating “off the grid” in their relation to urban provisioning and citizenship. For example, building up community-based organizations is an integral aspect of attempts to integrate many low-income residents into formal infrastructures. We know that the possibilities of collective life are greatly impacted by enduring poverty and social exclusion. We also know that organised forms of collective life, aimed at promoting greater social inclusion, do not necessarily produce improved livelihoods. Maximising social capacity often entails residents generating their own forms of value and endurance. In part this is done through generating new imaginaries and instruments of belonging, particularly for populations spending large amounts of time in motion. 

Livelihood formation and the figuring of viable units of care, provisioning, security and mutual responsibility is less a matter of the particular characteristics of a specific territory, but rather a matter of itineraries of circulation—the capacity of individuals and primary relations to articulate resources, opportunities, and connections across multiple locales, as well as navigate the often divergent laws, policies, and complexions of those locales. The viability of social reproduction is increasing reliant upon strategic situatedness of varying temporalities across different types of territory rather than anchorage in place. How to assess the viability of itineraries, compare them, and understand their modes of production become important methodological issues.