Mabin, Alan (2013). “Debating ‘southern theory’ and cities of the south (and the north) of the world »

12 juin 2013

Mabin, Alan (2013). “Debating ‘southern theory’ and cities of the south (and the north) of the world. Conceptual problems, issues of method and empirical research”, Working papers du Programme Villes & territoires, 2013‑5, Paris, Sciences Po

In researching and writing change in three cities on three continents, I have confronted the question: what to make of ‘southern theory’ (Connell 2007) in relation to cities in the south as well as the north of the world?  This paper presents debate on questions such as: what is ‘theory from the south’ or ‘urban theory beyond the west’ (to cite the titles of works from Comaroff and Comaroff 2011 and Edensor and Jayne 2012)?

Mindful of the possible dismissal of such theorizing as merely an ‘obsessive anxiety about latest fashions in Northern theory’ (eg Mbembe 2011), the intervention explores what there may be to gain, for consideration of the world of cities, from new realities and new ideas emerging ‘in the south’.  Cautions can be sounded around the problem of models – from Chicago to LA, and then on to Miami, Atlanta and cases in the elsewheres of global urbanisms.

The notion of ‘the south’ or ‘cities of the south’ evokes in general a postcolonial turn in many social disciplines, and its possible intersection with critiques of political economy. One key proposition in current argument is that ‘cities of the south’ present a space of experimentation that prefigures the near future of the west (or north).  The risk of wholesale adoption of such perspectives may be ‘a larger set of claims that tend to obscure even while claiming to clarify’ (Aravamudan 2012).

The intervention asks, how those actively applying their minds to city futures in more collective senses may confront the question: what alternative urban policies and practices might flow from a ‘southern perspectives’?