Changing cities
Changing cities

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Changing cities

3.2 Problematising urban processes

Described image
Figure 4 Girangaon, an area of central Mumbai

We can revisit the three ways of thinking about urban agency in terms of ‘problematisations’, thinking of them as being guided by particular worries or concerns, or problems.

So, first, the strong emphasis on urbanisation as a causal process, generating conflicts and contradictions, is a response to the observable problems associated with the clustering and intensification of production, provisioning and consumption in larger and larger concentrations of built environment, with complex divisions of labour, and supported by complex technological infrastructures.

Second, the emphasis on the city as a distinctive form of social organism is likewise an index of the observable problems associated with the displacement and relocation of large numbers of people from different backgrounds into close proximity with one another and the ensuing challenge of forging new forms of sociability and belonging.

And third, the focus on the city as a scale of governance is a reflection on ongoing problems of defining just what powers local governments do and should have over what scope of activity and how those powers should best be exercised and regulated.

If we think of different strands of urban theory in this way – as distinctive problematisations of urban processes – then we arrive at a different approach to making use of these theories. Rather than thinking that our task is to arrive at the proper definition of what a city is, or how to characterise urbanisation, we might instead think of these strands as having degrees of ‘family resemblance’ to one another, overlapping in places, but as also drawing out and making visible distinctive ‘aspects’ of urban life.

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