Comparison in the Cold War: Thinking the Third World Through the Second World.

Authors: Lukasz Stanek*, The University of Manchester
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Africa, Middle East
Keywords: Cold War Urbanization, Accra, Baghdad, Comparative Urbanism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Urban knowledge production in hegemonic Western centres has been characterised in the wake of the Cold War by a double bind: the calls for a diversification of this knowledge beyond normative Western concepts have been paralleled by a systematic erasure of such diversity as it actually existed in the second half of 20th century. This paper draws from my current research on exchanges between the “Second” and the “Third” worlds in order to focus on the comparative practices in urban research and design in Cold War Accra, Lagos, Baghdad, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait City. While decolonization allowed for an opening of these cities towards architectural and planning expertise beyond the former colonial centers, the Cold War resulted in a multiplication of the sources of such expertise. Contrary to the entrenched vision of the globe divided into two parts, these cities became places where competing technologies, blueprints, concepts, methodologies, and epistemic frameworks were compared, tested, appropriated, and advanced. These comparative practices included thinking Accra through Tashkent by applying the lessons of Soviet modernisation of the Central Asian Republic to the conditions of Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana; and thinking Baghdad through Warsaw by claiming the relevance of the reconstruction of the Polish capital for the urbanization process under the Ba’ath party. While these comparative practices were devaluated as “ideological” after the end of the Cold War, I will argue that they continue to differentiate the urbanization processes in many places in West Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

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