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Cross-disciplinary Perspectives on Postcolonial Urbanization: Urban Theory and... Literary Fiction?

Authors: Eric Prieto*, University of California
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Third World
Keywords: representational innovation, literature, postcolonial, informal urbanism
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Questions of representation have risen to the fore in much recent urban theory, often catalyzed by the particular representational challenges posed by the unprecedentedly rapid, and typically under-planned and under-managed, expansion of the megalopoli of the Global South. A growing number of prominent voices in the field (Aravena, Avermaete, de Boeck, Koolhaas, Roy, Simone, etc.) have cited the need for new conceptual and representational paradigms, emphasizing the need to step outside of the usual disciplinary frameworks.

For literary critics, whose work often focuses on the dynamics of representational innovation, this moment of crisis in urban theory raises questions that are particularly well suited to their analytic skillset. How do urban theory's traditional conceptual tools constrain the ways we understand, design, manage, and navigate cities? How can they be improved? What, if anything, can literature and the arts contribute to this effort? This paper examines four texts situated on both sides of the literature and urban theory divide in order to show how they advance urban representation. Two are by urban theorists (Ananya Roy and AbdouMaliq Simone) and two by novelists (Patrick Chamoiseau and Naima Lahbil Tagemouati). Each of them proposes an important recalibration of the urbanist's conceptual and representational toolkit in order to promote better understanding of urban informality and support better policy decisions. For each case, I sketch out some of the key innovations, suggest ways in which they improve the quality of urban discourse, and ask how they might be developed further.

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