Urban Knowledge Infrastructures and the Political Capabilities of Planning in Nepal and Thailand

Authors: Robert Farnan*, SEI-York, Jonathan Ensor, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, UK, Richard Friend, University of York, UK
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Urban planning, knowledge infrastructures, political capabilities
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the relationship between urban (in)formality, planning, and the politics of knowledge infrastructure in the context of urbanisation and risk in Nepal and Thailand. Considerable energy in critical geography has been devoted to discussing the technocratic foundations of city planning. This has given rise, most notably, to renditions of the urban expressed in the modern infrastructural ideal of the networked city. How the city has come to be defined and framed through scientific and technical expertise has never been more complex or contested. Disaster studies and urban political ecology have addressed the various categories and cartographies underlying urbanisation, pointing us towards the importance of discourse in sustaining and/or reconfiguring the socio-environmental risks and vulnerabilities of urban life. Yet there has been significantly less attention given to the role urban planning documents play in enabling or disabling the political capabilities of those residing in informal settlements. It is the aim of this paper to explore how city planning documents, as sociotechnical objects of urban knowledge infrastructure, are increasingly implicated in discursive processes of social marginalisation and risk allocation connected with the governance of informal-formal transitions. Building upon discussions in disaster studies and urban political ecology and drawing from the concept of knowledge infrastructures in science and technology studies (STS), this paper explores the urban planning narratives, strategies, and contestations that map out informal-formal transitions in Nepal and Thailand. It argues that the framing strategies constitutive of such transitions perform political functions beyond mere calculative land-use planning and zoning.

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