Becoming urban – Københavns Universitet

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Becoming urban: Critical reflections on the mutual co-production of agency social spaces and power geometries

Ph.D.-project by Ditte Rasmussen Brøgger, Section for Geography, IGN,  University of Copenhagen

A key issue in contemporary human geography and urban planning is how to cope with the challenges of urban growth in the Global South. How to comprehensively grasp what is new in the urban landscape? Where does the urban space begin and end? And what and who are driving forces in making the urban? Several papers, books, and reports posit that we live in an ‘urban age’ (Brenner and Schmid 2014). It is within this field that I place my research and my interests and the core of my Ph.D. In building a theoretical- and analytical frame for understanding the multiplicity of the urban and assess the general research questions in my thesis: “How does the new urban population engaging in “making the urban” in new urban spaces, through their everyday practice?”

Three emerging urban environments in Nepal
The empirical setting for my research is three emerging urban environments in Nepal. Common for these three different areas is that they have undergone a recent spatial and developmental transformation. Nepal is a country in transition. Despite being one of the least urbanized countries in the world (Graner 2006) with only 17% of the population living in urban areas in 2012 (WB 2014), the country has one of the highest urbanization rates in the world, with an average urban population growth of about 6 percent per year (Muzzini and Aparicio 2013). Nepal thus presents a unique opportunity to investigate the making of the urban in its early stages where the urban life forms are new to many of the new urban dwellers. Nepal is also defined as a post-conflict- the country as the 10-year long civil war terminated just 10 years ago. A political limbo has been affecting the (political) society ever since. A constitution was formulated in 2015 but not yet implemented. The political unitability is leaving much to be negotiated within the informal sector and in various forms of “governance-beyond-the-state”. A substantial part of my research in Nepal is there for devoted to grasp the complex political, ethnic and class-based power governance structures forming the local political spheres. 

Understanding new urban areas
In my research, I draw on various contemporary debates about the urban, and I strive to situate. I draw on experiences from studies of southern cities in my focus on urban areas in Nepal, I argue for the diverse trajectories of transition, difference and ordinary scope of cities. In my research I see the urban as something dynamic constructed of people within the urban community, and how the access to the city and to participate is unequal. I move beyond the relatively flat ontology of understanding what is the urban and I have developed a framework for how to understand inclusion and exclusion in the socio-spatial sphere of new urban areas by using discussions drawing of Lefebvre’s “the rights to the city” and the multiple notions of rights in an analysis on the “who” and the “what” in urban areas. I work with assessments of people’s everyday participation in making the urban and the power geometry and the socio-spatial urban environment in the analysis of the human, social and structural aspects of the urban every day.

For further information, please contact Ditte Rasmussen Brøgger mail: dibr@ign.ku.dk