Asian Cities 2018: Conference Themes

Conference Themes

Interpretations of Modernity:

Modernity is a loaded term used in developmental discourse and discourse surrounding cities as the ideal goal for nations to pursue. It is embodied with Western ideology and expectation as what constitutes the “modern” as breaking away from the “past”. This dominance for interpretation and control over what is “real” and “legitimate” shapes how people conceive contemporary living in vast parts of the globe. However, as there are a multitude of ways of being, there are also diverse ways of interpreting modernity. Ideological conceptions such as “modernity” are subjected to the active creation and shaping by none other than regular people. What it comes to mean and how it is perceived or used must be determined by those living within its influence and not by some preordained international standard which is prone to Eurocentric bias. Thus, this topic is meant to introduce the audience to how people in the region of Asia have sought to become modern, and what does that modernity mean to them. It is tempting to see cities as the direct mirror of modernity, however, we must question why? In the end, cities are simply spaces for which people navigate day-to-day living, just as any other space: rural or urban, domestic or public. Why then is the conception of modernity so important? To whom is modernity important? How does modernity matter to those who live in these spaces? Is modernity always beneficial? What does it mean to be a modern human? What and who does modernity exclude? These are some of the core questions that we would like to explore through this theme.


Conceptualizing the City: Urban vs. Rural:

Cities have long existed before the cities we know today. As such, they were not always skyscrapers or neat grids, or a clear contrast of suburban areas to towering buildings. Rural versus Urban delineations of what defines a city only gives us a very neat picture of the organization of cities; what do we make of towns, villages, informal suburbs as opposed to large-scale metropoles? Why can’t these “rural” spaces also be considered cities? How do we define a city? Today’s cities are optimized for formal, regulated business or official transactions and often have a structured linear timetable that organizes the flow of people from one area to the next. How about the people who fill the in-between? The people who conduct business on the streets? How are their movements subjected to regulations, but also how do they define the landscape of the city? How about the locals who make use of public and private space beyond the confines of their designated purposes? This topic intends to look at people who flow through the city and require inventing new ways to establish permanent ways of living in the city, an often privileged and inaccessible space. This topic will allow for exploration of the city as a concept and as a space.


Migrations and Solidarities:

Humans have migrated for millennia and it was not until the creation of definitive nation-state borders that transnational migration has become an issue. Since the economy has become more globally intertwined, the imperative to migrate for work and to find better lives has become greater as well. Within this context, migration has become a selective process at the control of nation-states that define who can work in their territories and subsequently who is of value to the state. Those who meet neither become vulnerable. The word “migrants” therefore has accumulated some kind of negative connotation and association in its relationship with globalization. Mirroring this, scholarly and public discourse surrounding migrants has focused on the exploitive circumstances they survive under. Through this topic, we would like to instead place the emphasis on solidarities — not out of selective ignorance to the vulnerability migrants face, but rather in order to pay attention to how migrants mitigate their situations and build community for services and support. How do these communities then flourish and interact with state infrastructure and regulations; how do they shape them? What kind of migrants are targeted and what others are appreciated? We aim to look beyond the categorization of migrants and try to look at how they can help us re-think living in cityscapes. The stories of migrants can also inform us about the informal spaces and creations within cities and national borders.