RGS-IBG 2014 CfP – Learning from Small Cities: New Urban Frontiers in the Global South

At the start of a new year, I am very pleased to announce a CfP to a paper session I am organizing with Prof Abdul Shaban in the 2014 Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) annual meeting. Our paper session is titled ‘Learning from Small Cities: New urban Frontiers in the Global South‘. I am very pleased to announce that this is being multiple-sponsored by DARG (Developing Areas Research Group), UGRG (Urban Geography Research Group) and GJRG (Geographies of Justice Research Group) of the RGS-IBG. The 2014 RGS-IBG meeting is themed around the ‘Geographies of Co-production’, which I believe is important and timely.  In recent years we have seen new and different ways that the academic, non-academic and student community are collaborating to co-produce knowledge. We believe that this co-production is appropriate and crucial to understanding ways of dwelling and responding to contemporary world challenges characterized by increased uncertainty and insecurity. In our paper session, we have taken one of the global challenges of urbanization, questioning the recent focus of contemporary global urban studies on mega-cities in the global south. We argue that small cities in the global south are now at the frontiers of urbanization and urban development and therefore how their ‘smallness’ is produced as well as how their aspirations for overcoming this is constructed is actually a crucial site of knowledge production around urbanization in the global south. This is a developing area of our research interest for some time, which was given particular attention in my short documentary ‘City Forgotten’ on a small city – Malegaon in Maharashtra, India and a book under contract with Routledge titled ‘Mega-Urbanization in the Global South: Fast cities and new urban utopias of the postcolonial state‘. Please note the Call for Papers below and submit paper abstracts of no more than 300 words by 31st January 2014 to Ayona Datta (a.datta@leeds.ac.uk).


Organizers: Ayona Datta (University of Leeds, UK) and Abdul Shaban (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)

Co-Sponsored by DARG (Developing Areas Research Group), GJRG (Geographies of Justice Research Group) and UGRG (Urban Geography Research Group)

For the last decade or so urban studies has been preoccupied in decentering its western bias and advocating a postcolonial lens in studying cities of the global south. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai and Johannesburg are now ‘champions of urbanity’ (Banerjee-Guha 2013) in global urban studies. Yet, around half of the ‘urban’ population in Africa, Asia and Latin America lives in small and medium cities with populations of less than 500,000 (Satthertwaite 2006). Seen as provincial, parochial, even communal and on the peripheries of urban studies, small and medium towns nevertheless are the new frontiers of urbanization of postcolonial states. They service urban consumers, act as national trade centres, support global manufacturing processes or serve as regional administrative nodes. In recent years, the focus of postcolonial states on cities as engines of development and economic growth (Kennedy and Zerah 2008), has also spurred rapid transformation of small and medium towns into new urban utopias of eco-city, smart-city, satellite city and a number of other neoliberal city-making initiatives. They therefore face a “triple challenge” (Veron 2010, 2833) of the impacts of increased urbanization, development and under-development. While they are characterized by the absence of local democratic institutions, poor urban infrastructure and continued ‘elite capture’ (Kundu 2011) of land for development projects, a broad range of grassroots struggles in these places are also working to redefine rights and justice through active citizenships. The indifference in urban scholarship however to the ‘smallness’ of cities have institutionalized existing inequalities between mega- and small cities, between urban regions and their urbanizing hinterlands, and between the centre and peripheries of urban studies itself.

In this session, we view small cities not as homogeneous, structurally and demographically defined entities, but rather as places with their specific social, cultural, political, historical contexts of ‘smallness’ that are produced through their particular relationships with neoliberalisation, globalization, urbanization and the postcolonial state. We invite papers that address but are not limited to the following questions:

  • What we can learn from small cities and how can this ‘learning’ decentre the practices of ‘doing’ urban studies?
  • What are the new frontiers of knowledge and action that are produced when we learn from small cities?
  • What are the politics of being and becoming ‘small’, and what does it mean to challenge the injustices of ‘smallness’ in these cities?
  • How do aspirations for ‘bigness’ in small cities produce new urban inequalities?
  • How are urbanization of mega-city regions and transformations in the political, cultural, social and economic life of small cities co-produced?

Please submit paper abstracts of no more than 300 words by 31st January 2014 to Ayona Datta (a.datta@leeds.ac.uk).


Banerjee-Guha, Swapna 2013. ‘Small Cities and Towns in Contemporary Urban Theory, Policy and Praxis’, in R.N. Sharma and R.S. Sandhu (eds), Small Cities and Towns in Global Era: Emerging Changes and Perspectives, 17-35. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

Kennedy and Zerah, H. 2008. The Shift to City-Centric Growth Strategies: Perspectives from Hyderabad and Mumbai, Economic and Political Weekly, September 27, 110-117.

Kundu, A. 2011. Politics and Economics of Urban Growth, Economic and Political Weekly, May 14, 10-12.

Satthertwaite, D. 2006. Outside the Large Cities; The demographic importance of small urban centres and large villages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Human Settlements Working Paper Series Urban Change No. 3. IIED, London.

Veron, R. 2010. Small Cities, Neoliberal Governance and Sustainable Development in the Global South: A Conceptual Framework and Research Agenda, Sustainabilities, 2, 2833-2848.


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