Beyond Generic Urban Theory? Grand Narratives, Assemblages, and Urban Critique

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Bart WISSINK , Department Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
In the late 1970s, in his well-know proclamation, Lyotard announced the end of grand narratives. Nonetheless, thirty years later, urban studies research remains strongly structured by a selection of generic storylines. Developed in specific – mostly Anglo-Saxon – settings, these narratives are used to interpret and critique urban developments in cities around the world. This paper questions the implicit relationship between the narratives of urban theory and urban realities. It argues that storylines can play an important role as ‘sensitising devises’, but that they should be critically confronted in urban research. The paper underlines this argument with an analysis of the relevance of two grand narratives in two Asian cities: the ‘end of public space’ in Mumbai, and ‘splintering urbanism’ in Bangkok. The analysis shows that both storylines are relevant, but in ways other than the theory suggests. A direct translation of theory to specific urban settings will therefore lead to mistaken interpretations and inadequate critique. Unfortunately, urban studies research rarely incorporates such a critical confrontation of urban theory. From this observation, the paper draws conclusions on the practice of urban research, the value of urban theory, and the possibility of urban critique.