theoriSE: debating the southeastern turn in urban theories

African Centre for Cities is delighted to publish theoriSE: debating the southeastern turn in urban theories edited by Oren Yiftachel and Nisa Mammon.

This volume has had a long and winding road to publication. It began with a growing interest in ‘the Southern turn’ in urban studies and related fields during the past decade, which brought a group of scholars to propose a series of workshops on the TheoriSE? topic in different locations. The first of these took place at University College London (UCL) in late 2019, ahead of the Frontiers of the Urban conference.

This workshop was a special event, bringing together for the first time, most of the leading voices in this fledgling debate. Fittingly, the presentations were intense and engaging, and debates enlightening and at times furious.

Shortly after the successful event, COVID-19 hit and brought a long pause to the idea of rolling workshops. Given the new circumstances, we decided to publish the proceedings, and in the meantime hope to renew face-to-face events when time and resources allow.

“The task of finding a publisher, unexpectedly, proved difficult, with several leads proving fruitless, recalls editor Oren Yiftachel. “Thankfully, in late 2021, the African Centre for Cities, headed by Professor Edgar Pieterse, decided to take up the gauntlet and publish the project, for which I am deeply grateful.”

The book is dedicated to lasting memory, courage, rigour, values and friendship of Professor Vanessa Watson, who was not only a pioneer in Southern urban and planning theory, but also a leading force in organising and participating in the workshop. It features her essay A Southern urban planning theory-building project, along side contributions from Gautam Bhan, Mona Fawaz, Amanda Hammar, Mona Harb, Irit Katz, Colin Marx, Faranak Miraftab, Sophie Oldfield, Catalina Ortiz, Susan Parnell, Libby Porter, Jennifer Robinson, AbdouMaliq Simone, Carlos Vainer,  Tanja Winkler, Haim Yacobi and Oren Yiftachel.

“We are very pleased to finally publish this fine collection, which shows not only that the ‘southern’ and ‘eastern’ perspectives are vital to understand urbanisation and planning, but also that the legacy of Prof. Vanessa Watson’s pioneering work is continuing to inspire theorists and activists in far flung regions of the world.”

Oren Yiftachel

Co-editor Nisa Mammon reflects that Southeastern city perspectives or the ‘southern turn’ or south-east geographies – whether theorising urban studies or applying concepts in urban planning practice – is significant in the making, shaping and shifting of cities today, even as only a nascent antidote to what Professor Yiftachel refers to as the “racialised, gendered, and economic neocolonial relations” that are “reshaping most cities and regions”.

“As a planning practitioner I am constantly aware of how Northern planning theories have made their way into the academy and urban planning practice through time to the extent that they are now deeply embedded in legal frameworks and the minds of planners, designers and practitioners in the built environment in the North and South-East. The context-specific complexities and circumstances of those who are marginalised: migrants, the urban poor who live without easy access to clean water, sanitation, education, healthcare and food; those whose governments betray them time and time again around urban land issues, among others; are completely misunderstood and misinterpreted by Northern influenced planning theory and practice. In the ‘South’ and ‘East’ there are important roles for informal development and economies, religion, collective identities and neocolonial processes that are often ignored by Northern theories. This is what the late Professor Watson referred to as ‘conflicting rationalities.”

Nisa Mammon