During September 2020 the Urban Institute is hosting a September School with our partners across the globe to deliver a series of workshops on international political challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Free, limited ‘observer’ tickets available on Eventbrite.

Urbanisms, Pandemics, Transformations: Research and Advocacy in Uncertain Times of Urgency

Urban Institute September School

The September School represents the Urban Institute’s commitment to: generating new theoretical frameworks for understanding urbanisation processes; working collaboratively with partners across the world to develop new methodologies of research and engagement; developing new pedagogical instruments for knowledge production and conveyance and; a systematic response to the intellectual and political challenges occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The school is organised as a series of weekly workshops on a series of interrelated sequential themes. Each workshop will be prepared by a core working group of 8-10 researchers drawn from across the world, who will use the school to deliberate on these specific thematic issues over the course of a single day and via on-line platforms. In preparation for the schools, each working group will have conducted consultations in advance of the workshop, assembled documentary material, and will have focused systematic attention to processes in their geographical and sectoral areas of expertise related to each theme. Each workshop will also be open to a larger body of “observers”, who, during the final segment of each workshop will be allowed questions and comments. The UI anticipates drawing upon these observers for possible future collaborations.

Although each workshop will deliberate their own specific future dispositions and products—the School will encourage and support collective writing, handbooks, on-line magazines, methodological reports, and podcasts as concrete outcomes of each session. Working groups will also be encouraged to imagine ongoing ways of working collaboratively—in the development of more sustained research programs, formal inter-institutional agreements, ongoing informal working groups, or joint publication or advocacy projects. 

The Urban Institute will have conducted individual and group interviews with all members of each working group to discuss their participation, ideas and experiences. Each working group will have a co-convenor from an institution external to the UI. All sessions will run from 12:30 GMT-17:30 GMT using Google Meet (URL to follow) and you can sign up on Eventbrite


The Proposed Schedule is:

Wed 9 September

Urban Popular Economies: Remaking Social Compacts and Urban Arrangements in the Pandemic Era

Co-convened by Consejo Latinamericano Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) and the Sheffied Desk on Urban Popular Economy

In both the reiterated and newly created gaps between what states imagine as the composition of settlements and urban economies it seeks to govern, and the actual dynamics of settlements and work at ground-level, what existing forms of popular economy are being seen in new ways and what new forms are likely to emerge in the working out of new relationships between governmental and administrative institutions, local communities, institutions, and collectives?  As pandemic conditions provide new incentives and legitimacy for attempts on the part of states to formalise, straighten out, curtail a wide range of settlement and work practices—at the same as implicitly needing them to endure as safety valves and “real economies”—what new forms of popular economy might emerge in this process? What opportunities might exist for workers to garner new rights and possibilities?


Wed 16 September

Biosecure Urbanism?: Covid-19 and the Reconfiguration of Networks, Spaces and Circulations 

Co-Convened with University of Sydney 

The aim of this workshop is to critically explore the interweaving of responses to Covid-19 with the realignment of urban socio-technical networks, spaces and circulations.  Global urban studies provide an important framework for understanding the ways in which viruses can spread rapidly through international network, extended urban regions and dense cities. Yet Covid-19 now raises a different issue in how can the global and urban circulation of people, materials and viruses be contained, restricted and filtered to ensure that the pandemic can be suppressed or mitigated.  In response to this challenge of immobilising and then sifting through safe and unsafe circulations there has been an extensive landscape of urban experimentation involving – digital apps, immune-security, automation and robotics, encapsulated environments, physically distanced people movement and logistics – with responses designed to produce biosecure urbanism that enables the (partial) re-mobilisation of urban life.   The workshop will explore three critical issues:   i) Urbanisation of Biosecurity: How do we understand the transmutation of biosecurity from its existing focus on agriculture, environment and bioterrorism to everyday urban life and infrastructures?   ii) Operationalised Biosecurity: What emerging practices and socio-technical experimentation are taking place in different urban contexts and across different domains of urban life?   iii) Glitches, Contradictions and Limits of Biosecurity? Do these new capacities become overlaid and reinforce existing socio-spatial inequalities?  And what are the social and material limits of these responses – is it really possible to secure bodies, enclaves and networks that can transcend the crisis of pandemic?


Wed 23 September 

Unsettlements: “Real” Estates Elsewhere in Europe

Co-convened with the National Museum of Denmark

For something not to be fully known it follows that it is not unknown. You simply cannot not have both. But what does it take for something to persist as manifest obscurity through and through? This question might seem as speculative as its premise appears contrived. But to a growing number of urban residents in cities across the world, it does capture a certain register of their everyday engagements with each other and with the transversal ordering mechanisms, which inconsistently insist on consistency across variegated social and spatial orderings. We think here of “estates” in European cities and the disrupted connections that often link their inhabitants to the spaces of their habitation.  Drawing upon the “estate”–which covers a range of housing situations, from social housing to private “affordable” housing to migrant hostels and encampments–we want to examine the ways in which the conventional modes of settlement are by definition unsettling, of the ways in which the composition of inhabitants–who they are and what they are capable of doing–instead of being domesticated by the “estate”, are subject to a process of continuous recomposing, often without any destination in the minds of policymakers, brokers, managers, activists or residents themselves.


Wed 30 September

Re-tooling Mobilisation and Advocacy in Contexts of Massive Urbanisation

Co-convened with the American University of Cairo

Throughout the global south, many urban regions have become massive. In the familiar renditions of this notion, urban regions, mushrooming in population and spatial footprints, teeter close to chaos, environmental disaster, and ungovernability. Populations are being reshuffled, moved from one area to the other, something which an extensive landscape of built projects that never really worked has allowed as buildings are repurposed for other uses as they also take advantage of contiguities with new developments—sub-cities, new industrial zones and logistical centres. The sheer heterogeneity of developments at all scales, from thousands of small developers to large real estate corporations have equipped regions with a large volume of warehouses, housing estates, mega residential developments, industrial zones,  commercial centres, and small enterprise districts that either never got off the ground, only partially fulfilled the intended functions or rates of occupancy, or quickly fell apart. 

When these ‘projects’ are coupled with large swathes of squatter settlements, temporary migrant housing, and the conversion of older residential neighbourhoods into mass boarding houses, it is possible to grasp the extensiveness of a circulating population that anchors residency across multiple tenuous residencies, remains completely unanchored in serial short terms occupancies, or is continuously displaced as a function of different instantiations of urban renewal, the migration of employment opportunities, or an increasingly opportunistic-cantered sensibility of residents themselves. Yet, massiveness may be the very thing that provides a kind of ‘safety net’. All kinds of discrepant environments become momentary bastions of largely improvised collectivity, where people try to make some functional use of each other without any pretence of long-term commitments. Momentary, sporadic, and makeshift become the defining metaphors of many collective formations. In conditions of anticipated intensifications of displacement, enforced mobilities, temporary residence, heightened reliance on extended family networks, and the reworking of solidarities, what does a progressive urban politics look like? How can it address the massiveness of the urban in its two countervailing connotations, as debilitating disregard and collective lives worth living trying to be born?