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Spatiality and Urban Development

Panel XI-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This research explores the role of invented traditions in shaping Iranian nationalism during the Pahlavi period and the post-Islamic Revolution era. Drawing upon the perspective of historian Eric Hobsbawm, the study investigates how new traditions were strategically created to maintain political power. In the Pahlavi era, a nationalist rhetoric grounded in the history of pre-Islamic Iran was employed to establish a sense of continuity for the Pahlavi dynasty, positioning them as successors to a 2,500-year-old kingdom. The city of Shiraz, with its rich cultural heritage and proximity to the ancient city of Persepolis, was presented as a symbolic center representing centuries of history and the fusion of Eastern and Western civilizations. However, following the Islamic Revolution, the dominant nationalist discourse shifted towards a Shia framework. Events like the 2003 U.S. occupation of Iraq and the increase in power of the Shia majority in the Iraqi government further exacerbated this shift, which led to the revival of long-forgotten Shia customs in Karbala, the site of the third Imam of Shia' martyrdom. This study delves into the unique attributes of each era, analyzing them through the dual lenses of sociopolitical and socioeconomic dynamics. It seeks to elucidate why the Pahlavi dynasty, in comparison to the Islamic Republic, was less effective in advancing its nationalistic agenda and leveraging the shaping of national identity to its advantage.
  • The lack of public toilets in Cairo has made the ability to relieve oneself a challenge while navigating or working in the city, especially for those who work on the street. This has led to a growing issue of public urination. Rather than build public toilets to meet these infrastructural challenges, the state has focused on social cleansing and securitization of the urban environment through community-coordinated surveillance and shaming strategies, punitive criminality measures, and by linking hygiene and urination etiquette to one’s religious and moral duty to maintain a clean body and environment. This research examines how measures and discourses of criminality, deviance, hygiene, and morality replace state infrastructural responsibility in the pursuit of the modern urban international city. The infrastructural neglect of public toilets has been co-opted and reworked as a productive tool for the state through a human security discourse, used to justify increased securitization of the city under the guise of an urban physical and social cleansing for the public good, paving the way for capitalist urban development. Through this research, I set out to map the public toilets of Cairo based on their reported locations in media reports, press releases, and through social media posts. I posted inquiries in Cairo housing groups, women’s neighborhood groups, and expatriate groups on Facebook, looking for local suggestions and recommendations as to where people relieve themselves while navigating the city and, in particular, if they had come across or heard of any public toilets. Additionally, I use government press releases, newspaper articles, and government issued Friday sermons to depict popular state discourses around sanitation and deviancy. Through this research, I argue that the state pathologizes and criminalizes behaviors rooted in poverty and a dearth of public services, rather than filling systemic infrastructural gaps. The state mobilizes community endorsement and participation in social cleansing efforts and criminality measures by linking hygiene and cleanliness to a moral, religious, and civic duty. Additionally, I argue that the impetus to build public toilets in Cairo has been linked to the desire to host international mega sports events such as the Olympics, African Cup, and World Cup. Particularly after the “Sifr el Mondial” scandal of 2004, where Egypt received zero votes to host the World Cup due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure, being awarded bids to host these events projects a modern and international image of the nation, cultivating nationalism.
  • This paper investigates the establishment of the ville nouvelle as a colonial archetype through which French planners performed historical conservation in Islamic cities. In their early twentieth-century schemes for restructuring colonial Arab cities, especially in North Africa, French planners often preserved the ancient Islamic city or medina and created a ville nouvelle, a modern city, adjacent to it. The new city boasted large boulevards, squares and gardens, buses and tramways, and conduits for water and electricity, whereas the old city was conserved in its entirety and was denied new infrastructural and technical amenities. Such conservation of ancient urban ensembles was not practiced in France at the time. There, the protection of landscapes and monuments had been the subject of laws whose application came only after massive destruction that demonstrated the necessity for conservation. In Arab cities, however, French planners took active measures for the protection of monuments before planning started. The paper shows how the notion of the historic city, as well as the binary opposition between it and the modern city, was established in the French colonies. I examine ville nouvelles designed by French urbanists Henri Prost and René Danger for cities in Morocco and Algeria: Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca, and Oran. I show how these planners applied the nineteenth-century standards of preserving monuments that were developed in France to the entire historic city. In Prost’s and Danger’s colonial planning, the modern city and the historic city were based on radically different principles. Rather than building the modern city on top of the old one—as practiced by Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the French capital and generalized in Germany and Austria by Joseph Stübben—the modern city was displaced. It was supposed to develop outside the historic core and according to its own logic.
  • In the 2010s in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank, several initiatives of collective agricultural labor and property emerged. This presentation argues that these commons developed out of the contradictions of the current phase of Zionist colonization in the West Bank, and specifically what I term peripheralization. In short, the destruction of the productive capacities of the Palestinian economy since 1967 proletarianized the population and led to the neglect of large swathes of agricultural land. This has intersected with the obstruction of political mobilization, under the joint repression of the Zionist regime and the Palestinian Authority. The majority of Palestinians thus faced double alienation, political and economic. From within this situation, a sector of left-leaning youth perceived need along with opportunity, and utilized fallow land towards an alternative economy in an effort to respond to the entanglement of capitalism and Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine today. The paper argues that these contemporary commons are spaces of both economic and political organization that correspond to the political economy of Palestine today. It further shows that they build on a heritage of mobilization around collective labor in Palestinian revolutionary movement, such as women and farmer committees. These played the roles of service provision for a society under military occupation, social (feminist and class) struggle, and mobilization towards anticolonial struggle. In an era of planetary crises, the concept of the commons—defined by David Harvey as a resource utilized by society towards common good—is gaining importance as an alternative to unfettered capitalist growth. This paper argues that an understanding of commons through the experience of Palestinian struggle is pertinent for all those interested in the potential the commons might hold for this planet. The Palestinian experience reflects particular manifestations of trends that are global: marginalization and securitization under racial capitalism and imperialism. This paper is based on extensive ethnographic work (50+ interviews and meetings), which traces the practices of a group of contemporary commons as well as their organizational and intellectual ties. The paper contextualizes these commons among historical Palestinian cases through secondary and primary sources. It traces the outlines of the peripheralization of the West Bank’s countryside, which I theorize as a process of urbanization tied to the colonial and imperial economic peripheralization of Palestine and the Arab Region as a whole, based on urban and dependency theories.