Emergent Urbanizations: New Territories of Urban/Agrarian Transformation in the Global South

Sai Balakrishnan, Neil Brenner, and UTL students

New patterns and pathways of urbanization are emerging around the world, and these transformations require a radical rethinking of inherited approaches to urban theory and research. A major site of investigation for the course is the urbanization of the hinterland / countryside, and the concomitant remaking of inherited agrarian environments across much of the global South, during the last three decades. In these zones, as elsewhere, post-1980s processes of sociospatial restructuring have involved the transformation of agrarian sociospatial relations, land use systems and political ecologies through newforms of enclosure/land-grabbing, infrastructure investment, industrial development and financial speculation, often in close proximity to or in direct relation to processes of city building. Their investigation thus requires scholars to rethink inherited disciplinary divisions of labor (e.g. urban studies vs. agrarian studies) and sociospatial binarisms (e.g. urban/rural; city/countryside; industrial/agrarian; society/nature).

In this collaborative project, organized as a GSD research seminar in Spring 2019, we (a) explore the limits of inherited theoretical frameworks for the study of urbanization processes and their putative “outsides”; and (b) attempt to develop and apply alternative conceptualizations to decipher emergent conditions and transformations, especially in agrarian environments undergoing major industrial, infrastructural and ecological transformations. Our work is, in this sense, oriented simultaneously towards the analysis of emergent patterns and pathways of urban restructuring and the elaboration of appropriate theories, concepts and cartographies through which to decipher the latter. Following a high-intensity overview of inherited 20th-century approaches to the urban and agrarian questions, and major axes of debate within early 21st-century urban, agrarian and development studies, we explore emergent urban-agrarian transformations across diverse sites and regions, and the state spatial strategies and forms of spatial politics through which the latter have been animated, mediated and contested. Our major research foci will be strategic zones of the global South—especially in the so-called “BRICS (the rapidly industrializing territories of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)—and a range of emergent agrarian-urban transformations that have crystallized within and across the transnational production networks associated with those zones.


From Farm to Favela: Examining the Role of Sugarcane in Brazil’s Urbanization, by Stefano Trevisan and Sarah Zou

Rice Optics: Water, Markets and Female Labor in Emergent Rural-Urban Topographies of Vietnam and Nigeria, by Malika Leiper and Ryan Thomas

Desakota: A Politically Calculated Spatial Configuration of Urbanization, by Ziwei Zhang and Kuangyu Xiong

Trading on Terroir: Fostering Artisanal Cheese and Alcohol Production through Specialized Agrarian Industrial Districts, by Mariel Collard and Stefan Norgaard

Data Fix: Informational Imperialism and Knowledge Commons, by Benjamin Notkin and Timothy Ravis

Nitrogen fertilizer treadmill: escalating instability and dependence in global capitalism, by Saul Levin and Henna Mahmood

Cattle, Culture, and Capital: Patterns of urbanization and dispossession in India and Brazil, by Evan Hazelett and Ayesha Mehrotra

Smallholder development and extractive logics: Understanding the rise of plantation alternatives in the neoliberal era, by Rui Su and Géraud Bablon

Corridor Urbanization: Political Discourses, Illegal Realities: The agro-urban reconfigurations along the Brazil-Peru Interoceanic Highway, by José Carlos Fernández and Samantha Saona

The global agrarian-urban process under the international logistics system: A case study of China and Brazil soybean trade, by Renyi Zhang and Zijing Wang

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