May 8-9, 2015
Stanford University
Levinthal Hall at the Stanford Humanities Center

A conference organized and moderated by Henrik Ernstson (Stanford University) and Jia-Ching Chen (Brown University) under the Urban Beyond Measure initiative at Stanford Anthropology

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The processes of urbanization in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are occurring at the fastest rates in human history. In the context of new cities, ‘megacities’, informal and illegal cities, what people think of as cities—our assumptions about how they develop, what they look like, what they provide and how—is changing in response. However, there are limits to our methods and theories in understanding these emergent cities. The registers we use to map, measure and code the city into intelligible data only capture certain aspects. In many regards, our scientific means of framing the city and how it is changing is in a process of catching up, leaving us with a sense of the urban beyond measure.

This conference aims to examine how global urbanization—an urbanization beyond measure—elicits responses from various affected and knowing publics, when focusing on the global South. This entails recognizing the limitations of conventional modes of registering an urban world that has emerged beyond the conventional domains defined in social and natural sciences. At the same time, the conference attends to insights from urban studies scholars who have shown how cities of the global south “work” despite the lack of conventional (Western) techno-scientific planning and institutions, and understanding the publics who are shaping the urban beyond measure.

We will examine existing research efforts and produce dialogue across social science and natural science fields of environmental research on urban places. Participants will examine specific socio-materialities (e.g., of water, waste, energy, etc.) and identify the difficulties of registering their dynamics, and alternate ways of assessing and understanding them. The day is concluded with the work of photographers and filmmakers who will discuss their alternative methods of registering these urban environments, provoking questions beyond those discussed by the academic researchers.
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