A dialogue between Yimin Zhao and researchers in Lausanne
In this seminar, Yimin Zhao’s talk on language and knowledge production in urban studies will be put in dialogue with the ongoing research by Martin Müller’s M3 team in Lausanne.
13h30–13h55 | Yimin Zhao: Writing majority urbanisms together: Languages, translations and urban studies
In this talk, I will first revisit previous reflections on the “translational turn” and the Jiehebu case in Beijing, and summarise why and how our attention to the vernacular names of urban spatialities are with theoretical and epistemological significance. I will then make dialogues with some recent interventions that question the adequacy of vernacular terms in depicting the unsettled natures, characteristics and spatialities of urban change while also suggest us to shift the focus to alternative terms, such as the “surrounds” and “suspension.” Concurring with the underlying concern of these “ambiguous markers” in foregrounding the urban life yet to be recognised or conceptualised, I want to defend the meaning of vernacular terms in writing our “majority urbanisms” together. On the one hand, these markers we read in the “mainstream” urban studies literature are more often than not written in English and work with under- or un-examined abstractions inflected by a logic of labelling. On the other hand, the subjects of seeing and speaking are left unchallenged, as it is still those who can travel, observe, write and publish that are speaking on behalf of the observed. To overcome these challenges, I propose that we should rethink exteriority and otherness and “shape individual and collective dispositions to acknowledge the claims of others” (Barnett 2005: 5). This is a pre-condition of the “translational turn,” and it also paves the way for enabling alternative visibilities from/of the overlooked urban conditions. In other words, language embodied in vernacular terms should be foregrounded in decolonial endeavours as a key aspect of rethinking subjectivity – and being.
Yimin Zhao is Assistant Professor in Urban Planning and Management at Renmin University of China, and an SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Zürich (2023). Trained as a Human Geographer, his research focuses on the nexus between the urban and the state in China and East Asia through the analytical lenses of urban materiality, land and everyday life. After previous investigations of Beijing’s green belts and the Jiehebu area, his current research develops along two lines of inquiry, one attending to the infrastructural lives of authoritarianism and the other looking into the urban mechanisms of “Global China.” He is an editor of City, and a corresponding editor of International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
13h55–14h20 | Martin Müller, Laura Neville, and Quentin Rihoux: Language and the decolonisation of urban studies and planning
While decolonial approaches have gained significant popularity in urban studies and planning research over the past decade, multiple mechanisms of exclusion from academic knowledge production remain. In this contribution, we investigate to what extent the dominance of English as the contemporary lingua franca creates a geography of marginalisation with regard to the dominant channels of academic canon constitution in urban studies and planning: academic journals. Our quantitative analysis of the affiliations of editors, boards and authors of some 20 leading journals reveals an overrepresentation of Anglophone scholars from the Global North despite emerging trends and aspirations towards decolonisation and cosmopolitisation. It shows a generally poor representation of scholars from the Global South and an even poorer one of scholars from the non-Anglophone South. As such, language-based and colonial hierarchies intersect with each other, and with gender and racial discriminations, thus instituting a ‘spectrum of exclusion’ in knowledge production. Based on these results we discuss the specific implications of what we call ‘epistemic delusion’ for the field. We conclude that equalising the access to academic publishing is inevitable to go beyond the status quo of ‘decolonisation without decolonising’. It will require deeper engagement with language, and consideration not just of what we write but how we write.
Martin Müller is a professor in the Department of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne. He heads the research team M3 (Materialities | Multiplicities | Metropolis). He read for a Master’s degree in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge and received a PhD in Human Geography from Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main. He has held fellowships at the universities of British Columbia in Vancouver, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Oxford, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Institute for Advanced Study in Marseille. Before coming to Lausanne, he was Swiss National Science Foundation Professor at the University of Zurich. Martin Müller’s principal research is on the urban dimension of the sustainability transition and focuses on three major strands: 1) Cultural institutions (museums, theatres, opera houses etc.), 2) Sports events (Olympic Games, Football World Cup etc.), 3) The geopolitics of geographical knowledge and thinking with the Global Easts.
Laura Neville is part of the M3 team and is working on the SNSF project on ‘Cultural Flagships’. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne. She holds an MSc in Urbanisation and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a Master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and a Bachelor's degree in Geography from the University of Lausanne. She was also visiting PhD student at the Universidad de Cartagena and at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests are centred on urban environmental change, infrastructures of disposability and social inequalities in cities in Latin America. Her work draws on postcolonial, decolonial and feminist urban theories.
Quentin Rihoux is a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne. He works with Martin Müller in the research team M3 (Materialities | Multiplicities | Metropolis). He received Master degrees in Architecture from the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture de Versailles and in Town and Country Planning from Tongji University (Shanghai), and studied Urbanism at Sciences Po Paris. Quentin Rihoux’s main research interests relate to urban “Projectification” ; causes and consequences of the rise of projects as new dominant instruments for urban governance.
14h20–15h00 | Discussion
This seminar is jointly organised by the following research collectives in the Institute of Geography and Sustainability (IGD):