Full project outline

Burnt_Party_Superstore_on_Lavendar_Hill,_Clapham,_2011Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature sets out to bring the insights of social geographers and cultural historians into a critical dialogue with literary narratives of urban culture and theories of literary cultural production, exploring new ways of conceptualising the relationship between planning, violence and literature.

We are investigating how that iconic site of modernity, the colonial city, was imagined by its planners; and how this imagination, and resultant cultural and social interventions, made violence a part of the everyday social life of its subjects, large numbers of whom could never be admitted to citizenship. We trace the continuing legacy of this planned violence in diverse postcolonial contexts; and analyse how literary writing of both the colonial and postcolonial eras, poetry, fiction and theatre/performance, is able to reflect on this language of planning and incorporate urban violence and civil unrest within its formal and thematic scope.

Since they were largely inhabited by subjects denied the rights of citizens, colonial cities often acted as experimental zones where the imperatives of efficient governance could overrule pressing social concerns, and move humans and material, design and infrastructure at the will of the rulers—a will which could always be enforced against ongoing resistance. Comparing the spatial pasts and presents of the post-imperial/postcolonial cities of London, Delhi and Johannesburg, the Network considers whether urban formations within the city, such as the square, the marketplace, the boulevard, the grid, instead of fulfilling the emancipatory promise brought by colonial modernity, were actually the built expression of governmental strategies that exacerbated rather than contained social violence. More immediately, what are the continuities between colonial urban planning and newer patterns of violence in postcolonial urban spaces, especially as relayed in literary writing? How are certain spaces of exclusion, containment and marginalization built into the governmental infrastructure of colonial, then postcolonial multi-ethnic cities? We are exploring in particular the extent to which colonial urban planning regimes still structure everyday lives in these diverse postcolonial cities, and examine the prescience of literary writing (such as by Monica Ali, Kwesi Johnson, Kapur, Ivan Vladislavić, Sifiso Mzobe) in mapping and re-imagining controlled city spaces, and in responding to and (re)shaping the logic of the lives of the governed.

Crowded Delhi Market

The comparative, interdisciplinary reach of the ‘Planned Violence’ Network distinguishes it from most international research to date on urban planning and post/colonial violence, which tends to be purely sociologically or anthropologically based and overlook the heuristic value of cultural and literary contributions. The project is particularly concerned, therefore, to bring literature and literary studies into dialogue with urban studies. In each case the city venues will themselves exemplify interpretative material for the issues highlighted by the Network’s discussion between its participants. The network intends to consolidate its valuable international dialogues and contributions using this website, and as one or (probably) two published outcomes, including a special issue of the interdisciplinary journal Interventions and/or JPW on Planned Urban Violence.