An open access virtual issue for the 2016 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture, AbdouMaliq Simone’s “Provisioning the Provisional: Ensemble Work in Yangon”

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The 2016 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture

Provisioning the Provisional: Ensemble Work in Yangon

AbdouMaliq Simone

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Göttingen, Germany

*Watch a video of the lecture here*

How do lives reach each other, what do they want or need from all the different instantiations of living? How much do particular enactments of living really need to engage all those others taking place in the larger surrounds; how much do they simply need to know that specific ways of doing things are there, somewhere, without necessarily needing to interact with them? When interaction is necessary, how much has to be conceded and recalibrated? In cities where thousands upon thousands of things are going on simultaneously at any given time, how do particular lives know what it is exactly that is relevant to them, that poses serious implications for who they think they are or what they want to be? How far can inhabitants trace the impact of their own actions, and how far and to whom should any ethical obligations extend, and in what form?

These are questions that are critical to the efforts undertaken by people residing in districts they largely constructed by themselves so as to now deal with dispossession and the disentanglement of long-honed collective operations. How do residents of the residual urban cores of Jakarta, and many other cities of the Southern latitudes, deal with the conundrums involved in attempts to update these operations in the midst of multiple forms of urban intervention, some of which are replete with opacities of uncertain potential and effect? Even if the more opaque interventions seem inoperable, never concretely realized, they nevertheless generate unanticipated impacts and frictions. Even the massive volume of projects and infrastructure that is realized sometimes ends up instigating futures far from that which was promised. The presentation considers what might be taking place at the tension-filled, disruptive interfaces between varying logics and forces of spatial transformation and updated operations of autoconstruction.

The 2016 Antipode Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Lecture will be presented by AbdouMaliq Simone on Wednesday 31st August, from 16:50 to 18:30 in the RGS-IBG Ondaatje Theatre; the lecture will be followed by a drinks reception sponsored by our publisher, Wiley.

AbdouMaliq Simone is an urbanist and professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. He also holds positions at Goldsmiths, University of London; the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town; and the Rujak Centre for Urban Studies in Jakarta.

His key publications include Jakarta, Drawing the City Near (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads (Routledge, 2009), For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities (Duke University Press, 2004) and In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan (University of Chicago Press, 1994). You can read more about Professor Simone’s work at and follow his blog,

Jakarta, Drawing the City NearLike so much of his work, the abstract above is wonderfully energetic and restless, exhibiting a rare desire to engage with the sheer complexity of the concrete. Indeed, reading it, one might well need a rest, but you cannot help be energised by all that talk about relationships and encounters, differences and struggles, doings and undoings, makings and remakings, ways of being and ways of knowing, questions of politics and ethics, that which isn’t actualised, that which is unexpected, creation and destruction, persistence … all that talk, that is, about the constitution of the city.

City Life from Jakarta to DakarAnd that’s the point. Professor Simone’s scholarship is deeply activist. The urban theorist examining “how heterogeneous African and Southeast Asian cities are lived”, exploring “how things get done”, that which is “deployed everyday”, “practices they put to work in dealing with increasing uncertainty and the simultaneous openings and closures of spaces of manoeuvre”, is learning from/with city residents to create “a city that is more inclusive and which maximises the resourcefulness of its inhabitants”. This is urban theory with a belief in “the practices of residents to inform the operations of those very institutions” that ought to be serving them–an openness to “new inspiring and disturbing forms of everyday life”.

For the City Yet to ComeWe might say that it’s “anticipatory-utopian”, teasing the future out of the present. In City Life, cities are said to be places “for experimentation, for seeing what happens when bodies, materials and affect intersect, and the various ways of living that can proceed from that interaction”. Given this bewildering variety, in Jakarta, Drawing the City Near, Professor Simone insists that the urban theorist ought to be “less interested in ‘tying things down’ than in trying to find ways of ‘keeping up’”–affecting the city entails not so much representing as being affected by its becomings. In For the City Yet to Come, this means the urban theorist trying to be more like those inventive city residents, “attempt[ing] to ‘borrow’ all that is in sight … making use of whatever comes along … ”.

In Whose ImageIt’s this openness that Professor Simone holds key to city life and urban theory alike. It feeds his work with politicians, local government employees, urban planners, low income residents, artists, activist groups, NGOs and other kinds of institutions, “build[ing] viable institutions capable of engaging with the complexities of life across the so-called ‘majority world’”. In doing so, Professor Simone and his collaborators have “stretched the boundaries concerning what works, what is viable and sustainable”, reassessing what’s possible in the modern world.

Here we’ve pulled together some recent papers–making them all freely available–that exhibit something of this will to engage with a world in which “all that is solid melts into air”, not only because of what’s happening to people but also because of their own happenings–“the tension-filled, disruptive interfaces between varying logics and forces of spatial transformation and updated operations of autoconstruction”.

Many thanks from Andy to editor Tariq Jazeel for comments on the text, and from all at Antipode to Wiley’s Rhiannon Rees for her peerless help with the lecture and virtual issue.

Andy Kent, August 2016

Aesthetic Dissent: Urban Redevelopment and Political Belonging in Luanda, Angola

Claudia Gastrow (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12276

Of Gardens, Hopes, and Spirits: Unravelling (Extra)Ordinary Community Economic Arrangements as Sites of Transformation in Cape Town, South Africa

Emma Noëlle Hosking and Marcela Palomino-Schalscha (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12259

The Poolitical City: “Seeing Sanitation” and Making the Urban Political in Cape Town

Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12264

Gramsci and the African Città Futura: Urban Subaltern Politics From the Margins of Nouakchott, Mauritania

Armelle Choplin and Riccardo Ciavolella (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12268

From a Politics of Conviction to a Politics of Interest? The Changing Ontologics of Youth Politics in India and Nicaragua

Dennis Rodgers and Stephen Young (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12253

Ghosts, Memory, and the Right to the Divided City: Resisting Amnesia in Beirut City Centre

John Nagle (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12263

Migration, the Urban Periphery, and the Politics of Migrant Lives

Francis Collins (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12255

Lifetimes of Disposability and Surplus Entrepreneurs in Bagong Barrio, Manila

Geraldine Pratt, Caleb Johnston and Vanessa Banta (2016) DOI: 10.1111/anti.12249

The Inconsistent City, Participatory Planning, and the Part of No Part in Recife, Brazil

Pieter de Vries (2016) 48(3):790–808

Submergence: Precarious Politics in Colombia’s Future Port-City

Austin Zeiderman (2016) 48(3):809–831

In the Nature of the Non-City: Expanded Infrastructural Networks and the Political Ecology of Planetary Urbanisation

Martín Arboleda (2016) 48(2):233–251

Contesting Urban Metabolism: Struggles Over Waste-to-Energy in Delhi, India

Federico Demaria and Seth Schindler (2016) 48(2):293–313

Urban Pacification and “Blitzes” in Contemporary Johannesburg

Christopher McMichael (2015) 47(5):1261–1278

Storm Drains as Assemblages: The Political Ecology of Flood Risk in Post-Colonial Bangalore

Malini Ranganathan (2015) 47(5):1300–1320

The Queer Afterlife of the Postcolonial City: (Trans)gender Performance and the War of Beautification

Bobby Benedicto (2015) 47(3):580–597

Queering Critiques of Neoliberalism in India: Urbanism and Inequality in the Era of Transnational “LGBTQ” Rights

Svati Shah (2015) 47(3):635–651

Buenos Aires Beyond (Homo)Sexualized Urban Entrepreneurialism: The Geographies of Queered Tango

Miguel Kanai (2015) 47(3):652–670

Subprime Housing Goes South: Constructing Securitized Mortgages for the Poor in Mexico

Susanne Soederberg (2015) 47(2):481–499

The Politics of Open Defecation: Informality, Body, and Infrastructure in Mumbai

Renu Desai, Colin McFarlane and Stephen Graham (2015) 47(1):98–120