The Critical Classroom – “Dislocating Urban Theory: Learning with Food-Vending Practices in Colombo and Delhi”

Nipesh Palat Narayanan, Università degli Studi di Firenze / Université Grenoble Alpes

This open access article, “Dislocating Urban Theory: Learning with Food-Vending Practices in Colombo and Delhi”, opens up discussion on the universality of theory and questions the knowledge production nexus. I would expect students to critically engage with the notion that theory becomes theory when enunciated from certain privileged locations. However, speaking from other (non-privileged) locations does not counter this domination. Therefore, there is a need for a radical engagement with the urban from multiple positions and locations, to question the knowledge production nexus.

I would use this article in courses on Urban Theory, Urban Geography, and courses discussing Southern Urbanism, Informality, and Street Food. I would like this article to encourage discussion around:

What do we consider “knowledge” and how does that affect the way we act in cities?

How can everyday practices from cities help us understand them from varied perspectives? Urban theory has long been developed from the North; should the balancing act now consider reading the urban from the South? How beneficial is this? Does it reduce the bias of knowledge or increase it?


Il était une fois Wikipédia

This documentary shows the result of Wikipedia’s mission to question the hegemony of (printed) encyclopaedias and democratize knowledge. 20 years after its foundation, however, Wikipedia today represents the dominant societal narratives (as was the case with the traditional encyclopaedias it was critiquing), e.g. with a heavy focus on white men (80% of the profiles), Western regions, etc.

Cornea N, Zimmer A and Véron R (2016) Ponds, power, and institutions: The everyday governance of accessing urban water bodies in a small Bengali city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40(2):395-409

This article uses everyday politics to outline how the way we understand the city governs the way we act (or are acted upon) in it.

Banerjee P, Nigam A and Pandey R (2015) The work of theory: Thinking across traditions. Economic and Political Weekly 51(37):42-50

This article outlines the notion of theory when practised from Southern locations. It outlines the predicaments of academics located in the so-called South and their engagement with theory (as well as its hegemony).

Negi R and Ranjan A (2020) Delhi’s fight against air pollution could get a boost if science was decolonised. 11 November

This article discusses how one becomes an expert on an issue (here air pollution). It outlines the omission of local scientists, who have been working on an issue for years, in the acknowledgement of those who are situated in privileged locations.

Connell R (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. New York: Routledge

This book is outlines the Western locatedness of theory and is a basis for much of the Southern theory discussions today. It outlines how social science has wilfully omitted theoretical work from Southern countries and universalized Western theory.