Colin Mcfarlane

Colin Mcfarlane
Durham University | DU · Department of Geography

PhD

About

97
Publications
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Publications

Publications (97)
Article
How do residents on the socioeconomic margins of the city experience and perceive atmosphere? How does the concept of atmosphere change when we write it from a context of impoverished and stigmatized residents? Drawing on research in neighborhoods near Mumbai’s largest garbage ground, Deonar, we seek to advance a growing body of work on urban atmos...
Article
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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a re-examination of our societies and in particular urban health. We argue that urban health needs to address three inter-related challenge areas – the unequal impacts of climate change, changing patterns of urbanization, and the changing role of the local government – across multiple spatial scales: from individual...
Article
The relationship between the city and “innovation” is long and varied, but in recent years there has been a new focus on the potential of innovation to catalyze economic, social, and environmental change. This has led to a debate around whether and how innovation might be progressive, and the extent to which it is captured by – indeed driven by – n...
Article
This editorial introduces a new initiative at Transactions, “Geography in the World,” which engages with some of the challenges and opportunities of the discipline today. It does so by staging a set of reflections from Geographers working in different contexts across the world. The editorial introduces the first collection gathered in this issue, a...
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How might concepts of ‘value’ and ‘population’ illuminate the present and future of urban density? The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a public debate on density in the city. While some initially blamed density for the spread of the virus, others rightly cautioned against those claims. As the pandemic progressed, an imaginary of density-as-pathology gav...
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In the history of urban thought, density has been closely indexed to the idea of citylife. Drawing on commuters’ experiences and perceptions of crowds in and around Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, this article offers an ethnographic perspective on the relationship between urban crowds and life in the city. We advance understandings of the relations betwe...
Book
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Global Urbanism is an experimental examination of how urban scholars and activists make sense of, and act upon, the foundational relationship between the ‘global’ and the ‘urban’. What does it mean to say that we live in a global-urban moment, and what are its implications? Refusing all-encompassing answers, the book grounds this question, explori...
Article
In this piece, we introduce a special issue on “Rethinking Urban Density” which asks: what are the meanings and implications of density in cities today? How might we understand and research it? This collection offers a set of reflections on urban density in different parts of the world. Ranging from the urban forms, lived experiences, and perceptio...
Article
This commentary examines the politics of density in urban protest and social movements, drawing on examples from Hong Kong and Mumbai. The ‘force’ of density, I argue, is an emergent property shaped through the combinatory relations and forms of presencing that accompany instantiations of high numbers of people congregated in space.
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In this paper, we examine how to understand housing as a relational process. Drawing on research in three diverse cities, we stage an unlikely dialogue that brings together narratives of housing across the global North–South divide. In doing so, we are concerned with thinking housing relationally in two broad senses: first, housing as a relational...
Article
Situated at the intersection of urban and economic geography, this paper develops and illustrates a three-step research agenda to further critical understanding of relations between crowdfunding and cities. First, we explore how crowdfunding is enrolled in shifting programmes of urban governance that valorize entrepreneurship in North America and E...
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Urban extreme poverty has long been regarded as a vital challenge for policy and practice, but how might we research it? In this article, we set out a two-step approach to identifying and understanding the nature of urban extreme poverty (UEP). We experiment with an approach that does not define UEP in advance but seeks to examine it through a seri...
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In this article, I set out an approach to cities and urbanisation through a relational geography of urban density. While density has long been central to the urban question, I argue for a focus on the relationship between densification, de-densification, and re-densification as basis for understanding urban transformations and futures. A focus on t...
Article
Sanitation systems are the most vital provisions in a city. Today, however, the global sanitation crisis is urbanizing, and growing numbers of city residents live with the struggle and consequences of not having safe, reliable facilities. While there is a large and vibrant literature on sanitation and cities, we have yet to account for the specific...
Chapter
Cornelia Parker's 1991 sculpture, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, like much of Parker's work, deals with objects that seem familiar and that somehow persist, but which have been transformed and fragmented, their identities—and possibilities—altered. Parker's work captures something of the destructive power of the world, of the force of fragment...
Chapter
This chapter examines the politics of open defecation by focusing on everyday intersections of the body and infrastructure in the metabolic city which produces profoundly unequal opportunities for fulfilling bodily needs. Specifically, it examines how open defecation emerges in Mumbai’s informal settlements through everyday embodied experiences, pr...
Article
This commentary to the special issue on ‘Transcending (in)formal urbanism’ reviews key threads common across the issue and opens up questions as to the work that the informal–formal dynamic does for urban studies. It points out the general agreement in that none of the papers rejects the utility of the category of informal and that the terms inform...
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Fragmentation is a keyword in the history of critical urban thought. Yet the products of fragmentation – the fragments themselves – tend to receive less attention. In this paper, I develop a politics of urban fragments as a contribution to debates both in urban theory and in urban poverty and inequality. I examine inadequate and broken material fra...
Article
As the 21st Century world assumes an increasingly urban landscape, the question of how definitive urban spaces are to be governed intensifies. At the heart of this debate lies a question about the degree and type of autonomy that towns and cities might have in shaping their economic, environmental, social and cultural geography. This paper aims to...
Chapter
Full-text available
In an urbanizing world, the inequalities of infrastructure are increasingly politicized in ways that reconstitute the urban political. A key site here is the politicization of human waste. The centrality of sanitation to urban life means that its politicization is always more than just service delivery. It is vital to the production of the urban po...
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Smart urbanism seems to be everywhere you turn. But in practice the agenda is an uncertain one, usually only partially developed, and often more about corporate-led urban development than about urban social justice. Rather than leave smart urbanism to the corporate and political elites, there are opportunities now for critical urban scholarship to...
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How might we conceptualise and research everyday urbanism? By examining the making of everyday life in a low-income neighbourhood in Uganda, we argue that a dialectics of everyday urbanism is a useful approach for understanding urban poverty. This dialectical approach examines how marginalised urban dwellers navigate the city in the relative absenc...
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Comparison is now taken as vital to the constitution of knowledge about cities and urbanism. However, debate on comparative urbanism has been far more attentive to the merits of comparisons between cities than it has been to the potential and challenges of comparisons within cities—to what we call “Intra-Urban Comparison” (IUC). We argue that a foc...
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How is life at the urban margins made and remade? In this paper, we examine this question in relation to ‘sanitation urbanism’, and through attention to what we call ‘infra-making’, defined as the interstitial labour of human and non-human agencies and atmospheres that take place in the production of forms of sanitation. We do so through close enga...
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Si l’informalite a ete traditionnellement comprise comme un type de formation territoriale ou de categorie de travail, cet article propose une conceptualisation alternative concevant l’informalite et la formalite en tant que formes de pratiques. L’article examine comment differentes relations de pratiques informelles et formelles rendent possible l...
Article
Full-text available
In an urbanizing world, the inequalities of infrastructure are increasingly politicized in ways that reconstitute the urban political. A key site here is the politicization of human waste. The centrality of sanitation to urban life means that its politicization is always more than just service delivery. It is vital to the production of the urban po...
Article
What is autonomy and what is its potential in relation to the city? Cities are increasingly being positioned as essential to tackling some of the world’s major challenges, from global environmental issues to economic development and political security. Yet the extent to which cities have the capacity to respond is contested. The capacities of such...
Book
Smart Urbanism (SU) - the rebuilding of cities through the integration of digital technologies with buildings, neighbourhoods, networked infrastructures and people - is being represented as a unique emerging 'solution' to the majority of problems faced by cities today. SU discourses, enacted by technology companies, national governments and suprana...
Article
As the world increasingly urbanizes, the imaginaries, conceptions and politics of urban density will become increasingly urgent for research, policy, practice and activism. Density is a keyword in the history of how the city has been conceived and understood, and is firmly back on the global urban agenda. However, we lack sustained studies of how t...
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This paper develops a conception of “sites of entitlement” as a basis for better understanding how infrastructure and services are perceived and experienced in informal settlements. While legal and policy frameworks are often viewed as the source of entitlements to infrastructure and services, the complexity of provision, access and negotiation in...
Article
The global sanitation crisis is rapidly urbanizing, but how is sanitation produced and sustained in informal settlements? Although there are data available on aggregate statistics, relatively little is known about how sanitation is created, maintained, threatened, and contested within informal settlements. Drawing on an ethnography of two very diff...
Article
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Historically, the Government of Bangladesh has faced serious challenges in urban sanitation while public policy continuously bypasses questions related to the overall condition of the urban slums and their complex and filthy neighbourhood environment. Considering the diverse local settings of the urban slums, this paper attempts to explore the vari...
Article
Full-text available
This paper examines the politics of open defecation by focusing on everyday intersections of the body and infrastructure in the metabolic city, which produces profoundly unequal opportunities for fulfilling bodily needs. Specifically, it examines how open defecation emerges in Mumbai's informal settlements through everyday embodied experiences, pra...
Article
In this piece, I argue that a focus on metabolic inequalities offers an important route away from the traps of ‘telescopic urbanism’ outlined by Ash Amin. Drawing on research in Mumbai, especially on sanitation and water, I position a ‘metabolic lens’ in contrast to a ‘telescopic lens’. I argue that a focus on the networks of metabolic inequality b...
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This essay excavates the complex politics of water in contemporary Mumbai. In the context of a burgeoning water crisis in the city, it explores in detail how the city’s social and political elites demonize the efforts of inhabitants of Mumbai’s slums to hydrate their communities. Such demonization is paralleled by legal crackdowns and the deliberat...
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This paper explores the co-production of urban entrepreneurialism by examining the work of civil society groups in producing mobile models of slum entrepreneurialism. While slums and slum activists have been largely absent from accounts of urban entrepreneurialism, they increasingly play important roles in co-constituting mobile entrepreneurial mod...
Article
In response to the commentaries on Anderson et al. (2012), the authors’ short response raises questions about, first, the status of materialism and realism in current debates around relations and relationality and, second, the implications of understanding assemblage as a particular kind of ethos for the politics of assemblage-based thinking.
Article
In this paper we explore what assemblage thinking offers social-spatial theory by asking what questions or problems assemblage responds to or opens up. Used variously as a concept, ethos and descriptor, assemblage thinking can be placed within the context of the recent ‘relational turn’ in human geography. In this context, we argue that assemblage...
Article
If informality has been conventionally understood as a territorial formation or as a labour categorisation, this paper offers an alternative conceptualisation that conceives informality and formality as forms of practice. The paper examines how different relations of informal and formal practice enable urban planning, development and politics, and...
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Full-text available
Despite its centrality to contemporary urbanism, informality remains peripheral to debates in urban studies. Notwithstanding a wealth of work examining informality's historical production, the success or failure of policy in addressing poverty, or in elucidating the role of the 'informal economy', there have been few attempts to theorise the relati...
Book
Bringing together an interdisciplinary and international group of researchers working on a wide variety of cities throughout Asia, Latin America and Europe, this book addresses, rethinks and, in some cases, abandons the notions of formal and informal urbanism. This collection critically interrogates both the ways in which 'informal' and 'formal' ar...
Article
In this paper, I present some concluding reflections on the ‘Assemblage and Critical Urban Praxis’ debate that has taken place in the last few issues of City. Prompted by the eight insightful commentaries in the debate, I consider just three sets of contributions and limitations that assemblage thinking brings to making sense of and developing alte...
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While concepts of “enclosure” and the “commons” are becoming increasingly popular in critical geography, there have been few attempts to think them together. This paper sets out a dialectic of enclosure–commons as a means for thinking through contemporary processes of exclusion, violence and alterity. We examine what is at stake through a geographi...
Article
In this paper I consider what 'assemblage' might offer a conception of the city. Although assemblage is gaining currency in geography and beyond, there has been little effort to consider how it might be conceptualised and what its specificity might be. In offering a conceptualisation of assemblage. I bring assemblage into conversation with particul...
Article
Learning the City: Translocal Assemblage and Urban Politics critically examines the relationship between knowledge, learning, and urban politics, arguing both for the centrality of learning for political strategies and developing a progressive international urbanism. • Presents a distinct approach to conceptualising the city through the lens of urb...
Chapter
IntroductionTranslating PolicyComparative Learning: Translation and Colonial UrbanismIdeology and Postwar Urban PlanningNeoliberal Urban Learning AssemblagesIdeology and Explanation: Beyond Diffusionist Story-MakingConclusion
Article
In this paper, I seek to extend the debate on assemblage and critical urbanism by both responding to Brenner et al.'s critique of my earlier paper, ‘Assemblage and Critical Urbanism’, and by attempting to prompt further questions and debate. I reflect on three issues that Brenner et al. discuss: the role of ontology in assemblage thinking; the rela...
Article
In this brief conclusion to the special section on ‘Assemblage and Geography’ we reflect on the promises and challenges of assemblage thinking in the context of contemporary geographical thought. We draw out five issues for further discussion; ontological diversity, formation, the non-relational, newness and method.
Article
In this introduction to the special section on ‘Assemblage and geography’, we reflect on the different routes and uses through which ‘assemblage’ is being put to work in contemporary geographical scholarship. The purpose of the collection is not to legislate a particular definition of assemblage, or to prioritise one tradition of assemblage thinkin...
Article
Despite its centrality to urban politics, economies and life, learning remains a neglected and undertheorised domain in urban geography. In this paper, I address this by exploring a politics of learning through two key sites: tactical learning and urban learning forums. I offer a conception of learning based on three processes: translation, or the...
Article
This paper offers a discussion of what assemblage thinking might offer critical urbanism. It seeks to connect with and build upon recent debates in City (2009) on critical urbanism by outlining three sets of contributions that assemblage offers for thinking politically and normatively of the city. First, assemblage thinking entails a descriptive or...
Article
What might be the implications for urban studies if we take ‘comparison’ not just as a method, but as a mode of thought that informs how urban theory is constituted? Comparative research is experiencing resurgence in urban studies, yet there has been little effort to critically debate how comparison might take place, particularly in reference to co...
Article
A range of recent debates in geography have considered responsibility and/or critical practice, including the connections between knowledge production, ethics and politics. Taking our cue from these debates, this paper explores the question and limits of responsibility in research across a global North–South divide. Emerging from reflections on our...
Article
In this paper, I deploy an analytic of ‘translocal assemblage’ as a means for conceptualising space and power in social movements. I offer a relational topology that is open to how actors within movements construct different spatial imaginaries and practices in their work. In using the pre-fix ‘translocal’, I am signifying three orientations. First...
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Abstract In this paper, I deploy an analytic of‘translocal assemblage’ as a means for conceptualising learning in development. I offer a relational topology that is open to how actors within development construct different spatial imaginaries and practices in their work. In using the pre-fix ‘translocal’, I am signifying three orientations. First,...
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This article introduces the dossier of responses to the RETORT collective's Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (2005). We seek to ground this text in its political and theoretical context, identifying its relevance to scholars and activists alike. We introduce the four commentaries, which collectively provide a challenging...
Article
Building on recent critical scholarship by authors including Retort [Retort, 2005. Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. Verso, London] and Ferguson [Ferguson, J., 2006. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Duke University Press, Durham, NC], this critical review will explore the inter-articulation of neolibe...
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Discussions of cosmopolitanism in Bombay often focus on the rubrics of communal tension, tolerance, and violence, and frequently report the decline of a once cosmopolitan city, especially as a result of the communal riots and bombings that occurred in the early 1990s. However, claims that the city has undergone a general social transformation since...
Article
There has been a profusion of work in recent years exploring the links between infrastructure and the city. This has entailed a conceptualization of cities and infrastructure that recognizes their mutual constitution and the inherently political nature of networked urban infrastructure. In introducing this symposium, we find that a comparative appr...
Article
This article examines specific ways in which sanitation infrastructure matters politically, both as a set of materials and as a discursive object in colonial and post-colonial Bombay. It reflects on a history of sanitation as a set of concepts which can both historicize seemingly ‘new’ practices and shed light on the contemporary city. It considers...
Article
We may be witnessing a ‘Southern turn’ in urban studies, but the implications for urban theory are only beginning to be worked through. In this article, I argue the need for urbanists to engage with a variety of ‘shadows’ on the edges of urban theory. The article engages with literature that theorises the interactions between urban materiality and...
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This paper examines an ongoing intervention in sanitation in informal settlements in Mumbai, India. The Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) is premised upon ‘partnership’, ‘participation’, and ‘cost recovery’ in the delivery of large toilet blocks as a practical solution to the stark lack and inadequacy of sanitation, and offers an opportunity to inter...
Article
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While the validity of categories like 'First' and 'Third' World or 'North' and 'South' has been increasingly questioned, there have been few attempts to consider how learning between North and South might be conceived. Drawing on a range of perspectives from development and postcolonial scholarship, this paper argues for the creative possibility of...
Article
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The relations between knowledge, learning and development are of growing importance in development, but despite the growth of interest in this area since the mid-1990s, key issues have yet to be explored. This review argues the need to attend to how knowledge and learning are conceived in development and how they are produced through organizations....
Article
This paper explores some of the ways in which a dialogue between development and postcolonial scholarship might contribute to the theorizing of transnational networks in contemporary development. It does so through consideration of three inter-related themes: epistemologies, spatialities and ethico-politics. The discussion of epistemologies points...
Article
This paper is concerned with the various ways in which geographical imaginations are inflected in politics. It draws on examples from a threeway partnership of civil society organisations based in Mumbai, India. This movement seeks to reconfigure the governance of antipoverty strategies by placing "poor people" at the centre of its activities. The...

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Projects (3)
Project
‘Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality' (KNOW) seeks to deliver transformative research and capacity-building for innovation in policy and planning to promote urban equality. KNOW is guided by the aspiration to produce more equal cities. It focuses on three development challenges: delivering prosperity, tackling extreme poverty and building resilient cities. KNOW is a four-year programme funded by ESRC under the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). Led by Professor Caren Levy, Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) UCL, KNOW is made up of a global consortium of researchers and partners across 13 institutions, focusing on nine countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The project comprises six interrelated Work Packages: 1. City knowledge co-production 2. Comparative inquiry for urban equality 3. The ethics of research practice 4. Translating research into practice 5. Multiplying trans-local learning in higher education 6. Expanding UK ODA research capacity for urban equality For more information see: https://www.urban-know.com/.
Archived project
Project
I am presently contributing to an ESRC Urban Transformations programme project (see http://community.dur.ac.uk/pursi/). My focus within the project is upon novel forms of finance that are demarcated according to their social content and purpose (e.g. social impact bonds, social lending, community shares, civic crowdfunding) and which variously enable processes of urban social innovation. See, for example, my blog post on 'Crowdfunding Cities' (http://community.dur.ac.uk/pursi/blog/).