Beyond the Enclave of Urban Theory


This essay offers a methodological intervention into conceptual debates in urban studies. Despite significant analytical and political differences across an otherwise heterodox field of inquiry, these debates have been overly confined to a theoretical register. In this essay, I propose an alternative, inspired by Stuart Hall, which focuses on the concrete work accomplished by our key concepts in specific historical conjunctures. I make this argument with reference to my own research in Colombia, focusing specifically on racialized violence and displacement in the port‐city of Buenaventura. I argue that Hall’s method, particularly his work on ‘race’, offers a way to engage questions of global urbanism without necessarily treating them as theoretical questions. Like ‘race’ in Hall’s analysis, concepts like the ‘urban’ and the ‘global’ are ‘articulating principles’ of social formations, producing both discursive and material effects, and possessing social, cultural and political lives of their own. Alongside efforts to democratize the privilege of thinking and speaking in the language of ‘theory’, Hall’s method exposes that privilege to more fundamental questioning.