Building City Knowledge from Neighbourhoods

Valerie Yeo Announcement
Subject Fields
Social Sciences, Sociology, Urban Design and Planning, Urban History / Studies

Workshop on Building City Knowledge from Neighbourhoods
9-10 March 2020,
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


Many aspects of urban experience — including those of history, heritage, urban populations, ways of life and livelihoods — are defined and shaped at the neighbourhood level.  Yet, much of it remains overlooked by policy makers and by most Urban Studies academics. The city is often the unit of analysis and boundaries of data collection, while the social constructions of the city, given the relatively incomplete top-down role of the state, are mostly from the neighbourhoods. The story of Asian cities remains however largely recounted by dominant actors in urban redevelopment (i.e. central governments and real estate developers) or by “scientific” knowledge developed in state-sanctioned vocational education institutions like architecture or city planning programs.

“Building City Knowledge from Neighbourhoods” workshop in March 2020 is an invitation to consider the relationship between the city and its neighbourhoods. The notion of “neighbourhood”, here, is linked to its reference both to built and social environments. It corresponds to the smallest social unit for urban place-making, a dimension that John Friedmann (2009) synthesizes as “a small urban space that is cherished by the people who inhabit it.” This definition focuses on three main criteria: its small scale, its inhabited dimension and its local attachment and appropriations by residents. It can be seen both as an intimate place of social encounters and a field of expression of social forces, which is practiced – and thus performed – on a daily basis. As such, neighbourhoods generate local centralities in the city they belong to. Many aspects of the urban experience – ways of life and livelihoods, heritage preservation, organizing for local amenities like parks, and keeping local areas safe – are initiated, organized and sustained at the neighbourhood level. Neighbourhood activists are often part of a larger city learning and cooperative networks that work to support community gardens and food security, housing rights, and a number of critical issues central to cities.

We seek papers that present findings and processes of research that engage with civic partners in city neighborhoods. Beyond the question of morphological urban scale, it is important to address “what goes on” within these communities, and how a number of these neighborhoods have crystallized into original forms of urban citizens’ movements. In particular, we invite papers on a range of topics that seek to conceptualize the ways in which neighbourhood local action shape the urban culture, practice and city building. Embedded in this objective is to uncover what has been happening to neighbourhoods and why these transformations matter. Furthermore, we critically examine the major actors who are involved in the contestations and transformations of neighbourhoods in the city. Of our interest are papers that would address one or more of the following three possible subthemes to build theory/philosophy of neighbourhood as a way of thinking/linking in city:

  1. Grassroots mobilisation and power. Originating from Manual Castells‘ City and the Grassroots, this perspective recognizes the role of the neighbourhood as a key source of mobilization in city politics, and the possibility of a network of learning and mutual support. Local mobilization also enables the neighbourhood as the third way urban development alternative to state and market (Fallov, 2010). It also sees the metropolization of politics as the legitimate arena where citizenship participation can be truly practiced.
  2. Transnational Urbanism. Originating from Michael Peter Smith’s Transnational Urbanism, this perspective recognizes the duality the neighbourhood has with the rest of the world. We invite papers which examine different types of mobilities, place making practices and circuits and how these implicate the neigbourhood and its relationship to the city.
  3. Urban Cultures: Influenced by Zukin’s Cultures of Cities, this perspective recognizes the neighbourhood’s capacity to contribute to a city’s culture through its heritage, businesses and ethnic ways of life. Processes of place making and place marketing occur at the scale of the neighbourhood and both processes contribute to an enduring set of sentiments and a resulting reputation linking the city to its neighbourhoods.

Additionally, we welcome papers that seek to address the contributions of various disciplines and of particular methods in approaching the study of neighbourhoods and its results in urban practice.  What are the methodological approaches in studying neighbourhoods and in situating them in the larger context of the city and urban societies? What are the contributions of research on neighbourhoods and cities in constructing urban pedagogies and practice?

This workshop is co-organized by the Asia Research Institute and the Southeast Asia Neighborhoods Network (SEANNET) of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). SEANNET is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation as a four-year initiative (2017-2020) that comprises research, teaching and dissemination of knowledge on urban Asia through the perspective of the neighbourhood. (


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (400 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 15 November 2019. Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. The organizers plan to have a publication with selected papers presented in this workshop. By participating in the workshop, you agree to participate in the future publication plans of the organizers. Hotel accommodation and a contribution towards airfare will be provided for accepted paper participants (one author per paper). In developing the proposal, it is important to show how your specific case relates to the wider relevant literature and the ways in which your case elaborates on important themes identified in the literature.

Please submit your proposal using the provided template to Ms. Valerie Yeo at Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 2 December 2019. Participants will be required to send in a completed draft paper (4,000 words) by 15 February 2020.


Dr Hae Young Yun | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Assoc Prof Ho Kong Chong | Asia Research Institute and Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
Dr Rita Padawangi | Singapore University of Social Sciences
Dr Paul Rabé | International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University

Contact Information

Valerie Yeo
Conference Secretariat
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore 
AS8, Level 7, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, SIngapore 119260

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