Development Seminar

The Make+Shift: Transforming Urban Popular Economies

Friday 18 March
12 – 2 pm
NEW VENUE: Room 2135, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street

Lunch will be provided, please register for this Development Seminar here:

The enormous transformations of the built environment and the enhanced possibilities of consumption that have marked even the most marginal of the world’s cities should not detract from acknowledging just how dependent the majority of the urban residents in the so-called “South” are on constantly putting together some workable form of income and inhabitation.  The makeshift character of much of what this majority does is quite literally “make”+ “shift”.  Whatever they come up with rarely is firmly institutionalized into a fixed set of practices, locales or organizational forms.  This doesn’t mean that relationships and economic activities do not endure, that people do not find themselves rooted in the same place and set of affiliations over a long period of time.  Rather, these stabilities inhere from a constant recalibration of edges, boundaries, and interfaces.  Whatever appears to be stable largely depends upon its participation is a series of changing relationships with other activities, personnel, and sites.  Whatever is made then shifts in terms of its availability to specific uses and users, as well as its exposure to new potentials and vulnerabilities.

At the same time, in order for any “make+shift” to work, it has to embody generosity, reciprocity, a sense of openness and experimentation in order to keep affective energies, information and cooperation flowing. So in order to create space for such exchanges, residents have often had to make it look like nothing much was ever going on, or to amplify the problematic aspects of their everyday lives so as to appear so depleted or self-occupied that it would seem impossible for there to be any room for experiments, sharing, or give and take. But this is also a precarious move because variegated market logics are blanketed across all sectors of urban life, residents often come to inhabit and get stuck in these very ruses.

At the same time, as Ravi Sundaram points out, the large-scale popular appropriation of various tools of social media has both responded to and accelerated the dissipation of postcolonial compacts. Instead of adhering to particular regimes of moral conduct and verification, urban inhabitants are producing their own scenarios, evidence, and realities through the widespread dissemination of images, texts, and tweets, aggregated in various forms and targeted for specific purposes and audiences.

As such there is a substantial shift in the operations of the make+shift as it also finds new modalities and venues for circulation.  They key question is how these new conjunctions between long-honed popular, relational economies and technological innovation can reshape urban spaces and life in ways that curtail exclusion and segregation, and maximize the capacities of inhabitants of all backgrounds.


This Development Seminar is co-sponsored by Intersections

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