Space, Social Conflict, and the Future of Urban Society: a comparative view

Space, Social Conflict, and the Future of Urban Society: a comparative view

Professor Michael Herzfeld, Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Co-presented with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, the China Studies Centre, the Department of Anthropology, and the School of Architecture, Design and Planning

For many years now, anthropologists and urban scholars alike have identified ‘gentrification’ as a process of class conflict in which poorer people get pushed to the margins of urban life in the name of ‘urban renewal.’

Professor Michael Herzfeld will argue that gentrification is the tip of a much larger iceberg, called ‘development’ – a grandiloquent idea that is often coupled with socially and culturally destructive policies and that easily promotes insidious (because unstated) forms of social Darwinism (‘the survival of the fittest’) and paternalism.

Using examples from Thailand, China, Greece, and Italy, he will argue that these short-sighted policies are creating an increasingly disenfranchised and resentful under-class. While reactions in these and other countries will vary with cultural conventions, economic dynamics, and the extent to which development evades socially responsible control, the impact on ordinary people is likely to be devastating, while it will also entail the obliteration of socially viable arrangements that have worked well for centuries or even millennia.

Michael suggests that currently emergent forms of urban protest may not be sufficient to stem the tide, but that more concerted engagement by academics and professionals could and must make a significant difference. He will also briefly address some relatively unusual situations where gentrification has had benign effects and will propose that these could provide models for socially responsible planning in the future.

Professor Michael Herzfeld is Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where has taught since 1991, and where he serves as Director of the Asia Center’s Thai Studies Program. He is also IIAS Visiting Professor of Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Leiden (and Senior Advisor to the Critical Heritage Studies Initiative of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden); Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne; and Visiting Professor and Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) Scholar at Shanghai International Studies University (2015-17). The author of eleven books – including Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State (1997; 3rd edition, 2016), The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value (2004), Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome (2009), and Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok (2016) – and numerous articles and reviews, he has also produced two ethnographic films (Monti Moments [2007] and Roman Restaurant Rhythms [2011]). He has served as editor of American Ethnologist (1995-98) and is currently editor-at-large (responsible for “Polyglot Perspectives”) at Anthropological Quarterly. He is also a member of the editorial boards of several journals, including American Ethnologist, Anthropology Today, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Journal of Anthropological Research, and South East Asia Research. An advocate for “engaged anthropology,” he has conducted research in Greece, Italy, and Thailand on, inter alia, the social and political impact of historic conservation and gentrification, the social effects of urban policy, the discourses and practices of crypto-colonialism, social poetics, the dynamics of nationalism and bureaucracy, and the ethnography of knowledge among artisans and intellectuals.

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