Call for papers

Rethinking Urban Inclusion: Spaces, Mobilisations, Interventions
to be held in Coimbra, Portugal, 28-30 June 2012

Call for paper is now closed. We received around 260 proposals, and the selected papers will be notified in the beginning of March, 2012.

Guidelines for e-publication (pdf)


With almost half the world’s population living in cities, questioning the urban dimension of social inclusion and exclusion is imperative. Urban inclusion is increasingly influenced – and often constrained – by intertwined processes of economic globalization, state re-articulation, polarization and diversification of (local) populations and the political practices they add to the city. Educational, health and environmental inequalities, segregation, unemployment, lack of political participation, discrimination and the inability to deal with different forms of participation are all phenomena of exclusion with a local dimension but a multi-scalar nature. At the same time, acting towards social inclusion is developed around ideas, knowledge(s), experiences, resources and capacities which are (dis)located across an array of arenas and distributed among different actors. While traditional concepts and practices of urban inclusion centred on institutions and top-down decision-making seem inadequate to tackle this complexity, new ones are often in their infancy and may be in tension with more established policies. Contesting the centrality of the state and market pervasiveness, a new variety of counter-hegemonic positions and projects, and alternative visions of urban democracy and justice that inform bottom-up and participatory approaches to urban inclusion, have become popular in the Global South, while their transposition to cities in the Global North have met resistance or hardly gone beyond theorization.

The Conference aims to understand and ultimately rethink social inclusion at the urban scale, as the product of broader dynamics and the interaction of different actors and languages. How can we trace, define, and challenge the new subtle forms of social and territorial exclusion, trying to reinvent urban inclusion as a meeting space between local governance efforts and bottom-up initiatives? Is it possible to think a novel approach to understanding these changing cities, using as a “lever” images of “the power of powerlessness” and the struggles against/within established systems?

Within this perspective, the conference welcomes contributions balancing description, explanation, and prescription, with the aim to contribute to an “ecology of knowledges” which could give visibility to new forms of collective action and community experimentation in reshaping cities in different contexts, in order to set the preconditions for a more solid horizon of social and territorial justice at both urban and extra-urban scales.

We invite participants to rethink urban inclusion along three intertwined axes:

Space. Social inclusion/exclusion gets inscribed and becomes visible in the organization of space. Consequently, urban planning policies influence policies of inclusion and social justice in important ways. In the past few decades, spatial exclusion has become more and more evident in the case of environmental (in)justice, that is, the production and unequal distribution of environmental costs, such as waste disposal or industrial pollution, along lines of social/spatial differentiation. Urban policies of garbage disposal have become a threat to sub-urban and rural areas, both in the city’s hinterland and in its far away ‘periphery’, through legal and illegal waste trade circuits. The increasing privatization of public goods, such as water or open space, is also an important cause of spatial injustice and exclusion in the city. Marginal urban and peri-urban communities in different contexts, North and South, have been struggling, sometimes successfully, to defend their access to clean air, water and soil as well as their right to have a voice in decisions on how urban space should be used. Social practices such as urban farming or squatting have been recognized as crucial expressions of such movements towards the re-appropriation of urban space as a ‘free’ resource for community livelihood and resilience. Local governments are constantly challenged to grant spatial inclusion and justice. Nevertheless, different definitions of ‘inclusion’ and ‘justice’, as well as different planning scales (i.e. urban vs. regional), may challenge and ultimately invalidate policies of spatial justice. How to make sense of and challenge such contradictions in a time in which local and global processes constantly re-produce each other and blend up in the transformation of urban space? How can we re-define spatial inclusion policies, and the concepts that inform them, in more comprehensive ways that are able to articulate at different scales of the planning process? How can we help rethink the ‘urban’ experience as it relates to spatial and environmental (in)justice?

Mobilisations. Individuals and groups that experience exclusion are increasingly also actors of inclusion. Social action redefines the public significance and scope of squares, streets and parks. Social movements expose the interdependencies between the global and the local, suggesting new approaches to urban inclusion that assume and expose the larger processes that generate exclusion. Identity politics has also been a major source of innovation of urban inclusion: communities of women, LGBT people, migrants, ethnic and religious identities have operated as spaces of inclusion and socialisation for their members, so rendering ideas of inclusion more sensitive to difference, discrimination and recognition. The young generations are designing new and often informal ways to make their voices heard in the virtual world, which often translate into new practices and uses of the city. All these new forms of mobilization aim to overcome the shortcomings of established forms of public ‘participation’, which may paradoxically strengthen the social capital of those who are more likely to participate into civil society organizations. However, social mobilisation may fail to respond to larger needs for inclusion and urban justice, especially when it stems from very particular and localised needs and claims. The questions here are: Why and how do social actors translate urban issues into issues of social inclusion? What actions do social actors take beyond the existing spectrum of possibilities? What value do these actions add to urban inclusion? And, equally importantly: What actions have been made invisible by the dominant academic paradigms? Could the emerging pre-planning strength of the new insurgent citizenships converge onto a shared horizon and represent a critical mass for re-conceiving and reestablishing the ways of participation in governing cities?

Interventions. The first two issues help to frame the last question that we want to explore: the current nature, scope and effectiveness of public interventions. Governments at all levels have played and will arguably continue to play a major part in promoting social inclusion in its urban dimension. In the neo-liberal era, the notion of a light regulatory state is suppressing that of an interventionist authority, which is causing disinvestment in redistributive welfare and a ‘cheap’ commitment to formal equality. Local governments have been, at different times, both allies and opponents of the state in this process, depending on the different issues at stake. In several regions of the world, bigger cities have put in place local welfare that complements and sometimes replaces state interventions. In many instances, they have been creative and open to collaboration with civil society, whose expertise and knowledge on issues of exclusion/inclusion is openly acknowledged. At the same time, the contextual nature and limited impact of local interventions emerges, as well as the gap between the mobilisation and institutionalisation of new ideas of inclusion. More generally, as local politics are occupied by a variety of actors and often conflicting interests, the overall will and capacity of local governments to promote inclusion as opposed to competing agendas of development and security should not be taken for granted but questioned in the analysis of inclusion policies. How can public policy promote urban inclusion in the current era? What kinds of ‘glocal’ interdependencies emerge from the analysis of state/local policy targeting (urban) inclusion? How can these interdependencies be addressed and effectively tackled? What obstacles does action for urban inclusion meet inside and outside the (local) government?

We seek contributions that develop along one of the above thematic axes, coming from different disciplinary perspectives, both from the academic community and the social activism domain. Paper proposals should be received by 15 February 2012 and consist of: title, abstract (200 words maximum) and brief biography of author(s) (150 words). You will be notified about acceptance by 29 February 2012.

Call is now closed.

Following the conference, authors will revise the papers presented to take into account public discussion at the conference. All revised papers resubmitted by 30 July 2012 will be included in an Electronic Proceedings Book to be published on-line with an ISBN in September 2012. Among the papers presented (and received for the e-publication), 20 will be selected by the Scientific Committee to be published in a printed book, which will also include the papers of the keynote speakers and the conclusion of the project “Library of Interesting Policies of Social Inclusion,” coordinated by CES and CISDP/UCLG.