Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Struggling, Suffering, Hoping, Waiting: Perceptions of Temporality in Two Informal Neighbourhoods in Mexico

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Struggling, Suffering, Hoping, Waiting: Perceptions of Temporality in Two Informal Neighbourhoods in Mexico

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Human geography's longstanding preoccupation with the intersection of spatiality and temporality (Soja, 1980; Thrift, 1983) has inspired increasing interest in foregrounding the temporal dimension of space in relation to urban issues (eg, Castree, 2009; McCann, 2003; Middleton, 2009; Raco et al, 2008). In particular, theorists have sought to highlight the uneven production of space and time in the urban setting (Massey, 2005). In debates around informal urbanisation in the Global South, the importance of time as a resource for dynamic change has long been noted (eg, Turner, 1968) and was recently demonstrated through longitudinal studies in this setting (eg, Moser, 2009); meanwhile work by postcolonial urban researchers has shown how urban temporalities reveal the effects of liberalising cities on marginalised populations (Jeffrey, 2010) as well as the empowering potential of memory (Till, 2012) in cities of the Global South. Building on these distinct themes--human geography's explicit theorisation of time and space, the implicit preoccupation with time in debates on urban informality in the Global South, and postcolonial urban theory--this paper suggests that an explicit focus on the temporal dimension of space reveals urban residents' resistance to marginalisation, through the construction of identity over time, and through time-bound tactics of resistance.

An emphasis on the temporal dimension of space resonates strongly with an understanding of Global Southern cities as characterised by simultaneous provisionality, fluidity, and stability (Simone, 2004, page 215). For urban residents these characteristics may be experienced as uncertainty in the context of scarce resources; but they also offer space to develop tactics and strategies to cope with the city's 'constitutive unknowability' (Hansen and Verkaaik, 2009 in McFarlane, 2011, page 374). The marginalised, self-built neighbourhoods which house urban poor residents in cities of the Global South offer a clear example of resourceful strategies employed by those with limited housing options. In many cities these neighbourhoods are the main source of new housing. However, such places continue to be portrayed in terms of a reductive and simplistic formal/informal dualism (Hernandez and Kellett, 2010), meaning they are often treated as outside 'normal' urban considerations (Roy, 2005).

This dualistic perception frequently entails a normative view of informal sectors and areas as separate from, and inferior to, those of the formal city (Lombard, 2009). It can be detected in depictions of 'slums' characterised by "pollution, excrement, and decay" (Davis, 2006, page 19), which, while well meaning, risk perpetuating a generally negative and oversimplified universal image of informal settlements, providing local authorities with justification for policies of neglect and demolition (Gilbert, 2007). For example, South Africa's 2007 Slums Act used the UN's 'Cities Without Slums' campaign to justify the removal and displacement of residents from informal settlements (Huchzermeyer, 2007). Often, such marginalising discourses have a temporal dimension: settlements are portrayed by local authorities as temporary and thus worthless or invisible, using language like " 'clandestine', 'sub-normal', or 'spontaneous' " (Everett, 2001, page 458).

In response to these still pervasive framings, this paper explores perceptions of time in the context of urban informal settlements, showing how residents' narratives of the temporal dimension of space offer resistance to such discursive constructions. Focusing on senses of time rather than abstract time (Crang, 2007, page 510), it suggests that recognising multiple temporalities within the city implies renewed recognition of marginalised places and populations (Till, 2012). This occurs in two ways. Firstly, paying attention to how past, present, and future are perceived and linked together by residents reveals the construction of narratives of individual and collective identity as a thread through time (McLeod and Thomson, 2009). …

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