Monday, May 21, 2012

Abstract 2012 Sabil Francis

Sabil Francis, Research Academy Leipzig, Leipzig University


New Paradigms of Urban Governance

The rise of the knowledge society creates new dynamics in urban governance issues. The emergence of a innovative elite, based on technologically mediated business practices - information technology, the service industry, bio-technology, has led to conflict with older, traditional power elites. Using the city of Kochi (Cochin) in the state of Kerala, India as a case study my paper looks at how urban power politics in the city has been impacted by the rise of a knowledge economy elite. Specifically, I focus on the politics revolving around the SmartCity Kochi project (started 2008. This planned IT Township is part of a strategy to construct a substantial network of knowledge-based industry townships across the world, and comprises a single SEZ of 246 acres of land. Other projects of the same venture include SmartCity Malta, and SmartCity Dubai.

Adapting the classic idea of land based elite competition of Molotch (Molotch,1976) I shall examine how conflict arises not only over land, but also around differing paradigms of urban governance - such as the need for efficiency and infrastructure that have their roots in the demands of a knowledge economy. In the extant literature, concepts such as knowledge for Development (K4D), while widely used (see for e.g. United Nations, 2005; UNESCO, 1998, 2005, 2007; World Bank, 2002) are under-defined, tending to take definitions of the knowledge society and its multi-polar connection with development and its impact on sovereignty, for granted. In reality these are aspects of globalization that remain unexplored. In reality, the debate around these issues reflects intense socio-spatial struggles where the redefinition and reconfiguration of spatial scales of governance in various areas remains a central issue. Cities like Kochi (Cochin) reveal transnational clusters of innovation and entrepreneurship that challenge conceptions of sovereignty and the state (Bentley, 1999, 2001; Preston, 1997: 86-88). They also lead to a re-configuring of notions of political and cultural identity (Preston, 1997: 77-94). The focus will be on the interaction between the local, the national and the global in the context of the knowledge economy, exemplified by the tortuous negotiations to create “Smart City” in Kochi, its impact on local issues such as land, city-planning, mobility and migration to and from Kochi, and issues of governance.

The rise of a transnational knowledge society redefines both the metropolis and the periphery, including the economic, social and cultural structures of the post colonial state and the political economy of regions. How are the members of a knowledge society “actors” or “stakeholders” in this process? How do traditional elites respond to the new dynamics in urban governance? How far does the local impact the wider political power structure and discourse of governance? How does locally rooted power co exist and conflict with a non-territorialized knowledge society that, at the same time, creates new orders of power? These are the key questions I seek to explore.

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