Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage


Learning the City: Translocal Assemblage and Urban Politics critically examines the relationship between knowledge, learning, and urban politics, arguing both for the centrality of learning for political strategies and developing a progressive international urbanism.  
  • Presents a distinct approach to conceptualising the city through the lens of urban learning
  • Integrates fieldwork conducted in ...
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Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage

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Learning the City: Translocal Assemblage and Urban Politics critically examines the relationship between knowledge, learning, and urban politics, arguing both for the centrality of learning for political strategies and developing a progressive international urbanism.  
  • Presents a distinct approach to conceptualising the city through the lens of urban learning
  • Integrates fieldwork conducted in Mumbai’s informal settlements with debates on urban policy, political economy, and development
  • Considers how knowledge and learning are conceived and created in cities
  • Addresses the way knowledge travels and opportunities for learning about urbanism between North and South
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Learning the City makes an exhaustive case for framing our studies of knowledge and power through the optic of the learning assemblage. Its revelatory power is arguably profound for McFarlane, it promises nothing short of understanding the power to forge a different kind of city.” (Antipode, 1 September 2013)

“This book is a significant step in bringing learning to the core of urban study… This volume’s detailed fieldwork effectively supports its desire to see learning occupy a central place in the production of more socially just urbanisms.” (Area, 1 May 2013)

“Learning the Cityis a critical academic contribution useful for scholars of the field. found it particularly useful for my research on policy circulation of Bus Rapid Transit concepts through the South African city . . . While Learning the Cityis probably too sophisticated for younger readers, it is sure to become indispensable for academics of the discipline.” (Geography Helvitica, 1 December 2012)

"Through Learning the City McFarlane has made a major contribution to our understandings of the urban. In its commitment to the diverse and lively practices through which the city is learned and known, in its engagement with the diverse forms of agency and political practices through which agency is assembled and re-assembled the book enlivens understandings of spatial politics. It is also a text that is animated by a powerful sense of hope that cities might come to bere-assembled in different ways that are more equitable and more open to different agentic forces and contributions." (Society and Space, 1 November 2012)

"There will certainly be a range of contributors that join in on the exciting task of making these links. In Learning the City, McFarlane successfully manages to open the black box of urban learning in widening the perspective to acknowledge diverse urban learning practices, which may even bear a transformative potential in certain contexts." (International Planning Studies, 23 October 2012)

“Urbanism, McFarlane believes, needs a theory of learning; throughout his book he builds a very sophisticated one…[he] brings us closer to the material stuff of urban life and politics…a kind of urbanism in motion, whereby what we come to term ‘knowledge’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘resources’ are never simply ‘there’, but must be translated, distributed, coordinated, perceived and inhabited”. (International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 38.1, January 2014).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405192811
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Series: RGS-IBG Book Series , #55
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 230
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Colin McFarlane is Lecturer in Human Geography at Durham University, UK. His research focuses on urban geography, especially theorising the intersections between urban inequality, materiality, and knowledge.
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Knowledge, learning and development.

The opening chapter sets out why the relations between knowledge, learning and development are important. It outlines the key debates on knowledge, learning and development and specifies how the book makes an original contribution and why. Drawing on mainstream development literature, the chapter argues that there is a pervasive rationalist conception of knowledge and knowledge transfer as objective, technical and universal, which has political implications. It provides a backdrop for Chapters 2 and 3 by providing an outline of mainstream debates on transnational learning, and introduces the SDI case study..

Chapter 2: Transnational development: networks, exchange, learning.

This chapter considers why and how the transnational context matters both for the production of knowledge and learning in development, and for debates on the politics of knowledge and learning. It charts the increasing prevalence of transnational networks in development debates and interventions, and considers how particular spatial templates and their intermingling, from face-to-face local relations to distanciated transnational connections, influence different forms of knowledge and learning. It provides more detail on SDI and the empirical and theoretical material upon which the book draws, and briefly discusses the methodological basis for the book..

Chapter 3: A post-rationalist approach.

Having outlined the increasing role of transnational exchange and networking for development debates and practices in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 offers a conceptualisation of knowledge and learning that relates to this changing context. It argues for a post-rationalist approach that conceives development knowledge and learning as partial, social, produced through practices, and both spatially and materially relational. It draws on examples from World Bank and SDI discourses and practices, including particular SDI strategies of organising such as self-enumeration and the use of housing and toilet models as exhibits of learning-in-practice. These strategies can be translocal in nature, and involve groups of people learning from one another by using, manipulating and discussing materials. The chapter ends by summarising the first three chapters and introduces Part 2 of the book, which considers how spaces and power operate, matter and can be conceived of in transnational learning..


Chapter 4: Knowledge, learning and SDI: conceiving, creating, mobilising.

Chapter 4 builds on the post-rationalist framework by examining the ways in which knowledge is conceived and created in SDI, and in particular in the Indian Alliance. It will explore how knowledge is drawn on, focussing in particular on housing and toilet exhibitions. It goes on to explore the creation of knowledge in SDI, highlighting a strand of organisational theory based on the relationship between tacit and explicit knowledges, before discussing the role of materiality in knowledge creation through an analysis of the SDI methodology, enumerations. The drawing on, creating of and communicating of knowledge form three key interrelated features of knowledge and learning in SDI. The chapter will end with an exploration of how learning is conceptualised in SDI, drawing in particular on a second strand of organisation theory, conceptualisations of communities of practice. The chapter argues that SDI conceive of knowledge and learning as spatially and materially relational, and argues that this is a useful illustration of the possibilities of a post-rationalist approach. It paves the way for a specific discussion of the network as a development and learning technology in Chapter 5..

Chapter 5: Transnational development networks: knowledge, space, and ethico-politics.

Chapter 5 explores the particular role of the network as a technology of transnational knowledge strategies. It explores some of the ways in which a dialogue between development and postcolonial scholarship might contribute to the theorising of transnational networks in contemporary development. It does so through consideration of three inter-related themes: epistemologies, spatialities and ethico-politics. The discussion of epistemologies points to the potential benefit in reworking the analysis of the relationship between structure and agency in conceiving networks, whereas the discussion of spatialities focuses attention on the interface between the global and the local. Dialogue between development and postcolonial approaches also creates space for considering the politics and ethics of transnational development networks. In particular, this discussion prompts challenges around how to ethically research subaltern knowledge in transnational development networks, including how to trace the translation and redeployment of subaltern knowledge through networks. The chapter offers a relational topology of transnational development networks that is attuned to the spatal and material relationality of knowledge and learning that groups like SDI exhibit..

Chapter 6: Contesting transnational powers: a relational topology.

Chapter 6 examines how power is conceived, produced and contested in accounts of transnational networks. It builds on the account of spatialities in Chapter 5 by considering how relations of power enter into the constitution and contestation of knowledge and learning in transnational networks. It consider how assumptions about power and space are made as these existing conceptualisation of transnational development networks connect the ‘near’ and ‘far’ transnationally. It draws on material from mainstream organisations and from SDI, as well as theoretical literature in development studies, and seeks to move towards a plural conceptualisation of power beyond the existing focus on development-as-hegemony and development-as-governmentality. It explores how different agents become involved in the governing of wide-ranging knowledge for development initiatives. It builds on the relational topology developed in Chapter 5 by focusing on the practices and mediations that constitute transnational development networks, and in doing so further develops the post-rationalist framework introduced earlier in the book..



Chapter 7: Border crossings: development, learning and the North-South divide.

Chapter 7 examines the possibilities of transnational learning more widely across a global North-South divide, casting the discussion in Parts 1 and 2 of the book on knowledge, learning and transnationalism onto a larger canvas. While the validity of categories like First – Third World or North – South has been increasingly questioned, there have been few attempts to consider how learning between North and South might be conceived. Drawing on a range of perspectives from development and postcolonial scholarship, this chapter argues for the creative possibility of learning between different contexts. This involves a conceptualisation of learning that is at once ethical and indirect: ethical because it transcends a liberal integration of subaltern knowledge, and indirect because it transcends a rationalist tendency to limit learning to direct knowledge transfer between places perceived as ‘similar’. This challenge requires a consistent interrogation of the epistemic and institutional basis and implications of the North-South divide, and an insistence on developing progressive conceptions of learning..

Chapter 8: Conclusions.

The final chapter considers the book’s central questions in light of its theoretical development and empirical engagement. The book begins by asking the following questions: How are knowledge and learning conceived and created in development? How does knowledge travel? What are the opportunities for learning about development between North and South? The chapter has four aims. The first is to provide a summary of the book in reference to the questions above. The second is to evaluate the post-rationalist conceptual framework developed in the book, discussing its strengths and shortcomings. The third considers implications of the book, particularly in reference to mainstream development, development studies, policy-learning, and global civil society.

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