Countermapping v. epistemicide:

On the limits of neoliberalism, financialization, and gentrification

I will be presenting this paper at the Counter-mapping the City International Virtual Conference, organized by the Counter-Mapping PH Network, on 15 March 2022.

Critical urban scholarship has an unstated canon. The core concepts of this canon had been developed in response to North/Western experiences by North/Western experts, have been circulated and universalized through knowledge practices with roots in Empire, and now exert a distortive influence on scholarship from and on, the global South.

In this paper I propose an epistemic sense of “countermapping”: naming the ways mundane practices of critical urban scholarship reinscribe the cartographic practices of Empire, and showing how key features of present landscapes of class power and dispossession may be better described by explicitly Southern modes of knowing.

Enclosed and deliberately-idled land is a persistent feature of urban Philippine landscapes. These are dispossessions: their presence means land is withdrawn from beneficial use, and they contribute to artificially-high land prices. 

I take three concepts that have underpinned critical urban research: neoliberalism, financialization, and gentrification. Using evidence excerpted from my research on the role of Philippine-nationality conglomerates in the Philippine urban property boom from 2001–2015, I then illustrate how these concepts delimit a critical understanding of an ongoing resurgence of class power. Specifically: its roots in earlier rounds of accumulation; parallels between globalized urban development and cash-crop agriculture; and the moral dimension of Philippine ‘neoliberalism’.

I then propose three approaches for recentring our cognitive maps in the South, with a focus for critical Philippine urban studies: pluralizing the 20th Century; plantation and Caribbean Studies, as an accompaniment to urban and North/Western Studies; and story versus theory, as metaphors for knowledge.

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