Recent PhD successes

It is the great pleasure of the Department and the cities research cluster to see a spate of recent PhD successes in the last few months. Heartfelt congratulations to Drs Sin Yee Koh, Alice Evans, Claire Brickell, Simon Uribe and Cynthia Goytia! The list is joined by Jayaraj Sundaresan who has passed his viva with minor correction last month. Big congratulations to Jayaraj too!

All their thesis titles and abstracts are found below.

Jayaraj Sundaresan (PhD, 2014; supervised by Dr Murray Low and Prof Gareth A. Jones)

TITLE: Urban Planning in a Vernacular Governance – Land use Planning and Violations in the city of Bangalore, India

Abstract: My PhD theorizes the ways in which urban geographies are planned and governed in India. For this purpose, I explore the non-poor illegal geographies of land use violations in the city of Bangalore as a site to interrogate how urban planning practice operates within the local culture of governance.  The central questions of my research are how and why land use violations in the non-poor neighborhoods of Bangalore are produced, sustained and contested in spite of the elaborate mechanisms for planning implementation and enforcement. Using a relational state-society framework and conceptualising a new language of ‘Vernacular Governance’, I examine the relationship between land use violations and the planning process through ethnography of planning and governance networks and proposes three theses. Firstly, using a relational state-society framework and demonstrating in detail how various private and public interest networks that inhabit the planning practice in Bangalore operate, I propose to move beyond the informal/formal dualism while conceptualizing the way the built environment and urban infrastructure is planned, regulated, produced, lived and violated in Bangalore.   Second, I demonstrate the inadequacy of the dominant conceptual categories like ‘informality’, ‘resistance’ and so on and propose that violations should be understood as the outcome of the planning practice. Third, by demonstrating how planning power is widely captured within various associational networks, I argue that planning power is best understood as located in the networks of association; rather than in state or planning authority operating through the structures of ‘weberian’ bureaucracy. In other words, I propose that planning and urban governance scholars should examine how particular state -society relationship constructs particular kind of governance cultures, planning authority, power and powerlessness. Land use violations are, therefore proposed as a geographic site to examine power and politics in the urban planning practice (beyond institutions and process) in India. In developing my thesis, I draw upon a wide range of theoretical literature on planning, development, informality, state and bureaucracy, corruption, anthropology of everyday state, urban politics, network governance, participation, social movements, neighborhood activism, planning power and governmentality. My data set included illegal, paralegal and legal projects and practices that comprised the bag of violation; policy documents, court cases, discourses and narratives from planning and public administration; neighborhood conflicts and the various local social movements; social and ecological impacts that illuminated the site of violation beyond the usual discourses of the ‘informal’, ‘neo-liberal’, ‘middle class’, and ‘good governance’. I consider that my thesis is a modest contribution to the scholarship on the developing south, particularly the anxieties around the ‘new geographies of theory’. I consider that my findings raise important questions on the way we understand the practice of urban planning and governance in India and elsewhere, in particular, how power and authority operate in the shaping of the urban geography through policy, regulation, conflicts and contest.

Sin Yee Koh (PhD, 2014; supervised by Dr Claire Mercer)
Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong

TITLE: British Colonial Legacies, Citizenship Habitus, and a Culture of Migration: Mobile Malaysians in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Abstract: This thesis examines the relationship between British colonial legacies and a culture of migration amongst mobile Malaysians (tertiary-educated Malaysians with transnational migration experience). Drawing from Bourdieu’s “habitus”, I propose the concept of “citizenship habitus” – a set of inherited dispositions about the meanings and significance of citizenship – to understand how and why mobile Malaysians carry out certain citizenship and migration practices. These practices include: firstly, interpreting and practising Malaysian citizenship as a de-politicised and primordial (ethno)national belonging to “Malaysia” that is conflated with national loyalty; and secondly, migration (especially for overseas education) as a way of life (i.e. a culture of migration) that may not be recognised as a means of circumventing pro-Bumiputera (lit. “sons of soil”) structural constraints. Methodologically, I draw from my reflexive reading of archival documents and interview-conversations with 67 mobile Malaysians: 16 in London/UK, 27 in Singapore, six in other global locations, and 18 returnees. I argue that mobile Malaysians’ citizenship and migration practices have been informed by three British colonial legacies: firstly, the materialising of race and Malay indigeneity; secondly, the institutionalisation of race-based school systems and education as an aspired means towards social mobility; and thirdly, race-based political representation and a federal state consisting of an arbitrary amalgamation of socio-economically and historically diverse territories. The Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) further instilled state-led focus on “racial tensions”, resulting in default authoritative strategies to govern, educate, and motivate the citizenry. These colonial legacies, inherited and exacerbated by the post-colonial Malaysian state, contributed to the institutionalisation of Malaysia’s Bumiputera-differentiated citizenship and race-based affirmative action policies, with particular effects on education, migration and social mobility. By adopting a postcolonial approach to migration phenomena, this thesis highlights the longevity of British colonial legacies with long-lasting effects on Malaysia’s contemporary skilled migration, both in terms of migration geographies and citizenship practices.

Alice Evans (PhD, 2013; supervised by Professor Sylvia Chant)
LSE Fellow

TITLE: Women can do what men can do: the causes and consequences of growing flexibility in gender divisions of labour in Kitwe, Zambia

Abstract: This thesis explores the causes and consequences of growing flexibility in gender divisions of labour in Kitwe, Zambia. It examines the relationship between four contemporary trends (1990-2011): worsening economic security, growing flexibility in gender divisions of labour in the form of increasing female labour force participation and occupational desegregation, and the weakening of gender stereotypes. The evidence for these trends comes from census data, earlier ethnographies and my own qualitative research (April 2010 ? March 2011). The analysis draws upon a theoretical framework that interprets sex-differentiated practices as resulting from internalised gender stereotypes, cultural expectations and patterns of resource access. The substantive chapters of the thesis consider alternative hypotheses. Did worsening economic security trigger flexibility in gender divisions of labour, which then weakened gender stereotypes (Chapter 4)? Alternatively, was such flexibility actually contingent upon a prior rejection of gender stereotypes, due to particular formative experiences (Chapter 5) or gender sensitisation (Chapter 6)? This thesis argues that worsening economic security led many families to sacrifice the social gains accrued by complying with cultural expectations of gender divisions of labour in exchange for the financial benefits of female labour force participation. But occupational desegregation is partly attributed to a prior rejection of gender stereotypes. Flexibility in gender divisions of labour seems to undermine gender stereotypes and related status inequalities, by enabling exposure to a critical mass of women performing roles that they were previously presumed to be incapable and that are valorised because they were historically performed by men. Common forms of gender sensitisation in Zambia were rarely said to be independently persuasive; impact generally appears contingent upon exposure to a critical mass of women in socially valued domains. Sensitisation also seems more effective when it enables participants to see that others also endorse gender equality. This can increase confidence in the objective validity of one’s own egalitarian beliefs and also shift cultural expectations.

Claire Brickell
(PhD, 2013; supervised by Dr Claire Mercer and Prof Sylvia Chant)

TITLE: Migration with a Mission: Geographies of Evangelical Mission(aries) to Post Communist Albania

Abstract: Drawing on eight months of in-depth qualitative research, this thesis examines the geographical trajectories of Evangelical missionaries as they migrate to, and embed themselves in, Albania. Identifying how movement is inherent to what it means to be a missionary, I draw together and extend literature from social and cultural geography, migration studies, sociology, geopolitics and missiology to forge new insights into ‘migration with a mission.’ Moving beyond largely historical accounts of missionary lives, this thesis provides a contemporary and intimate portrait of what actually goes in to being a missionary, within the context of migration. It contends that a tendency to allow class, work and economic wealth to organise research has meant that the full implications of participants’ religious identities have at times been underdeveloped within migration scholarship. The thesis argues for the importance of addressing this issue, and traces the migration trajectory, from the pre-departure decision to migrate, and the choice of mission destination, to the challenges of missionary life once in Albania. In doing so it examines how missionaries’ world-views, beliefs and imaginaries extend, as well as complicate, commonplace ideas found in literature around religion and migration, geopolitics, transnationalism and home. In addition to revealing the multiple spaces and scales of missionary life unaccounted for within current research, the thesis demonstrates that while missionaries could be considered exceptional, these deeply geographical actors should not be made exempt from greater empirical and theoretical exploration.

Simon Uribe
(PhD, 2013; supervised by Dr Sharad Chari and Prof Gareth A. Jones)

TITLE: State and frontier: Historical ethnography of a road in the Putumayo region of Colombia

Abstract: This dissertation is concerned with a road in the Colombian region of Putumayo. The history of this road spans from the mid nineteenth century up to the present, and encompasses a wide range of characters and events, from nineteenth and twentieth century statesmen and missionaries’ ambitious colonization projects to ongoing peasant land conflicts regarding the road’s future. Together, these characters and events could be conceived or read as many different fragments and voices, past and present, of the same story. My main aim, however, is not to assemble these voices and fragments into a single narrative of the road, as much as to place them in the broader historical geography of state and frontier. I focus primarily on the multiple dialectical entanglements, conflicts, and encounters through which the state and the frontier have been discursively and materially constructed in this specific region. In doing so, I will argue that this historical geography of state and frontier has been primarily shaped by a relation of “inclusive exclusion”, or a relation where the assimilation or incorporation of the frontier to the spatial and political order of the state has historically depended on its exclusion from the imaginary order of the nation. Through a historical and ethnographical approach to the road, I emphasize the rhetorical and physical violence embedded in this relation, as well as the everyday practices through which this relation has been challenged and subverted in time and through space.

Cynthia Goytia (PhD, 2013; supervised by Professor Gareth A. Jones)
Urban Economics Professor and the Graduate Programme in Urban Economics Director at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina

TITLE: Another path? The consolidation of informal settlements in Buenos Aires through the co-production of services

Abstract: This thesis investigates the issue of co-production; that is, the joint provision of services involving residents, the local government and private providers. Co-production is a commonly used approach to facilitate access to basic services in informal settlements in the developing world. But, rigorous micro-econometric evaluation of its causal effects is rare. This study uses a ‘natural experiment’, possible due to strict technical reasons involved in the provision of gas energy to informal neighbourhoods in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, to estimate the effects on the social and physical dimension of residents’ investments. Estimates are created at three co-production stages: an initial social interaction stage to introduce the service; the connection stage, and; an impact stage several years after programme completion. The research measures effect on housing improvements, participatory involvement associated with the internalisation of benefits, and suggests the presence of collective capacity for furthering collaborative efforts. The latter can be associated with the significant improvement in the residents’ reported trust in neighbourhood organisations at the different implementation stages. Importantly, the research measures residual effects by legal tenure conditions. Co-production has contributed to an incremental effect only for informal residents’ reported level of trust in the local public sector. Trust in the family, rather than generalised trust, appears as a significant residual effect of the intervention that is positively correlated with the undertaking of housing improvements.


PhD in Regional and Urban PlanningPhD in Human Geography and Urban Studies