When Towns and Villages Move

Panel Details

Format: hybrid

Short Abstract

We are used to think of cities, towns and villages in terms of permanency. They are often associated with more or less solid material infrastructure that leaves indelible traces on the landscape. Just remember the multiple archeological sites of Ancient or Middle age towns. Developments in Urban Studies and multiple other disciplines have in the last century questioned ideas of urban settlements as stable and predominantly thought in material terms. Theoretical frameworks shaped by concepts such as city morphology, urban metabolism, industrial ecology, and social space, to name only a few, emphasize the dynamic nature of human settlements where social processes are always the dominant force. But recently the materiality of settlements has begun to be reintroduced as an important factor in urban processes. Less attention has been given to what happens when towns themselves are being moved. Take for example, the Swedish city of Kiruna, which is threatened by mining under it, and its center has had to be moved. What happens when small towns or villages are relocated with all their residents for strategic economic development, such as dam construction? While anthropologists have documented such cases and discussed the human cost and power relations involved in cases of dislocation and relocation of cities, towns and villages, overarching theories and conceptual tools have not been offered. This session invites contributions on this topic that can include empirical studies and/or suggestions for analytical approaches towards a theory of moving or removing whole settlements.

Abstract

We often think of cities, towns and villages in terms of permanency. Developments in different disciplines have in the last century questioned ideas of urban settlements as stable and thought in material terms. Analytical concepts like city morphology, urban metabolism, industrial ecology, and social space that dominate the discussion today emphasize the dynamic nature of human settlements where social processes are the main force. Urban scholars, including anthropologists look into questions of inequality and how processes of spatial formation in towns and cities are part of their production. Temporal aspects of urbanization, as well as urban natural sites also have an important role in contemporary discussions. Recently, the materiality of settlements has received new emphasis as an important factor of urban processes. Within these topics related to urbanization, less attention has been given to the movement of cities, towns and villages in whole or in part. A recent example is the Swedish city of Kiruna, which is threatened by an expanding mine. Its move is of local as well as national importance and has taken the past ten years. It has mobilized the Parliament, urban planners, municipal administration, the mining company, businesses in the region, and town residents, including the indigenous Sami community. Dislocation of settlements can also result from strategic economic development, such as road and dam construction, or nature conservation projects. The Alta dam and hydroelectric power plant project of the 1970s erased from the map of Norway the Sami village of Máze. The civil disobedience of indigenous and environmental protection activists could not stop the project, but raised public attention to number of inequalities that Sami people suffer, and became a turning point in granting of indigenous rights in Norway. While anthropologists have documented many such cases and discussed the human cost and power relations involved, overarching theories and conceptual tools are lacking. This session thus offers both empirical studies of the processes of moving cities, towns and villages, and develops theoretical models for the study of dislocation, relocation or elimination of settled places. The session invites empirical studies of disrupted social relations among humans or humans and their environment, in cosmology and religion, and processes leading to social inequality, social activism and resistance. Relocation also transforms and builds new social relations. Moving towns and villages offers a way to study material environments, and space and place formation. Different ethnographic studies and analytical frameworks are welcomed.

Keywords:

moving settled places, relocation, dislocation, elimination

Application sponsorship:

Applicant

Person: Dr. Dmitri Anatoljevich Funk
Organization and department: Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology
Country, city and state: Russia, Moscow

Co-convenors

Co-convenor #1: PhD. Vladislava Kirilova Vladimirova, Uppsala University, Sweden