Urban Inhabitation and the Urban Technical

Urban Inhabitation and the Urban Technical is a cross-cutting theme that draws on insights across the Urban Institute's recent work to address questions of planetary ‘habitability’.


Our starting point is that conventional assumptions about what constitutes viable practices of inhabitation no longer hold true. Increasing numbers of people must eke out existence in fragile and inhospitable environments, negotiating their lives through strategies of care and repair and new circuits of movements and displacements, whilst citizenship, residency and rights are contested and denied. Increasingly, attention is turning to technical means and capacities – of Artificial Intelligence, robotics and biotechnologies – to secure the conditions for collective urban life. Yet our understanding of what we call the "urban technical" is often limited, narrow and reductionist.

There continues to be a focus on grand technological solutions or fixes that prioritise the sustenance of human survival, at any expense. There is no shortage of ideas about how the urban might be sustainably inhabited. But these ideas often miss the intricate politics and practices through which residents make their lives work under diverse urban conditions. This is evident in the diffusion of technical knowledge and instruments, which create opportunities but often further inequalities and contradictions.

We need to better understand how myriad forms of urban technicity impact on urban collective life, social organisation and governance, and the environment. Such concerns transcend the boundaries and disrupt the conventions of urban studies. Novel formulations are needed that are radical in unsettling more established narratives of urban change. This demands new perspectives – visions, imaginaries, and alternatives – on urban inhabitation in an increasingly technicised world. These concerns are at the heart of the development of the Urban Institute’s new programme of work. 

The goal of the programme is to forge new agendas, theoretical perspectives, and methodological terrains around the politics of urban inhabitation. We hope to imagine how the urban technical can be manoeuvred in support of more just inter-relationships between seemingly irreconcilable demands of humans, non-humans and the planet.

Our plan is to develop the programme collaboratively with scholars and practitioners wishing to join us on this journey.

We have produced a prospectus to stimulate discussion as a first step for inter- and transdisciplinary dialogues. 


Find out more about our inception meeting and access the recordings on our YouTube channel

If you would like to discuss how to get involved, contact us at: urban.institute@sheffield.ac.uk

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