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Urban Economies Conference

Cultural Perspectives on Grassroots Entrepreneurs and Neighborhood Economies 14-15 July, 2016

14.07.2016 – 15.07.2016

Picture: Conference members

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
University of Munich (LMU)

14 -15 July 2016

Conveners: Juliane Müller and Eveline Dürr

Current macroeconomic, political and technological dynamics, transnational connections and mobilities reconfigure urban economies in the Global South. ‘Emerging markets’ and ‘rising middle classes’ are the focus of brand manufacturers in their search for new outlets. National and international firms invest in housing, telecommunication, and other sectors. Business people and other professionals are also increasingly interested in certain neighborhoods, marginalized, but with lively economies and cultures, places of creativity and resistance. This is not a one-sided process. From within the communities, people tap into new market niches and service offers, and profit from local, national and international attention. This challenges conventional perspectives of popular urban economies.

In order to advance this debate, we propose to go beyond common perceptions of so called informal and street economies. Most of the studies come from a social and political science perspective and focus on informal politics, the struggle between traders and state actors, and the contested field of the (il)legal and (il)licit. Others critically engage with urban planning and the micro-finance sector. However, the contentious relationship between traders, bureaucracies and development NGOs does not exhaust economic and cultural transformations ‘from below’ observed in the cities. These transformations are as much socio-economic as they are symbolic and representational, but with real material outcomes for many. How do we conceptualize ‘informal’ traders and small-scale producers who enhance the reputation of their marketplaces, display their products on the internet, and build convenient shopping environments? How do we conceive of actors who adjust the urban landscape to their commercial needs? How do we account for residents of squatter settlements who create a tourist infrastructure? What are the material and cultural implications of neighborhood projects that rediscover, showcase and sell local histories, memories and pop cultural icons? Which types of cross-cultural encounters derive from tourists and artists exploring the opportunities, contradictions and fault lines of these new topographies of resilience and innovation?

This conference looks at cultural practices, discourses and broader socio-material processes among popular urban economies and grassroots entrepreneurs in the Global South in a comparative perspective. We want to focus on the ways environments and goods are commercially and culturally transformed. This is a collective process as popular economies are often embedded in organizations and transactions that go beyond a pure economic purpose. Moreover, they gain symbolic value and moral justification as multiple actors become entangled in regular encounters and exchange. Novel business strategies and the creation of marketable value might be contested as they affect public space and entire neighborhoods. Yet, we argue that they also bring about novel social institutions, practices and enhanced cooperation. Particular economic activities become the object of both disputes and compromises in the public sphere.

We look for ethnographic contributions from socio-cultural anthropology and neighboring disciplines that empirically capture and conceptualize how multiple actors and stakeholders create and negotiate meanings and material outcomes. We particularly invite contributions that deal with encounters between non-state actors of diverse social, ethnic and cultural background who are entangled through ongoing interaction.

General topics to be discussed include:

  • processes of value creation in marginalized spaces
  • self-representations of economic actors and public discourses on popular urban economies
  • consequences of growing intra-community heterogeneity, socio-economic difference and inequality
  • practices and networks of economic innovation, social creativity and their material manifestations 

Urban Economies Plakat A 2


program-download (PDF)

Venue: Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67



Thursday, July 14, 2016, room L 155

Event Time Speakers
Opening lecture                 6:15 pm           Florence E. Babb, UNC Chapel Hill
Culture and Economy in the Urban Global South: Shifting Gender and Ethnic Subjectivities among Andean Migrants to Lima, Peru

Friday, July 15, 2016, room 027

Event Time Speakers
Introduction 9:00 am Eveline Dürr and Juliane Müller, LMU Munich
9:15 am B. Lynne Milgram, OCAD University, Toronto
(Re)Fashioning Spheral Rights: The resilience of urban fresh food provisioning systems in Baguio, Philippines
9:45 am Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer, TU Vienna
Performing Informality: From “notorious” markets to hipster markets
10:15 am José Carlos Aguiar, Leiden University
The Right to Culture: Street selling and the alternatives to the criminalization of “piracy” in Ecuador
Coffee break 10:45 am
11.15 am André Vereta-Nahoum, Cebrap, São Paulo
Identities in flux: negotiating representations of informal traders and goods in central São Paolo
11.45 am Victoria L. Rovine, UNC Chapel Hill
African Cities and Fashion Design: Networks of Expressive Culture.
12.15 pm Natalie Göltenboth, LMU Munich
„Muraleando“ – artist entrepreneurs in Havana: Imaginaries of community, creativity, poverty
12.45 pm Saša Poljak Istenič, ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana
From a garden to a table, from locals to tourists: creative food economies in Ljubljana
Lunch 1:15-2:30 pm
2:30 pm Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, UNC Chapel Hill
Invasive Economies: conflict, culture and the making of new place based trades
3:00 pm Michael Stasik, University of Bayreuth
Niches of margin, margins for failure: conflict and competition in the popular urban economy of a Ghanaian bus station
Coffee break 3:30 pm
4:00 pm Marianne Braig, FU Berlin
Between spaces, between times: Traders in Mexico City
4:30 pm Carlos Alba Vega, COLMEX/FU Berlin
Women and their organizations in popular commerce in Mexican City
Wrap Up & Discussion 5:00 pm
End of Workshop 6:00 pm