Urban ARC 2022 | Beyond Binaries

IIHS Annual Research Conference  | 13 – 15 January 2022

The sixth edition of Urban ARC, the Annual Research Conference of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), will be conducted virtually from 13 to 15 January 2022. The theme for this edition is ‘Beyond Binaries: Towards new conceptual frameworks in the Urban’.


In her article, ‘Global and World Cities: A view from off the Map’, published in 2002, Jennifer Robinson argued that urban studies as a field was divided between urban theory and the western or “global” cities on one side, and the development studies and the “third world cities” on the other. Such a categorisation held cities around the world to western global city standards, which Robinson argued, did not capture the vagaries of contemporary urbanization (Robinson, 2002). Two decades later, however, Robinson’s compelling critique still holds true, particularly in the context of an increasingly globalised present and future. Cities across the globe differ in their experience and negotiations with emergent urban phenomena. Understanding and studying these phenomena thus requires thinking beyond existing binaries.


Conceptualized within the theme of the conference are three important, intersecting ideas. The first is the idea of binaries and other kinds of categorisation which inform various traditions of knowledge production, in multiple ways. The centrality of dialogue from opposing positions, and the emergence of novel positions in its wake has been the key in the creation and development of knowledge over time. This edition of Urban ARC pivots off of this centrality.


The second is the ways in which binary positions have evolved in various traditions of knowledge production, allowing them to go beyond these initial positions. This transition has not been consistent in depth, scope or velocity across disciplines and knowledge traditions. This has ranged from using binaries differently to address important issues, the use of multivalent systems of definition and organisation, to challenging the use of categorisation itself. It is in this context that we conceptualize the beyond as a post-duality space that can be celebrated for the multiplicities it holds.


The third conceptual idea is the Urban, imagined as a space in which the tension between binaries and the beyond play out. The Urban, while being notionally organised around cartographic boundaries, goes beyond them to include a complex system of ideas, systems, processes, practices, lived experiences and emergent policies that can be understood only through a range of innovative theoretical and methodological approaches. Urban ARC 2022 provides the space for conversations along these vectors.


Binaries have been used repeatedly to classify and categorise phenomena to better facilitate our understanding of people and things (Cloke & Johnston, 2005). Although binaries engage with the idea of opposites, they are also closely connected; one cannot exist without the other: e.g. there may be no rural without an urban; no formal without an understanding of the informal. Between binaries, lies space for continued negotiation. These negotiations based on emerging realities, new ways of thinking and being have often transcended binary thinking, paving way for a continuum of possibilities that emerge around the evident tensions between two opposites.


This conference aims to build on and continue ongoing conversations around the question of categories like binaries that has been an important part of post-colonial discourse in fields such as feminism, philosophy, and environmental sciences, among others (Walker, 2001; Culler, 2001; Whatmore, 2017; Kayumova et al, 2019). The re-examining of these binaries and inherent tensions has led to the emergence of new categories that are evident in several ways and forms, from daily lived experiences to analytical tools – from the politics of the right and left, the economics of formal and informal, to the spatiality of rural and urban.


The notion of moving beyond binaries manifests in several ways; in our conceptual, methodological and analytical interpretation of things. The dismantling of binaries has been critical in the context of an increasingly globalised, interconnected and urban world that is constantly pushing, debating and re-examining existing boundaries. Researchers, especially those located in the global South have consistently called for and worked towards rethinking what these categories mean, primarily because of the diverse experiences of rapid globalisation and urbanisation across cities (Shatkin, 2007; Robinson, 2011). In the last few decades, conceptual debates around the global North and South (Schindler 2017; Watson 2009; Parnell 2012) have increasingly focussed on the need for a “southern urban theory”, to conceptualise the heterogeneity and experiences of the cities in the global South that cannot be confined to the north/south binaries.


Debates have ranged from theorising the urban, to thinking of ways to engage with emerging urban phenomena, that are new, disparate and cannot be distinctly categorised. Studying these complex urban systems requires moving beyond traditional disciplinary silos and instead, adopting an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approach. An immediate example of this has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has amplified existing socio-economic inequalities and questioned the type of interventions required to understand the urban in the context of a “new normal”. In an attempt to conceptualise these urban futures, a more recent move has been towards a ‘new urban science’ that emphasises interdisciplinary research and practice in addressing challenges of the 21st century city (Keith et al., 2020). Methodologically as well, there has been a shift towards the use of big data and modelling approaches to study these futures (ibid.), as well as a collective conceptual attempt towards blurring the categories of policy, research, practice and academia to address the challenges of urbanisation.


At a global as well as the local scale, the increasing role of digital technologies has resulted in a significant shift within the imagined categories of certain sectors and disciplines. While the field of technology is rooted in structure and form, the application and adaptation of these has paved the way for opportunities and possibilities that offer new conceptual frameworks of examining the impacts and implications of these changes (Davies, A.R et al, 2017; Surie, 2021). For example, with respect to labour markets, the move towards digital and platform economy has re-defined the future of work, blurring the boundaries of formal and informal labour. More recently, in the context of COVID-19, digital technology has made it possible for a certain section of the society to effectively work, learn and communicate online. Similarly, new and digital media has been crucial in changing the discourse around media, arts, literature and cinema studies to reflect the change in media consumption patterns as well as the changing mediascapes.


The idea of moving beyond categories also extends to our understanding of social realities and by extension, our self. Questions of  gender, caste, class, ethnicity, religion, language have and still continue to hold a pivotal place in defining one’s identity. These questions are interconnected, deeply rooted in systemic complexities, and cannot be dealt with in isolation. Recent debates around these themes have contested existing categories, particularly with regard to navigating identities of caste and gender.


While they tend to be limiting in nature, categories are also essential. They have played a fundamental role in structuring, organising and making sense of data, spatial mapping, delineating administrative boundaries, among others. Defining jurisdictions of city-like units (Brenner, 2014) using terms such as peri-urban, municipality, municipal corporation, metropolitan region etc, “reflect the changing boundaries, morphologies and scales of human settlement patterns” (Brenner 2014, p 15), and are critical to the process of governance. It also has particular implications for access to relief care, welfare and social protection schemes and programmes.


Binaries, and categories more broadly hold multiple possibilities of negotiation; breaking away, re-imagining, re-conceptualising and realigning. Urban ARC 2022 intends to capture this versatility of binaries; the fluidity, the duality and the several potentialities of conceptualizations that they offer. The conference invites researchers, practitioners and policy makers to engage in dialogues around the theme, ‘beyond binaries’ using diverse modes of engagement- conceptual, methodological, historical, analytical. We encourage submissions across various sectors (e.g. governance, environment and sustainability, infrastructure and services, housing, and social identity, among others), disciplines (e.g. media, social-sciences, behavioural sciences, humanities, architecture, planning) and methods (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods), using the lens of research, academia, policy and practice.


 Dates and Procedures:

28 November 2021 Deadline for submitting extended abstracts
15 December 2021 Announcement of selected papers
13-15 January 2022 Urban ARC 2022


Submission Guidelines:

Interested applicants should send in an extended abstract of 1,500-2,000 words using the ‘application’ tab on the website. All abstracts will be published as part of the Conference Proceedings.

Please note, abstracts have to be submitted in the format prescribed below. Abstracts not in this format will not be considered for inclusion in the conference proceedings.

  1. Full title and name and institutional affiliation of the author.
  2. Complete end-text and in-text referencing in APA format.



The conference will be conducted virtually via the Zoom Webinar platform. For queries regarding the conference, write to us at research@iihs.ac.in


Brenner, N. (2014). Implosions/explosions. Berlin: Jovis.

Cloke, P., & Johnston, R. (2005). Deconstructing human geography’s binaries. Spaces of geographical thought: Deconstructing human geography’s binaries, 1-20

Culler, J. (2001). Deconstruction: Cultural Concerns.

Davies, A. R., Donald, B., Gray, M., & Knox-Hayes, J. (2017). Sharing economies: moving beyond binaries in a digital age. Cambridge journal of regions, economy and society, 10(2), 209-230.

Kayumova, S., McGuire, C. J., & Cardello, S. (2019). From empowerment to response-ability: rethinking socio-spatial, environmental justice, and nature-culture binaries in the context of STEM education. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 14(1), 205-229.

Keith, M., O’Clery, N., Parnell, S. & Revi, A. 2020. The future of the future city? The new urban sciences and a PEAK Urban interdisciplinary disposition. Cities, 105 (102820)

Robbins, S. P. (2015). From the editor—The red pill or the blue pill? Transcending binary thinking

Robinson, J. (2002) Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map. IJURR, 26(3):531–554.

Robinson, J. (2011). Cities in a world of cities: The comparative gesture. International journal of urban and regional research, 35(1), 1-23.

Shatkin, G. (2007). Global cities of the South: Emerging perspectives on growth and inequality. Cities24(1), 1-15

Schindler, S. (2017). Towards a paradigm of Southern urbanism. City21(1), 47-64.

Surie, A. (2021). Coalitions of Socio-Technical Infrastructure: Platforms as Essential Services. Communication, Culture and Critique, 14(3), 539-544.

Walker, R. (2001). Becoming the third wave. Identity politics in the women’s movement, 3(13), 78-80.

Whatmore, S. (2017). Hybrid geographies: rethinking the ‘human’ in human geography. In Environment (pp. 411-428). Routledge.