The afterlives of historical urban landscapes and landmarks: political struggles, everyday spaces and alternative future-making

This panel will explore the reimagination and reconfiguration of urban landscapes in times of social and political change. In particular, we are interested in how potentially problematic landscapes and landmarks – such as statues of historical figures or architectures of colonial occupation – are reworked and reimagined for the future. Recent campaigns such as #rhodesmustfall have powerfully shown how urban monuments that memorialise historical injustices can also become sites for articulating new kinds of politics and alternative future-making. By taking to the streets, Black Lives Matter movements have re-occupied urban spaces in which injustices and inequalities may be built-in to the very fabric of the city, using these same spaces to imagine the future differently. Meanwhile, in cities shaped by histories of colonialism or segregation, less spectacular reconfigurations are taking place through residents’ incremental interventions in everyday spaces, such as home improvements, urban gardening or neighbourhood action.

Through disruptive gestures or everyday struggles, activists have staged subversive representations, challenging inequalities and racialisation processes embedded in urban space. The re-arrangement, disruption or elimination of colonial visual icons and symbols also raises the question of what comes next: whether spaces emptied by removed iconographies can be reimagined, how such ‘voids’ may be interrogated and the challenges and opportunities this affords.

Drawing on the anthropology of placemaking, materiality and temporality, we seek to explore how urban landscapes are not fixed in time, but affectively charged places that can help to constitute social and political change. We invite papers that ethnographically explore the shifting terrain of historical urban landscapes and landmarks, asking how these sites can catalyse different ways of being in the city, new kinds of politics and socialities, and alternative ways of envisioning the future.

Papers may wish to address (but need not be limited to) such questions as:

  • How are urban landmarks and spaces addressed and challenged by contemporary struggles against socio-racial inequalities?
  • How do aesthetics of protests re-configure and re-imagine urban materialities?
  • How are ideas about the past reformulated through reconfigurations of urban landscapes?
  • What new kinds of spaces, materialities or socialities are generated by less spectacular reconfigurations and everyday interventions?
  • How does memory and placemaking intersect with the decolonisation of urban landmarks?
  • What is the role of the temporality in these contexts? How are issues of permanence and ephemerality perceived and/or questioned?
  • How can historical urban landscapes and landmarks catalyse alternative ways of imagining the future?
  • Keywords: afterlife, historical urban landscapes, future-making, temporality, political struggles

Read more here.


  • Gordillo G. 2014. Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Harrison R., DeSilvey C., Holtorf C., Macdonald S., Bartolini N., Breithoff E., Fredheim H., Lyons A., May S., Morgan J. and Penrose S. 2020. Heritage Futures. Comparative Approaches to Natural and Cultural Heritage Practices, London: UCL Press.
  • Smith C. 2020. Nairobi in the Making. Landscapes of time and urban belonging. Oxford: James Currey.
  • Stoler A. 2013. Imperial debris. On Ruins and Ruination. Durham: Duke University Press.

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