Displacement and gentrification are the major threats many urban communities face today. The main targets of eviction through urban transformation and lawfare are vulnerable urban groups, who often already face discrimination along intersectional lines, on the basis of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Their displacement is the result of an increasing interest by investors in generating profit from the transformation of physical spaces, as well as the biopolitical strategies of certain nation-states to outcast non-conforming citizens. Gentrification, development-led displacement, so-called “urban renewal”, slum clearance, beautification, and commodification of urban space are different processes that nonetheless point in the same direction, and often involve either the physical removal of residents, or their substantial estrangement from the urban space they inhabit, and denial of their rights to the city. Anti-displacement movements are widespread since the 1980s, and networks have already endorsed the convergence of scholarship and activism as a powerful tool.

Building on such developments, this conference connects scholars in various fields such as anthropologists, historians, economists, planners, geographers, and critical urbanists with activists working on housing rights and the right to urban identity and the city more generally. Together, we will discuss challenges and possibilities concerning a number of theoretical, methodological, and practical questions, including: How do we take account of and assess everyday practices? What constitutes the archive and evidence? How shall communities and activists be involved in the production of knowledge and applied research? What possibilities are there to disseminate the knowledge produced? Beyond pointing to contradictions, can scholarship suggest political solutions? Who are the agents of this story? How does ideology make its way into research and action? Can we think beyond the framework of structure and agency? What is the relationship between the state and the market in displacement processes? What is the appropriate scale of analysis?

Examples from different cities can contribute to a wider understanding of how urban research and activism could structure more fruitful forms of collaboration. A consideration of cities as different as Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Barcelona, Johannesburg, São Paulo, and Boston sheds light on commonalities that point to a single dynamic operating on a global scale, which is at play in the various distinctive manifestations apprehended at the local level in very different contexts. While a consideration of global, structural transformation can contribute to an understanding of the specificities of every case, the global phenomenon itself cannot be fully captured without a serious engagement on the local scale with the social, cultural, economic and political processes in which each specific case is embedded. A global understanding can only contribute to local struggles if it remains attentive to the subjectivity and agency of local communities within their particular context, as they experience it and think it.

Organizers: Joan Chaker, Stefano Portelli, Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe.

Faculty advisors at Harvard: Cemal Kafadar, Michael Herzfeld.

Harvard Sponsors: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies; Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History; Joint Center for History and Economics at Harvard; Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; Harvard University Center for African Studies; Harvard History Department; Harvard Department of Anthropology.

Contacts: Please write to,,