Conflict and Cohesion

2022 was the year that cities would recover from the woes of the pandemic and tackle rising social and economic inequality. Then Putin invaded Ukraine.

Now cities are faced with heightened geopolitical tensions, alongside increased violence, demonstrations and divisions following, among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic, the extreme weather events associated with climate change, the rise of alt-right and left movements, fallen democracies, reinvigorated authoritarianism and unequal treatment of migrants. 

Heightened tensions and conflicts threaten cities as arenas for change and continuity at a time when collective actions and policies for a more socially just and sustainable urban future are sorely needed. How can global and local initiatives sustain and build strong, socially coherent communities? 

The answer to conflicts and tensions is still to strengthen consensus building and social cohesion. While public debates over such divisive issues are continually more polarized, steps to enhance social cohesion through more inclusive governance processes, practices of sharing and interactive community platforms, are erratically developing in cities all over the world.

Consensus building is, however, increasingly criticized for giving rise to the «post-political» city. 

Under post-political conditions, promoting consensus and cohesion are often seen to deform, displace, defer and diffuse emergent critical and oppositional discourses and policies, that may arise outside the dominant urban arenas. Moreover, it carries the risk of undermining political legitimacy and produce sentiments associated with populism and identity politics. 

To what extent, or how, this will result in processes of re-politization is uncertain. 

As global events show, democracy without the scrutiny and testing of its boundaries through conflict, will most certainly propagate exclusion, marginalisation and racialisation of space. At the same time conflict can also result in the further oppression of some populations. 

The complexity of the relationship between conflict and cohesion suggests that it is no longer appropriate to fashion either conflict or cohesion as one being more desirable than the other. 

In episodes of urban conflict, progressively motivated or otherwise, conflict and cohesion present a dichotomous relationship that urban researchers and practitioners must negotiate.  

This year’s conference is concerned with, on the one hand, emerging conflicts, seen as a dynamic interplay between different discourses and actors in «the politics of conflictual governance». On the other hand, it pays attention to social forces that draw in the opposite direction, uniting ordinary citizens in political mobilisation through practices of daily life, and paving the ground for new forms of interaction between citizens and city representatives in «the practices of collaborative governance». We scrutinise the role of institutions and institutional adaptiveness towards new inclusionary initiatives. 

The 2022 edition of Storbykonferansen therefore asks:  

  • How are issues of conflicts and cohesion unfolding in cities? 
  • How can cities navigate an urban landscape marked by the dichotomous relationship between conflict and cohesion?  
  • How can urban practitioners and scholars facilitate new arenas to productively engage with conflicts relating to socio-spatial inequality, climate change, violent friction and beyond?  

We invite panels and papers for the following tracks:

  1. Governance & planning 
  • How can we move beyond treating conflict and cohesion as binaries in urban governance and planning? 
  • How can new modes of governance and planning practices, such as citizen assemblies, urban labs and innovation platforms, productively engage with conflict?  
  • What are the potentials and challenges for these new encounters, emerging at the interphase between social agents and the city government, to navigate the relation between conflict and cohesion? 
  1. Architecture & urban design 
  • What is the role of architecture and urban design in an urban environment marked by tensions and conflict? 
  • How does conflict affect the way people produce, understand and inhabit urban spaces and places? 
  • In what ways may the design of urban space, on the one hand, become an instrument of power and oppression, and, on the other hand, how can spatial practices challenge dominant forces of control and power? 
  1. Grassroots & activism 
  • What roles do grassroot initiatives and activism play in creating new arenas for productively engaging with conflict? 
  • What are the challenges faced by bottom-up initiatives in navigating the space between conflict and cohesion? 
  • What new ways of organizing in times of conflict are provided by grassroots and activists? 
  1. Art & creative practice 
  • How can artistic and creative practice enable new ways to actively understand and engage with conflictual processes and situations? 
  • How can artistic and creative practice intervene in urban development processes in order to create space for both conflict and cohesion? 
  • What new forms of deliberation, communication and understanding can be fostered through artistic and creative processes?  

Each track is split into three sessions. The two first sessions are ordinary paper sessions. The first session focuses on «state of the arts» and the second focuses on «new ideas and initiatives». The third session is a table-talk which takes on a workshop format in which groups of participants will discuss «ways forward».