Engaging with the Feminist City
On 24th January 2022 CESET PI Professor Vanesa Castán Broto participated in an event hosted by the Gender Responsive Resilience & Intersectionality in Policy and Practice at UCL entitled “Engaging with the Feminist City: How does a feminist city present itself in different spaces and places?”. The series of exploratory virtual events explore how a range of scholars, practitioners, policy makers and activists are thinking about feminism and the city.
The final session was convened by Professor Camillo Boano and Belen Desmaison. Vanesa joined two international panellists, who were asked to address the following questions:
- How did they think about feminism and the city?
- What were the range of concepts that they used when thinking through the feminist city?
- What values did different concepts bring?
- What did feminism and the city mean in practice?
- How were they engaging with / responding to / implementing elements of the feminist city?
- What were the emerging sources of inspiration and tensions for our collective future?
Vanesa talked about “The feminist city in the Anthropocene”. As Vanesa’s focus is on environmental and climate science she is particularly interested in the critique of the sexist city and how it interacts with urban environments. Vanesa talked about how her own thoughts are being transformed and what it means to her to be an urban feminist in the 21st Century.
First, intersectionality theory has helped her to refine her understanding of the operation of the matrix of oppression in urban lives, and how it shapes the possibilities for coproduction and social learning. Under an intersectionality lens the community is no longer either a mystical pastoral dream or a locus of oppression, but rather, it is a dynamic form of association where forms of solidarity coexist with forms of control and coercion. Rather than looking for an ideal, untouched, purified form of community we need to understand its operation in practice, and the opportunities it offers to redefine urban environments. Intersectionality enables new diagnoses of how inequalities are embodied in the urban environment.
Second, her work has long built on a concern with knowledge production, and the need to understand the social positions that allows knowledge production and power. The biggest influence on her thoughts are planners who insist on building objectivity in the planning process through the inclusion of marginal or excluded voices. More recently she had become interested in the spaces of knowledge production and how knowledge has become relevant in particular events. The feminist city could not be built by state planners and international donors even if they had taken the time to consider the views of the oppressed or marginalised. Rather, the feminist city is one in which the oppressed and marginalised has autonomy to build the city they want. That autonomy may depend on support from powerful interests, but it could not be mediated by them.
Third, the feminist city is messy and it is alive! It demands a new engagement with its materialities and ecologies. This requires rethinking the relationship with materials and how we care for them. Care is however not a neutral term, not something that can be dispensed at will and that depends on complex material histories. In cities, those histories of care may have allowed for the sedimentation of inequalities and structures of oppression in complex material arrangements of infrastructures and patterns of resource use. A feminist city would put such arrangements into question.
The feminist city, if it exists at all, is not a destination but a motivation: it is a commitment to a revisable, adaptable city that works for everyone, especially for those who are oppressed and excluded.