Urban Uncertainty

Governing Cities in Turbulent Times

The Urban Uncertainty project was a collaborative investigation into emerging ways of envisioning and governing the future of cities.

The Urban Uncertainty project was a collaborative investigation into emerging ways of envisioning and governing the future of cities. Combining empirical research with theoretical exploration, it sought to develop a set of conceptual tools for analysing and comparing the diversity of ways in which urban governments and populations orient themselves towards the uncertain and the unknown. In the context of heightened anxiety about climate change, financial crisis, armed conflict, political instability, natural disaster, and disease outbreak, the driving question behind this effort was: How are contemporary cities governed, built, planned, and lived in anticipation of uncertain futures? Case studies were drawn from key sectors of urban governance, such as security, environment, finance, health, and infrastructure. The city of Bogotá featured prominently due to its international reputation as a model of “good governance,” but it was compared with research on other cities from the global North and South. The project was divided into two interrelated initiatives: 1) a workshop series; and 2) case studies from a select group of cities. Its overall objective was to understand how future-oriented techniques are assembled and deployed by a range of urban actors, and how this influences the physical, social, political, and cultural fabric of cities.

This project aimed to contribute to wider debates on changing forms of governmental thought and practice throughout the contemporary urban world. It sought to understand emerging rationalities and techniques for governing cities while remaining attentive to historically embedded paradigms of urbanism. Geographically broad yet specific, this research emphasizes the cultural and political conditions that enable or constrain diverse approaches to governing uncertainty in cities. However, it also aimed to relate local forms of urban governance to the global circulation of resources, norms, policies, and ideas. Rather than attempting to identify general logics of urbanism, this project asked when, how, and in what combination different strategies and tactics are mobilized for specific political objectives. In short, it advances a comparative analytical investigation of urban governance as it is assembled and deployed in specific locations.

Case studies based on ethnographic and archival research are used to illuminate the everyday work that goes into governing cities and making cities governable in uncertain times. Focusing on bureaucrats, technical experts, policymakers, and public officials, they also expand the scope of analysis to examine the diverse range of individuals and collectives working to manage, improve, control, and transform urban spaces and populations. This implies that urban uncertainty is not exclusively a technocratic domain but rather a field of social and political engagement, negotiation, and contestation. While an analytical standpoint is necessary, this research seeks to move beyond familiar dichotomies by exploring opportunities for developing new approaches to governing the city yet to come. Thus, it endeavours to think both critically and creatively about the shifting politics of urbanism in today’s cities.

The Urban Uncertainty workshop series is an integral part of LSE Cities’ collaborative investigation into emerging ways of envisioning and governing the future of cities. Each session focuses on a different dimension of urban uncertainty, from health and housing to crime and climate, and brings together scholars from a handful of disciplines whose work converges on common themes.

LSE Cities events
  • 28 August 2014 | Ahmad Kaker, S., 2014. 'The Politics of Contingency: Crisis, Event and Situation', Political Geography Panel, RGS Annual Conference, London.
  • 28 August 2014 | Ahmad Kaker, S., 2014. 'Urban Uncertainty', RGS Annual Conference, London.
  • 29 November 2012 | “Millennial City: The Bogotá Model and the Futures of Urbanism.” Paper presented at the conference, Mobile Urbanisms, UGRG Annual Conference, King’s College London.
  • 16 November 2012 | 'Risk in Retrospect: Prognosis Politics and Disaster Preparedness.' Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Prognosis Politics: Visions of Resource Futures, San Francisco.
  • 19 October 2012 | 'Constructions of Citizenship: Housing Politics and Urban Assemblages in Bogotá, Colombia.' Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST), Urban Assemblages and Cosmopolitics, Copenhagen.
  • 4 July 2014 | Ahmad Kaker, S., 2014. 'Circulating Uncertainty: The Role of Security Information in Karachi', Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.
  • 20 May 2014 | Ahmad Kaker, S., 2014. 'Living the Security City: Navigating Karachi’s Enclaves', CRASSH City Seminar Series, University of Cambridge.
Public lectures
  • 30 October 2012 | 'Living Dangerously: Vital Politics and Urban Citizenship in Bogotá, Colombia.' Lecture delivered to the Department of Geography and Environment, Research Seminar in Cities, Space, and Development, London School of Economics and Political Science.
  • 2024 | Ahmad Kaker, S. 'The Messy Realities of Security Governance in Karachi', Comparative Approaches to Security Sector Reform Workshop, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Journal articles
Magazine articles