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Article Summary

Miraftab, F. (2009). Insurgent Planning: Situating Radical Planning in the Global South. Planning Theory, 8(1): 32-50. 


Miraftab uses South Africa’s Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign as a lens through which to examine two current issues of concern to planning scholars:  1) what the implications for radical planning may be of what she calls “grassroots insurgent citizenship”; and, 2) whether conventional planning theory, which “universalizes the metropole,” can be de-“colonized.”   

She describes the South African government’s preparations to host the 2010 soccer World Cup in Cape Town, which included forced removals of 6,000 poor families whose shacks were visible from the N2 highway between the international airport and the city.  The government proposed to move the people from their informal settlement, Joe Slovo, to Delft, 40 km away, where the government was funding 25,000 new housing units.  While the Joe Slovo residents did not wish to relocate so far away, as the Delft housing units neared completion, “backyard dwellers” in overcrowded neighborhoods in Delft occupied them.  Miraftab traces the way in which these two dispossessed communities vigorously asserted their “claim to substantive citizenship and to the city,” both by direct action and through litigation to vindicate “constitutional rights to shelter and basic services.”

In this context, Miraftab introduces us to the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (Western Cape AEC), a coalition of “community organizations, crisis committees, and resident groups” from Cape Town’s poor townships. The coalition does not affiliate with any political party or NGO; its immediate purpose is to “resist evictions and service cutoffs, and to demand their rights to shelter and basic services.”  Miraftab insists the reader recognize that government relocations and cutoffs reenact South Africans’ experience of apartheid, echoed in WCAEC’s resistance though tactics both formal and informal, legal and extralegal, political and theatrical, tried and innovative, in invented as well as invited spaces. 

However Miraftab sets these battles on an even wider stage:  the WCAEC’s resistance to relocations and utility shutoffs challenges the domination of capital, which to maintain its control relies on a co-optive “inclusive governance” characterized by “normalized relations” with citizens who have become fee-paying consumers of human necessities (such as water) now trafficked as commodities. The WCAEC’s “transgressive, counter-hegemonic, and imaginative” practices destabilize these “normalized relations,” and assert community members’ rights to redistributive equity, and a full and undifferentiated citizenship.

Recognizing that “planning is a contested field of interacting activities by multiple actors,” Miraftab defines insurgent planning as a “value-based definition of practices we can recognize as insurgent”; i.e., that will “disrupt the attempts of neoliberal governance to stabilize oppressive relationships.”  In widening the definition of “planner,” Miraftab advocates widening the understanding of planning to include the, “de facto community and urban developments,” that Holston (2008) describes as “insurgent urbanization.”  She concludes that insurgent planning must be informed by “consciousness of the past and imagination of an alternative future.”

Finally, Miraftab addresses herself to planners’ “habits of mind” that promote modernization as an ultimate good, and that fail to understand cities in the developing world “by their own rules of the game and values rather than by the planning prescriptions and fantasies of the West.”  She urges “decolonizing planners’ imagination,” and concludes with Freidmann’s (2002) list of the normative principles of insurgent planning:  “offer critical analysis and understanding of the structural forces that marginalize and oppress people; understand that a problem must be attacked simultaneously at multiple scales; aim for both material and political rights; and engage state and state-like formations.”