Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

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Habitat III in Quito – a participant’s view

habitat-iiiThe Third UN Summit on Housing and Human Settlements (Habitat III) in Quito this week is bringing together some 50,000 people representing all manner of urban interests from around the world. Coming 20 years after the Second summit in Istanbul, it is intended to set the direction for the UN system’s urban engagements over the next 2 decades through the adoption by world leaders of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Although the UN has made progress in recent years in engaging more substantively with non-state actors (UN-speak for everyone and anyone outside of national governments, which constitute the UN membership club), the contradictions and tensions in this arrangement were exposed during the protracted negotiations over the NUA, with some governments opposing the recognition of subnational (i.e. regional and local) governments even though they form part of the state sector. In UN terms, the NUA’s explicit recognition of the importance of urban local authorities and diverse other stakeholder groups as essential actors in any transitions to greater urban sustainability constitutes a major achievement and historic first. The final NUA text can be found at this link.

These distinctions and tensions are also evident in the entry arrangements at the conference site, with government delegates, UN staff and other categories of accreditation having the highest status and fast track entry to the registration and security clearance areas, while ordinary ‘participants’ have had to stand in interminable queues, often in hot sunshine, for literally hours. While what is by far the largest such event ever held in the Ecuadorian capital is inevitably creating bottlenecks, at the single entry and badge issuing locations, the continued delays – meaning that many people have been missing or arriving late for their sessions – has by Tuesday morning led to the event being dubbed Queueto by some frustrated participants. By Wednesday, additional scanners had been installed – but since the number of registered participants was known in advance, the inadequacy of arrangements was baffling. Continue reading


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Geographical Perspectives on “Development” – Where are we going?


While a summer school beginning in October sounds a bit implausible in the UK, Bonn just about managed to find enough sun to justify the title of its conference!

The University of Bonn was host to the Human Geography summer school 2016, Geographical Perspectives on “Development”. Bonn itself is a green, bike friendly city located along the River Rhine and host to the headquarters of UN agencies, German development agencies, and key international NGOs. Introducing the conference, Professor Detlef Müller-Mahn challenged participants to consider what they themselves mean by “development” through reflecting on theoretical orientations and personal positionality. Questions posed included what do we mean by development, what approaches can be used to generate meaningful results and how research in this field can be conducted in both a critical and constructive way. Through this lens workshops ranged from ‘Politicising global chain governance’ to ‘Manoeuvring challenging research contexts’ and ‘Community owned solutions for sustainability challenges’ run by Royal Holloway’s own Professor Jay Mistry.

In the workshop “Theorizing, researching and (re)politicizing “economic” “entanglements” in the Global South”, participants were challenged to pin the tail on the research and locate yourself between the four points of economic, development, social and other geographies; or if brave enough in the slightly less certain lands that lay outside! Not as simple as it may sound, the exercise provided a means to reflect on where participants feel their research stands and what academic understandings they draw on when conducting research (see Vira and James, 2011 as to what happens when you try to cross economic and development geography). Further discussions on “economic” “entanglements” led to participants problematizing what are Continue reading

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Sustainable Development Goals: Something new or more of the same?

sdg-logoThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a ‘to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success‘. They are seen as building on the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, which succeeded in providing a framework for global development cooperation and achieving significant progress in the reduction of extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, and improved access to primary education. However, the MDGs were criticised for a top-down, Northern-centric framing of development definitions and development practice.

The SDGs were developed through a much more participatory process than the MDGs, with outputs including A Million Voices: The World We Want report.  This is both a response to previous criticisms, but also reflects the way Continue reading

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No Short Cuts to Leaving the Street

Global Youth Work McEveer

Global Youth Work mural. Source: Richard McKeever, via Flickr.

The reasons why children leave home to live on the streets, and subsequently remain living on the street, are numerous and well researched (Thomas de Benitez, 2011). Sometimes these decisions are made for them as their circumstances provide them with a very narrow set of choices. However, there are also children who would say that they have made their own decision to live on the street and that “everyone knows what he is doing.” During my research with street-connected children in Arusha and Moshi in Northern Tanzania, the children interviewed gave numerous yet purposeful reasons for choosing to remain on the street. However, for many of them, the street is not their end goal and few of them have an expressed desire to be a street-connected adult.

Despite desires to leave the street on their own terms at some point, it is not always easy to facilitate children and youth’s move away from the street. The first half of this post will explore some of the ways children and youth in my field study negotiate life on the street and develop future prospects. The second half will present some suggested interventions that may enable children and youth to capitalise on their skills and potential.

Reasons for the street

During six months in northern Tanzania I collected 25 group and individual interviews with 55 street-connected children, former street-connected adults, community members, practitioners and social workers. Based on this research, there are several trends that have emerged from my data. Firstly, many of the children that were interviewed had left home in search of a better life. What children were looking for in order Continue reading

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On Humanity, Poverty & Measurements

What the world learned from the MDGs is that change is possible” (Sabina Alkire, 2015)

MPI indicators

MPI Indicators. Source:

On Monday 23rd of November 2015, we attended a Cumberland Conversation event with Professor Sabina Alkire at Cumberland Lodge. Sabina directs the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), and has worked extensively on multidimensional poverty measurement and analysis, founded mainly on the Capability Approach and concepts of human development. OPHI aims to promote diverse voices on poverty, focusing on the importance of measurements, which help prioritise poverty in politicians’ agendas.

The conversation evolved around the The Global Multidimensinal Poverty Index (Global MPI), founded on Amartya Sen’s heterodox conceptualisation of human development and Continue reading

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Modernisation in Delhi: Development or Destruction?

Delhi, a bustling metropolis with a population of approximately 18 million, is chasing a modernisation dream. Spearheaded by the Delhi Development Authority, a state body that aims to “promote and secure the development of Delhi”, a number of highways, transport systems, shopping malls, hotels and luxury apartments have been constructed. These developments, which resonate with the large-scale modernisation projects of the 1950s and 1960s, are perhaps best exemplified by the Delhi Metro system. This is an urban metro that connects Delhi to a number of satellite towns (e.g. Gurgaon and Faridabad), much like the London Underground and Overground services. Since construction began in 1998 the system has expanded to a length of approximately 190 km and it currently serves 142 stations. This makes it the fifteenth largest metro system in the world, in terms of length, Continue reading