CE22 - Sociétés urbaines, territoires, constructions et mobilité

Subaltern Urbanization in the Touristic Mountains of Southern and South-Eastern Asia – URBALTOUR

Subaltern Urbanization in the Touristic Mountains of South and South-East Asia

URBALTOUR analyzes the convergences between urban and tourist logics looking at hill stations created during the colonial period in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Understanding the diversity of the global urban phenomenon in the light of tourism and from a postcolonial perspective

Small and medium-sized cities account for more than half of Asia's population, yet they remain largely unstudied, especially when compared to large cities. Looking at hill stations founded during the colonial period in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, URBALTOUR intends to fill this gap by analyzing the overlap between urban and tourist dynamics in mountainous areas. <br /><br />Historically, hill stations were designed as new frontiers of colonization. Today, this function is reactivated by the pivotal role they play in the expansion of globalized urban societies into mountains. In many cases, their permanent resident population has risen, their economy has diversified, and their tourist frequentation is now primarily driven by a domestic clientele. In addition, the combined effects of COVID and global warming are currently reinforcing their appeal, bringing back their historical sanitary function and turning them into places of refuge from the heat and diseases associated to lowland cities. <br /><br />This interaction between tourism and urbanization in vulnerable areas like mountains raises obvious environmental, social and economic sustainability issues, as evidenced by the intensified commercial exploitation of natural resources, the pollution that comes with the land's artificialization and the inter-ethnic tensions over the sharing of wealth between local actors. URBALTOUR's intersectional approach to inequalities in the access to tourism resources will enable us to assess the inequalities and discriminations at work, and push forward sustainable alternatives. <br /><br />Choosing mountains of South and South-East Asia as our fields of study not only allows documenting one of the fastest-growing urban regions in the world, but also learning from these cities of the South beyond the concepts forged in the North for understanding them. In that perspective, we form the two following hypotheses: <br />1/ Tourism is a vehicle for new urban models, whether in terms of means of transport, architecture, urban expansion or management. <br />2/ Tourism contributes to profound restructuring of stakeholder systems, leading to renewed modes of governance and legitimizing forms of violence in urban production.<br /><br />By doing so, URBALTOUR fully contributes to the scientific axis «Urban societies, territories, constructions and mobilities«, and more specifically to theme 1, «City Territories«, addressing issues on growth, morphology and urban planning, urban practices of tourist mobility, governance and citizen engagement, as well as management and revival of heritage.

On a regional and national level, the intention is to establish an inventory of hill stations and measure the ties between tourism and urbanization through GIS and spatial analysis.

On a local scale, a comparative methodology will be deployed across 6 research field selected for their representativity according to 4 comparative dimensions:
1/ The tools of urban production by and for tourism.
2/ The distinctive use of colonial heritage.
3/ The reclaiming of mountains through the design and practice of tourist sites.
4/ A digital ethnography of online city branding and tourist practices.

In each of these sites, a cross-scalar approach will ensure the coherency of our survey, by intersecting 4 scales of analysis:
- The regional scale, for understanding the integration of these stations within the urban hierarchy.
- The city scale, to examine the extent to which these stations are part of an urban unit.
- The district scale within urban units, where large-scale development projects can be carried out.
- The architectural scale of some remarkable buildings from the colonial period, to understand the ongoing reappropriations.

The URBALTOUR project strengthens inter-UMIFRE collaborations between the Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC), for the Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian part of the project, and the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), for the Indian and Sri Lankan part.

Covering the three largest European colonial empires, the novelty of URBALTOUR is double:

1/ It theoretically broadens the concept of subaltern urbanization looking at fields neglected by urban research in the countries of the South: cities created for tourism, that raise two specific questions: the definition of urban, beyond administrative classifications, and the border between city and countryside, often analyzed from the city’s perspective. We suggest here to turn the perspective around by analyzing ex-nihilo urban creations and their command over their rural environment.

2/ It focuses on domestic tourist movements, rather than the international tourism that has guided most of tourism studies in these countries. Breaking away from this western-centered vision, URBALTOUR will analyses local reappropriations of hill stations from a postcolonial perspective.

The production of critical knowledge on urbanization generated by tourism in South and South-East Asia's mountains will contribute to a better scientific understanding of the diversity of the urban phenomenon. As such, URBALTOUR will rely on and expand the results of the Suburbin and Vinarosa ANRs on the modes of urban production in Asia, not only adding empirical findings, based on statistical, cartographic, and field analyses, but also from a theoretical standpoint. Indeed, it is from Asia that the global urban phenomenon is driven, given the scale and pace of its growth. Additionally, our results will be useful in designing planning and governance tools to support sustainable urban development in mountains, by providing input for stakeholders involved in public policies. Indeed, the choice to focus on subaltern urbanization diverts from mainstream research and expertise that has been overfocussed on large global cities. Thus, a major contribution of this program is to provides the means to decentralize knowledge in one of the most dynamic areas in the world, both from an urban and a tourist standpoint

The tension between, on the one hand, current events that require rapid production of knowledge and, on the other hand, the necessity of critical thinking essential to achieving more fundamental knowledge, leads us to think of short-, medium- and long-term applications, aimed at different audiences:

- In the short term: Hypotheses.org blog; organization of a quarterly seminar on «cities and tourism« and research training for students.

- Medium-term: A special issue of a journal and two scientific articles in Urban and Tourism Studies, written with our local partners; seminars to present our findings and associate the local authorities of the studied resorts, in accordance with the FAIR principle.

- At the end of the project: An international symposium, a travelling exhibition highlighting the visual data of the project and a collective publication, in the form of a book written in English.

Small and medium-sized cities account for more than half of Asia's population, yet they remain largely unstudied, especially when compared to large cities. Looking at hill stations founded during the colonial period in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, URBALTOUR intends to fill this gap by analyzing the overlap between urban and tourist dynamics in mountainous areas. Historically, hill stations were designed as new frontiers of colonization. Today, this function is reactivated by the pivotal role they play in the expansion of globalized urban societies into mountains. In many cases, their permanent resident population has risen, their economy has diversified, and their tourist frequentation is now primarily driven by a domestic clientele. In addition, the combined effects of COVID and global warming are currently reinforcing their appeal, bringing back their historical sanitary function and turning them into places of refuge from the heat and diseases associated to lowland cities.

This interaction between tourism and urbanization in vulnerable areas like mountains raises obvious environmental, social and economic sustainability issues, as evidenced by the intensified commercial exploitation of natural resources, the pollution that comes with the land's artificialization and the inter-ethnic tensions over the sharing of wealth between local actors. URBALTOUR's intersectional approach to inequalities in the access to tourism resources will enable us to assess the inequalities and discriminations at work, and push forward sustainable alternatives. By doing so, URBALTOUR fully contributes to the scientific axis "Urban societies, territories, constructions and mobilities", and more specifically to theme 1, "City Territories", addressing issues on growth, morphology and urban planning, urban practices of tourist mobility, governance and citizen engagement, as well as management and revival of heritage.

URBALTOUR poses two fundamental hypotheses: 1/ Tourism is a vehicle for new urban models, whether in terms of means of transport, architecture, urban expansion or management. 2/ Tourism contributes to profound restructuring of stakeholder systems, leading to renewed modes of governance and legitimizing forms of violence in urban production.

The methodology of the project is hybrid, combining quantitative and qualitative methods. On a macro level, the intention is to establish an inventory of hill stations and measure the ties between tourism and urbanization through GIS and spatial analysis. On a micro scale, a comparative methodology will be deployed across 6 research field selected for their representativity according to 4 comparative dimensions: a/ the tools of urban production by and for tourism, b/ the distinctive use of colonial heritage, c/ the reclaiming of mountains through the design and practice of tourist sites, and d/ a digital ethnography of online city branding and tourist practices.

Covering the three largest European colonial empires, the novelty of URBALTOUR is double: 1/ it theoretically supports the concept of subaltern urbanization within neglected fields, thus contributing to a new epistemology of the urban, and 2/ it focuses on domestic tourist flows, rather than international ones, thereby decentering knowledge in a postcolonial perspective.

Finally, the URBALTOUR project strengthens inter-UMIFRE collaborations between the Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC), for the Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian part of the project, and the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), for the Indian and Sri Lankan part.

Project coordinator

Madame EMMANUELLE PEYVEL (Institut de Recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-est Contemporaine)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

IFP Institut Français de Pondichéry
LAM LES AFRIQUES DANS LE MONDE
IRASEC Institut de Recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-est Contemporaine
EVS UMR 5600 - ENVIRONNEMENT, VILLE, SOCIETE
Département d'histoire Université de Toronto

Help of the ANR 329,648 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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