Informal Session: Possessing the Pacific City: A Comparative Dispossessions Working Group
Organizer: Jennifer Day, University of Melbourne (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Panel and Organisers: Jennie Day, Monical Minnegal, Benedicta Rousseau, The University of Melbourne, Barbara Andersen, Massey University
For decades, Pacific people have persisted in possessing the city, despite colonial exclusion, the necessity of building lives on land owned by others, and disagreement about their belonging in the city. In recent years, horrific mass evictions have plagued the Pacific cityscape. At the same time, moral assertions of tenure, customary arrangements, and government institutions provide some tenure security for the large majority of city-dwellers. There are secure places to live in the city, it seems, until the mechanisms that support them break down.
People have many strategies for securing their place in the city. There are also many technologies that have been effective in dispossessing people of those places. Across the Pacific, there is a fundamental tension between a sense of nationhood grounded in customary tenure, and a sense of the city as a place that to which everyone in the nation (or province) have a right. As urbanisation increases, these tensions may become increasingly difficult to manage.
All of this local possession of the city occurs in parallel with climate change and rising sea levels. Pacific people are currently grappling with the very existence of their islands. Vanuatu, for instance, has recently commenced its internal process of requesting a climate change Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (the World Court). If recent experiences with forced evacuations are a representative example, people may reassemble in more-urbanised settings than they left. The 2017 and 2018 evacuations of Ambae island in Vanuatu due to a volcanic eruption saw many people migrate to urban areas.
This session continues our previous session from 2021. We seek to understand how Pacific cities are possessed, and how people are dispossessed of their places there. Land management and insecure tenure are at the core of many conflicts over how to adapt cities for climate and disaster resilience, the need for which is central to current donor funding and aid programming for the Pacific. Public officials, landowners, and community members alike are distressed by the evictions happening in Pacific cities. We envision a project that will enable these city-builders to talk to each other about why tenure works and how it fails for some claimants, and about how new urban arrivals find a place in the city that is more or less exposed to weather events and hazard risks. We seek to build a team with the deep contextual expertise required to understand individual Pacific cities. We imagine also comparative analysis conducted in collaboration with regional bodies.
This informal session will lead to a working collaboration on urban evictions and an edited volume over the longer-term. This year, no paper is required, but we invite submission of working papers if you wish. Expect a lively discussion about possession-by-beautification, dispossession-by-erasure, grades of land alienation, employer-provided housing, and different ways of paying for land. We would love to include your paper, so please propose one!