Subaltern Urbanism
The first Mellon-supported seminar on topics related to spatial inequality.


This seminar asks how spatial politics intersect with economic inequality and social difference (race, gender, caste, and ethnicity) to produce marginalized and stigmatized spaces such as “favelas,” “slum,” and “ghettos.” The seminar draws on the convergent yet distinct urban trajectories of Bombay/Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro as a place from which to explore questions of comparative and global urbanism from an explicitly South-South perspective. That is, we ask how Bombay and Rio’s distinct yet connected urbanity might force us to alter our approaches to the city; approaches that are largely drawn from modular Euro-American paradigms for understanding urbanization as coeval with modernity, as well as industrialization. We do so in this seminar by focusing on people and practices—subaltern urbanity (and on those whose labor produced the modern city), as well as on spatial orders—the informal or unintended city—to ask the question: “what makes and unmakes a city?” How might questions about built form, industrialization, capital flows, and social life and inhabitation that takes the perspective of “city theory from the Global South” shed new understanding on the history of the city, the extranational frames of colonial modernity, and the ongoing impact of neoliberalism? How can we rethink critical concepts in urban studies (precarity, spatial segregation, subalternity, economies of eviction, urban dispossession) through embedded studies of locality and lifemaking?

This seminar is co-taught by Professors Ana Paulina Lee and Anupama Rao.


The seminar is supported by the Center for Spatial Research with a grant to support the development of new courses that focus on topics that address spatial inequality from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including the humanities and the arts, and through innovative teaching approaches. Additional support for this course is provided by the Social Sciences Research Council. 

Spring 2020 Registration Information

LAIC 6892/CPLS GU 4892
Tuesday 6:10-8 PM
Casa Hispanica 505
Call number: 15776
Open to students within GSAS, GSAPP, Barnard and Columbia Colleges, School of General Studies, and others by permission. This course includes an optional digital mapping workshop component.

Enrollment by permission, apply here

Jia Zhang Contributes to "Who We Are" at the Museum of the City of New York


Powers of Ten: Census Edition and Cross-sections Map for New York City are on view at the Museum of the City of New York. Both maps aim to change the interfaces designed for Census data by using physical scale and experiences as orienting concepts for visualizing the contents of the Census.

These two digital maps designed by Mellon Associate Research Scholar, Jia Zhang, are being exhibited as part of "Who We Are," from November 22, 2019-September 20, 2020.

About "Who We Are":
New York City is a dense, chaotic mosaic of some eight and a half million people, each with their own individual stories. How can we possibly understand and describe this endlessly complex collectivity – what we share and what distinguishes us? Census data has long been a resource used to draw out unexpected and provocative patterns, connections, and insights about who New Yorkers are since our nation’s first count in 1790. In anticipation of the 2020 census, Who We Are: Visualizing NYC by the Numbers showcases work not just by data analysts and demographers, but also by cutting-edge contemporary artists and designers who use these tools to enliven and humanize statistics and to shed new light on how we understand our urban environment and ourselves. Together, these intriguing and varied works demonstrate the power and importance of numbers in helping us understand who we are.
Read more here.

In Plain Sight at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture
Image still from In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight, a collaboration between Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan, and Robert Gerard Pietrusko with the Center for Spatial Research, will open on May 26, 2018 in Venice, Italy.

The installation is conceived and designed for Dimensions of Citizenship, the US Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, commissioned by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago. The installation will be on view through November 25.

In Plain Sight presents anomalies in population distribution seen in nighttime satellite imagery of Earth and census grid counts produced by governments worldwide — revealing places with bright lights and no people and places with people and no lights—thus, challenging our assumptions about geographies of belonging and exclusion.

Several events are planned during the opening weekend, May 24-27, featuring project collaborators Laura Kurgan, Elizabeth Diller, Robert Pietrusko. See the full schedule of events on the Dimensions of Citizenship website here.