Suburban Place-making. Political Economic Coalitions and 'Place Instinctiveness' (Antwerp, c.1860-1940)

Date: 21 February 2020

Venue: UAntwerpen - Promotiezaal, Klooster van de Grauwzusters - Lange Sint-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 3:00 PM

PhD candidate: Laura May

Principal investigator: Ilja Van Damme & Stijn Oosterlynck

Short description: PhD defence by Laura May - Faculty of Arts


In urban studies, a specific process of urbanisation, namely suburbanisation, has remained understudied for a long time. This doctoral dissertation wants to contribute to the growing literature on suburbanisation in addressing three new research agendas that have been called upon by several authors in the past years: a global perspective, a longitudinal approach and an inside perspective. First, in recent years, the Global Suburbanisms research project has been expanding our knowledge on suburbanisation across the world. With my Belgian case study, I want to contribute to the growing literature studying other parts of the world. Second, with my historical research approach, looking into processes and development paths within Antwerp suburbs in between 1860 and 1940, I am explicitly developing a longitudinal perspective on suburbanisation. The inside perspective, at last, means that one does not look at a suburb as dependent and inferior to the city, but as an entity with its own history, place distinctiveness and volatile relations with the wider metropolitan region. By using a relational definition of suburbs, I will also address this last research agenda.

This PhD is concerned with place-making in the urban periphery of Antwerp, Belgium during the period 1860-1940, focussing on the role of political economic elites in these processes of (sub)urbanisation. This thesis develops a theoretically informed historical perspective on how these 19th and early-20th century suburbs were being made. My focus is on the agency of the local political economic elites and their relations and interactions with supralocal institutions, with a particular interest in how they shaped suburban place-making processes through their discourses and actions. On an overarching level, this PhD aims at combining two academic fields: urban history and urban theory. By using historical sources and by digging deep into the historical context, I aim to unveil the historical complexity of (sub)urbanisation processes, which allows me to nuance and refine (contemporary) theoretical concepts and frameworks. The theoretical framework that structures this PhD is based on the growth machine thesis, an American political economic theory with a strong emphasis on agency and discourse. One of the aims of this PhD is to test the applicability of these Anglo-Saxon political economic theoretical concepts for studying other institutional contexts.