The poor and working people – the majority – in cities of the South find themselves in urban spaces that are conventionally construed as places to reside, to inhabit. But what if we thought of popular districts in more expansive ways that capture what really goes on within them? In such cities, popular districts are the settings of more uncertain operations that take place under the cover of darkness, generating uncanny alliances among disparate bodies, materials and things and expanding the urban sensorium and its capacities for liveliness. They display a kind of urban infrapolitics under the shadow of the state and other vectors of power and potentiality that have yet to be properly conceptualized or harnessed by a politics of the just city.
In this important new book AbdouMaliq Simone explores the nature of these alliances through ideas of improvisation in postcolonial urbanism, Jazz, Black and Islamic studies, and subaltern literature. Drawing on material from South and Southeast Asia, he portrays urban districts as sites of enduring transformations through rhythms that mediate between the needs of residents not to draw too much attention to themselves and their aspirations to become a small niche of exception, adding something different to the fabric of mere survival. Here we discover an urban South that exists, not as a promise of justice and equality in waiting, but as dense rhythms of endurance that turn out to be vital for survival, connectivity, and becoming.