UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seriality and invitation : knowing and struggle in Vancouver Chinatown's Historic Area Height Review Murray, Kate M.


In this project, I explore the 2011 Historic Area Height Review (HAHR) public hearings in light of questions of knowing-in-struggle. At issue in the hearings, were proposals to increase building heights in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood. As a participant, I perceived that this site of public debate also reflected broader tensions that recur within discursive dynamics of social struggle, especially in relation to meanings of development. Here, I develop an activist approach to thinking through such encounters. Participants on all sides of the HAHR debate conveyed Chinatown as a neighbourhood in crisis. However, when it came to interpreting neighbourhood changes and questions of how to save Chinatown, speakers expressed divergent understandings and even contradicting realities. My inquiry treats these disjunctures as entry points for a series of analytical movements towards the material, social, existential and historical dynamics through which these clashing public knowledges have emerged and are sustained. To do so, I especially draw on the Marxist-existentialist work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Paula Allman’s elaboration of Freire’s dialogical pedagogy, Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography and David Harvey’s work. Through this exploration, I find that divergent reports of neighbourhood change make sense when explored as accounts of complex, speculative capitalist urban development. My analysis further underscores disjunctures wherein institutional texts and policies ostensibly represent but largely misrepresent and overwrite residents’ lived experiences of (un)affordability. I trace an existential dimension of hearing debate which evokes the reversal of subject and object and relations of hostile dehumanization apparent in Sartre’s theorization of seriality. My historicized reading of discourses of Chinatown as distinct, as Chinese and as neglected potential highlights their historical instrumentality within a recurring conceptual-material dialectic of colonization-marginalization and resistance. I reconsider HAHR process to explore how, given mounting development pressure and a narrow planning focus on “height,” the social welfare concerns—and the involvement—of low-income residents were gradually rendered external to the HAHR decision. My analysis thus suggests how relations of colonization-marginalization and resistance are ongoing in the context of the HAHR, and makes a contribution towards elucidating the terrain upon which local practices of justice-oriented pedagogy, organizing and “invitation” must be pursued.

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