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Title: The politics of shaping space : a socio-political approach to the narrative of space production in Slemani, Iraqi Kurdistan, between 2003 and 2013
Author: Ali, Yahia
ISNI:       0000 0004 7431 8548
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2018
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This PhD offers an insight into the powers that governed processes of space production in the city of Slemani, the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It concentrates on the decade proceeding the US-led war which consequently overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. In addition to exploring the role of power, the thesis proposes an alternative strategy for political space making; a strategy which grew out of both the literature review and the subsequent analysis of the forces of productivity which exist in the city. The research studies the built environment within the Kurdish context, choosing to take an atypical socio-political approach which is developed in relation to western literature. An original conceptual framework is largely constructed through the use of ‘elite’ theory as well as Henri Lefebvre’s readings of space. Both of these scholarly concepts help to set the scene for an empirical investigation. The methodology is designed from a qualitative perspective, which in turn curates an approach centred on case studies. These studies highlight three spatial categories which differ in scale and feature the following: investment-driven projects, government-sponsored construction and privately-sponsored housing. The objective behind splitting the cases into three categories ranging from macro to micro scales was to reveal how social forces interact on different levels. These cases were chosen according to the power of their producers, as well as their physical properties (cost, location and scale). Data was collected through the methods of ‘mapping controversies’ and questionnaires. It was then analysed from a thematic lens with the support of three techniques: story configuration, mapping and descriptive analysis. The thesis concludes that certain intellectual, business and political decision makers exerted significant influence over processes of shaping the built environment, leaving extremely narrow opportunity for the rest of the inhabitants of the city to involve. This mode of spatial production has prompted unprecedented urban segregation because it resulted in the creation of ‘abstract spaces’, which are detached from their social, natural and historical contexts. Interestingly, power relations among social groups changed according to the scale of space: the city inhabitants did not challenge the authority of decision makers who had repurposed and commodified urban lands. However, important to note, is that these same inhabitants reacted and opposed decision makers when it came to the negotiation of their private spaces. This, generally speaking, indicates that the inhabitants paid more attention and were perhaps more invested in the nature of their private interests rather than public concerns. The politics of shaping space in Slemani, and other Kurdish cities, has been heavily criticised by numerous voices including academics and some urban officials, who have appealed for comprehensive alternatives. Therefore, this PhD proposes two sets of reforms: one is tangible and targets formal and informal governing structures, and the second is intangible. The latter has an ideological nature and aims to improve social consciousness in regard to space making. Similarly, it also encourages the local community to question the multiplicity of power structures which are commonly taken for granted. In a broad sense, the thesis contributes to theoretical, methodological and pragmatic arguments. Each of them is derived from one of the main components of this research. The theoretical contribution is related to the literature chapter and the pragmatic to the empirical study. Moreover, the methodological input is focused on creating a novel empirical approach based on the complex philosophical works of Lefebvre, who has been criticised by his scholars for not introducing a well-defined methodology. The thesis also customises the method of ‘mapping controversies’ in order to suit the scope of the research. The pragmatic contribution is divided into two levels: the actual and the alternate. The first is related to the role of identifying the underlying nature of the politics of spatial configuration in the context of Slemani, and the second is connected to the propositions that have been made as alternatives to the specific political approach found in the city or beyond it. In other words, Slemani is viewed here as a typical symbol of the urban transformations which have occurred in other cities within Iraqi Kurdistan, namely Erbil and Dohuk. Thus, the outcomes of this work can be mobilised elsewhere in the region, or even potentially outside this geographical territory.
Supervisor: Schneider, Tatjana Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available