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Panel 51. Unsettling Epistemologies of the North: A critique of urban knowledge production from the north


  • Vafa Danati, Teaching Assistant, Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London, London, UK (
  • Raktim Ray, Lecturer, development planning unit, UCL,


Academic extractivism encompasses the relentless excavation of research ‘fields’ and ‘subjects’ in the global South and by the global North academia, in an exploitative manner, for the purpose of research project development and driven by the pursuit of research funding. Academic extractivism as such performs as a disruptive force within academia with the capacity to skew research priorities, favouring quantifiable, short-term outcomes at the expense of profound and enduring impacts on disadvantaged communities and predominantly serving individualistic purposes of intellectual recognition and academic promotion. By doing so, it reproduces a form of ‘conditional inclusion’ where subaltern and indigenous subjects are often becomes sources of data (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2012). In this process of academic value extraction, knowledge not only becomes decontextualised but also the legitimacy of certain knowledge is solely dependent upon how the north represents them (Grosfoguel, 2007; Simpson, 2014; Cruz and Luke, 2020). Due to this data harvesting process the produced knowledge disproportionately benefits the north. Consequently, such activities in the subaltern/indigenous context perpetuate a cycle of underrepresentation and exploitation which leads to a discrete form of commodification of poverty in the global South and value extraction and the accumulation of cultural capital in the North.

The commodification of poverty and urban inequalities inadvertently distil the multifaceted experiences of marginalized populations into overly simplified narratives. These tendencies, aside from reinforcing stereotypes, contribute to the perpetuation of existing social inequalities.

Furthermore, epistemic extractivism, when coupled with the replication of colonial relations, presents a constellation of ethical dilemmas by marginalizing the voices and knowledge of disadvantaged communities. Such exclusionary practices engender exploitative research endeavours that inadequately address the real social challenges faced by these communities, rather paradoxically fetishizing their struggles.

Against this background, this session calls for an exploration of the dynamics inherent in academic extractivism particularly in the fields of urban and regional development. The session seeks contributions from scholars/ artists particularly from indigenous, ethic/racial studies to engage with the following critical inquiries and beyond, with regional variations and perspectives being encouraged:

  • In what ways does academic extractivism decontextualize and potentially misrepresent knowledge from the global South, and how can this be addressed to promote more equitable and contextually relevant research?
  • How can academia effectively balance the imperative of securing research funding with the preservation of academic rigor, integrity, and ethical commitment?
  • What role does epistemic extractivism play in perpetuating colonial relations and marginalizing the voices and knowledge of marginalized communities? How can these exclusionary practices be challenged and overcome?
  • What pedagogical strategies can be effectively deployed to instil a profound sense of responsibility and ethical comportment among researchers and scholars, especially concerning their interactions with marginalized communities?
  • How can the concept of epistemic deference be pragmatically integrated into academic research, nurturing a climate of reverence for diverse knowledge sources and the voices of marginalized communities?

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