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Racial and Relational Urbanisms: The Spatial Politics of Afro-Colombian Emplacement in Bogotá



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Torino, Giulia 


Urban studies have often neglected the racial-colonial grounds on which space-power and space- subjectivity articulations operate in Latin America. This dissertation addresses that gap by exploring the city of Bogotá as normatively mestizo, epistemically white and factually blind to racialised practices of societal and spatial organisation. It maintains that urban space-making is still governed by racial coloniality despite being increasingly challenged by relational ontologies of life.

By drawing on longitudinal and mobile fieldwork, the research employed participant observation, ethnographic field diaries, oral histories, and semi-structured interviews with residents, academics, urban professionals, activists, government officers, and social organisations. It examines complex entanglements of racial and spatial formations at the conjuncture of forced displacement, social inequality, territorial stigma, urban divisions, neoliberal governance, and the urbanisation of ethnicity. It shows how such intersections articulate border dynamics of simultaneous confinement and contention, rather than bare “marginality” or “peripherality.”

After an overview of key literature, the research examines the racial-colonial underpinnings of urban modernity and neoliberal multiculturalism in Bogotá. It then illustrates how the racialisation of Afro- Colombian bodies and subjectivities shape contemporary urban space, while race is concealed under a multiplicity of guises. Subsequently, different trajectories of collective black life are reconstructed and analysed, pointing to the need to expose not only the racial secretions of coloniality but also the spatial relations that govern everyday life and the politics of emplacement. Conclusively, the research shows how Afro-Colombian spatial praxis and everyday tactics of placemaking can foreshadow new urban futures for the pluri-ethnic Latin American city.

While broadening studies on postcolonial urbanism through disciplinary intersections, this research proposes a decolonial research agenda for urban studies, urging a special attentiveness to its scarcity in Colombia. Finally, it complements global and Southern urban literature with Critical Black Geographies and Latin American debates on coloniality and multiculturalism.





Hernández, Felipe


Latin America, Race, Cities, Relationality, Decoloniality, Afro-Colombians, Place, Territory, Southern urbanism, Postcolonial urbanism, Multiculturalism, Displacement, Conflict, Mestizaje, Urban ethnography


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC-DTP) and King’s College jointly financed this doctoral research during the first three years. Additional funds from the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Political Economy Society, and King’s College sustained the fourth year. Multiple travels to Colombia were financed by the AHRC-DTP, the Department of Architecture, Kettle’s Yard, the Worts Fund at the University of Cambridge, and the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS).