The Archaeology of Decay: Ruinous Knowledge and the Violence of Urban Planning

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American Anthropologist

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Renewal plans for downtown Bogotá have been closely tied to “urban decay,” a notion that experts conceptualize as a natural trajectory to be reversed through demolition and reconstruction. Yet for residents on the west side of Bogotá’s city center, planning regulations and official systems of valuation deteriorated their neighborhoods long before the arrival of eviction notices and bulldozers. Drawing on the local analytic of “archaeology of decay,” I develop the concept of ruinous knowledge to explore urban dwellers’ archaeological sensibilities as they sift through the traces and remains of collapsing urban worlds. Shaped by the imaginaries of Colombia's history of warfare, such grounded and intimate knowledges point to the banal materialities and protracted temporalities of urban destruction and dispossession. Ultimately, they emerge as an ambiguous subaltern epistemology and political practice that uncovers the destructive violence at the core of urban planning, while remaining entangled with the normative orders of citizenship and belonging.


©2023 by the American Anthropological Association



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Wiley Online