This panel explores transforming urban neighbourliness. By examining everyday practices of social exclusion as moral boundary making, papers focus on the privatisation of morality, exploitation of the vulnerable, and balance of individual self-interest with community participation and belonging.
In 2011, footage of a busy market lane in the industrial city of Foshan in Guangdong Province captured 18 unperturbed people passing by the body of a fatally injured toddler who had been run over twice by a van. The incident provoked observers to question whether the nation had become one of self-absorbed individuals unconcerned for one another. Other child deaths received far less attention. In 2014, neighbours in Surabaya, Indonesia did not intervene as a 6-month-old girl starved to death, claiming her parent's lack of community participation made him unworthy of assistance. Outrageous to some, unnoticed by others, these examples highlight a tension in contemporary urban Asia between the power and agency of individuals and communities to harm and/or protect. Choosing to disregard or exclude may involve planned and deliberate actions, such as installing padlocked gates to prevent outsiders presumed thieves entering laneways of previously open neighbourhoods; policing urban worker dormitory curfews to conform to a growing sexual conservatism; or guarding exclusive malls and housing estates to distance strangers from comfortable middle classes. These everyday practices of harm and protection establish moral zones delimited by real physical boundaries that limit free circulation of individuals. Yet the urban Southeast Asian street too has become more exclusionary, offering people little claim to it other than as disengaged flaneur-like consumers caught in private worlds. This panel calls for analytical papers based on empirical case studies that extend our thinking about the interplay between individuality, community, belonging, incivility and immorality in urban Asia.