302 VII. Asia in New Geographies of Theory All this means that rural dwellers can be in instant communication with relatives or friends who have moved elsewhere, can learn of national and international political developments, and can readily access information about market prices for goods they produce, making them less vulnerable to cheating by middlemen. Megacities and the
303 THE THOROUGHGOING URBANIZATION OF EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA REVISITED In Indonesia, rural areas closer to large cities tend to score better on all the indicators than those more isolated from large cities. This is consistent with McGee’s theory. 11 The zones of intense—and often rather unsightly and messy—interaction between what are traditionally thought of as urban and rural areas (called desa-kota by McGee and referred to as “mixeduse urban-rural penumbra” by Rimmer and Dick 12 ) are those where the traditional conceptualization of urban and rural really break down. I am aware that a great deal of sophisticated theoretical discussion revolves around the Lefebvre-originated “urbanization theory without an outside” literature. This literature pays attention to the processes of neoliberal capitalism and the way they impact spatial processes. Studies in this genre “cast doubt on established understandings of the urban as a bounded, nodal, and relatively self-enclosed socio-spatial condition in favor of more territorially differentiated, morphologically variable, multiscalar, and processual conceptualizations”. 13 This body of theory aims to supersede the urban/non-urban divide that has long characterized urban research, and the privileging of the city in studies of urban processes, and in that sense is highly relevant to the discussion in this paper. I agree entirely with Brenner when he takes aim at the blind spots in data-centered urbanization concepts embodied, for example, in the “urban agglomeration” data presented by the United Nations Population Division, though I think he goes a bit far in claiming that the idea that an “urban age” has “recently dawned due to the putative shift of the majority of the world’s population from the countryside to the city … presupposes a narrow, ahistorical and population-centric concept of the city that does not grasp the extraordinary scale and diversity of agglomeration processes that are associated with contemporary forms of urban development around the world”. 14 As a perhaps simple-minded demographer, I am unwilling to give up entirely on quantitative approaches to this issue. I think there are two important demographic points to be made. The first is that the proportion of population in Asian countries who live in isolated and poor rural communities is constantly shrinking, with movement to the cities or in search of work overseas. In Laos, the government is deliberately moving isolated mountain communities to consolidated settlements, in the interest of making them accessible to government-provided services and facilities. Whether they want to be so moved is a moot point—see James Scott’s 2009 book, The Art of Not Being Governed. 15 So although the differences at the extremes remain stark, the proportion of the population living either in cities and towns or in more accessible peri-urban and rural areas that are tightly drawn into the “urbanized” economy and society is constantly increasing.