Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nicaragua: the road to ‘pacification’

The transformation of Managua’s road system should be seen as a case of “infrastructural violence” which is intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice, argues Dennis Rodgers (BWPI).

Managua has undergone many metamorphoses during the past half century. The reasons range from a devastating earthquake in 1972 to the utopian urban planning of the Sandinista revolution during the 1980s, and subsequent attempts by right-wing post-revolutionary governments to erase these material and symbolic traces of Sandinismo. Since 1998, however, Managua has undergone a remarkable and wide-ranging makeover, which has fundamentally changed the metropolis’ morphology in an unprecedented manner.

From a ramshackle, sprawled out, and impoverished city widely nicknamed “la ciudad caótica” (“the chaotic city”), the metropolis has been completely re-organized, its transport network improved, new buildings erected, and it now has numerous expensive restaurants, bars, night clubs, hotels, casinos, designer stores, and malls. Although these transformations can be linked to the post-1990 market economy suppressed during the Sandinista period, the city’s makeover has also been the result of a very purposeful process of state-led planned transformation.

This is especially obvious when considering the striking transformation of Managua’s legendarily abysmal road infrastructure over the past decade and a half. As late as 1997, potholes were a chronic driving hazard, traffic was chaotic, car-jackings frequent and there was no discernable logic to the city’s byzantine road infrastructure. By 2000, the Managua municipality had carried out a large-scale programme to fill in the potholes, resurfaced and widened the major arteries of the metropolis, built a suburban bypass, and replaced traffic lights with roundabouts.

These works ostensibly aimed to speed up traffic and reduce congestion, but when considered on a map, a definite pattern emerges whereby the new roads predominantly connect locations associated with the lives of the urban elite, for example linking the (newly re-modelled) international airport to the Presidential palace to malls to the “Zona Rosa” of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to the exclusive Las Colinas and Santo Domingo neighbourhoods, and so on. This particular road network has enabled the urban elite to move safely between the different points of their lives, no longer impeded by potholes, congestion, traffic lights, or crime (roundabouts considerably reducing the risk of being car-jacked).

As such, Managua’s pattern of road development has been the keystone of a veritable process of socio-spatial “disembedding”, whereby a whole layer of the city’s fabric has been “ripped out” from the general patchwork quilt of the metropolis and constituted as a “Nueva Managua” (New Managua) that is exclusively for the rich, who now live in what could be termed “splendid segregation”. At the same time, however, the process arguably goes further than this, with the road building also constituting a means of actively “pacifying” the poor, as the view from barrio Carlos Fonseca highlights well.

Barrio Carlos Fonseca is a settlement of approximately 1,500 inhabitants and about 180 households in the South-East of the city. The neighbourhood has little to distinguish it from other poor neighbourhoods in the area, except for the fact that the pista Cardenal Miguel Obando y Bravo extends through it. The pista is a four-lane highway that cuts East-West across South-Central Managua, and was built in three stages for a total cost of US$5.6 million, or about 10% of the Managua Municipality’s budget.

The first two stages of building the pista in 2006-07 involved widening and improving pre-existing roads. The third stage, in 2008, involved literally bulldozing throughbarrio Carlos Fonseca. This affected 40 households in the neighbourhood: 16 houses were completely destroyed, and 24 were partially destroyed. The details that emerged about this process from interviews that I carried out in the neighbourhood in 2009 suggest that there was very little consultation, differential compensation, and also likely instances of corruption. None of this is very surprising, however –political clientelism is a well-established practice in Nicaragua, as is corruption, and undermining possibilities for organized resistance through “divide and rule” tactics makes eminent sense.

The consequences of the pista’s construction for local barrio life have been devastating, however. Many of those whose houses were affected but not completely destroyed have found themselves living in cramped conditions. In one case, there were 19 people living in 3 rooms instead of the 6 they had previously had. Only 3 of the 16 families whose houses were completely destroyed accepted re-location outside the barrio, and the Municipality re-settled the rest in a baseball field in the neighbourhood, providing them with materials to build houses that were generally not as spacious or solid as their previous ones.

The baseball field had moreover until then constituted a primary focus for neighbourhood socialization, and the re-settlement consequently eliminated thebarrio’s primary area of public space. As a local inhabitant called Don Victor told me: “Where are the youth supposed to meet and play ball now? They used to get together in the park all the time, and we’d all gather to watch them, and you would be able to chat to other inhabitants of the barrio. Now you just talk to your neighbour, and even then, hardly ever, because everybody stays locked up in their homes due to the crime and insecurity, so it’s just hello and goodbye whenever you’re coming or going…”

The pista also literally cut the barrio in half, significantly changing local attitudes and behaviour patterns. As Doña Angelina explained: “you go less to the other side, you don’t see people anymore, there’s no exchange… If you go to the other side, they say to you, ‘but you’re from the other side’, which never happened before, we were all from barrio Carlos Fonseca, now it’s like you have Carlos Fonseca 1 and Carlos Fonseca 2.”

Although negative views about the new road were widespread, there simultaneously existed a clear acceptance. A local youth called Mungo for example responded to my critiques by saying “hey maje, this road, it’s progress, and you can’t stop progress, we’ve gotta keep on moving forward to improve things in the city…” Similarly, Doña Angelina once told me: “you know, I don’t mind living next to thepista. It’s beautiful at night, when it’s all lit up. There are no street lights in the barrio, but here yes, and so you feel that here you have progress, you know.”

Such discourses reflect a socio-psychological process of “pacification”, in the sense developed by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process, wherein he traces how the assimilation of a particular discourse can condition the world view of individual social agents in ways that lead them to conform. Individuals become “psychologized” into a dominant value system, even if it is oppressive and unequal, and Doña Angelina or Mungo had clearly internalized a vision of Managua’s infrastructural development that led them to believe in the inevitability – and indeed, the necessity – of transformation, irrespective of its negative impact on their lives.

When viewed from this perspective, a case can be made that Managua’s makeover constitutes a case of what might be termed “infrastructural violence”. This goes beyond seeing infrastructure simply as instrumental to instances of oppression and domination, but rather considers it as intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice. In other words, the issue here is not so much that political economy and infrastructure are inevitably interrelated, but rather the way a particular articulation of the two can come together to purposefully produce outcomes such as “pacification” in barrioCarlos Fonseca.

This is important because much recent writing belonging to the so-called “infrastructural turn” has adopted a view of urban infrastructures as complex “assemblages”, that is to say highly contingent, unplanned, and often temporary material configurations. This arguably obscures the way in which infrastructural development can constitute an intrinsic basis for oppressive forms of domination in cities. The concept of “infrastructural violence”, on the other hand, provides a lens through which to capture this. When seen from such a perspective, Managua’s makeover emerges unambiguously as a deliberate reengineering of metropolitan topography by an urban elite aiming to both segregate and manage the poor in the city. Both in terms of intent and consequence, such a pernicious process merits being labelled “violent”, but doing so also squarely situates blame and responsibility, and as such is the first step towards trying to transform this profoundly unjust reality.

This article was first published on (8 November 2011)

Cafe Historique

Dominique Tessier
Local Historian + Museum Consultant
Founder of Manchester’s Cafe Historique
November 2011

Since its creation in Autum 2009, the Cafe Historique has been presenting talks, discussions and quiz events promoting new interpretive approaches to local history. A recent focus on the history of science and medecine led to surprising discoveries such, as mentioned below, Sigmund Freud’s stay in Manchester.

I still marvel at your description of the seven weeks spent in 1875 visiting your brothers in Manchester, England. If the verbal portraits of your brothers and city were paintings, they would be displayed in a prominent gallery in Vienna.

Source: Letter written in 1883 by Martha Bernays to Sigmund Freud

“Freud and Manchester Historical Women” was the Cafe Historique’s first quiz event. Fascinating links between psychoanalysis and Thomas de Quincey were also explored. Born in Cross Street, Manchester in 1785, the author of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater is credited for the first use of the word subconscious. Interestingly de Quincey lived in Moss Side which, as illustrated by the quote below contributed to its status a prime touristic attraction to cosmopolitan Victorian travellers such as William Sanders Scarborough.

Manchester is rich in libraries as I found under Dr. Axon’s guidance. The famous Chetham Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare manuscripts – most interesting to an antiquarian. Then there is the John Rutland’s Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare and ancient manuscripts which includes the costly Althorp Library of Earl Spencer, totaling some 90,000 volumes of the finest collection of Bibles in the sixth century. There is also a Free Reference Library of 125,000 volumes. I could have spent months among these books with Dr. Axon’s enriching knowledge and comment to aid me. Add to this the small De Quincey collection in Greenheys near Dr. Axon and we understand something of the city’s wealth in books.

Source: William Sanders Scarborough, The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship

This quote was read by Elizabeth Gow, Archivist at the John Rylands Library, during her talk on Cuba born Enriqueta Rylands – it was presented as part of the Cafe Historique’s Manchester Women series (March 2011). Back to Greenheys – sometimes spelled Green Hayes – in one of her memoirs, Suffragette and Pan Africanist campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst provides an interesting description.

Green Hayes: the very name seems caressing. In its garden were borders of London pride; the starry little pick flowerets wonderfully beautiful amid the black soot of Manchester; like fairy flowers (…)

Volumes have been written about Greenheys and its police station…

On 8 July 1981 more than 1,000 mostly young people besieged Greenheys police station on what is now Charles Halle Road and tried to batter their way inside before being repelled.
Source: The Manchester Compendium: A Street-by-Street History of England’s Greatest Industrial City, Ed Glinert

Named after one of its most famous residents, Charles Halle Road deserves closer historical investigation. Sir Charles Halle, German conductor and founder of the Halle Orchestra resided there with his family for about 40 years. His first wife Desiree, native of New Orleans, was related to French painter Edgar Degas.


Interestingly in 1914 Jerome Caminada, Manchester’s first Victorian detective, died a short walk away from Moss Side Police station. “One of the Manchester’s most successful thief-takers”, he was according to Don Hale “of mixed race parentage with an Irish mother and an Italian father”. Caminada’s autobiographical “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life” (1895) – is a must read as it challenges current stereotypical understanding of Manchester’s crime and gang culture.

The Manchester with all its great moral, religious and political associations, its commercial enterprise recognised in every part of the world, and its corresponding wealth, still has its dark spots.

Areas such as Deansgate are one of the dark spots covered in “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life”.

Within an arrow’s flight of the princely grandeur of the Town Hall may be seen many dreary dwellings of misery and wretchedness.

For the very first time this October, the Cafe Historique presented a Black History Month programme which opened at Victoria Baths, Manchester (02/10/11) with a talk by Bill Williams on early Black communities in Ordsall and Greengate. Bill stressed that Black presence in Manchester has been continual for at least 200 years. With the opening of its Ship Canal in 1894, Manchester joined a global network port cities which led to the formation of new urban communities including newcomers, such as a Japanese hairdresser, arrested in the 1920s for using his salon as a front to store contraband goods.

From beginning to end, amazing connections and historical facts were revealed throughout this first Black History Month. The last talk, The 1945 Pan African Congress: Manchester contribution (28/10/11) by Washington Alcott, Manchester’s city centre as home to an influential cosmopolitan pan africanist hub led by Guyana born T. R.Makonnen, key funder of the 1945 Pan African Congress and owner of several businesses. His Pan African Federation and Bookshop was located at 58 Oxford Road – it might have been visited by Sylvia Pankhurst who was a friend of T. R. Makonnen. She also corresponded with African American Sociologist and President of the 1945 Pan African Congress W.E.B. Dubois, who at the time of her death wrote:

I realised … that the great of Sylvia Pankhurst was to introduce Black Ethiopia to White England, to give the martyred Emperor of Ethiopia a place of refuge during his exile and make the British people realise that Black folks had more and more to be recognised as human beings with the rights women and men.
Source: The Correspondence of W.E.B. Dubois: Volume III, Selections 1944 – 1963

Each Cafe Historique event is an invitation to reconsider both the nature and the geography of Manchester’s history. When it comes to exploring the cosmopolitan nature of the local, autobiographies and comparative family histories are the key tools used by the Cafe Historique. Focusing on individual histories allow to effectively fill current historical interpretative gaps and challenge stereotypical approaches to “community histories”. In keeping with a long standing local tradition, the Cafe Historique also promotes the free exchange of knowledge and the creation of new self-learning networks.

More information about Cafe Historique at or email

Mapping Manchester

by Chris Perkins (Geography, School of Environment and Development)

Maps tell many different stories and their social significance and reach waxes and wanes. In 2011 mapping has gained a striking cultural popularity, with the form more frequently deployed than at any time in human history. A huge profusion of maps are called into being on desktops, mobile devices and as hard paper copies. Across society there is a fascination with mapping – planners map out possible developments; scientists communicate results in mapping; politicians use maps to persuade; the media use mapping to attract attention to stories and evidence; and in everyday life prosaic uses of mapping develop apace, from practical devices to help us navigate the city, to strikingly different views into a past long gone. More people are making maps now than at any time – DIY cartographers collaborate to map the city in new ways and artists use mapping to question taken-for granted certainties about urban life. So maps are very much on the agenda.

This blog posting is an intervention in the process of researching the roles that mapping plays in urban life. It relates to a search for Mancunian cartographic narratives – a progress report, highlighting some of the stories that will feature in a monograph to be published by Manchester University Press in 2013, but also revealing the often ambiguous and contested roles that mapping has played and continues to play in urban life, and the challenges maps present for researchers.

At the beginning of 2009 Martin Dodge and I designed a new public exhibition – Mapping Manchester: Cartographic Stories of the City – that sought to reveal some of the significant ways in which mapping is ingrained into urban life. It demonstrated how maps work and change over time in response to technology, society and economic imperatives, highlighting visually striking maps of the city.The Mapping Manchester exhibition was on display in the Historic Reading Room of the John Rylands Library on Deansgate, Manchester from June 2009 until end of March 2010. It showcased the wealth of cartographic material held by the University of Manchester and other institutions in the city – with generous loans of material from the Manchester City Library and Archives, Chetham’s Library, and number of individuals, including little seen maps and obscure plans.

The exhibition proved the most popular to be mounted in Rylands, generating considerable media coverage and public interest. It kick-started an ongoing research interest in the mapping of the city, paralleling the burgeoning social interest in mapping. The exhibition revealed a series of snapshots into different mapping worlds. Our book allows us to broaden and deepen the scope of these views. We are organising material into 15 different narratives, adding to the ten themes highlighted in the original exhibition. Published mapping of Manchester has predominantly reflected elite discourses, and its development and diffusion parallels the growth of the Victorian city. Mapping charts urban growth, but also allows authorities to control space and govern sometimes unruly subjects and bodies. Housing and health continue to preoccupy mapmakers. Mapping also facilitates moving through the city, in the form of plans of newly emerging infrastructures from canals, railways, and roads to contemporary investment in cellphone coverage or fibreoptic provision. Maps of the city do not only depict what is there – they allow us to call new possibilities into being by offering views into possible futures. There is money to be made through mapping, but also in using the practical appeal of the medium to oil the wheels of capitalism and facilitate accumulation. But mapping also offers a space where alternative and more subversive voices can be heard. An environmental chapter allows us to explore the role of mapping in the greening of the city. The polemical role of maps as a persuasive form is also highlighted and a chapter highlights the often subtle interactions between maps and their makers and users. We are currently writing a chapter focusing on the current profusion of map art, from many different traditions, such as the striking displays on the Piccadilly Station Metrolink platforms from artist Daksha Patel, mapping lung tissue on to the city to question the relations of our embodied experience to the built urban form.

The book has space for many more illustrations than were possible in the original exhibition. A much more sustained analysis of mapping becomes possible when there is space for 120 000 words, and the book design features full colour display throughout. Researching however is often a frustrating process. The timescale for research coincides with the temporary closure of Manchester City Library, and in the short-term some material has been inaccessible. Only a tiny percentage of published mapping can be included in the finished volume. We have spent many hours trawling through archives searching for the hidden gem, lurking undocumented and unseen. Our carefully developed inclusion criteria may well privilege the visually striking over the more prosaic. We are limited by the page format. Our focus on particular stories means others are left untold.

Who knows – we may find the elusive hidden gem of the map documenting emerging global links of cottonopolis! There is still six months to go before our files close. So if you are a map addict or know of a fascinating map story please email us.