Monthly Archives: February 2013

Progress on a cities@manchester seedcorn project to investigate the consequences of the 2011 riots in Greater Manchester

Jon Shute, Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice, School of Law

Image via flickr from NightFall404

Memories, like attention-spans, can be short, and it already seems a long time since the community of Pendleton in Salford, and Manchester City centre erupted into full-scale public disorder in August 2011. It is also difficult to recall the radically different nature of those riot sites only a few kilometres apart; the former associated with strong and longstanding anti-police sentiments; the latter being much more consumer goods focussed. Nearly 400 people were arrested, and 300 charged with riot-related offences; and the bill for policing, property damage and loss ran into millions of pounds. A disproportionate number of poor and (in the City centre) minority ethnic youth were arrested and given an unusually high proportion of unusually long prison sentences. A significant number of first time offenders were also dealt with harshly. The riots therefore raised a serious set of issues relating to legal and material inequality, and on the urban landscape in austerity-era Britain.

In this context, a proposal was submitted and accepted by cities@manchester to develop a major research proposal to investigate the consequences of the Greater Manchester (GM) riots. Bringing together colleagues from criminology, politics, psychology and environment, the project funded the employment of a Research Associate to research and develop innovative methodologies for the bid, and to liaise with research partners in GM Probation Trust and Manchester City Council. Over the course of 2012, we contributed to the literature on the riots (see Lightowlers & Shute in issue 106 of Radical Statistics), and made a range of local contacts including Dan Silver of the Social Action & Research Foundation (SARF), in Salford. In order to produce a richer, deeper level of qualitative data than available in the very limited published work on the GM disturbances  we carried out several narrative interviews with convicted rioters, and worked with the Council to develop strategies for accessing this hard to reach population. The data arising from this work, together with more in-depth quantitative statistics is being written up as a major mixed methods piece for the British Journal of Criminology. An ESRC Research Grant proposal is also close to submission and will investigate the individual, community and systemic level consequences of the riots, hopefully starting in late 2013. This will explore, among other things, the possibly counterproductive effects of harsh sentencing, and will attempt to construct a comparison ‘snowball’ sample of people involved in the riots but not arrested and sentenced. In this way, we hope to move on from a media-driven agenda of quick-response research and simplistic causal reasoning to a fuller understanding of the lived experience and long-term trajectories of those involved in – and affected by – the disturbances.

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Understanding urban eco-systems and their cultures of participation

by Abigail Gilmore, Director of the Centre for Arts Management and Cultural PolicyInstitute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The announcement before Christmas by Newcastle City Council to axe all of its funding to city arts groups, as part of £150m budget reduction, led to much vocal protest. Petitions were raised and articles and blogposts corralled the public to protect the cultural life of the city. The concerned voices of arts infrastructure in Newcastle and Gateshead were joined by luminaries such as Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, soap actress Jill Halfpenny and rock stars Sting, Mark Knopfler and Brian Ferry. This week, the decision has been softened as a new proposal for funding arts organisations has found £600k to fill the £1.15m hole – following intervention from Harriet Harman, and behind-doors negotiation by the Arts Council with the local authority.

Early on in the period of New Austerity, Manchester signalled its intention to buck the trend of local authorities by investing in its cultural infrastructure, through major capital development plans including Home (the new Library Theatre and Cornerhouse amalgamation). Investment in the Central Library renovations and in revenue funding for the new National Football Museum take place against a background of service delivery savings of £109m in 2011/12 rising to £170m in 2012/13. Elsewhere, the Whitworth Art Gallery have begun their major capital development and other venues such as Contact Theatre are hoping to attract investment for building improvements as well as continue fund-raising for outreach and engagement work.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Behind these high profile investments, lie other less newsworthy stories. The reorganisation of music education provision as part of the National Music Plan, perhaps the  coalition Government’s  most defined area of explicit cultural policy making,  has resulted in not one but two music education ‘hubs’ for the city-region (one for the Manchester City Council footprint and the other for the remaining authorities), albeit as part of a 27% overall funding reduction to music services nation-wide. Development and investment across art-forms in the AGMA authorities has been hit by waves of local authority reorganisations and restructuring, and although there is a sub-regional strategic arts fund, obtaining investment is dependent on the capacity of arts organisations and artists to work closely with local authority officers to achieve an increasingly disproportionate amount economic impact as part of their measurable instrumental outcomes. Libraries, museums services and local authority-run heritage attractions are all subject to the increasing competition for diminishing budgets and led by an inherently shrinking capacity to defend or champion, let alone manage and fund-raise.

So for those working in the arts and cultural sector in Manchester, Salford and the other authorities in the Greater Manchester conurbation the context for engaging people as audiences and participants in their work is quite clear. But what of the other recipients of these urban cultural policies? How do these changes play out at ‘community’ level, outside of city-centres, in neighbourhoods and localities which are ill-defined by national policy frameworks? Are they recognisable in their impact on people’s daily lives or do they remain the conceit of a metropolitan arts elite, who are ultimately more concerned with rationalising their own existence?

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

From ballet to bread-making

Data from national statistics suggest that participating in arts, cultural and leisure activities has a place in the majority of people’s lives, if not on a daily basis. Taking Part statistics  find nearly 80% ‘engage in the arts’ at least once a year, and levels of museum and gallery visiting have according to these metrics risen by 10% over the survey’s lifetime to over half the population.  Similar numbers take part in active sports. Library and archive visits have decreased, reflecting changing patterns of use and consumption, and undermining arguments to keep libraries open. Taking Part does not reveal local patterns of participation however, or show whether these patterns are related to particular policy infrastructure, investments or developments. Furthermore surveys of these type are based on shared understanding of what constitutes arts and cultural activity, which is primarily ordered around formal ‘offers’ which are often venue- and institution-based. They cannot reveal much at all about participation taking place in communities, or what is means to participants in the context of their everyday lives.

A new research project lead by Manchester and involving co-investigators from four universities and from the cultural sector, in collaboration with a wide range of policy stakeholders. Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Value is a five-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of their Connected Communities: Cultures and Creative Economies programme. The project is led by Dr. Andrew Miles, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change and involves an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at universities of Manchester, Leicester, Warwick and Exeter.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The project argues that orthodox models of culture and the creative economy are based on a narrow definition of participation: one that captures engagement with traditional institutions such as museums and galleries but overlooks more informal activities such as community festivals and hobbies. The project aims to paint a broader picture of how people make their lives through culture and in particular how communities are formed and connected through participation. Fieldwork research will be taking place in villages, towns and cities in England and Scotland, beginning with the case study site of Broughton, East Salford and Cheetham, North Manchester, from Spring 2013.

The research focuses on participation as a ‘situated’ process, with ‘community’ and ‘place’ as central logics in the governance of culture, as a critical engagement with the Bourdieusan conceptualisation of cultural capital and its role in the reproduction of social structures. It will bring together evidence from historical analyses, survey data and qualitative research to understand how people participate in culture in their everyday lives and the value they attach to that participation. The empirical work has been devised to embrace different geographies of participation and the communities which are articulated, connected and reproduced within these ‘eco-systems’.

The Manchester city-region eco-system is characterised by Manchester’s rebranding as the ‘original modern city’, which draws on its history of civic engagement paralleled by investment in built creative and cultural infrastructure, alongside Salford’s more recent renaissance in the regenerated Quays.  It is not expected that these same characterisations will be upheld in the fieldwork sites of near-city centre Broughton and Cheetham, despite their geographical proximity to the heart of the cities’ creative infrastructures. The mixed methods research aims to see how these places and their cultural economies are constituted through ‘everyday participation’ to radically re-evaluate the relationship between participation and cultural value.  So, rather than measuring or analysing levels of engagement with recognised and legitimate cultural infrastructure – of Salford Quays, MediaCityUK or Manchester City Centre – the study proposes participation within communities as a source for articulating alternative understandings of value leading to a broader, more nuanced appreciation of ‘creative economies’.

In studying the situated practices of everyday lives in Northern towns, it re-treads the territory of Savage, Bagnall & Longhurst and Taylor, Evans & Fraser. The forms of participation which we expect to encounter may reflect the composition and the histories of these fieldwork sites, The demographics of the two bordering areas include high levels of benefit claimants and ‘NEET’ school-leavers, rich textured histories of immigration, great cultural and linguistic diversity, but a narrow(ing) range of public institutions – comprising libraries, churches, housing associations and lack of shared ‘neutral’ space. We will be hearing about what people do, eat, make, say, contend and ignore in order to produce their lives, and working with communities, policy makers and stakeholders to articulate the research findings in meaningful and productive ways,  to enrich knowledge of these eco-systems and their cultures of participation.

To follow the research visit www.everydayparticipation.org or follow us on Twitter @UEParticipation

Urban Jacobinism?

by Andy Merrifield, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Geography, University of Manchester

via flickr by Cocoloco Photography

via flickr by Cocoloco Photography

 

“When the government violates people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and each portion of the people, the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties?”

— Robespierre

“The history of the revolutionary movement is, first of all, the history of the links that give it its consistency”

— Agents of the Imaginary Party

One of the recurrent gripes about the movement we’ve  come to call “Occupy” — from the mass demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the eventual clearing out of Zuccotti Park — has been its failure to conceive a plan of action, a concerted strategy during its insurrection. There wasn’t and still isn’t any strategic campaign, critics says, no coordination between particular occupations, no sense of how to amalgamate and channel all that anger and dissatisfaction into a singular, unified oppositional force — one that can stick around over the long haul. (The most recent salvo is Thomas Frank’s in The Baffler magazine (#21): “With Occupy, the horizontal culture was everything. ‘The process is the message’… Beyond that there seems to have been virtually no strategy to speak of, no agenda to transmit to the world.”) The other, related quip is: What comes next after the insurrection, after the good guys have assumed power, or even when they’re still trying to wrestle against power? (Zizek has been vocal here: “carnivals are cheap,” he says. “What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then?” Egypt, as a case in point, is still feeling the heat of a “successful” insurrection from a year or so ago.)

These two questions are intimately related and form part and parcel of the same revolutionary simultaneous equation: organizing an insurrection, consolidating it, moving through it, and, then, planning for its aftermath, putting in place something new, establishing a different set of social institutions and social relations in lieu of the old oppressive ones. (Simultaneous equations, we might remember, are equations between two unknowns, unknowns that must be solved at the same time.) This dual conundrum has preoccupied revolutionaries and revolutionary thought since time immemorial. Walter Benjamin, we know, plotted the revolution in his own head, even while — especially while? — he lurched toward his shadow figure, Blanqui, the man of action; Blanqui the arch-conspirator who spent thirty of his seventy-six years on earth in various French gaols.

Blanqui was everything Benjamin wasn’t: practical, fearless, ruthless. His very raison d’être was organization, plotting and propagandizing for the insurrection; Blanqui, Marx said, was the “head and soul” of the French workers’ movement. But Blanqui satisfies only the first part of that revolutionary simultaneous equation. “The activities of a professional conspirator like Blanqui,” Benjamin says, “certainly do not presuppose any belief in progress — they merely presuppose a determination to do away with present injustice. This firm resolve to snatch humanity at the last moment from the catastrophe looming at every turn is characteristic of Blanqui — more so than any other revolutionary politician of the time. He always refused to develop plans for what comes ‘later’.”

Blanqui dreamed of a worldwide league of revolutionary communists. He also tried to put that dream into reality, countenancing conspiracy as one method for instigating insurrection. Blanqui’s communism was an eclectic mix of Marxism avant la lettre and heterodox anarchism, of trying to consummate the revolutionary hopes begun in 1789, yet which ended in Thermidorian backlash. Blanqui “couldn’t adjust himself to an organization of huge dimensions,” Samuel Bernstein says in Auguste Blanqui and the Art of Insurrection (1971). “It rendered absurd his strategy of insurrection; and it placed in the foreground the working class which he had never regarded as a key propeller of history.” Blanqui’s political organization was limited in size, Bernstein says, tightly pulled together, hierarchical in structure; made “like a seamless garment, programmatically homogeneous, disciplined, obedient, and ready to move.” Blanqui’s insurrection  was vertically organized yet spread itself out horizontally, immanently entering daily life, not so much a factory struggle as an urban war, a civil war rooted above all else — or below all else — in the street.

*  *  *

The key organizing medium for Blanquists was the “Society of the Seasons,” formed in the 1830s when Marx was still a fresh-faced lad. The society met clandestinely; leaders went unseen; meetings recruited foot soldiers who’d form an army of revolt, ready for action, likely violent action. The Society’s network barely stretched beyond Paris; but its covert nature of cells unnerved the powers that be and meant the Society punched above its weight, or at least threatened to. In Blanqui’s time, these Society of the Seasons were the revolutionary Jacobin clubs forty years down the line. (Blanqui may have disagreed: In his early career he admired the “Incorruptible” Jacobin, Robespierre, but later claimed he was really a Hébertist, a descendent of the radical eighteenth-century journalist Jacques-René Hébert.)

Blanqui knew, just as Robespierre knew, just as any revolutionary today must know, that if an insurrection were to succeed, and consolidate itself afterward, it would have to muster support from the faubourgs, from the banlieues, from the peripheral hinterlands. We might see any society of revolutionaries nowadays similarly needing to establish cells in the banlieues, cells within urban cells, revolutionary activity flowing through the capillaries and arteries of our global urban fabric, through its physical and fiber-optic infrastructure, through its hardware and thoughtware. These secret cells must plot to stymie the dominant flow of things and will likely be spearheaded by professional organizers and tacticians, by black bloc’er anarchists, by socialists and autonomous communists of different stripes and persuasions, by anonymous rookies, by those who’ve never been politically active before, by men and women, blacks and whites, young casseurs and voyous, by everybody who, with Occupy, with the Arab Spring, with the revolt in the banlieues, with the ongoing urban civil war everywhere, with growing unemployment, have found some medium to channel and refract their energies and dissatisfactions.

Perhaps there’s a neo-Jacobinism blowing in the wind, not quite bawling out but certainly getting whispered, a revival of Jacobin values with its great desire to abolish slavery in our urban neo-colonies, to denounce aristocratic plenty and root for sans-culotte empowerment. In 2010, for instance, Jacobin: A Magazine of Culture and Polemic was launched in the US by a young socialist journalist Bhaskar Sunkara; the mag attempts to tap a younger radical readership, urging people “to modify your dissent,” to turn the screw against neoliberalism; within its pages Zizek has already invoked “The Jacobin Spirit,” defending Robespierre and his “virtue of violence.” (See, too, Zizek’s presentation of Robespierre: Virtue and Terror [2007]; and Sophie Wahnich’s In Defense of Terror [2012].) Meanwhile, French radical publisher La fabrique not so long ago published the selected writings of Robespierre — Robespierre: pour le bonheur et pour la libérté [for happiness and for liberty]: “citoyens, voulez-vous une révolution sans révolution?”; and a biography by Georges Labica, first published in 1990, is scheduled to reappear soon, maybe at a riper moment, through the same house: Robespierre: une politique de la philosophie. “La Révolution n’est pas terminée,” warns editor Eric Hazan, mischievously.

The Jacobin club was founded on the eve of Revolution, in a Dominican convent on the Seine’s Right Bank, along rue Saint-Honoré. Meetings there were secret debating societies, made up of left-leaning deputies, republican enemies of the monarchy who’d push for the constitution of 1791. The club bore the noble label “Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality”; later it opened its membership to small storeowners and artisans. Over 5,000 clubs operated throughout France; pamphlets and newspapers got published; rallies and processions organized. After the fall of the monarchy, Robespierre led the Jacobins in the National Convention. But the revolutionary fervor of the Jacobins came through its popularism, through the support of the sans-culottes, “those beings,” a 1793 archive says, “who go everywhere on foot, who at no point have millions in the bank, nor a chateau, nor valets at their beck and call; who lodge simply and at night present themselves to their section … applying all their force to pulverize those who come from that abominable faction of stately men.” And those stately men, the aristocrats? “They’re the rich,” another 1793 document says, “all those fat merchants, all the monopolizers, the mountebanks, the bankers, all the swindlers and all those who have something.” Sound familiar?

And a “Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality,” a neo-Jacobin radicalism today that’s as organized and offensive as its namesake from the 1790s? Why not? This time, though, any society would really need to be “popular,” would need to open its doors to all types of sans-culottes, and of all genders. Meeting halls, debating chambers and political networks might be less grandiose: in cafés and on street corners, in estates and at youth centers, in universities classrooms and at mall bowling alleys, anywhere where young people hang out; dialogue might be online as well as face-to-face; a society of “friends” puts another egalitarian spin on Facebook camaraderie. A contra-Tea Party that drinks fair trade coffee.

But let’s be clear: secrecy would be paramount in these meetings, certainly initially, during the plotting, given how the forces of law and order mercilessly cracks down on all subversive politicking. We’ve heard about how the FBI infiltrated Occupy Wall Street (OWS), tracked known activists and student radicals, even on college campuses. The “Partnership for Civil Justice Fund” (PCJF), a US watchdog civil rights group, recently blew the whistle when they obtained FBI documents: “from its inception,” PCJF say, “the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat.” FBI offices and agents, “were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.” And in France, especially in the banlieues, the “Brigade anticriminalité” (BAC), overtly and covertly, has intensified “special police units” patrolling “les zones sensibles.” As Mathieu Rigouste writes in La domination policière (La fabrique, 2012), “the generalization of the BAC in urban territories is one of the decisive stamps of the counter-insurrectional restructuring of the police.”

If anything, “austerity” these days has become a veritable 9/11 in Europe: a watchword, in other words, for neoliberal governments to quieten any dissenting voice. In Greece, where austerity has been most brutally implemented, “centers of lawlessness” have been nipped in the bud. Early this past January, two longstanding “occupied” social centers in Athens, Villa Amalias and Skaramanga, with over 100 makeshift residents, were summarily evicted; and former denizens promptly arrested in an relentless police war of attrition, “Operation Zeus,” against all those outside the dominant orthodoxy, including undocumented migrants. (In Al Jazeera newspaper, Antonis Vradis reports from the frontline: www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/2013115105715250554.html.) “The eviction of Villa Amalias and the forthcoming police operation,” Vradis says, “reveals what is an inescapable contradiction in the reformulation of power in the Greek territory: In its short-term quest for stability, it is accelerating long-term social and political change.”

*  *  *

Against such short-term desperation for stability comes, then, an urgent and accelerated need for social and political change. Any Jacobin revival has to take us into and through the insurrection; and  it has to leave us with something to build upon on the other side, in its aftermath. Which leads us to the second part of our revolutionary simultaneous equation. One of the amazing things Eric Hazan points out in Une histoire de la révolution française (La fabrique, 2012), his fresh, partisan take on an old story — the French Revolution — is how quickly it all happened, how fast an immense and deeply entrenched power structure and administration evaporated, caved in, without neither warning nor transition. Hazan evokes the spirit of the Jacobin club, as much about what it might still be as what it once was: “the Society and its affiliates functioned as a system of diffusion of radical ideas. Nothing is more absurd than the notion of ‘Jacobinism’ as an authoritarian Parisian dictatorship. That’s a fabrication inherited from the [counter-revolutionary] Thermidor, which endures along with a hatred of the Revolution.”

Hazan devotes memorable, generous lines — again with the same spirit of going back to the future — to the National Convention, the first revolutionary assembly elected through universal (male) suffrage. “Was the Convention representative of the people?” he asks. If considered as an electoral system, he says, which is to say, as a system of participatory democracy, then clearly not. Yet the virtues of the Convention, as well as its suggestive, enduring visionary politics, came and might still come through an altogether different means. To be sure, the Convention is still unprecedented in how it allowed ordinary people to intervene in its sittings. That ordinary citizens and not a few sans-culottes could pass through the hollowed gates of Parliamentary politics was remarkable then and almost unthinkable now.

Although the Convention’s “Salle du Manège” was limited in size, it did manage to receive three thousands citizens at any one time; and at tribunals, says Hazan, ordinary folk “didn’t hesitate to noisily speak out their opinion”; deputies were forced to respond on the spot and were directly answerable to peoples’ plain outspokenness, to interrogation from their constituents. Alongside this popular participation, sittings of the Convention kicked off by listening to peoples’ letters, often voicing long commentaries on deputies’ propositions, offering suggestions, sympathetic encouragement, angry critique. “In this regard,” concludes Hazan, “the Convention is the first and only national assembly where the people had been able to have their voice directly heard.”

So a message rings out, loud and jarringly: what an insurrection needs to do is force those Parliamentary doors open, smash them down if necessary, so that “the people” gain access. Not so much a participatory government as the chance for a real representative assembly, one in which elected politicians, for the first time in centuries, would actually be responsive to their electorate, engaging with them within an open democratic structure; they’d be answerable, in other words, to the populace not to the usual powerful suspects.

But how to keep counter-revolutionary economic and political interests at bay, how to justifiably shut them out of any new Convention, how to ruthlessly shut them out if necessary? The theme of violence inevitably enters the scene, the idea that there’s a legitimate violence responsive to the everyday violence initiated by the forces of law and order, from its judiciary to its paramilitary, from its surveillance and containment to the outright wars it wages against people its power base doesn’t like. War, from this standpoint, is a just-in-case response, a strike-first-ask-questions-later initiative, a branch of “democracy” that needs to construct its own inconceivable foe: terrorists. Guy Debord confirmed as much back in 1988: “Its wish is to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results.” “People must certainly never know everything about terrorism,” says Debord, “but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable.”

More than two hundred years after Robespierre’s execution, an ideological logic lives on in governments around the world, one that defiles the Jacobin legacy, panders to a revisionist, right-wing Thermidorian telling of the truth: Robespierre was a bloody tyrant, a fanatical monster, a terrorist butcher. And yet, as Eric Hazan maintains, “Robespierre took positions of great coherence and astonishing courage — positions where he was always a minority and sometimes absolutely alone: against suffrage censitaire [census suffrage], for civic rights of actors and Jews, against martial law, against slavery in the colonies, against the death penalty, for the right to petition, for the freedom of the press … In what country, in what assembly, have we ever heard so much contre-courant argument declared with such force of conviction?” Robespierre was defiled, still is defiled, because what he said threatened ruling class privilege, upset their status quo; to defile him thus serves to tarnish every future hope of revolution, of future social change. “I was born to fight crime,” he says in a final speech from 1794. “The time has not arrived for men of substance to be able to serve their homeland with impunity; defenders of liberty will be outlaws, for as long as the horde of scoundrels predominates.”

The new urban question is about creating a Jacobin movement that can contest the “horde of scoundrels” who still predominate, stand up to their arsenal and ideologues; a movement that can loosen the neo-Haussmannite grip on our society, and declare war against its protagonists and puppets. Manuel Castells saw the old urban question as a question answered by “urban social movements” struggling for their right to the city; yet the new urban question needs to be countered by something much more expansive, something much more far-reaching: by an urban political movement that struggles for generalized democracy, that organizes a concerted insurrection; and, moreover, knows exactly what it’s fighting for as well as against. To do so we need visionaries as well as agitators, conspirators like Blanqui but also leaders like Robespierre, people with big plans and grand convictions — outlaw mathematicians who know, perhaps more than anything else, all about revolutionary simultaneous equations.

 

Material Struggles, Imaginary Struggles

by James Scorer, Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies

via flickr by Doug88888

via flickr by Doug88888

In December 2010, thousands of people seized the area known as Parque Indoamericano in Buenos Aires, a large space of open land in the south of the city’s autonomous central district.  Demanding the right to dignified housing, the occupiers were forcibly removed after some days by the three state police forces that bear some jurisdiction in Capital Federal (Policía Federal, Policía Metropolitana and the Gendarmería).  Local vigilante groups from adjacent neighbourhoods also participated in the evictions, which eventually resulted in three deaths.

The taking of Parque Indoamericano highlights the ongoing material struggle over housing and the right to the city in Latin America, a tension that, in Buenos Aires, continues to afflict the city despite the significant advances that have been made in social housing during the centre-left Kirchner era (2003-present).  In the wake of the events of 2010, the use made of the Park by the Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires [The Government of the City of Buenos Aires], led by the right-wing Governor Mauricio Macri and staunchly opposed to President Cristina Kirchner, has underlined the importance of that material struggle over the city.

The information provided on the City’s website about the Park is an exercise in sleight of hand.  The same administration that, both via judicial means and state-sanctioned violence, uprooted the occupiers, now states: ‘El Parque Indoamericano es una causa de los vecinos que este Gobierno abrazó desde el principio’ [The Indoamericano is a cause {also lawsuit} of the neighbours that this Government has embraced from the beginning].  The statement implies sympathy for the vigilante groups, suggesting that those protesters living in the shantytown bordering the park (Villa 20) were not neighbours.

The words also draw a veil over the xenophobic comments that Macri made during the occupation about the protesters, some of whom, in turn, expressed their political affiliations by stating that they wanted to call their future settlement ‘Néstor Kirchner’ after the deceased former President.[i]  The Governor exploited the protest by stating misleadingly that the City of Buenos Aires was suffering from waves of immigrants and that the City was propping up the poorer countries that neighbour Argentina.  The city’s ongoing housing crisis can hardly be attributed to immigration, however, levels of which, if anything, have fallen rather than risen since the economic crisis of 2001.  Not only did Macri’s words reflect the growing fear that the Argentine capital is suffering from ‘Latinamericanisation’ but they also tried to massage the material realities of Buenos Aires.

The webpage of the City’s Government also demonstrates that, since those verbal interventions, Macri’s administration has invested heavily in the Park.  The public space now benefits from walkways, new lighting, tree planting, public toilets, basketball courts and football pitches, among other amenities and improvements.[ii]  The tents of the protestors, symbolic of their precarious living conditions, have now been replaced with an assortment of other, pointedly more permanent, material interventions.

These transformations embarked upon by the City take advantage of the Park’s political capital both in material terms and also to reinforce the image of the incumbent as a governor who, as his advertising campaigns state, ‘makes’ Buenos Aires.  The administration’s belief that politics (and the political imaginary) is achieved, measured and sustained via the material, therefore, not only reflects the corporate-led vision of the governor but also masks the manner in which Macri also manages and refashions the urban imaginary.

The recurring formulation of the relationship between the material city and the urban imaginary as a dichotomy between the real and the not-real is not the most effective way to analyse the intersections between the social, political and cultural landscapes of the city.  It often leaves out the imaginary altogether or, at best, relegates it to the position of an inferior cousin.  We need to think beyond such rigid frameworks of analysis and move to a conceptual position that situates the imaginary as a constitutive and structuring dimension of urban politics.  In the case of the Argentine capital, for example, such analysis could include the recent attempt to market Buenos Aires as a ‘green city’, Macri’s mobilisation of the city’s youth via rock music on the campaign trail, the City’s advertising campaign ‘Haciendo Buenos Aires’ [Making Buenos Aires], or the altogether more anomic depictions of the city-being-made in films such as Medianeras, directed by Gustavo Taretto.  Using this interdisciplinary approach to reflect on how these and other urban imaginaries participate in the construction of the city will illuminate how imaginaries mobilize the multiple material and contested infrastructures of the global urban south.  Such is the departure point for the Argentine case studies that Dr. Leandro Minuchin and I began to research in 2010.

James Scorer, Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies, University of Manchester