Tag Archives: Comparative urbanism

Summer Institute in Urban Studies 2014 – Some Reflections!

Elnaz Ghafoorikoohsar (SEED), Gwyneth Lonergan (SoSS) and Elisa Pieri (SoSS) reflect on their participation in the first Summer Institute in Urban Studies …

cities@manchester’s Summer Institute in Urban Studies took place last (30 June – 4 July) at the University of Manchester. The twenty eight participants – selected out of the 180 plus applicants – came from across the UK, Europe, Australia and North America, and brought with them a wide variety of research interests and experience. What united them was a keen interest in cities, whether in Europe, the United States, Africa, East Asia or the Indian Subcontinent.

Participants get to work!

The Institute provided an excellent opportunity for lively discussion on many of the pressing theoretical issues in urban studies today, including notions of urban assemblages, policy mobilities and the worlding of different cities, various forms of gentrification, sustainability, sustainable development, and climate change, and politics and post-politics in the city. Many speakers discussed the various methodological implications of studying the urban, and how to engage in academic practice that is ethically and politically responsible and accountable. Ultimately, we were interested in thinking reflexively about the future of urban studies and our role in the field. We were fortunate to hear presentations from leading urban studies scholars, both from within and from outside of the University of Manchester. These included speakers working outside of academia, in NGOs and in policy circles. Manchester’s own experience of post-industrial regeneration provided a case study, with a panel of speakers on this topic and a walking tour of East Manchester regeneration sites.


The Institute also gave participants a chance to consider many of the challenges facing early career researchers, including interdisicplinarity, different publication formats and strategies, ethical dimensions of academic research and practice, and engagement with stakeholders outside of academia. A large component of the program was devoted to professional development – for example, effective teaching, and curricular development, writing funding applications, securing a post following completion of the PhD, and planning a career trajectory. Many participants found this career guidance especially valuable, as they had not received any such advice as PhD students. Moreover, with participants coming from a wide variety of countries, it allowed us to exchange information and ideas about the different national research cultures and expectations.


The week was intense with participants enthusiastically engaged with all of the sessions, and we also enjoyed a friendly, sociable atmosphere.   The program allowed participants to explore issues with peers at a similar career stage as well as with more experienced academics, in a supportive environment. There was achieved through a mixture of both formal and informal opportunities for discussion and socialising. Many of these were classroom based, although highly varied, including a daily plenary as well as smaller workshops. Participants were expected to play an active role, completing preparatory reading in addition to chairing a panel, or acting as discussants. These activities were complemented by the walking tour, and the use of multimedia materials, including film, to stimulate discussion. An ‘official’ institute dinner was held at Yang Sing on the Thursday evening, but there were plenty of other opportunities for informal after hours socialising. Even as the Institute ended on Friday, there were already plans being made among many participants for future collaborations.


Strategic Embellishment and Civil War: More Notes on the New Urban Question

via flickr by jgarber

via flickr by jgarber

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

No matter how many times you read Walter Benjamin’s musings on Paris they never disappoint. They never sound worn; there are always new nuggets buried within, lurking between the lines, little sparkling gems you never expected to find, nor saw upon your first reading. There is always something, too, that speaks as much about our century as the fabled nineteenth, over which Paris, Benjamin said, majestically presided. He spent hours upon hours — years and years in fact — scribbling away under “the painted sky of summer,” beneath the huge ceiling mural of Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), amassing piles of notes (some still apparently lying unpublished, gathering dust in BNF’s vaults) on the arcades projects that so mesmerized him, on Fourier and Marx, on Baudelaire and Blanqui, on Haussmann and insurrection. Those latter two themes — Haussmannization and insurrection — have piqued my interest recently, helped me frame my thinking about what I’ve been calling (for want of a better term) “the new urban question.”

“Speculation on the stock-exchange,” says Benjamin, commenting on “Haussmann or the Barricades,” “pushed into the background the forms of gambling that had come down from feudal society.” Gambling transformed time, he says, into a heady narcotic, into an orgy of speculation over space, seemingly addictive for the wealthy and indispensable for the fraudulent. (The two, unsurprisingly, fed off one another then and still do.) Finance capital began to make its sleazy entrée into the urban experience; beforehand the urban was simply the backdrop of a great capitalist drama unfolding around the time Marx wrote the Manifesto. It was simply the seat of the stock market; suddenly, though, the urban itself became a stock market, another asset, now for a wheeling and dealing in space, for state-sponsored real estate promotion, for investing in new space and expropriating old space. The passionate embrace between politics and economics underwent its modern consecration.

Benjamin underscores two principal characteristics of Louis-Bonaparte’s master-builder Baron Haussmann — who, remember, prided himself on his self-anointed nickname: “l’artiste démolisseur” [“demolition artist”]. (“Baron,” too, was likewise a purely egotistical creation, having no official credence.) First was Haussmann’s immense hatred of the masses, of the poor, rootless homeless populations, the wretched and ragged victims of his giant wreckers-ball, immortalized by Baudelaire’s “Eyes of the Poor” Spleen poem. Benjamin recalls a speech Haussmann made in 1864 at the National Assembly, fulminating about the stepchildren his grand works had actively created. “This population kept increasing as a result of his works,” Benjamin says. “The increase in rents drove the proletariat into the suburbs.” Central Paris thereby lost its “popular” base, “lost its characteristic physiognomy.” Typical of so many tyrant-visionaries (like Robert Moses, who admired his gallic antecedent), Haussmann was a bundle of contradictions: publicly-minded (his underground sewers and macadamized boulevards replaced shitty overground drains and boggy lanes) yet scornful of real people; a lover of Paris, “the city of all Frenchmen,” yet  suspicious of democratic elections and progressive taxation; Haussmann saw it all as his God-given duty, his natural right “to expropriate for the cause of public utility.”

Yet, for Benjamin, there was something else behind Haussmann’s works, a second, perhaps more important theme: “the securing of the city against civil war,” a desperate desire to prevent the barricades going up across the city’s streets. A red fear. The breadth of those new boulevards would, it was thought, make future barricade building trickier, more onerous and protracted an ordeal in the heat of any revolt; besides, “the new streets,” says Benjamin, “were to provide the shortest route between the barracks and the working-class areas.” Hence the forces of order could more quickly mobilize themselves, more rapidly crush a popular insurrection. Urban space was concurrently profitable and pragmatic, aesthetically edifying yet militarily convenient; “strategic embellishment,” Benjamin labels it, a vocation eagerly practiced to this very day, though with new twists.

*  *  *

The new twist is the scale of this dialectic, the depth and breadth of the twin forces of strategic embellishment and insurrection. This dialectic is immanent in the our current urban-global condition, and respective antagonists feed off one another in dramatic ways. They are both immanent within the upheaval of our neoliberal market economy, just as Marx said that a relative surplus population was immanent in the accumulation of capital; and therein, borrowing Benjamin’s valedictory words, “we can begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.” While we can pinpoint Haussmann-like acts in every city across the globe, North and South, East and West, it’s nonetheless vital to see all this as a process that engineers planetary urban space. We need, in other words, to open out our vista, to see the global urban wood rather than just the city trees, to see an individual despotic program as a generalized class imperative, as a process of neo-Haussmannization, as something consciously planned as well as unconsciously initiated, pretty much everywhere.

Our planetary urban fabric — the terrestrial texturing of our urban universe — is woven by a ruling class that sees cities as purely speculative entities, as sites for gentrifying schemes and upscale redevelopments, as machines for making clean, quick money in, and for dispossessing erstwhile public goods. Cities therein are microcosmic entities embedded in a macrocosmic urban system, discrete atoms with their own inner laws of quantum gravity, responsive to a general theory of global relativity. Splitting city molecules reveal elemental charges within: let’s call them “centers” and “peripheries,” complementarities of attraction and repulsion, of speculative particles and insurrectional waves. Is there a master-builder therein, some great God presiding over these heavenly bodies, a living Baron Haussmann? Yes and No.

Yes, because there are particular prime movers in making deals, actual class embodiments of finance capital and speculative real estate interests, real lenders and borrows, actual developers and builders, breathing architects and administrators, some of whom are moguls who mobilize their might like the Baron of old; all, too, have their own local flavoring and place-specific ways of doing things, culturally conditioned dependent on where you are, and what you can get away with.

No, in the sense that although there are complicit individuals, both in public and private office, with varying degrees of competence, who may even be cognizant of one another, in explicit cahoots with one another, it would be mistaken to see it all as one great conspiracy — a “Great Game,” as Kipling quipped of English imperialism in India — as a single coordinated global conspiracy undertaken by an omnipotent ruling class. Indeed, that would attribute too much to this aristocratic elite, over-estimate their sway over the entirety of urban space.

To peripheralize en masse necessitates the insulation of centers. Insulation means controlling borders, patrolling risk, damming leakiness, keeping people out as well as in; “control,” the Invisible Committee say in The Coming Insurrection, “has a wonderful way of integrating itself into the commodity landscape, showing its authoritarian face to anyone who wants to see it. It’s an age of fusions, of muzak, telescopic police batons and cotton candy. Equal parts police surveillance and enchantment!” That’s the nub of neo-Haussmannization, its law of social physics. Thus aristocrats in our age of Enlightenment acknowledge their fear of the sans-culottes they help create, the citizens they disenfranchise, the deracinated they banish to the global banlieues.

Thus the civil war is everyday, is about strategic security in the face of economic volatility; and the stakes have ratcheted up since 9/11. In fact, 9/11 set the terms of whole new set of odds about what is now permissible. The “war of terrorism” gets reenacted on the everyday civilian urban street, where “low intensity conflicts” justify paramilitary policing and counter-insurgency tactics — just in case. (For a graphic survey, we need look no further than Steve Graham’s brilliant exposé, Cities under Siege [2010]. “The war on terror operations in London,” says Graham, “efforts to securitize and militarize cities during G-20 summits an other mega-events, the counter-drug and counter-terror efforts in the favelas of Rio… link very closely to the full-scale counterinsurgency warfare and colonial control operations in places like Baghdad or the West Bank.”)

The fragmented shards of global neo-Haussmannization are likewise reassembled as a singular narrative in Eric Hazan’s Chronique de la guerre civile (2003): “nonstop wail of police sirens on the boulevard Barbès, the whistling of F16s high in the sky over Palestine, rumbling tanks rattling the earth in Grozny and Tikrit, armored bulldozers crushing houses in Rafah, bombs exploding over Baghdad and on buses in Jerusalem, barking attack dogs accompanying security forces on the Paris metro” — all provide testimony of a business-as-usual battle scene in an ongoing global urban civil war. In fact, paramilitary policing in Palestine, says Hazan, serves as something of a model everywhere for “the war of the banlieue.” Jerusalem isn’t any further from Ramallah than Drancy is from Notre-Dame; yet it’s a war in the periphery that’s rendered invisible from the standpoint of the center. (“In Tel-Aviv, you can live as peacefully as in Vésinet or in Deauville.”) And behind all the din and shocks, the bombs and barking, global centers experiment with new depersonalized high-technology, unleashing democracy at 30,000 ft, modern warfare orchestrated on a computer keyboard. (High-tech Israelis are closely linked with American research institutes and with the military-industrial complex; arms trade and patents are worth billions of dollars. “The military and the monetary get together when it’s necessary,” rapped the late Gil-Scott Heron; he left out the academy, or “the academary,” which goes together with the military and the monetary when it’s necessary.)

*  *  *

A force is a push or pull exerted upon an object resultant from its interaction with another object. Centers and peripheries emanate from such interaction, from such contact interaction, from a Newtonian Third Law of Motion: that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can name that oppositional reaction insurrection, even if, in the Third Law of Newtonian Social and Political Motion, that reaction is opposite but never equal; it is a minority reaction despite being voiced by a majority; it is a reaction that creates its own action, or, as The Coming Insurrection suggests, its own resonance. Insurrection resonates from the impact of the shock waves summoned up by bombs and banishment, all of which unleash reactive and active waves of friction and opposition, alternative vibrations that spread from the banlieues, that ripple through the periphery and seep into the center.

If there are twin powers of insurrection, one internal, another an external, outer propulsive energy, then it’s the latter which might hold the key in any battle to come, in any global intifada. And here it’s not so much a solidarity between Palestinian kids lobbing rocks and casseurs in Seine-Saint-Denis, between jobless Spaniards and Greeks taking over Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Athen’s Syntagma Square, between school kids in Chile and looters in Croydon, nor even between the Occupy movement in the US and its sister cells across the globe; it’s more that each of these groups somehow see themselves in different camps of the same civil war, fighting as territorial foot soldiers, as relative surplus populations sharing a common language and, significantly, a common enemy.

The war of the banlieue is a special kind of war, the scene of military maneuvering different from Clausewitzian warfare of old, staged on an open battlefield. This war no longer comprises grandiose campaigns by troops but is rather a micro-everydayness of peacetime intervention, a dogged affair in which the police and the paramilitary play interchangeable roles, indiscernible roles. Maintaining order and destabilizing order require new urban tactics, different from past warfare and previous insurrections. The terrain of the civil war is now at once more claustrophobic and more fluid, more intensive as well as more extensive. The urban needs to be theorized as a tissue with capillaries and arteries through which blood and energy circulate to nourish this tissue, to keep its cells alive, or sometimes to leave them partly dead from under-nutrition or blockage. This understanding let’s us see the urban’s complex circuit card, its networked patterning, its mosaic and fractal form, stitched together with pieces of delicate fabric; an organism massively complex yet strikingly vulnerable.

Insurrectional forces must enter into its flow, into the capillaries and arteries of urban power and wealth, enter into its global network to interrupt that circulation, to unwind its webbing and infrastructure, to occupy its nodes at the weakest and most powerful points. In a sense, given the global interconnectivity of everything, this can be done almost anywhere, accepting there are nodes that assume relative priority in the system’s overall functioning. Just as cybernetic information can be hacked, so too can acts of subversion interrupt and hack flows of money, goods and transport. The system can be stymied, symbolically, like outside Wall Street or St. Paul’s Cathedral; and really, like when, in December 2011, Occupy Oakland took over the US’s fifth-largest port, “Wall Street on the waterfront,” crippling operating revenues that amount to a hefty annual $27 billion, striking aristocrats hard where it hurts them most: in their pockets.

Perhaps sabotage is a valid retribution for the incivilities that reign in our streets. “The police are not invincible in the streets,” the Invisible Committee write, “they simply have the means to organize, train, and continually test new weapons. Our weapons, on the other hand, are always rudimentary, cobbled together, and often improvised on the spot.” The power of surprise, of secret organization, of rebelling, of demonstrating and plotting covertly, of striking invisibly, and in multiple sites at once, is the key element in confronting a power whose firepower is vastly superior. Once, in the past, sabotaging and thwarting work, slowing down the speed of work, breaking up the machines and working-to-rule comprised a valid modus operandi, an effective weapon for hindering production and lock-jamming the economy; now, the space of twenty-first-century urban circulation, of the ceaseless and often mindless current of commodities and people, of information and energy, of cars and communication, becomes the broadened dimension of the “whole social factory” to which the principle of sabotage can be applied.

Thus “jam everything” becomes a reflex principle of critical negativity, of Bartlebyism brought back to radical life, of Newton’s Third Law of Political Motion. Ironically, the more the economy has rendered itself virtual, and the more “delocalized,” “dematerialized” and “just-in-time” is its infrastructural base, the easier it is to take down locally, to create apoplexy, to redirect and reappropriate. Several years ago, insurrections in France against CPE bill (contrat première embauche), the first of a series of state laws to make job contracts for young people more insecure, “did not hesitate to block train stations, ring roads, factories, highways, supermarkets and even airports. In Rennes,” the Invisible Committee recall, “only three hundred people were needed to shut down the main access road to the town for hours and cause a 40-kilometer long traffic jam.” Blanqui, too, that professional insurrectionist, the shady conspiratorial figure who so fascinated Benjamin (and Baudelaire), likewise recognized how urban space isn’t simply the theater of confrontation; it’s also the means and stake in an insurrection, the battleground of a guerrilla warfare that builds barricades and gun turrets, that occupies buildings and strategic spaces, that employs the methodology of moving through walls.

But barricades today aren’t there simply to defend inwardly. They need to be flexible and portable, and outward looking. They need to move between nodes to disrupt and block, and to foster new life within. They need to be mobilized to tear down other barricades that keep people apart, that trap people in, that peripheralize. Those latter sort of barricades are walls of fear that need smashing down like the veritable storming of the Bastille, so that new spaces of encounter can be formed — new agoras for assemblies of the people, for peoples’ Assembly.

Benjamin was mesmerized by the spirit of Blanqui haunting Haussmann’s boulevards, Blanqui the antidote to Haussmannization, Blanqui the live fuse for igniting civil war, for catalyzing insurrectional eruption. And although Blanqui’s secret cells of revolutionary agents — those hardened, fully-committed professional conspirators — had an inherent mistrust of the masses, Benjamin nonetheless saw in them a capacity to organize and propagandize, to spread the insurrectional word, to figure out a plan and give that plan definition and purpose. They could even help guide an activism that seizes territories and schemes mass desertion; that could, in our day, reinvent a neo-Blanquism (neo-Jacobinism?) to confront intensifying neo-Haussmannization, an opposite and almost equal reaction. Indeed, perhaps the thing that most fascinated Benjamin was Blanqui’s notion of “eternal recurrence,” that stuff comes around full circle, including revolutions, that democratic passions don’t disappear: they crop up again and again in new forms and in different guises, with new tricks and covert tactics, with new participants whose prescient ability is to imagine the dominant order as ruins even before it has crumbled.

The New Urban Question

via flickr by Marco Garofalo

via flickr by Marco Garofalo

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

The form of a city changes quicker, alas, than the human heart

— Baudelaire

“I am tempted to the belief that what are called necessary institutions are only institutions to which one is accustomed, and that in matters of social constitution the field of possibilities is much wider than people living within each society imagine”

— de Tocqueville

In a remarkable series of essays, bundled together under the rubric Paris sous tension (La fabrique, Paris, 2011), popular historian and organic intellectual Eric Hazan sings a paean for his hometown under fire, his Paris under tension; the pressure gauge is edging toward danger level and seems about to blow anytime. Hazan, who trained as a cardiologist and in the 1970s worked as a surgeon in poor Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon, now fronts the Left publishing house he founded in 1998: La fabrique. He takes leave from one of Balzac’s remarks: “old Paris is disappearing with a frightening rapidity.” Yet while Hazan’s pages are full of a long lineage of Parisians who, like Balzac, lamented this disappearance — Hugo, Chateaubriand, Baudelaire, Chevalier, Debord — he’s over his grief for a lost loved one; he’s sobered up, detests nostalgia, and embraces a future that looks a lot different from a once glorious past.

In this sequel to L’invention de Paris (2002) [The Invention of Paris], Hazan evokes another Paris, a popular Paris; his dandies and flâneurs have darker skins and many don’t speak native French; his Paris lies beyond the center, is even a Paris without a center, one he invents in his head and out on the streets. (Is there any living urbanist who knows their city so intimately? Hazan seems to know all the names on doorbells, let alone buildings and inner courtyards.) Hazan bids adieu to the dead Paris inside the boulevard périphérique, regretting nothing and seemingly fearing nothing. His Paris isn’t the two million denizens of the predominantly white, bourgeois core, dancing to the tune of rapacious real estate interests on the one side, and a spectacular tourist market — a Disneyland for the cultivated — on the other, each consciously and unconsciously conspiring to rid the grand capital of the poor.

It’s assorted banlieues that hold the collective key, the outer “red belts” of eight million predominantly black and Arab peoples, throbbing with sometimes scary and impoverished life yet always hustling on the edge. Forever the optimist, Hazan sees all this as the source of great energy and potential for renewed urban vitality; this is where a new radiant Paris will reemerge, if it ever reemerges. Forget about the center. Parisian ruling classes have banished so many people to the outside that now the periphery is somehow central to the city’s urban future, to an urban form beyond the traditional city norm. Tourists come to gape at Paris’s lovely museums, at the museumified quartiers, at the beautiful buildings and monuments, at an entombed, cold history; but the real living history, the real Paris as a living organism, breathing and palpitating, ain’t so regal, and lies beyond the breach, beyond Pompidou’s peripheral barrier. Even so, amid these changes some things don’t change: “my conviction,” says Hazan, “is that Paris still is what it has been for two-centuries: a great battleground of a civil war between aristocrats and sans-culottes.”

*  *  *

Hazan mightn’t know it — though I suspect he does — but what he’s sketching out here is a new urban question. It’s new — or relatively new — for two reasons. The first is how Paris, we know, gave us that prototypical urban practice in the 1850s — Haussmannization — an infamous process of divide and rule, of class expulsion through spatial transformation, of social polarization through economic and political gerrymandering. It was a ruthless counter-revolution that tore into medieval Paris and old working class neighborhoods, mobilizing public monies to prime the private real estate pump, enabling investors to find new speculative outlets in the built landscape of the city. The sense of loss, the sense of dispossession, was apparent for many poor Parisians and is still felt by their counterparts one hundred and fifty years down the line. Today, though, Paris is no longer paradigmatic of but microcosmic in a new process of divide and rule, a new global process: neo-Haussmannization.

Haussmannization and neo-Haussmannization share a historical and geographical lineage. But the primal scene of its progeny needs updating and upgrading. Those grand boulevards still flow with people and traffic, even if the boulevard is now reincarnated in the highway, and that highway is more often at a standstill, log-jammed at every hour. Twenty-first-century grand boulevards now flow with energy and finance, with information and communication, and they’re frequently fiber-optic and digitalized, ripping through cyber-space as well as physical space. Neo-Haussmannization is a global-urban strategy that has peripheralized millions of people everywhere to the extent that it makes no sense anymore to talk about these peoples being peripheral. As cities have exploded into mega-cities, and as urban centers — even in the poorest countries — have gotten de-centered, gotten glitzy and internationalized, “Bonapartism” projects its urban tradition onto planetary space.

What’s happening in Paris, then, is a revealing microcosm of a larger macrocosm. Paris is a cell-form of a bigger urban tissuing that’s constituted by a mosaic of centers and peripheries scattered all over the globe, a patchwork quilt of socio-spatial and racial apartheid that goes for Paris as for Palestine, for London as for Rio, for Johannesburg as for New York. Differences are differences of degree not substance, not in the essential unity of process, engineered as it is by a global ruling class intent on business. Nowadays, the poor global South exists in North-East Paris, or in Queens and Tower Hamlets. And the rich global North lives high above the streets of Mumbai, and flies home in helicopters to its penthouses in Jardins and Morumbi, Sao Paulo.

This spatial apartheid has now begotten a new paradox in which centers and peripheries oppose one another; the fault lines and frontiers between the two worlds aren’t some straightforward urban-suburban divide, nor necessarily anything North-South. Rather, centers and peripheries are immanent within global accumulation of capital, immanent within what Lefebvre called “secondary circuit of capital.” Profitable locations get pillaged as secondary circuit flows become torrential, just as other sectors and places are asphyxiated through disinvestment. Therein centrality creates its own periphery, crisis-ridden on both flanks. The two worlds — center and periphery — exist side-by-side, everywhere, cordoned off from one other, everywhere.

The second theme that Hazan mischievously pinpoints, following just as immanently from the first, is insurrection, one of his favorite words. Little surprise that La fabrique first made public that most incendiary of insurrectional tracts, L’insurrection qui vient [The Coming Insurrection]. (After its publication in 2007 and the subsequent arrest of the “Tarnac Nine,” anti-terrorist police called Hazan in for questioning at Le quai des orfèvres, subjecting him to four hours of abusive interrogation about the author’s identity. He remained tight-lipped throughout.) Hazan’s idea about insurrection is twin-pronged (even if he never says so explicitly), dramatized by both an inner energy and an outer compulsion — or rather an outer propulsion.

The inner energy is a burning desire to live on the margins, to rebuild the margins, to make one’s neighborhood a livable neighborhood — the center of one’s life. It’s a familiar immigrants tale, even if these immigrants are sometimes born in this foreign land and carry its passport. In certain peripheral Parisian spaces, Hazan spots the germ of an artisanal, spontaneous and collective rebuilding program in action, reminiscent of what’s going on in Ramallah. There’s even something inventive happening in the core, too, at the corner of rue Morand and rue de l’Orillon in the XIe arrondissement, he says, involving Arab and Malian masons and carpenters who scavenge breeze-block and wood and bricks from God knows where to quasi-legally rehab an entire building. Atypical for Paris, the architecture is vernacular rather than spectacular, serving local needs and nobly integrating itself within a “healthy” urban tissuing. (An ex-surgeon, Hazan knows all about dead and live tissue.)

Here we have the urban as use-value not exchange-value, as a lived not ripped off realm, with integrative not speculative housing; it’s a project, too, that has plenty of scope for scaling up after the insurrection, after an inner energy to rebuild erupts into an expansive and propulsive momentum to democratize. In that sense it’s very likely, Hazan thinks, that l’insurrection qui vient won’t erupt in central Paris: The coming insurrection will erupt on the periphery, out on the global periphery, where dispossessed and marginalized denizens — “the dangerous classes” — will organize and mobilize themselves to create a truly “popular” urbanism, generating at the same time tensions at the centers they surround; and maybe, just maybe, one day actually “recuperating” that center. Hazan doesn’t speak of a “right to the city” as his organizing banner. For him, it’s the political insurrection that finds its expression in any outer propulsion; not a desire to change the government or the municipality, but to change the existing nature of society — “to change life,” as Lefebvre might have said.

*  *  *

Nowhere in Paris sous tension does Hazan adopt the vocabulary of “Occupy,” either; but it’s not too hard to nudge him along in that direction. Like Occupy, Hazan’s notion of insurrection represents a hypothesis, a daring hunch that, for people who care about democracy, for people who know our economic and political system is kaput, change is likely to come from within, from within excluded and impoverished communities, through collective experimentation and struggle, through action and activism that overcomes its own limits, that experiments with itself and the world.

Doubtless this spells more self-initiated rehabs and rebuilding of peripheral banlieues, of rundown HLMs and grands ensembles, as well as more occupations of vacant buildings and lots the world over, those foreclosed and abandoned speculative properties, unused patches of land awaiting private plunder; even whole strip malls in the United States lie empty, over-built and under-used. That’s a lot of steady work for sans-culottes to wage war on two flanks, on those inner and outer flanks that Hazan identifies: on the one hand, occupy these vacant spaces, squat them and take them back, rebuild them in a new communal image, reinventing them as spaces in which people can encounter one another and new affinities can be forged; there, small-scale retailing might flourish within over-accumulated and devalued giant retailing. These devalued spaces can revalorize as new Main Streets on the edge, new centers of urban life with green space, with organic small-holdings, with social housing, self-organized by people for people rather than for profit. Creative destruction, at last, might allow for non-patented creativity.

On the other hand, the outer propulsion of the insurrection must continue to occupy the spaces of the 1%, of our financial and corporate aristocracy, fighting the banks, financial institutions and corporations who spearhead neo-Haussmannization, protest and denounce them on their own turf, downtown, at the centers of their wealth and power, making a racket while liberating the spaces these shysters have foreclosed, abandoned and repelled. It’s not so farfetched to call this global ruling class an “aristocracy” because they have much in common with the parasitic elites of yesteryear. For one thing, their profits and capital accumulation have arisen from a marketed penchant for dispossession; they’ve shown zilch commitment to investing in living labor in actual production.

Much wealth comes from titles to rent, resultant of land monopolization and real estate speculation, and from interest accruing from financial assets, many of which are purely fictitious and extortionately make-believe, including make-believe service charges and transaction fees incurred on borrowers. Profits have little to do with corporations investing in salaried workers and making quality products at lower prices than their competitors, doing all the things “good” capitalists are supposed to do. Invariably, it’s more to do with scrounging corporate welfare, tax avoidance and monopolization, with destroying competition within a given field. The enormous growth in wealth means more and more redundant workers; living labor is a species en route to extinction, thus sans-culottes — sans travail as well as often sans papiers.

 In the “old” urban question, Manuel Castells suggested that the urban wasn’t an arena of production as such, since production increasingly operated over regional and global scales. A better point of entry into the urban was, à la Althusser, reproduction. The urban was, Castells said, “a specific articulation of the instances of the social structure within a spatial unit of the reproduction of labor-power.” The urban was vital, in other words, for expanded accumulation because it was vital for reproducing labor (and hence, it was thought, value), vital as a unit of “collective consumption” — of collective goods and public services outside the wage-relation, outside of variable capital, stuff provided by the state, like public housing, public utilities, transport infrastructure, schools, hospitals, etc. But in the “new” urban question the state has done something Castells could never have imagined: it has decoupled from its duties relating to social reproduction and to the reproduction of labor-power, and actively repossessed items of collective consumption, privatized them, sold them off at bargain basement prices to private capital — or else freely given them away. All of which heralds an explicit subsidization of capital, an emphasis on the reproduction of “productive” consumption, even if “productive” rarely equates to actual production.

*  *  *

Hazan’s great inspiration for insurrection is the “June Days” of 1848, more so than the Commune itself, because the latter, says Hazan in his foreword to Lissagaray’s History of the Paris Commune, started off as “a patriotic upsurge, a gesture of national pride, before being a revolutionary social movement.” The June Days of 1848 were a truly authentic insurrection of the sans-culottes, one that can set the terms for l’insurrection qui vient (or qui viendrait) in our day. Even the voice of Order, the conservative-liberal commentator Alexis de Tocqueville, marveled in his Recollections (staple reading for Guy Debord) at those June Days, “the greatest and strangest insurrection that had ever taken place in our history.” Tocqueville could almost be describing Occupy, circa September 2011: “the greatest [insurrection] because insurgents were fighting without a battle cry, leaders, or flag, and yet they showed wonderful powers of coordination.” Yet if Tocqueville is brilliant and surprisingly generous at analyzing what insurgents did between February and June 1848, he’s also damning about what they failed to do after assuming power, and after la Garde mobile marched into town. (The CRS and the privatized security force of the RATP are La Garde mobile’s latter-day reincarnations.)

The June Days were a revolt of the “unknown,” initiated by an anonymous rank-and-file, by a nobody urban proletariat, ordinary men and women “who gave events their color and explain in part why they’re now forgotten.” 1848 is the most important insurrection in working class history, says Hazan, because it “marked the severing of an implicit pact, or, if you like, the end of an illusion: that the people and the bourgeoisie, hand-in-hand, were going to finish what they’d started in the Revolution [of 1789].” Today, we’ve seen another illusion put to an end, punctured, a rupturing with our own post-war consensus (and dissensus): that of paternal capitalism giving ordinary people a break, of a bourgeoisie and workers establishing a just social contract together. All bets are now summarily off. What we’ve seen instead is the end of an era of expectations: expectations of steady jobs, with decent pay, with benefits, with security and pensions; the whole bit.

Experiments in living today necessarily mean having no expectations in life, except those you create yourself, invent yourself, including the insurrection — an insurrection in which economic self-empowerment encounters political collective-empowerment; the favelas as well as financial districts, banlieues as well as bidonvilles, the malls as well as Main streets would all get occupied then, democratized by an inexorable and an insatiable swarming, by a sheer numbers-game asserting itself as a political subjects-game. At that point, the barricades wouldn’t so much go up in the center of the city (à la Commune) as those barricades that separate centers from peripheries would get torn down, removed within the tissuing of global urban space. Such is my wish-image for the coming New Year, for the new civil war unfolding across the planet, the new urban question. For the moment, though, Hazan knows, just as I know — just as Tocqueville knew back in 1848 — that the fighting has stopped, even if it is due to start again any day soon. “The insurrection was everywhere contained,” says Tocqueville, “but nowhere tamed.”

World of Cities Workshop: One or many Mumbai’s? Sanitation in comparative perspective

by Colin McFarlane, Durham University

Cities have always been understood comparatively. When we read about, visit or talk about a particular city, we often do so by comparing it with other cities. Comparison may ostensibly appear as a prosaic set of methodological questions around case studies, but in practice it is a critical part of how understanding, theory and research about cities are produced and contested. In urban geography, recent years have witnessed not just a resurgence of comparative thinking and research, but a new experimentalism with comparative thinking and methodologies. This is in part a response to the globalisation of urban policy, planning, economies, cultures and ecologies, but it is also an attempt to internationalise urban geography by thinking across intellectual and imaginative divides that that separate out the cities of the global North from those of the global South, or the ‘developed Western’ city from the sprawling megacity. The revival of debate on comparison has, then, tended to think about comparison between cities. There has been little effort to think about the potential value of comparisons within cities. If a key objective of the new comparativism is to develop a pluralised conception of the urban politics, economies, cultures and ecologies, I argue that intra-urban comparisons have an important place in this effort.

For the last two years, I have been involved in a project to understand everyday experiences and perceptions of sanitation in Mumbai’s informal settlements (with Renu Desai and Steve Graham). Sanitation provision, access, use, and conditions vary greatly across the city and we believed it was important to foreground the difference that this geographical diversity makes to the lived experience and politics of sanitation. The research examined two informal settlements: Khotwadi, an authorised, established neighbourhood in the west, and Rafinagar, an unauthorised, poorer neighbourhood in the east. Rafinagar comprises two parts: Part 1, which has been provided with some basic urban services, and Part 2, with almost no basic urban services.

Khotwadi (Figure 1), with a population of approximately 2000 households, has 24 toilet blocks and a total of 180 seats, whereas Rafinagar (Figure 2), with approximately 4000 households, has 6 toilet blocks with a total of 76 seats. Rafinagar, then, has twice the population and half the number of toilet seats, and Rafinagar Part 2 has only one formal toilet block and is also serviced by a range of temporary hanging latrines. The condition of solid waste management in the two settlements is also uneven. Rafinagar in particular, partly due to its illegality and partly due to its marginal status as a predominantly Muslim settlement, suffers from infrequent instances of municipal cleaning of drains and collection and disposal of garbage.

Figure 1: Khotwadi. Brick-and-concrete (pukka) housing surrounding a well

Figure 2: Rafinagar Part 2. Sackcloth (kutcha) housing and absence of basic services

We found significant differences between the two neighbourhoods. As a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood, Khotwadi is administered by the dominant political party in the city, the right-wing ethno-religious and anti-Muslim Shiv Sena. The Sena operates a ‘complaint space’ at its local office, and residents usually go to this office if there is work needing done in the area, from blocked drains and broken toilets to uncollected garbage. The party is able to take up and expedite requests far more quickly than if the residents had directly contacted the relevant municipal department. This constitutes a form of patronage in the area that helps promote the Shiv Sena electorally through the soft politicisation of basic infrastructure.

In Rafinagar, however, given that it is predominantly Muslim, residential links are less to the Shiv Sena and more to marginal political parties like Samajwadi (socialist), and given than it is illegal, it is far more difficult to have any complaints dealt with. There are few assurances that requests will ever by met, and people often feel left without any viable political outlet to meet basic sanitation needs. For example, on one occasion when a privately run toilet block in Rafinagar Part 1 increased pay-per-use charges from Rs. 1 o Rs. 2, local women protested by using their bodies. They defecated in the area around the toilet block until the caretaker gave in and reduced the costs. These kind of temporary, below-the-radar forms of protest are distinct from protest in Khotwadi and indicate that politics in Mumbai is less a universal sphere of action and instead a set of possibilities highly influenced by, if not determined by, local context, resources and connections.

There are other important differences. For example, while in Khotwadi most residents regularly use toilet blocks, in Rafinagar – especially in Part 2 – open defecation is regular. During the monsoon, residents often construct makeshift hanging latrines from rudimentary materials in order to provide a nearby toilet when the rains make it difficult to wade to the spaces used for open defecation. The latrines are vulnerable to erosion from rising tides and from demolition by the municipality. Residents have their own comparative framings for valuing these infrastructures. For example, one woman said of one hanging latrine: “There is a world of difference between this and a pukka [brick-built] toilet. This one remains a bit open, there is a fear of children falling, there is fear that it will get washed away in the high tide, there is a fear that it will break.”

Taken together, the uncertain rhythm and largely distinct politics of sanitation in these two neighbourhoods is predicated on a series of changing conditions and catalysts, from demolition, land erosion and changing land use, to reciprocal relations amongst residents and civil society groups, changing tariffs of toilets, and the identity politics connected to political parties. The contrasting sanitation conditions in Rafinagar and Khotwadi reflect not just different urban histories, social composition, and state-based or legal (dis)connections, but two quite different Mumbais, with distinct modes of infrastructure production and politics. Here, intra-urban comparison widens our conception of infrastructure politics and the conditions through which urban life is collectively made and remade. If comparison is in part a strategy for pluralising the urban imagination, then intra-urban comparisons can be a fruitful reminder of the value of sticking with one city before rushing off to compare with the next one.

Colin is speaking at the cities@manchester ‘World of Cities: comparison across the disciplines’ workshop, 17-18 May 2012. The workshop is fully booked but will be audio recorded. This and a collection of the workshop papers will also be added to the workshop page after the event. 

World of Cities Workshop: Global Urbanism – Some Reflections from the South of Africa

by Sue Parnell, University of Cape Town

For the last 6 months I have been based at UCL on sabbatical leave. The somewhat embarrasing purpose of my Leverhulme Visiting Professorship has been to offer my expertise on Cities of the South to colleagues in London and across the UK. Needless to say, despite consistently making the argument that Southern scholars have much to bring to the global academy, I have found it hard to be clear about what exctly I personally know and why this might be helpful or provocative for others. Reflecting on the current discussion about what constitues global urbanism in general and the more specific issue of how to undertake comparative urban research in a ‘world of cities’ helps me, based on my expreiences of living and working in post-aparthied South Africa, to put some specific points forward for us to engage.

My point of departure is that a comparative research that takes full account of where cities are today has to start with new empirical research on individual cities in the Global South not just because the work that has been done has been shaped by a Northern agenda, but much more importantly because these cities have not yet been fully described, analysed or compared.

The new primary urban research will create the platform for twenty first century comparative research and transformative action. This latter point about action is key because the demand for our academic expertise is likely to be from residents and practioners keen to inform the future, rather than interpreting the past. This does not mean that there is no case for doing urban history. Rather, given the problems they face, our readers will be seeking comparative insights to enrich their transformative agendas. Unlike the past decades where academics have battled to ensure take up of their findings, the new urbanism has an expectant audience that anticipates that our knowledge will be useful. This rraises the bar on how we undertake urban research.

The combined drivers of a new global urbanisim are the quest to fill the critical gaps in our knowledge about cities everywhere and the imperative to secure local relevance (if not acccetance) of our assessemnts of the drivers of change and the possibilities of the urban future. To achieve these expectatins the urban studies community has to rethink what we need to know, how we find out what we need to know and what the ethics are of constructing new accounts of city development. To this end I have five reflections.

a) Being careful about categories (two examples that have no real purpose include two terms I invoke on an almost daily basis – cities of the South and African cities).

b) Learning from theory

  • We cannot and should throw the baby out with the bath water. We must ask instead what can and should be extracted from the urban cannon of the north and how different examples challenge the theory.
  • We have to find a way for scholars of the South to challenge Northern urban scholarship on substantive points (rather than the cheap shot that there is a distortion in the published work and its orientation).

c) Learning from practice

  • In places where there are no/few scholars there is no option to learn from practioners and residents – in many places where there are many urban scholars it may be that there is untapped knowledge outside of the academy.
  • This is the opposite of the impact agenda currently put out by UK funders –and the impact question almost certainly needs to critically reframed to allow the kind of relevant critical urban research, for wich there is an appetite, to be undertaken.

d) Affirming the importance of robust research methods

  • Working alone or outside of areas of intense academic scrutiny does not justify sloppy research – it argueably increases the imperative for replicable, reliable and ethical practices. If work is to be comparative how the knowledge was gleaned has to be transparent.

e) Reflecting on the ethics of urban research

  • See the paper where I navel gaze on my own research ethics. I will pull key points from this into the workshop presentation.

Sue is speaking at the cities@manchester ‘World of Cities: comparison across the disciplines’ workshop, 17-18 May 2012. The workshop is fully booked but will be audio recorded. This and a collection of the workshop papers will also be added to the workshop page after the event. 

World of Cities Workshop: What Makes a ‘World City’? Local World Views and Global Knowledge

by Jan Nijman, University of Amsterdam

About twelve years ago, during a lecture at the Indian Institute for Technology in Mumbai, I was confronted with a question from the audience as to ‘where Mumbai ranks among world cities’ (the lecture was not about that topic and the question came out of left field). This was just over a decade ago, and the city hardly figured in any of the existing studies at that point. I remember trying to bring the news gently but to no avail. The audience was taken aback by what they considered a striking lack of appreciation by ‘world city scholars’ of Mumbai’s ‘obvious’ significance as the economic capital of a country with nearly one-sixth of humanity. While I was not ready to submit to the biases of local city boosters, I vividly remember feeling compelled to rethink the validity of world city theory. As the audience would have it, surely something was wrong with it.

About six months later, I gave a talk at UCLA and I reiterated my experience in Mumbai. The reaction of the audience there was, as I recall, quite blunt: surely we should not let our understanding of the urban world base on the subjective views of Mumbaikars?! I was left somewhat frustrated with this point of discussion because, at the time, I could not quite articulate what I felt was the crux of the issue and why it mattered. But in hindsight it did become more clear, and it actually was not that simple.

While it is not necessarily true that all knowledge is local, there is a good deal of truth to the point that world views are – from Mumbai to Los Angeles. There is no such thing as a view from nowhere. The fascinating confluence of urban studies and globalization studies exhibits this inherent tension between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ – not just in terms of broad perspectives but also in terms of methodological approaches. It is especially manifest in the hugely interesting and important concept of the global urban network which is a lot easier to theorize than to circumscribe empirically.  They are almost without exception constructed from ‘the’ center outwards, i.e., London, or New York or other places centrally placed on the mental maps of (predominantly western) scholars. And, almost by definition, other cities in the world then appear on the map on the basis of their importance to that center. It is bias, systematized.

From an empirical, methodological point of view, the global urban network (if we want it to carry a semblance to reality) must be constructed from ‘the ground up’, node by node, dyad by dyad, flow by flow. To be sure, it would involve an outrageous amount of localized data collection across the globe. Unless, of course, we are not really interested in the global urban network per se but rather in the ways that the rest of the world relates to us, connects to us, how important other cities are to us.

Imagine, for a moment, that Mumbai were not at all connected to Europe or to the USA but it would still be urban centre to all of India – wouldn’t it still matter on the global stage, even as the main node of a ‘global subdivision’?

World-views, whether espoused in LA, Mumbai, or Amsterdam, are intrinsically biased. But if it is really the global that we are interested in, then a billion people can’t be wrong.

Jan is speaking at the cities@manchester ‘World of Cities: comparison across the disciplines’ workshop, 17-18 May 2012. The workshop is fully booked but will be audio recorded. This and a collection of the workshop papers will also be added to the workshop page after the event. 

World of Cities Workshop: Building a Southern Perspective on Urban Planning using the Comparative Case Method

Cities on Water – Makoko, Lagos

Cities on Water – Venice

by Vanessa Watson, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town

Recent comparative research in the urban planning field appears to have focused particularly on countries of the EU and the UK, largely driven by EU cohesion and research funding policies. Much of this has been motivated by interest in ‘idea borrowing’ or policy transfer: if it worked in X can it work in Y? As at least one commentator has noted – much of this comparative work has assumed spatial planning and urban policy-making to be neutral and technical processes which operate in similar ways regardless of context.

There is also a relatively recent interest in policy travel from one part of the globe to another, but still very little on South-South comparisons or debate on how such comparisons could be part of a broader theory-building project in planning.  Given that in 2007 some 73% of the world’s urban population was living in global South cities, with this proportion set to rise steadily, there are good reasons to argue for much more planning research interest in this part of the world.

One interesting attempt to move forward the debate on comparative work in planning in the global South was a workshop convened in 2011 at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. It involved participants from India, Brazil, South Africa and Kenya (with further participants from Thailand and China). The purpose of the workshop was to see what common interest there was in comparative planning and policy research across these contexts. However, and different to much of the European work, was the purpose of this networking, which was quite explicitly strategic and political.

The key aim was to begin the development of a body of interventive urban theory from the South to redress global imbalances in the production and exchange of knowledge in the field. Comparative case research was affirmed as a useful means of building a body of urban theory rooted in the nuanced empirical processes of Southern ‘cityness’. It was also seen to have a potentially effective role in pedagogical and curricular innovation.

To an extent the political ambitions of the workshop were inspired by Raewyn Connell’s call for ‘southern theory’ in sociology – to counter northern dominance in scholarship and to draw attention to global relationships: of authority, exclusion and inclusion, hegemony, and partnership. A common concern amongst workshop participants was, similarly, the strong hegemony of Northern theories and ideas which had a poor degree of ‘fit’ with the nature of urban problems that confronted them, and which promoted planning approaches based on assumptions about cities, societies and economies which did not hold in the contexts they worked in. These Northern positions rarely specified the context to which their ideas applied, and assumed a ‘taken for granted’ universalism which erased the reality of the world beyond the Euro-American territories.

Early on in the workshop it became clear that very different ‘theory cultures’ were represented, and that finding a common language and purpose would be a critical preliminary step to further south-south comparative work. There were also different positions on the purpose of comparative work – was it to counter Northern hegemony, to build Southern theory, to create Southern networks or to provide back-up to local and Southern social movements? Finding a research question of common interest would also be an important starting point. The question: ‘why is it so difficult to reduce inequality in city X’ resonated with all partipants.

There appears to be huge scope for using the comparative method not only to ask new and important research questions in urban planning, but also to start to build Southern research networks and to shift the geo-politics of knowledge production.

Vanessa is speaking at the cities@manchester ‘World of Cities: comparison across the disciplines’ workshop, 17-18 May 2012. The workshop is fully booked but will be audio recorded. This and a collection of the workshop papers will also be added to the workshop page after the event.