Tag Archives: Culture

Symposium report: The Making of Post-war Manchester, 1945-74: Plans and Projects

Poster

On the 8th May we organised a successful one-day symposium examining urban change in post-war Manchester, focussed upon infrastructural projects and the local implementation of central government initiatives in the three decades following 1945. Over one hundred people attended the event and engaged with a fascinating set of presentations from a range of geographers, historians, planners, architects and archaeologists composed of a mixture of well known professors, established scholars and new researchers. Fittingly for the symposium’s temporal focus it was held in the concrete bunker formerly known as the Kantorowich Building, designed by Professors Roy Kantorowich and Norman Hanson and completed in 1970. The speakers presented in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre, named after Reginald Cordingley (shown in full instructive mode below), Professor of Architecture at the University of Manchester between 1933 and 1962.

Source - Rylands Collection, Image Number - JRL1201094

Source – Rylands Collection, Image Number – JRL1201094

Aim: What changed in Manchester and what drove the changes?

The presentations were intended to reference transformative events and large scale built projects of the era in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate. The intellectual objective of the symposium programme was to reveal a selection of the significant narratives of the shifting social and physical development of the city during the years 1945 – 1974. Whilst we recognise that the two dates are, in many respects, arbitrary bookends for processes of change and urban development that are often long running and cumulative, they do provide a set of sensible marker posts – running from the end of the Second World War in 1945 up to 1974 and the wholesale political reorganisation of the conurbation in the wake of the Local Government Act (1972).

City of Manchester Plan

City of Manchester Plan

As a departure point, 1945 is particularly interesting and equally problematic, as it is all too easy to assume it as a pivotal moment, when, in actuality, it simply marked the end of the wartime hiatus and the resumption of many schemes and strategies devised in the decades before 1939. That said, many of the speakers made explicit reference to Rowland Nicholas’ 1945 City of Manchester Plan as a signature ‘visionary’ document of the era and it is evidently a useful narrative touchstone. It is perhaps unsurprising that the other end of these three decades was less considered. There were markedly fewer references to the formation of Greater Manchester, possibly reflective of its ambiguous status at the time and its limited legacy in the makeup of contemporary Manchester. It is now an apposite time to consider this period, via a public symposium, for several reasons, not least of all because some of the personnel directly involved in the projects are still around and can be ‘brought out of the woodwork’ to tell their stories. Moreover, primary documentary material is newly emerging into archives and becoming publicly available, and more generally it taps into growing scholarly engagement and broader public fascination with these three decades not just in this city, but across Europe.

map

This symposium built directly on our experience of curating a successful public exhibition in spring 2012, entitled Infra_MANC, that considered the role of infrastructure in the making of post-war cities by looking at the planning of the Mancunian Way elevated urban motorway, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian ‘secret’ underground telephone exchange and fanciful notions for a rooftop city centre heliport. The 200 page illustrated catalogue from this exhibition has just been released online as free PDF book. The study of both built and unbuilt projects has the capacity to reveal new histories, particularly political relationships and the interplay of local interests with national policy directives. Unrealised urban schemes, be they for buildings or infrastructure, frequently leave unrefined traces of their gestation, promotion and failure that do not gloss over the fractious and antagonistic relations of policy makers and power players. In this regard the active debates and discourse around the things that did not physically alter, but still had the capacity to change, the city were as relevant to the symposium as the obvious large scale extant developments, which were also considered.

The Symposium

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source - Joe Blakey

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source – Joe Blakey

The event itself was arranged into four sessions. It began with a contextual overview, eloquently chaired by Professor Brian Robson and in the opening talk by Professor Michael Hebbert, a former professor at Manchester, dissected the limits of the assigned time frame and provided passionate prose on the relative shift from the modern industrial metropolis to a something approaching a post-modern service city and its refraction through the lens of Granada Television’s Coronation Street. Subsequent sessions dealt with spatial changes related to housing renewal, the development of key social institutions including higher education and the NHS, and the impact of pollution control on the environmental quality for the city and its citizens. Midway through the day a stimulating presentation was given on population migration in the post-war period contrasting the situation in Moss Side to Cheetham Hill, presented by University of Manchester colleagues Laurence Brown from History and Niall Cunningham based in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) (shown in the photograph above). The day concluded with presentations on the development of aviation facilities for Manchester, the broader culture of the Mancunian Way and a description of the ‘disconnected city’ caused by distinct shadow of unbuilt ring roads in the urban form of the city centre.

Each participant received a 36 page printed booklet containing the full programme and speaker details. The symposium also included a gallery of reproductions of nearly twenty of the key plans and maps from the era and the Manchester Modernist Society were on hand with their ‘pop-up shop’. The full programme and abstract of the presentations are given on the supporting blog, PostwarMcr. With the kind permission of the speakers we have been able to provide copies of the slides for the majority of the talks, which are also available via the blog.

The symposium was made possible with financial support via a Seedcorn grant from the Cities@Manchester initiative and with complementary fund through the Campion Fund of the Manchester Statistical Society. Behind the scenes logistical support was provided by colleagues in SED and several student volunteers from architecture and geography. The Manchester School of Architecture kindly underwrote printing costs.

The Future of Post-war Manchester

Manchester and its Region

 

We plan to develop an edited book following the themes of the symposium and we are pleased that many of the speakers have committed to contributing chapters. In broad terms the volume will be a compendium of new and existing works and organised in the manner of a ‘regional study’ with chapters covering key themes (housing, transport, education, industrial change, etc.). As such, the book will have clear resonances with earlier edited volumes, such as the survey prepared under the editorship of Charles Carter for the meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Manchester, August 29 to September 5, 1962. As currently proposed, our new title, The Making of Post-war Manchester will, hopefully, be much broader in style and with discursive space for commentaries, shorter essays and visual interpretations of how city changed during the thirty or so years after the end of the Second World War. It is likely that it will be published and distributed by bauprint, Richard’s cottage publishing arm, designed and priced to appeal to wide readership interested in the city’s histories. Once the initial print run is sold we will also make the book available free online as a popular and educative resource.

The Making of Post-war Manchester symposium brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and professionals in planning and architecture, along with students studying aspects of Manchester’s development, and some members of the general public, interested in the recent history of their city. It is hoped that the crossing of disciplines will provide new narrative associations previously unexplored that may act as a platform for further research and discourse.

Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture 

Martin Dodge, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester 

 

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Practising urban alternatives

by Jana Wendler, PhD candidate in Geography

There is lots of talk about the need for cities and urban life to become more equitable and sustainable – and there are initiatives and people that already practice alternative ways of living based on such ideas. Often described as some form of experiment, these places currently attract much attention as sites where alternatives are tested, showcased – and ultimately lived. What is interesting here, and what I researched as part of my PhD, is that their ‘alternative-ness’ is not only, and sometimes not even primarily, a direct statement. It emerges from the way the spaces look and feel, and how they are inhabited and performed. They are places that challenge our perceptions and interactions, with subtle invitations to touch, to explore and to think differently about our urban environment.

One of the biggest and best-known alternative areas in Europe is the free town of Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark. A former military area next to the central neighbourhood of Christianshavn, it was occupied by squatters 40 years ago and has carved out an autonomous existence ever since. Christiania maintains its label as a “social-ecological experiment”, a term applied by the Danish government in the early 70s as a way of politically managing this alternative space in the middle of the city.

Although intricately tied up with ideals of alternative politics, anarchism and the right to self-determination, the experience of Christiania as a space of alternatives is primarily embodied. What strikes the visitor-researcher are the sights, sounds and smells. There is no traffic noise (Christiana is a car free zone), and the smells of hash (openly available) and woodfire (the main source of heating) are everywhere. At night, the unmarked gravel roads and paths are pitch-black. This sensory expression of being alternative marks the boundaries of the freetown as clearly as the big entrance gates proclaiming Christiania’s non-EU status.

Leaving Christiania: "You are now entering the EU"

Leaving Christiania: “You are now entering the EU”

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

These differences continue much deeper into the daily lives and the homes of the Christianites. Alternative urban life becomes materialised in the self-built houses that spread along the water. These wooden houses are reminiscent of anything from a playground hut to the masterpiece of a skilled craftsman, and they are intricately linked with the people that live in them. Some houses give a physical shape to their builders’ spiritual ideas (the pyramid house), others show their connection to nature and resources (a hut with an open-air kitchen and a compost toilet). They are part of the family history, and people come to be named after their house or vice versa. Often the effects of these open relationships between people and material are quite playful, with bright colours, strange angles and unusual objects. Beyond a different sense experience, ideas of alternative living are practised here through unusual material constellations.

Another example is the Prinzessinnengarten, an urban garden in Berlin, created in 2009 on a brownfield site in the hip but poor area of Kreuzberg. It offers 6000 m² of green against the roundabout and towerblocks just outside its fence, with a café area and many ways for people to get involved. It is experimental mainly in its approach: of seeing what you can do with a wasteland once you allow people to ‘plant’ their ideas onto it, and of asking questions about food, biodiversity and the sustainable city in an unusual setting.

The garden stands as a counterpoint to its surroundings but it remains fundamentally urban: the vegetables grow in colourful plastic boxes and bags because the soil is not usable, the sound of birds mixes with the police siren outside, the label on the garden-produced honey says it comes from “city bees”. This gives it a unique aesthetic and sensescape, and it makes room for interactions that are lacking elsewhere. There are no signs warning visitors against touching the plants; in fact people are encouraged to feel, to smell, to dig. If you order herbal tea, you can choose and cut your own ingredients. During the gardening days, anyone can help shovelling soil, and then harvest their own produce. The interactions with the space are tactile, embodied, direct.

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

 

These invitations to explore bring the alternative ideas of the garden to life. The suggestions it makes about sustainable urban life are not proclaimed but practised – by the office worker who tends to his bees in his lunch break, by the volunteers who mix soil and plant tomatoes. They are also expressed in the colours, materials and solutions in the garden, which provide new starting points and practical inspiration. The garden as a space for learning and engagement both emerges from and creates the conditions for new relations between people, plants and materials.

The buildings of Christiania and the plant boxes of the Prinzessinnengarten give us a glimpse of different ways of being urban, and of ways in which such alternatives can be tried out. They speak of the connections people form with their immediate surroundings, and introduce alternatives not based on any overarching idea of the sustainable city, but on direct embodied, material interactions. The spaces allow people to give a material expression to their values and visions. They encourage further experimentation by leaving loose ends, by juxtaposing ideas and by asking the visitor to take an active stance. They are also fun, interesting places to be – adding a playful element to the challenge of finding urban alternatives.

The fieldwork in Christiania was kindly supported by the Christiania Researcher in Residence (CRIR) project. More information on the research: http://greenplaylab.co.uk

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

 

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.”

City as Museum / City as Instrument: new possibilities for sound and the city

Image from Manchester's Sonic Meta-Ontology Project

Image from ‘Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology’ Project

 

See end of article for details of Locative Audio event on 29th June.

It’s an exciting time to be a composer or sound artist. Innovations in and new connections between methodology, technology and creative practice are creating a host of new possibilities for the sonic exploration of experience. NOVARS, the Research Centre for Electro Acoustic Composition and Sound Art at the University of Manchester work at the cutting edge of this new territory. So what are these developments? To keep it simple here we will talk about two, both of which relate to space.

The first concerns the composition and performance of sound in relation to space. Composition tools and performance environments are becoming increasingly sophisticated through collaboration and feedback between composers, musicians, researchers and engineers. For example, virtual 3-dimensional environments and multi-speaker matrix diffusion sound systems mean that composers and sound artists are increasingly able to realise complex and immersive sound environments in concert halls, performance spaces and headphones.

A second key development, also space-related, arises from mobile phone technology and virtual geotagging.  Groups like Escoitar, who work at the fluid edge between art and technology – are developing mobile applications which can add a virtual and interactive layer of sound – a sonic annotation – to places and spaces. Escoitar’s NoTours application detects location (via GPS), which triggers the playing of audio files as the individual listener moves through space and enters specific location points.

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

cities@manchester have supported NOVARS’ work in the urban environment, which is brought together under the banner Locative Audio.  Last year NOVARS worked with Escoitar/NoTours on the experimental Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology project. This research and composition project culminated in an augmented aurality tour of the city, open to the public. The project had a number of stages. The initial part was the composition of five sonic pieces in response to specific sites in the city, for example around China Town and a bus journey. These were then ‘tagged’ on to specific geo-locations in the city using the software. The outcome was a tour of Manchester along specific routes; participants were given a prepared smartphone and headphones and taken along these predefined routes.  As they moved through the city with the device in their pockets their GPS-tracked location automatically triggered the playing of sonic pieces in specific sites. It can be highly interactive as the audio files play in particular formulations depending on how the listener moves through space.

This mapping of sonic materials on to spatial environments has huge practical and creative potential. Ricardo Climent, project director and NOVARS co-director, explains:

“by ‘Augmenting the Aurality’ of a specific every-day location, composers can recover memories of a particular place, can produce sonic alternatives to repositories of visual information; and even attempt to forecast desired futures through sound”.

This short video featuring Ricardo and others involved in the project explains more.

This year Locative Audio focuses on the concept of ‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’. Culminating in an interactive audiogame showcase event on 29th June, researchers, composers, artists and practitioners have been invited to respond to:

  •  “The study of Cities from a sonic perspective” (e.g. using mobile technology and physical tours around the city), with
  • “The concert hall’, as an immersive interactive environment (often using physics-graphics-audio-game engines and virtual worlds) which can potentially connect with the former.

So if last year’s project brought composers and audiences out into the city, this year sees an attempt to link the city back to the concert hall.

Ricardo explains:

“with renewed support from cities@manchester the 2012 Locative Audio Project takes our exploration a step further by connecting the ‘Augmented Aurality City Tours’ with ‘The Concert Hall’. We are inviting a number of participants from the UK and abroad to share their creative thinking with us, combining Location-based Audio and Media with game-physics-audio engine technologies often found in the production of virtual environments and games”.

The profusion and diversity of these interactions between sound and technology can obscure a quite simple understanding, shared by many of the practitioners involved, of the value and potential of sound and sonic experience. One of the speakers at the upcoming Locative Audio event on 29th June, Roddy Hawkins, tells us why he thinks it is so important for understanding and experiencing cities:

“One way or another sound affects us all in the city. And yet we know remarkably little about how people engage with the sensory overload that is presented by the urban landscape. When you consider that over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban areas you very quickly begin to appreciate the enormity of the topic and the relevance of a critical and creative approach to the study of sound in that context. From product design to acoustic cocooning, sonic branding to noise pollution, the city is a complex space that both constructs and reflects the fragmented experience of the modern day city-dweller.

“What is particularly exciting about the topic is its relevance and impact beyond academia: in my experience, given the opportunity, most people have something to say on the way they experience sound in the city — as pleasure, escape, noise, information, warning. Understanding this experience is fundamental to the way we engage with the city as an idea. But there is something about the experience of the city which isn’t captured by academic discourse. It’s crucial, therefore, that its complexity is captured in as many ways as possible.

“‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’ is especially important because it reaches out through the medium we are exploring: sound. It brings together academics, sound artists, new technologies and listeners in a model of exchange that we need to build and sustain in the future. I’m really looking forward to the sonic journey promised by the forthcoming Locative Audio event; with GPS and game audio technologies, we’re going to explore the city and its complex sound in an interactive, engaging way. We need to open our ears to open our eyes.”

This ambition for the possibilities of sound both as a medium and as a creative tool is echoed by Ricardo:

“As composers, we want to take a step forward in the way we interact with cities and people and learn from other agents who do so; e.g.  historians, social enterprise leaders, developers, policy makers, archaeologists, urban planners, heritage officials, to mention a few. By combining creative forces to collage narratives and sound via soundwalks, composers and sound aggregators can also interact with other disciplines to project a new understanding of a specific place and time. Such audio-guided geo-walks may convert the city into a new ‘open hall’ to experience sound.”

Locative Audio are holding a big open event on Friday 29th June from 12:00 to 17:00 at the John Thaw Studio Theatre, Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, University of Manchester. The event aims to brings together the range of potential applications and possibilities opened up by digital technologies and methodologies. It will include talk, media and virtual installations, live music events and audio guide tours of areas in the city. Full details including the programme can be found on the website: http://locativeaudio.org/.

Text by Caitriona Devery.