Tag Archives: Exclusion

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

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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

 

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.

Ten Years After! What is the Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games for Manchester?

The B of the Bang was a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick and was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

 

In July and August 2002 the city of Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games.  This eleven day event was to mark the beginning of a strategy to systematically redevelop the east of Manchester.  After decades of losing its population and suffering multiple forms of distress, the plan was to use the Games to reintegrate the area’s neighborhoods back into the wider space economy.  New East Manchester, an urban regeneration company, was established to oversee the redevelopment.  Fast forward to July 2012 and London is about to host the Olympics.  A central feature of the discussions prior to the Games has been over their legacy in the area to the east of London.  This has involved learning from the efforts of other cities, such as Manchester, who have hosted major cultural and sporting events.

On 10 July 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the current state of East Manchester and the on-going legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue.  The aim is to develop understandings that can inform the wider redevelopment efforts in the city, particularly in the context of shrinking public sector finances. Below are some brief provocations from each panelist to initiate reflection and debate.

Pete Bradshaw, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Infrastructure, Manchester City Football Club.

Ten years on… legacy in action or inaction?

The Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly captured the imagination of people across our city, our region, our nation and across the Commonwealth too.

Manchester and its city region had gained valuable experience in bidding for two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) and in doing so, had the opportunity to stage a variety of international sporting events and an insight and understanding of what Games’ host cities needed – and indeed the risks involved. Embarking on a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games therefore, would need to be founded in reality, deliverability and should leave lasting legacy for the people of Manchester and for sport, locally, regionally and nationally.

When considering the development of Games’ facilities – it would be critical that they should be fit-for-purpose insofar as the Games were concerned, but no less important would be the need for those very facilities to provide a life beyond the Games without the need for further funding whilst developing new opportunities, events, inward investment and jobs.

Facilities  for the future and in helping deliver legacy would only be one consideration; participation and engagement another. Some twenty years previous, the Sports Council in its launch of Sport – The Next ten Years noted: “Although participation is made possible through facility provision, it is made actual only by sensitive management, inspiring leadership and energetic promotion”. Never more would this be the case with the legacy of Manchester 2002.

Programmes and activities directly related to the Games were (and are) there for all to see, successful at the time and in some cases setting precedence for events and investments ten years on. 15,000 Volunteers engaged with M2002 Pre Volunteer Programme and across the city we can still find them working on events and engaged in jobs as a result. There was Games XChange which created a comprehensive data base and event information resource; the Community Curriculum Pack shared with local education authorities from across the region whilst Let’s Celebrate engaged people of all ages in arts, cultural and events management. Passport gave people access to opportunities which included art, sport, environment, health and jobs and these were supported by Healthier Communities and Prosperity North West programmes.

The emerging development of east Manchester in 2012 is testament to the faith City leaders places in the Manchester 2002 Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure of Sportcity helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognises the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhood.

The changing, even unstable economic climate has presented challenges, no doubt, but the grounding, the character, the leadership and aspiration that lead City leaders to host the XVII Commonwealth Games is vital to our future success and the creation of and access to opportunities for people in our city. I remain convinced that there has been and will continue to be action and investment, there is certainly confidence in this city and about this city.

Rev. David Gray – Faith Network for Manchester and Growing faith in Community

Building trust between communities and practitioners is essential

Having been the workshop of the world during the great industrial push when mines, mills, factories and foundries were producing steel, cotton, coal and railway rolling stock for communities around the world, by the 1990’s East Manchester had become the most disadvantaged community inWestern Europe. Following industrial decline, the well meaning but empathy void slum clearances had broken the back and the heart of the community. Intricate connections reminiscent of eco systems like the Wood Wide Web were broken as orchestras, extended family networks, faith communities; sporting and artistic societies were broken up forever. As psychopathic predators preyed on the children who dwelt in a landscape where a once proud people no longer seemed to matter to those who wielded power, the working class became the post-working class and fell to their knees feeling useless, overlooked and de-skilled. Mortality rates rose to endemic levels due to the impact of hitherto misunderstood industrial diseases; mental ill-health spread like a plague and crime and anti-social behaviour took root among the disaffected. In a trail of broken promises from politicians and planners, hope began to retreat. Children growing up in a culture of unemployment that had been passed on like a baton down several generations lost any concept of there being a link between school and potential career paths.

In due course, a remnant of community activists and a new generation of regeneration professionals began to address the issues. But trust that had been broken had to be re-earned. The prospect of the Commonwealth Games being hosted in East Manchester came with mixed blessings. On one hand, this offered energising hope for the future – but on the other, fears of the gentrification of the area were fuelled as the dreaded compulsory purchases of living memory were once again used to destabilise the existing community.

The games themselves proved an uplifting experience for those local people who managed to remain in the community. Manchester Royal Artillery at nearby Belle Vue Barracks had been threatened with being disbanded, but received a reprieve when myself and others wrote to her Britannic Majesty to plead their cause as a force for good in our community, resulting in a battery salute from artillery field guns opening the games themselves.

The summer of 2002 was a balmy one and the atmosphere around the games was positive for visitors and host community alike.

The games over, a new threat reared its head when the politicians and planners put all their eggs into one basket with a proposal to regenerate the East Manchestereconomy by creating a super casino. Once again the long suffering community was filled with dread.

‘Communities for Stability’ was formed to explore alternatives and the Faith Network for Manchester held a conference “Gambling with our Future” that explored the positives of job creation alongside negatives such as organised crime, sexual exploitation and the impact of habitual gambling. Soon local communities were shouting loudly for something more diverse that was built on local experience and the diversity of the communities of this great city. In short, they were saying: “Bring Back Belle Vue – but with a modern, ethical ethos”.

In due course myself – by now made redundant from my post as community coordinator on the team that restored Gorton Monastery and going through the transition to becoming a sole trader – and unemployed trades union steward Damian Carr compiled, in consultation with local people, businesses, faith and community groups, Manchester City Football Club, police officers, teachers, children and health professionals a business plan that, with the help of Sir Gerald Kaufman, we presented to then communities minister Hazel Blears.

We took with us the directors of a company wishing to bring an eco-affordable housing manufacturing base to the area.

A lot has happened since that meeting. The Moscow and Chinese State Circuses have visited East Manchester; in September we will host a Circus themed parade and Carnival and the legacy of sporting and leisure represented by the games and the old Belle Vue have begun to inform the way ahead. But there is still no eco-affordable housing manufacturing base here, despite all the signs of its being sorely needed.

With a new national speedway stadium in the pipeline and the reintroduction of animal features such as EST Donkey Centre where Donkey’s housed in five star accommodation work to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties, the magic of Belle Vue is unfolding once again.

This is part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, but it has been far from easy for local people to help drive new initiatives with so many disappointments in the fields of politics and banking in our national life. We are determined that our future is not driven by the greed and self interest of a minority of people who are unlikely to settle here themselves to share a stake in our unfolding future. We don’t say we know best, but we do say that unless the indigenous populace – including people who settle here from other lands – are thoroughly involved in what emerges post Commonwealth Games, the damage done by previous waves of regeneration will be compounded and our communities, indeed our national life itself, may never recover from the resultant wounds, allowing apathy to take a hold that will slowly throttle breath out of democracy as people cease to exercise their voting power within a system in which they have totally lost faith.

Camilla Lewis, Social Anthropology PhD candidate, University of Manchester

An uncertain future?

In 2002, the Commonwealth Games were championed as a win-win solution for Manchester. The sporting event would bring worldwide attention and investment to the city and offer a unique opportunity to kick start social regeneration and transform the fortunes of some of Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods. East Manchester was chosen as an ideal site as it offered large, cheap, de-industrial areas suitable for the main sporting facilities. Over the past ten years, under the banner of ‘New East Manchester’, the area has been radically transformed through multiple processes of rebranding and rebuilding. The industrial past has been largely erased in order to refashion the landscape and, in turn, to create a sustainable, cohesive community. This begs the questions; what kind of legacy has the Games produced and have the expectations of the ambitious regeneration plans been met?

The answers to these questions are complex and contested. East Manchester is a large geographical area with a heterogeneous social landscape. Since local people report constant changes to neighbourhoods it is very difficult to talk about how a single event has changed people’s experiences in a uniform way. Rather than one moment of transformation, the social life and landscape in the area have been reconfigured in multiple ways with changes accelerating over the past decade. While there have been many positive reactions to the newly configured landscape, many local residents feel that the area is characterised by a sense of precariousness and uncertainty about the future. Despite the continuing regeneration efforts, East Manchester is still socially and spatially dislocated from the rest of the city. The future and sustainability of the area is questioned, due to the persistence of high levels of unemployment. In this context, new dynamics of social life have emerged in which relations to place have been reconstituted around historical ideas about community rather than a linear idea of progress and development. The Games promised to instill a sense of certainty and optimism for East Manchester which would be based on a socially accepted ambition towards progress. However, ten years after, community in the past is often remarked on with nostalgia and warmth whereas the future is described as uncertain.

Tom Russell,  former Chief Executive of New East Manchester

Lessons for driving social and economic renewal?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games, by common accord, was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester. It also has had wider significance in  terms of the approach adopted by London towards the staging of the 2012 Olympics, and by Glasgow in looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success in 2002.

The city was always clear, through the bidding process for the event and beyond, that it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Heavily influenced by Barcelona’s approach to the 1992 Olympics, the city’s primary objective was the comprehensive economic, physical and social renewal of the east of the city, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country in terms of poverty and urban deprivation. Yet the relationship between an international sporting event – elitist by definition and frozen in  a moment in time – and deep-seated problems of urban decline and renewal is not obvious, and cities have faced considerable criticism over the cost and opportunity cost that such events involve.

My contribution to the Forum will aim to examine this relationship and evaluate progress towards the ambitious objectives Manchester set itself, the continuing challenges that the area faces, and the lessons that can be drawn from Manchester’s experience of harnessing a major international event to drive economic and social renewal.

The economic crisis: A view from the Everyday

by Maria Kaika, Geography, School of Environment and Development. maria.kaika@manchester.ac.uk

February 2012, Working Paper. Copyright: Maria Kaika

Turning a public of Indignados into a public of Desperados: the making of Greece’s Nouveau Poor. 

A walk through the streets of Athens today, can be a confusing, or even alienating experience. If one walks around the Acropolis or in the upmarket shopping district of Kolonaki, one comes across a city buzzing with people eating in restaurants and cafes, oozing with music, laughter and joy. But if one ventures two blocks further towards the city centre, one encounters a different city; a city whose every corner, every niche, is occupied by homeless people, and beggars, and whose air is saturated with woodfire smoke, the result of people who cannot afford their gas or electricity bills.

This extreme polarization of the Greek society, and the radical changes in the city’s physical and social fabric took place over a very short period of time; just under two years. These two years saw the Greek economy imploding, as a result of a soaring public debt, which currently totals 340 billion EUROS, and the Greek society polarizing like never before as a result of a set of ‘austerity measures’, to which the Greek government committed itself, in order to continue receiving funds from its creditors. Indeed the 12 billion Euro worth of savings that the Greek government made in 2011 affected mainly pensioners and the salaried lower middle classes. The cuts were translated into 30,000 job losses in the public sector; 20-30% cuts in wages and pensions across the public and private sectors; and a rise in general unemployment by 40 percent. During the first quarter of 2011, the GDP fell by a further 7%, whilst the suicide rate increased by 40%. A quarter of businesses in Greece has gone bust, 20% of shops in the centre Athens are currently empty, and youth unemployment currently runs at 49%.

As today Greece counts 3 million people living at the edge of poverty, has the highest risk of child poverty in Europe (at 24%), and 25,5% of its population living in substandard housing conditions, it is hard to disagree with Paul Krugman, who recently termed Greece’s austerity measures ‘terminal’ for the population . Although the austerity measures did not delivered the anticipated economic results, they did deliver a new social and political situation in Greece: nouveau poor, and turned a public of Indignados into a public of Desperados.

Whilst the 1% of the Greek population still engage in conspicuous consumption and drive luxury cars, the most desperate amongst Greece’s nouveau poor have now joined ranks with illegal migrants, junkies, and alcoholics in the streets of Athens, begging, or rummaging through garbage for food. Yet, Athens’ new class of poor can be distinguished easily from Athens’ veteran poor;  junkies, alcoholics, or begging migrants. They are young or elderly, men or women, who, until recently, belonged to the middle classes, but were spat out from these ranks as they lost their jobs, took massive cuts in their salaries or pensions, or had their homes repossessed. They still wear decent clothes, and still bear in their eyes a sense of dignity. They beg whilst looking at you straight in the eye, as if they were asking for a cigarette, or for the time. Their body language as they search through garbage for food is erect, and almost dignified, because they are convinced they do not deserve what they have got. They have not reached – yet – the level of misery that turns human beings into wretched creatures (Declerck, 2006). They have not – yet – entered the terrain where their existence is defined only by their position as beggars in a country that appears to have no future.

This is the once aspiring middle classes come poor; this is our poor, our ex-neighbour turned homeless; and for being that, for being our poor, they deserve  – and receive – a level of compassion, and national and international media attention, like no other group of poor in Greece, or elsewhere in Europe has ever received. Everybody has read reports about Greece new poor; but very few are aware of the struggle for survival of Greece’s one million undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran. Many have seen the international headlines about the suicide attempt of the public sector worker in Athens; but very few have heard of the year long hunger strike of Afghan migrants in Athens, who arrived there in search of Europe and found themselves trapped in this city, unable to move forward or backward.

Caring for our poor: the affective consequences of a local debt crisis.

I have highlighted the distinction between our poor and these other categories of poor, and the difference in attention that that these groups receive, in order to argue the following: the shock waves that the social consequences of Greece’s crisis sends down Europe’s spine are directly related to the fact that, this crisis concerns our poor. This is the first time, after the Second World War, that a European Union member country is faced with a humanitarian crisis; the first time, since the establishment of the European Union, that European Union members are treated like Africans or Latin Americans; that is, the first time that Europeans suffer the consequences of a debt crisis like Africans or Latin Americans do. Technocratic governments; the demand for appointed ‘commissioners’ to govern the ungovernable Greeks; demands for austerity and asset privatization in return for cash flows; demands for constitutional changes to prioritize servicing the country’s debt over servicing the population’s basic needs; all these are long established practices in the debt ridden countries of the developing world. But when these practices are transposed into European context, they become, for the first time shocking and widely publicized. They bring the message of a debt crisis home. And they make it louder. And by bringing the message home, Greece’s nouveau poor generate in western populations and political elites a set of interesting affective reactions (Tsalikoglou, 2012) that have serious political and social consequences.

First, they generate a soothing effect: it is the Greeks who suffer, not us Italians, us English, French, or Germans; not me; I still have a job; I can still feed my children; I am lucky; I’m OK.

Second, they generate a reassuring effect: after a year or two of doubts, I now feel Greeks have actually suffered enough; they are now worthy of my compassion. And the fact that I can still feel compassion is reassuring; it means I am still a human being.

Third, they generate desire for geographical distancing: Their suffering is inherently linked to their ‘Greekness’. It is close enough to me but cannot touch me, because I am not Greek; it remains outside my own country and my own home, and I want to keep it this way; I want to distance myself and my country as much as possible from ‘them’.

This way, the shock of poverty and misery brought home by the Greek crisis becomes, at best, a focal point for display of human compassion, and, at worst, a focal point for the display of racism. When it takes the form of racism, Greeks deserve what they get, because they are lazy, crooks, incompetent, etc. When it takes the form of compassion, Greeks do not deserve what they get, because they are the ones who gave us democracy; they fought on our side during the second world war, etc.

However, although compassion and racism may appear to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum of political and social reaction to this crisis, they are in fact, part of the same, Janus faced type of politics which allocates justice or hatred, compassion or despise, only after it places human beings into unified categories. It is only after I can other all Greeks as crooks and lazy PIIGS that I can express racist views about them. But it is also only after labelling all Greeks as a deeply democratic and suffering people that I can feel compassion for them. Whilst racism transforms human beings into dehumanized bodies, compassion transforms them into dependent bodies. Both cases confirm that debt is the end of freedom (Graeber, 2011). And an un-free human being -worthy of compassion or not – is a de-humanized being; a human being that can no longer produce its own history.

Learning from global capitalism: Try again and fail BETTER next time.

If we take seriously Hanah Arendt’s (Arendt, 1998) claim that History is the making of meaning, and totalitarianism the production of meaninglessness, we are currently in a moment that produces meaninglessness. In this paradoxical moment, group, the economic crisis generated a proliferation of group stereotypes across Europe, whilst the salvage of the European project is left to a bunch of nationalistic political elites. Inside Greece, this nonsensical nationalistic rambling presents other Europeans as villains, and the return to drachma as the way to save Greece from the ‘evil’ grip of foreign creditors. Greece’s family run political elites have twice now failed to negotiate Greece’s debt properly, and have twice now chosen to default on Greece’s people, rather than default on Greece’s creditors. Still, they blame the evil Germans, rather than themselves, for the misery that the Greek population has to suffer. Outside Greece, similar nationalistic ramblings present the economic crisis as a problem predominantly linked to Greece, and argue that the solution to the crisis dwells in chucking Greece out of the euro or even out of the European Union, because it is a nation of crooks who will always fail to deliver their promises.

But, of course, the claim that all Greeks, Portuguese Italian Irish and Spanish are crooks and lazy PIIGS is a claim as non-sensical as the claim that all Germans are Nazis (Trivizas, 2011). And, of course it is convenient for Europe’s political and petty local economic elites to revert to nationalism. It keeps them in power by posing false dilemmas, and constructing straw enemies. For, whilst European governments become increasingly entrenched in petty nationalism, capital becomes increasingly internationalized. Capital has never been patriotic: this is why it survives and thrives over time. In the midst of the crisis, Greek capital invests in multi-million mansions in London, whilst major private European funds invest in making “Greece the Florida of Europe”; Chinese sovereign funds buy large parts of Greece’s main port (Piraeus), whilst Qatar invests 5 billion US dollars in Greek tourism infrastructure.

There are good lessons to be leant from the movements of international capital. In a recent interview to Business Review, Niall Fergusson suggests that “the only way out of the current crisis —without disbanding the EURO—“ is to do as international capital does, namely “commit substantial resources to peripheral economies” (Blodget, 2012): But, for those who cringe to the sound of the word subsidies, we don’t even have to go that far. We could start by arguing for a more even-handed treatment of one Country towards another. As of January 2012, Greece actually runs a primary surplus (Krugman). This is a remarkable change that received little attention. It means that from now onwards, any new loan that Greece receives will only be needed to service its debt. Because part of Greece’s debt is served at 16,8% interest. Over the next couple of years, the European Central Bank is set to make a multi billion profit from interest repayments made by Greece. 5bn Euros of this profit is now earmarked to go back to the coffers of the countries that have contributed to Greece’s aid. Moreover, whilst France, the UK and Germany borrow at 0.25 interest or thereabouts, they still lend Greece at 3, 4 or 5%. In common language, this is called usury. In economic language, it is called aid. Why does Germany and France lending at high interest rates to Greece or Ireland, sound more outrageous than Bavaria subsidizing East Germany,England subsidizing Wales, or New York subsidizing Mississippi?

If we understood countries as the social historical constructs that they are, and if the economy were as ‘rational’ as it claims to be, interregional subsidies within the EU would make as much sense as interregional subsidies within the same country; and interregional lending at extortionate interest rates within the EU would sound as outrageous as the proposal of having Bavaria lending East Germany at 5%.

If we could see beyond the nationalistic parapets that Europe is building, we could also divert our attention to another remarkable fact: that the Eurozone’s greatest build up of debt is not with the governments of Greece Portugal or Spain; it is with the financial sector, whose total debt doubled from 155% of EUs’ actual economic output in 1999 to 222% in 2012. The financial sector’s debt currently runs at 20 trillion EUROS, but receives little media or political attention, compared to Greece’s debt of 340 billions which makes headlines across Europe every single day, and has claimed thousands of wo/man hours in the European and national parliaments over the last 2 years (Jones etal., 2012)

If, as a Greek passport holder, I wanted my understanding of the crisis to go beyond false dilemmas and the nationalistic rhetoric that Greece and the rest of Europe is currently stuck with, I should first and foremost remark that I am not Greek. I am not Greek, if being Greek puts me in the same category as 14,000 or so crooks who are now documented to have embezzled public funds in Greece, who drive around in SUVs and avoid paying taxes worth a total of 36 billion euros. I am not Greek, if that puts me in the same category as the thugs who beat up migrants in the streets of Athens in the name of ethnic cleansing.

But, at the same time, we are ALL Greeks. Like 99% of the Greek population, who did not embezzle public funds, we collectively foot the bill for bailing out indebted banks, or indebted countries; we collectively receive cuts in our pension funds, and we do not receive millions in bonuses, or Royal titles, for running banks that go bust, or for gambling with other people’s pension funds. If we take the rhetoric of the market to its full consequences, the fact that we are all consumers and tax payers, can form the basis for our commonality, as Bauman suggests (Bauman, 2012: no page). And if we wanted to take our commonality beyond the market logic, we collectively are the unknown people whose countless small actions, as Howard Zinn puts it, make history and produce change (Zinn, 1990).

So, addressing you as fellow global consumers, I would urge you to go to Greece for your next holiday. It will be an act of pleasure; you can enjoy the sun and the sea, and you don’t even have to face poverty if you stay clear off the main streets of Athens. It will also be an act of compassion: you will be contributing to a sinking country’s economy.

Addressing you as fellow human beings, I would still urge you, to go to Greece for your next holiday. But I would advise you to walk off the beaten tourist track; walk the main streets. It will be an act of comprehension; it will bring home an understanding of why compassion and charity cannot work as a tool for social change. Because they are predicated upon the construction of divisive lines and divisive identities. Charity is for the middle classes. The only tool left to the poor is Politics. But, at this moment, when centre, right and left party political elites revert to primitive forms of nationalism, politics reverts to its rawest and most desperate form; politics as rioting. The recent burning of historical buildings in Athens during rioting was an act as nonsensical or as desperate, as the burning of the African American ghettoes in the 1960s. It was an act performed within a political moment that produces meaninglessness and fear. Today, we are all numbed by fear. Fear that our country may be next in line, our household next on fire, our children next to suffer. Fear of failure of any new attempt to think differently about the world or the economy.

However, this moment of meaninglessness and social disarray, is the best moment for transformative thinking. It is the moment when new radical imaginaries stop being an intellectual exercise, and become a social necessity. If we take seriously Cornelius Castoriadis’ conceptualization of history as the creation of new meanings and new social imaginaries (Castoriadis, 1987), there is no better moment than now for this type of creativity.

It is the moment to counter pose divisive stereotypes and fear of failure with Samuel Beckett’s (1983) aphorism that, if you have ever failed, try again; and fail again. But try to fail better next time. In fact, this is exactly what global capitalism has always done: constantly trying and failing and trying and failing again. And it is still here, perpetually transformed, and more powerful than ever. We should learn from global capitalism! We should dare to think differently, think beyond divisive lines; dare to try again and dare to fail again. In the process, we may create new meaning.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Arendt H, 1998 The human condition (University of Chicago Press, Chicago; London)
Bauman Z, 2012, “The left that ressembles the right” Eleytherotypia, Sunday 18th December 2012
Beckett S, 1983 Worstward ho (John Calder, London)
Blodget H, 2012, “NIALL FERGUSON: Okay, I Admit It—Paul Krugman Was Right” Business Insider
Castoriadis C, 1987 The Imaginary institution of society (Polity, Cambridge)
Declerck P, 2006, “On the necessary suffering of the homeless”, in Divided cities : the Oxford Amnesty lectures 2003 Ed R Scholar (Oxford University Press, Oxford) pp 161-176
Graeber D, 2011 Debt: the first 5,000 years (Melville House, New York)
Jones S, Oakley A, Watkins M, 2012, “Bond investors face euro reckoning” Financial Times
Krugman P, “The Greek Vise” The New York Times 6th February 2012
Trivizas E, 2011, “Trivizas on PIGS“,  last accessed 2 March 2012
Tsalikoglou F, 2012, “The homeless as medicine” To Vima, 29 January 2012
Zinn H, 1990 The politics of history (University of Illinois Press, Urbana)

Telescopic Urbanism and the Poor

By Prof. Ash Amin, 1931 Chair in Geography, Cambridge University

Prof. Amin will be giving a lecture at the University of Manchester on Wednesday 14 March, as part of an afternoon of global urbanism lectures and events. All welcome!

Slums, Mumbai - image wallygrom on flickr

As globalization turns cities into complex, stretched entities with multiple geographies of affiliation, it becomes easier for some to make the self serving argument that any internal integrity to cities disappears, that there is no innate reason why their parts – social and geographical – can or should hold together.  The result is a divided optic – a telescopic urbanism – that projects only parts of the city, eschewing any need to think the city a field of shared life and common rights and obligations.  The city returns only as a space of discrepant juxtapositions and severed obligations, a provisioning for some and not others.

Two powerful projections reinforcing this optic, I wish to claim, have risen to the fore, one from a colonising minority with powerful allies, and the other from advocates of a bounded majority, both ironically tracing similar subjectivities of survival and reward.  One is the ‘business-consultancy’ projection, supported by powerful allies, for whom the urban poor are a mere encumbrance and embarrassment, while the other is the ‘human potential’ projection, sold to the poor by their allies that the only way forward is to build capabilities and other means of entrepreneurial advancement.  My argument is that such telescopic urbanism is centrally involved in preventing the growing scale and severity of human struggle, particularly in the cities of the South, from being seen as anything other than a problem of autochthonous development.

My claim is that the urban imaginary will need to change radically for things to be different, and a start would be to think the city once again as a provisioning and indivisible commons.  It would be easy to dismiss such a premise as unworkable let alone too idealistic, by pointing to the omissions that follow from entitlements being defined by the legal rather than existential status of urban inhabitants (therefore excluding the majority city of illegals and non-citizens), the biases arising from hamstrung, inefficient or corrupt public authorities captured by the rich and the powerful, the organisation of elites, interests and communities who benefit from the apportioned and appropriated city, the sheer magnitude of need in the city of endless migration from the countryside and increased reproduction.  But without an optic that sees the whole city, and as a shared commons, the rudimentary response of telescopic regimes to a 21st century problem of bare survival for a very large chunk of humanity on the urban fringe will remain unchallenged.

Thinking in this way leads me to suggest that the state of the world demands once again a politics of large-scale social engineering, but of a distinctive sort.  Junking the totalising ideals of old-style socialist modernism or the brashness of modern capitalist colonisation of desire, a place to start is to commit to the universal distribution of the basic staples of human development and association, from access to shelter, clean water and sanitation to the means to access the rest of the city and its public goods.  Without extending the ‘infrastructural’ rights of the poor, business consultancy urbanism will take over the city, as it has already begun to do in parts of the world aspiring to world-class city status.   Here, the elites are on the march, bent on clearing slums and people of an unpleasant bearing to make way for business-consultancy city, with its shiny buildings, glitzy consumption, fast highways, clean and safe streets, plentiful real estate, a pro-business state, global connectivity, and an investment-tourism-consumption-knowledge friendly environment.

In aspiring world-class cities such as Delhi and Bombay the cleansing elites are already getting their way.  Here, even the affordances of the concessionary state to the poor in response to their organisation as a claims-making rather than rights-bearing body, are being choked off, fanned by a paranoid rhetoric from behind gated communities of bad life in upgraded slums whose real estate ought to be handed over to the prosperity-bearing middle classes.  Other cities of the post-colonial world will choose to follow suit as rumours of rich pickings from business consultancy urbanism spread.  They too will want their place in the sun in the unfolding post-occidental modernity, by letting the poor roast in the sun.  It may be time to rove the telescope to police the colonising urban elites, to insist on the basic infrastructural rights of the poor, without qualification.

Prof. Amin’s  book Land of Strangers, which examines the biopolitics of belonging in the contemporary West, is published in 2012 by Polity. An interview with Ash about Land of Strangers can be found on podularity.com.

Violence and the city: A view from the ganglands

Image from flickr: Il Fatto Quotidiano

 

by Dennis Rodgers, Senior Research Fellow, Brooks World Poverty Institute.

Email: dennis.rodgers@manchester.ac.uk

Although there has long existed a concern that urbanisation amplifies violence, there is sense in which cities are increasingly being put forward as key sites of violence in the contemporary world. The fact that much recent conflict, terrorism and civil disorder has occurred in cities such as Baghdad, Beirut, or Nairobi, or that the world’s highest homicide rates afflict cities in Central America, Colombia, or South Africa, has become ever more noted, and has clearly added to the ubiquitous notion that cities and violence are intimately related. It is striking, however, that the city as a particular type of space rarely reflected upon directly in such debates.

An important exception in this regard is the gang literature, which has consistently sustained that in order to truly get to grips with gangs, it is critical to understand the context within which they emerge. Certainly, two major insights of gang research are that they are on the one hand are fundamentally epiphenomenal social formations, and on the other, that they are inherently urban in nature. For example, in his pioneering study of gangs, The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago (Chicago University Press, 1927), sociologist Frederic Thrasher paradigmatically suggested that “the gang and its problems constitute …one of many symptoms of the more or less general disorganization incident to …the rapid growth of cities and all the internal process of kaleidoscopic movement and rearrangement which this growth has entailed” (page 487).

Indeed, Thrasher argued that “the beginnings of the gang can best be studied in the slums of the city where an inordinately large number of children are crowded into a limited area. …Such a crowded environment is full of opportunities for conflict”, which “coupled with deterioration in housing, sanitation, and other conditions of life in the slum, give the impression of general disorganization and decay” (pages (26 & 37-38). In a manner clearly reminiscent of Louis Wirth’s famous analysis of “urbanism as a way of life”, Thrasher contended that such conditions of anomie and impersonal social relations led to the emergence of “an inevitable repertoire of predatory activities and a universe of discourse reflecting the disorganized social environment”, most obviously manifest in the existence of gangs.

At the same time, however, Thrasher’s research simultaneously undermines the notion that there exists an inherent relationship between urban contexts and gang violence. The ethnic nature of the gangs that he highlights in his study for example clearly contradicts the idea that violence emerges as a result of the superficiality and anonymity of urban social relations, insofar as it suggests that gangs can be based on elementary forms of social connection. Thrasher attempts to explain this paradox by suggesting that the actions of social agents cannot go beyond their individual experiences, and that gangs therefore had to have their “beginning[s] in acquaintanceship and intimate relations which have already developed on the basis of some common interest” (page 30). In addition to ethnicity, he thus also lists kinship and feelings of local neighbourhood belonging as basic vectors for gang formation.

In many ways this is not surprising, however. Anthropologists have provided us with a plethora of studies of neighbourhoods, barrios, or quartiers in cities around the world that describe how urbanites effectively reproduce small-scale community forms of living within urban contexts by interacting repeatedly with relatively small numbers of individuals, moreover within a normally localised territory. Social life is not a mass phenomenon, but something that generally occurs in small groups, and therefore any generalizations about social life in the city must inevitably draw on the study of these smaller universes rather than on abstract statements about the city as a whole. While this makes eminent sense, it also suggests that it is important to examine the underlying nature of gang violence more closely in order to truly understand the way that the phenomenon articulates with urban life in general, and the city in particular.

Thrasher justifies specifically focusing on slums in cities – which he likens to frontier zones – by arguing that they constitute “geographically …interstitial area[s] in the city”, and that just as “in nature foreign matter tends to collect and cake in every crack, crevice, and cranny”, so “life, rough and untamed” materialises in the interstitial areas that constitute “fissures and breaks in the structure of social organization” (pages 22-23). Gangs, from this perspective, are “rich in elemental social processes significant to the student of society and human nature” (page 3), because they represent an unmediated form of life, a primordial reflection of the violence that inherently bubbles under the surface of things and inevitably erupts at points where the social fabric is weak.

Such a perception of violence manifesting itself when social order breaks down clearly constitutes the phenomenon as something that exists outside of the social order. Although this kind of thinking is part of a long tradition, which perhaps finds its most obvious expression in Thomas Hobbes’ classic argument that violence is an incipient facet of being human in a state of nature that is held in check by the establishment of an encompassing social order, it is a viewpoint that also naturalises violence by projecting it as an autonomously pre-existing phenomenon that comes to the fore organically and automatically as a result of the existence or absence of certain objective conditions. For Hobbes, this was the absence of the Leviathan, but in relation to Thrasher’s framework, it was the existence of cities, or at least of the particular social relations that he associated with the spatial characteristics of cities as anomic, disorganized social spaces.

When seen from this perspective, it could be argued that urban space is not necessarily violent per se, but rather constitutes a particular type of territorial space with intrinsic characteristics that naturally unleash the violence inherent to being human. The notion of space is not only concerned with the territorial environment, however, but is also fundamentally about social relations. The gang literature once again provides us with an interesting window onto this, including for example Philippe Bourgois’ modern classic In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which offers a detailed ethnographic study of drug-dealing gangs inEast Harlem. This presents a nuanced and multifaceted analysis that balances economic motivations and individual choices with structural constraints, showing how the Puerto Rican gangs that he studied could be understood in terms of a mixture of local resource distribution, local cultural identity, and implicit political resistance.

Bourgois describes in great detail how gang violence was an instrumental means to protect markets, enforce contracts, and ensure that the local drug economy ran smoothly in order to provide for neighbourhood inhabitants in a context of limited resources, and how it built on local cultural norms and networks. But he also links the emergence of gangs to the way in which the wider urban labour market effectively condemned the inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods such as the one he studied to dead-end jobs, which thus made joining drug-dealing gangs a logical aspiration, particularly for youth rejecting the low-grade options on offer to them. In doing so, Bourgois highlights how gangs in East Harlememerged not just as instrumental adaptations to a context of limited resources, but also very much as responses to a broader context of limited access to resources within a broader city context characterised by extreme socio-economic marginalization.

Bourgois thereby suggests that gangs are not a natural ecological feature of a city’s spatial form, but rather epiphenomena of very specific wider socio-political circumstances. As such he is drawing on a very different epistemological tradition to the Chicago School sociologists, and assuming that questions pertaining to the distribution, allocation, and use of resources are the fundamental organising vectors of society, with violence not a natural phenomenon that is unleashed by social breakdown but a means through which control over resources, or access to them, is achieved instrumentally. Indeed, this is something that Bourgois underlines starkly when he discusses East Harlem in terms of “institutional violence” and “urban apartheid”, emphasising the active and purposeful process of segregation that occurs between the inner city and the rest of New York in the form of particular patterns of Police patrolling and the targeting of particular racial profiles, oppressive architecture and technologies of surveillance, the provision of deficient social services, and cultural stigmatisation.

At the same time, however, Bourgois also comments how if inner city neighbourhoods such as East Harlem represent “the United States’ greatest domestic failing, hanging like a Damocles sword over the larger society”, “ironically, the only force preventing this suspended sword from falling is that drug dealers, addicts, and street criminals internalize their rage and desperation”, and “direct their brutality against themselves and their immediate community rather than against their structural oppressors” (page 318). The reasons for this are a complex “mesh of political-economic structural forces, historical legacies, cultural imperatives, and individual actions”, but in the final analysis reflect the fact that gangs are desperate forms of social mobilisation, whether viewed from a micro or a macro perspective. Locally, their natures as limited institutions means that they can only benefit a minority within the ghetto, while at the macro level they simply do not have the strength to challenge the city-wide system of oppression, which is backed by an extensive apparatus of power and control. Seen from this perspective, it can be argued that it is this latter form of structural subjugation that is ultimately the most devastating type of urban violence that can afflict cities. In other words, what the view from the gangland suggests is that understand violence in the city requires understanding the political economy of the city first and foremost.