Tag Archives: Globalisation

Asking the right questions: What kind of research will actively serve to improve urban health?

Natalia Garcia Cervantes, Jessica Roccard and Cathy Wilcock (University of Manchester) write about an international conference that took place two weeks ago in Manchester …

The second morning’s opening plenary (6 March) featured keynotes by Dr David Satterwaite (International Institute for the Environment and Development) and Professor Ana Diez Roux (Drexel University). Both focus on the role of research in improving health.

Professor Satterwaite was asking ‘Why is health so poor in the Global South after 60 years of humanitarian interventions?’ Despite over half a century of development assistance, in many countries in the Global South, 1 in 5 infants are still dying before the age of 5. In light of this lack of progress, Professor Satterwaite asks why most of the research into ‘causes of death’ is conducted with the aim of being able to make global comparisons, rather than generating localised, relevant knowledge. Without this specific local information, there is no way development practitioners, urban planners, or local governments, can target the right policies at the right areas of their locality. He proposes that the way forward is to garner the unique knowledge of the poor themselves to form the basis of local partnerships between community organisations/ social movements within poor urban areas and their local governments. We wonder can participatory research work in areas where the power relations between government actors and non-state actors are abusive/oppressive? Does participation, as a policy-relevant research method, focus too much on the agency of the poor themselves, therefore initiating policies which are blind to the structural inequalities actually keeping people in poverty?

Following on from this, Professor Roux’s keynotes called for innovations in research methodology in health research. She demonstrates that a lot of health research is ‘linear’ – it aims to reveal or demonstrate a causal relationship between one variable and another, often through data-gathering in experimental settings. In contrast to this so-called ‘reductionist’ method, she makes a compelling case for a ‘systems approach’ in health research. Less concerned with proving a causal relationship between two variables, a systems approach is sensitive to the multitude of factors which affect health and can present findings which are demonstrative of feedback (as opposed to causal) relations between the numerous components in the system. Especially within the context of a conference where the somewhat vague subtitle of ‘crossing boundaries’ has not really shone through so far, this refreshing keynotes provided a clear strategy for change rather than a business as usual approach.

Whose role is it anyway? Sharing responsibility for the urban poor’s health

The keynotes speeches had left me wondering about the question of responsibility – who is responsible for improving the health of the urban poor. Is it the poor themselves? Their local governments? National governments? International NGOs? Local NGOs? If it is a combination of any of the above, how can that shared responsibility be managed? The session on ‘Stress in the City’ provided some interesting approaches to this question.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) presented on their work with market traders, street vendors, home based workers and domestic workers in urban townships in South Africa. Following that Dr Selmin Jahan spoke about water and sanitation facilities for the urban poor in Dhaka. The session closed with Dr Helen Elsey speaking about a ‘Healthy Kitchens’, an initiative which identifies interventions to improve health in urban slum kitchens. All of these presentations were about projects seeking to improve the health and safety in informal, unregulated urban settings where people are exposed to a multitude of risks including lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, burns etc. All three projects are asking how do we extend health and safety policies to urban informal settings? How can they be included in urban planning? How can we minimise health and safety risks in informal settings? In WIEGO’s case, they have developed a piece of research in partnership with the market traders which outlines a zonal health and safety plan for their workplace. As well as providing education and training, they have overseen the installation of a risk management sub-committee among the traders. For the healthy cities initiative, the targeted intervention is to replace open fires and gas in kitchens with a safer alternative.

These projects placed a lot of the responsibility for improving health and safety on the urban poor themselves – the aim of these projects was to empower the urban poor to take the appropriate actions and establish the appropriate systems for improving health and safety using the resources available to them. However, they also recognised that these measures can only go so far without the local governments also taking responsibility to protect their citizens. In WIEGO’s project in particular, the difficulty of making this shared-responsibility work shone through. They recognised the need to negotiate the unequal power relations between governments and their poor citizens and interestingly, have themselves developed strategies to tread this contentious path towards partnership. These presentations about three fascinating projects demonstrated how small, inexpensive measures can be implemented by the urban poor themselves to improve their health and safety. However, unequal structures loom large: how can the poor empower themselves effectively in a broader context of disempowerment?

Climate Change: a universal threat?

During the session about climate change (CC) and urban insecurities chaired by Dr Dodman, three presenters, Mr Umamaheshwaran, Mrs Dang Thu and Dr Rais introduced their work. Their interesting speeches raised different issues caused by climate change impacts on urban areas. On the one hand, it can be understood that impacts such as flooding and/or the increase in temperatures (among many others), are faced by every city within every country. And within these cities, they severely affect particularly the health of the most vulnerable: the low-income communities. However, not every city has to face existing burdens that CC only exacerbates. For example, New-Delhi faces extreme problems of drinking water access, sanitation systems and air pollution caused by the dense traffic. Moreover, the health policies are not always being adequately implemented and the reaction time of the authorities when an epidemic occurs is too long.

Nevertheless, there are attempts underway to address these problems. Indeed, strategies to face climate change impact are implemented by NGOs such as ‘Challenge to Change’ (Mrs Dang Thu), by providing support to the most vulnerable groups in Vietnam to implement strategies to mitigate and adapt to these impacts. On the other hand, more technological solutions such as projects from Taru (Mr Umamaheshwaran) are also being implemented in Indore. By supporting a new management system and software for the health practitioners, this organisation helps to monitor the spreading of disease and allows following in real time the epidemics.

The second session about climate change, chaired by Dr Alfredo Stein, also introduced some very interesting topics. Starting with the presentation of Dr Jemery Carter from the University of Manchester, the session first focused on climate change impacts and adaptation responses in Greater Manchester. Dr Carter pointed out the existing connections of the previous concepts with people health and well-being. He emphasised the creation of green infrastructure as a solution to face impacts such as flooding and heat wave. However, the infrastructure promoted might be efficient in a context of Manchester, but would not benefit from the same efficiency in Indian cities, for example.

Mr Brown and Dr Dodman propose a different approach of climate change. They argued that climate change research has been often considering it as top-down approach and focusing on hazards themselves. Hence, challenging this view, the vulnerability of the urban poor is the focus of their research.

The last presentation, given by Vikai Desai, focused on her experience in Surat city, which experienced strong flooding. As an impact of flooding, the city witnessed the arising of a new disease: leptospirosis. Facing this new challenge, an innovative monitoring and control system had to be implemented. Not only people, but cities as a whole have also to adapt to the new challenges arising from climate change direct and indirect impacts!

Finally, these sessions allowed the understanding of the multi-disciplinarity of climate change and multi-faceted impacts. CC creates strong challenges for urban health and development actors, as well as for the inhabitants of those cities. Practitioners and academics must work together to build a brightest and healthiest future.

Aiding violence? Urban violence and humanitarian responses to it

One of the HCRI/GURC sub-conference sessions was ‘Urban violence and conflict: Exploring the response to urban violence’ with the participation of Elena Lucci (via skype), Verena Brähler, and Dr Melanie Lombard.

Elena Lucci opened the session with the intervention ‘Humanitarian Action in the context of urban violence’ drawing on the lessons emerging from case studies based on humanitarian aid in urban settings experiences. She started by asking the question ‘What is urban violence and why is it important for humanitarians?’ She defined urban violence and then asserted that the characteristics such as dynamism, density and diversity or urban centres, can create enabling environments for violence. There are important lessons from her experience in humanitarian aid. For example: ensuring clear aims from the beginning must a priority; also, acting strategically to develop capacity and linkages in the community that is being served; thirdly, taking a localised approach to violence and to developing the specialized skills that are needed to respond to urban crises.

Following this, was Verena Brähler from UCL, with ‘Inequality of Insecurity in Rio de Jainero, Brazil’. Verena presented the results of her PhD Research. She used a mixed methods approach and, on this occasion, she talked about the quantitative part. Her analytical framework is based on the concepts of inequality and security. Additionally, she measured social cohesion and perceptions of insecurity through a series of surveys in the ’favelas’ and compared the security provision between low and middle-income neighbourhoods. To end such an interesting discussion, the audience contributed to the dialogue with questions about the role of the state in security provision in Brazil. She argues that in the absence of the Brazilian state as a provider of security, poor people have to accept to live side by side to criminals, respecting a silence code in exchange for minimal security provision.

Last but not least, Dr Melanie Lombard explored urban land conflicts with a case study from provincial Mexico. Dr Lombard provided key concepts about land disputes, and conceptual differences between conflict and violence; in Santa Lucia –the case study– the situation of many urban settlements in Mexico is exposed: land is available but unaffordable. As a result, colonias populares or peri-urban settlements arise from the illegal subdivision of previously community-owned land (ejidos). Conflict appears when, under the absence of state presence and a normative dissonance (since the land was neither claimed to be rural nor urban), the interests of key actors, including the state, urban political leaders and local associations clash. She concluded asserting that ‘When violence is used as a tool by actors struggling for political or economic power, conflict over land is more likely to escalate and the urban poor communities are more likely to be adversely affected’.

This was indeed a very intense and stimulating session. Thanks to all the participants!!

 

Advertisements

‘Every Revolution has its Space: from Occupying Squares to Transforming Cities?’: Audio Recording

Image from Elentari86 via flickr

25th April, 4-6.30 pm,  Cordingley Lecture Theatre, Humanities Bridgeford Street

Presentations by:
Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, University of Manchester
Andy Merrifield, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Department of Geography, University of Manchester
Neil Smith, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography, CUNY Graduate Center, New York

Play audio recording 

A conversation among three geographers exploring the relationship between contemporary political movements, symbolic and material spaces of the contemporary city, and strategies for radical social change in an era defined by consensual party politics.  The presentations and audience participation extend from theoretical considerations of politics and urban society to speculations on what contemporary political manifestations might mean, and how they might be interpreted and encouraged.

This event was organised by:
OpenSpace:  An interdisciplinary forum for doctoral and postdoctoral research supporting dialogue on cities and beyond, initiated by PhD researchers in the Department of Geography

And was supported by:
The Leverhulme Trust: Visiting Professorships
cities@manchester
The Urban Transformations Research Group, Geography, University of Manchester

For further information, please contact brian.rosa@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk

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

by Colin McFarlane, Durham University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrants and Comparative Urbanism

Nina Glick Schiller, Director of Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures and Professor of Social Anthropology University of Manchester.

afro shop by roboppy on flickr

 

It was in the back room of an ‘Afro-shop’ in 2001 in Halle/Saale, a downscaled city in eastern Germany, that I was introduced to the comparative perspective that African migrants deployed to assess the relative merits and deficits of living in various European and American cities. As the men exchanged information and experiences, interspersed with comments on the football match they were watching on a small television perched high on a shelf, I realized that they lived within a transnational social field —a network of networks—that provided them with information with which to compare cities. They discussed employment opportunities, the degree of surveillance by authorities, the cost of living, the availability of health care and the quality of life and the cultural ambience of various localities.

Based on information from siblings and other kin, co-religionists, and friends, the men compared general differences between state policies and the specific differences between cities in Germany, France, the UK, the United States and Canada. To these men, who came primarily from Nigerian cities but had often come to Germany after working as traders in cities across West Africa, not all cities were equal. They deployed a system of comparing and ranking cities in which the cities that urban scholars have called global cities and gateway cities such as London, Paris, and New York were most desirable, although sometimes other rich and prosperous cities with less global cultural prominence such as Frankfort were also highly ranked.  Cities that held less cultural allure but allowed for some industrial employment and anonymity such as Birmingham were acceptable.  In contrast, cities without the possibility of even illegal work and without urban cultural capital such as Halle/Saale were generally ranked as undesirable but not as undesirable as the African cities from which they had fled. Most of the migrants who remained in Halle did so because their asylum seeker, refugee, student status or marriage to Germans kept them in the area. However, some migrants found ways not only to settle in the city but also to claim rights to the city and make it their own. These included the Ghanaian woman who owned the ‘Afro-shop’ and sold cooked food to the men gathered in the backroom and the Pentecostal Christians in the group who saw themselves as claiming the city for Jesus (Glick Schiller, 2009; Glick Schiller and Çağlar, 2008b; Glick Schiller et al, 2006)

In the 1980s and 1990s, a set of urban scholars had declared a handful of primarily European and American cities global on the basis of a limited number of economic indicators. A closely related scholarship ranked cities as world cities based on factors such as their interconnectivity and whether they contained significant firms serving the financial sector—accounting, advertising, banking/finance, insurance, law, and management consulting. Over the succeeding decade, global cities/ world cities literature have been critiqued on many points including the implication that only a small set of cities could be considered globe-spanning in their economies, interconnections and flows of labour and capital. By implication, all other cities remained bounded within nation-states.

This weakness of the global cities literature led some scholars to characterize any attempts to assess the relative merits or attractiveness of cities as Eurocentric and elitist. For example, Jenny Robinson has popularized Amin and Grahm’s (1997) term ‘ordinary’ cities, suggesting that urban scholars ‘post-colonizalize urban studies’ by setting aside the binary modernist division between the west and the rest and examine the way cities “off the map” were globally imprecated. Robinson’s arguments highlighted the globally interconnected historic urban project of capitalist production and distribution. Recognizing interconnection does not necessarily preclude the possibility of comparisons. To say cities are all interconnected does not mean they all equally benefit from such linkages or experience them in the same way.  However, some urban geographers, fearing an econometric ranking system began to argue against any comparative perspective. Yet urban comparisons have flourished in recent European cross-national research programmes but without clear criteria upon which city comparisons are being made.

Inspired by what I learned from African migrants in Halle, who recognized hierarchies of economic, political, and cultural power in their ranking of cities I argue for a relative comparative approach to the study of cities. Such an approach, builds on and develops Kevin Ward’s work on a ‘relational comparative’ urban studies. I add a concern for the ways in which residents of cities including migrant populations experience, understand, and evaluate the relative merits of cities. It is important in such comparative work to actively engage in an analysis of city rescaling processes and acknowledge active agency of migrants as what Ayse Caglar and I have called ‘scale makers’.  As scale makers, migrants relate to cities not only as workers but as business people, transnational capitalists, cultural producers, gentrifiers, intellectuals, makers of sacred space, and participants in transnational activism.

The relative positioning of a city within hierarchical fields of power may well lay the ground for the life-chances and incorporation opportunities of migrants locally and transnationally. At the same time, migrants contribute not only to the daily fabric of urban life but also to the construction of these fields of power. In order to understand the different modes and dynamics of migrant incorporation and transnationalism, we need to address the broader restructuring of capital and the rescaling processes affecting the cities in which migrants are settling and the roles of migrants in both restructuring and rescaling processes.

In summary, in comparing the specific similarities and differences between cities, in terms of their relationship to migrants, the variations to be studied include: (1) the production/destruction of capital in a particular city and its region; (2) the power hierarchies (economic, political and cultural) within which that city is situated and to which that city contributes as they stretch within and across the borders of states; (3) the specific history of that city that has shaped its institutional and political structure and narratives; and (4) the ways in which these variations make it possible for migrants to act as scale makers within urban repositioning processes. Within the neo-liberal push toward competition between cities, the resources of cities, including their human resources – which encompass the migrants and their skills and qualities – have acquired a new value and became assets among global competitors.  A comparative variation-finding approach to the relationship between migrants and cities in relative different positions of power and global reputation allows researchers to assess when and how migrants become scale makers.

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.

Mapping Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris.Perkins@manchester.ac.uk