Tag Archives: violence

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!!

 

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Urban land and conflict in the global South

by Melanie Lombard, Global Urban Research Centre, School of Environment and Development

In an urbanising world, land is a critical issue. In cities of the global South, where most urbanisation is taking place, where and how people access land is one of the most pressing concerns for citizens and states alike. However, land as a resource is subject to scarcity, whether actual or market driven, and is often associated with urban conflict. The insecure tenure deriving from informal transactions is seen as a source of wider insecurity; the interests of informal settlers and private commercial interests frequently conflict; contestation of urban spaces between non-state actors and state actors is common; and the latter often perceive informal land development as unruly and conflictual because it is not regulated by state law. Meanwhile, widespread attempts to implement legalisation programmes are themselves contentious, as land tenure processes are often ‘complicated, political and violent’ (Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002, 241). However, relatively little is known about the precise causes and consequences of land conflict in rapidly urbanising cities.

These were some of the considerations that informed the agenda for a workshop on ‘Urban land and conflict in the global South’, hosted by the Global Urban Research Centre at the University of Manchester on 14 March 2013. Funded by cities@manchester and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, the event brought together a diverse group of (mainly) early career researchers, presenting work on these themes from a variety of fields including urban planning, urban studies, development studies, and conflict management, carried out in diverse contexts including South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Cambodia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. We were accompanied by colleagues from the University of Manchester who introduced and chaired sessions, as well as Professor Carole Rakodi of Birmingham University, and Dr Leonith Hinojosa of the Open University, who as discussants offered incisive comments on the content of the papers, drawing on their own extensive research experience in these fields.

The broad aim of the day was to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to exploring the relationship between urban land and conflict in cities of the global South, including the linkages between land conflict and violence in the urban setting, and policy responses to this. The quality of the presentations and ensuing discussions resulted in a fascinating and stimulating workshop. At the end of the day, considering how to develop future research agendas in this area, several key themes which offered particular analytical challenges stood out, namely: defining conflict in diverse urban settings; interrogating categories used to understand land development and conflict and to devise policy responses; identifying relevant actors and examining the connections between them; and incorporating scale into the analysis.

Defining conflict

Urban conflict – understood as social tensions, antagonisms and the ‘many forms of low-level instability’ (Beall et al. 2011, 5) that occur frequently in the urban environment – does not necessarily result in violence and so tends to receive less research and policy attention than civil war or violent insurgency. However, ‘protracted social conflict’ (Azar et al. 1978), marked by successive violent episodes, is arguably more common and more intractable; and although less visible, latent or everyday conflict may be equally damaging for local populations. Conceptions of conflict need to be rethought in urban contexts, to take account of the diversity of urban social and political contexts, plural legal and governance systems, and the tendency for land conflict to overlap with and be exacerbated by ethnic or other identity-based tensions, blurring the boundary between ‘divided cities’ and ‘peaceful’ ones. For instance, Kamna Patel’s paper on urban upgrading in South Africa considered how the characteristics of urban settings influence land-related conflict, particularly the ways in which identity may influence claims and contestations.

Interrogating categories

Typically, processes of urban land development are characterised as either ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, and the ‘formal’ (tenure and related arrangements governed by state law, administration and policy) tends to be privileged, despite persistent critiques of this dichotomous framework (e.g. Roy 2005). A second challenge, then, is to interrogate hierarchical categories and their implications for understanding and addressing urban land conflict. A common response to urban land conflict has been attempted tenure formalisation. Colin Marx’s research from South Africa showed how this is underpinned by a categorisation of land management practices into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. As a ‘solution’ to informal land tenure, formalisation is often preferable to displacement, an issue explored in Philippa McMahon’s paper on relocation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; but Beth Chitekwe-Biti’s work on upgrading in Namibia suggested that it may reproduce as much as ameliorate poor residents’ vulnerability to insecurity and exacerbate conflict.

Identifying actors

Essential to any analysis of the links between urban land and conflict is an understanding of the role of the state and other diverse actors. Environmental governance perspectives suggest focusing on resource coordination processes involving multiple actors (Budds and Hinojosa 2012); equally important is the power dimension underpinning the state’s fluctuating relations with other actors. Sara Fregonese’s paper on hybrid sovereignties in Beirut, Lebanon suggested the need to move beyond state/non-state dichotomies in the context of urban territorial conflict, while Sobia Kaker’s paper showed how land conflict emerges through ‘enclavisation’ in Karachi, Pakistan, when urban residents re-territorialise ordinary neighbourhood spaces in response to the state’s failure to address urban insecurity. In particular, state-market relations may determine intervention, in turn affecting state-citizen relations, as shown in Ozlem Celik’s work from Istanbul, Turkey. The third challenge is thus to identify the key actors involved in land conflict in particular urban settings, and the specific relations between them.

Incorporating scale

Finally, it is important to consider scale in analysing the development of urban land conflict. In my own work on local land conflict in two provincial Mexican cities, I explore the influence and interaction of global, national and regional factors on urban land conflict. However, multi-scalar approaches must incorporate local agency, relating to local power systems but also neighbourhood and household dynamics, where everyday conflicts frequently emerge and may be resolved, as suggested by several of the presentations.

Taken together, these four analytical challenges support the need to develop a further theoretical and empirical research agenda in this as yet under-researched field. While there has been considerable discussion of land conflict in rural contexts (Pons-Vignon and Solignac Lecomte 2004, USAID 2005, Huggins 2010, Development and Change 2013), it remains relatively underexplored in the urban setting. Some previous works have considered land tenure and urban poverty (e.g. Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002; Payne 2002) and conflict within urban land delivery systems (e.g. IDPR 2006), and there have been some attempts to assess policy interventions (e.g. Payne et al 2009). In addition, attention to conflict in urban areas has increased in recent years (e.g. Beall et al 2011; Moser and Horn 2011; Moser and Rodgers 2012). However, the specific land-conflict nexus remains curiously under-researched in the urban environment, perhaps because it is often difficult and risky to research conflict and violence, and because interventions that explicitly seek to address poor people’s needs may challenge powerful economic and political vested interests. Nevertheless, continued rapid urbanisation; the effects of wider conflicts on urban areas and their roles in post-conflict situations; cities’ contribution to national economic development; and the evolving links between investors and property interests at global, national and local levels all make a pressing case for further exploration of these issues. The workshop provided a first step in this direction, and hopefully offered a platform for future collaboration between researchers in this field.

 

References

Azar, E., Jureidini, P. and McLaurin, R. (1978) ‘Protracted Social Conflict: Theory and Practice in the Middle East’ Journal of Palestine Studies 8(1), 41-60.

Beall, J., Goodfellow, T. and Rodgers, D. (2011) Cities, Conflict and State Fragility. Crisis States Working Paper Series No.2. London School of Economics.

Budds, J. and Hinojosa, L. (2012) ‘Restructuring and rescaling water governance in mining contexts: The co-production of waterscapes in Peru’ Water Alternatives 5(1), 119-137.

Development and Change (2013) Special issue: Governing the global land grab: The role of the state in the rush for land. 44(2), 189-471.

Durand-Lasserve, A. and Royston, L. (eds.) (2002) Holding their Ground: Secure Land Tenure for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Huggins, C. (2010) Land, Power and Identity, Roots of violent conflict in Eastern DRC. London: International Alert.

International Development Planning Review (2006) Special Issue on conflict and accommodation in land delivery processes in African cities. 28(2), 127-285.

Moser, C. and Horn, P. (2011) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Conceptual Framework Paper, Manchester: University of Manchester, Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#1.

Moser, C. and Rodgers, D. (2012) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Global Policy Report, Manchester: University of Manchester Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#2.

Payne, G. (ed.) (2002) Land, Rights and Innovation, Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing.

Payne, G., Durand-Lasserve, A. and Rakodi, C. (2009) The limits of land titling and home ownership, Environment and Urbanization, 21(2), 443-62.

Pons-Vignon, N. and Solignac Lecomte, H. (2004) Land, Violent Conflict and Development. Paris: OECD.

Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning’ Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2), 147-158.

USAID (2005) Land and Conflict, A toolkit for intervention. Washington, DC: US Agency for International Development

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

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

Image via flickr from NightFall404

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

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

World of Cities Workshop: Reversing the Flow in Urban Studies

by Garth Myers, Trinity College, Hartford

What if we reverse the flow of ideas in urban studies? What if, instead of starting the conversation from Los Angeles or Chicago or London, we start from unexpected cities? I just moved to a new job, in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, the US’s richest state. A 2012 Brookings Institution study of world urban economies ranked Hartford first –yes, first – in GDP/capita among the globe’s metropolitan areas; but the actual city of Hartford is one of the poorest, and the most unequal and spatially divided, cities in the US. In trying to understand my new surroundings, I arrived with a seemingly inappropriate toolkit – I’ve spent my career studying cities in Africa. Yet the more I live here, walk around the neighborhoods adjacent to my College, or watch events unfold here, the more convinced I am that ideas and examples from urban Africa make for comparable situations and can inform the processes and outcomes in this historic post-industrial city.

Let me choose two illustrations. Two big hot-button issues here center on urban violence and public transportation. The first has a specific node of concern in the midst of Trinity College. The College struggles with the violent reputation of its inner city neighborhood more than with actual violence, and in fact the most notable crimes on campus are student-on-student. But recruitment and retention depend on tactics, rhetorical and otherwise, designed to enhance security; the College recently signed on to implement a program called “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.” The second involves a bitter struggle over construction of a 9.4-mile busway to connect inner city Hartford with nearby New Britain. Both urban stories seemed immediately familiar to me.

The first controversy struck me as a South African story. Hartford, with its southern African-level inequalities, segregation, and violence, has much to learn from Cape Town and its program for Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading. The second controversy has its precursor in the decade-long fight over the Dar es Salaam Bus Rapid Transit system. One look at the two projects’ websites shows how much they have in common, with Dar slightly ahead, demolishing houses and building stations for the route while Connecticut is still stomping out the last embers of opposition. Here too, Hartford looks to have much to learn from a city in Africa.

The last thing I’d want to suggest is that these African programs are unvarnished successes to be cut out and plunked down atop Hartford. I’m mindful of other lessons from African urban studies, from the theoretical work of Edgar Pieterse for example, and his critique of UN urban studies for its assumptions about defining a shared urban vision, using dialogue to create rational consensus, or breaking a city’s challenges down into neat little parcels and ticking off solutions. Cities are always in the process of becoming. Perhaps the greatest lesson cities in Africa may have for Hartford is to never lose sight of the fluid, flexible, undetermined, non-linear, ever-changing, unpredictable and surprising things that await us around any corner in a city.

My brief thought experiment of reversing the flow of intellectual authority in comparative urbanism suggests three things to me. First, the key contention is really more about placing cities on a level analytical plain in comparative studies. Second, one vital avenue of commensurable comparability is about circulations of urban policy – what is going on to turn seemingly very different cities toward prevention of violence through landscape architecture or the Curitibazation of public bus systems? Third, any comprehensive, multi-regional comparison is only possible via broad, multi-cultural research teams.

Garth 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. 

Rioting and Architecture

by Mark Crinson, Art History

They broke every window in our street… You have to hammer at the window glass for twenty minutes to get an impression. They were able to batter them to such an extent they were able to break through the glass (i).

More than 130 people, many youths, were arrested in a night of turmoil which saw £500,000 of damage caused when the mob descended on the exclusive Emporio Armani (ii).

The rioters vandalized the centre of the city and have destroyed everything that came in their way. Fire bombs were thrown at shops and windows were smashed. The police was overwhelmed by the huge number of rioters that reached 2000 persons… After they have destroyed the shops, the looters have stolen electrical items, jewelry, designer clothes, mobile phones and alcohol. They have trashed high street shops and banks and smashed them to pieces and banks too (iii).

Armani Store and John Rylands Library , Spinningfields

 

Was architecture merely incidental to last summer’s riots? Did it seem not only to contain the things desired or reviled, but in itself to be loathed: the complacent bank and the sleek boutique, as much as the decorated sheds of retail parks? Could not some of the damage be seen as an attack – if often blurred and mis-targeted – on the architectural forms of our ‘rampantly feral’ capitalism(iv)? Images of burning buildings and broken glass certainly played a notable part in the media coverage, acting as both trace and symbol of broken Britain. Because this damage was largely to shops and high streets, however, it was easily subsumed to the politicians’ view that the riots were not symptoms of social breakdown but opportunistic outbreaks of acquisitive criminality. Yet, in such a complex sequence of events and causes, could not some of this building bashing be interpreted in a different way?

That the immediate target of much of the rioting, the membrane to break through, was glass, has not been commented on in the numerous blogs and articles on the riots. In a sense it’s too obvious and therefore ignored in the search for reasons and causes. Of course people smash windows when they riot, it’s much easier than smashing concrete or brick. Along with fire, the shattering of glass offers the most direct challenge to the materials of urban order. And now there is an awful lot more glass around – glass walls and floors, the aquaria of offices and shops, the time-denying gleam of glass towers. By extension, then, this smashing can be understood to deal a different kind of violence to a history of modern urban and architectural thinking. Glass was never just glass, never a mere building material – there was a poetics and theoretics to it (v).  Glass embodied many of the symbolic properties of modernity, including the interpenetrating magic of space-time itself. It meant intoxicating forms of living through the dematerialisation of walls and the exposure of previously hidden interiors. It would revitalize experience, offer a ‘new vision’, and promise new states of consciousness. It would clad the Stadtkron and other crystalline fantasies. It promised a new reconciliation of man and nature, a new oneness facilitated by modernity, and a life leaving behind old habits and traces. If it had once shown people glimpses of paradise and let in God’s light, now it enabled the panoptic gaze, ‘[spawning] new paranoias’ and new forms of ungodly exhibitionism (vi).  Its taut skins seemed to supersede oppositions of the mechanical and organic. It evidenced democracy and promised egalitarianism, a new social transparency, the open society, accessible government: as contemporary architects like Richard Rogers and Norman Foster still repetitiously insist, glazed walls signal ‘democratic values of openness and participation… [or] the accessibility of a judicial system’, ‘the transparency and openness of the democratic process’, ‘dignity, transparency and openness’ (vii). In all this glass was always closely bound into modernism’s dialectics of the rational and the enchanting.

If such is the rhetoric of modern architects and their clients, for others glass may not and may never have signified in these ways; it may actually be about false accessibility, about temptation and leading astray. One of the original arguments, for instance, against building the Crystal Palace – that free trade utopia, icon of modernist pre-histories, and paean to glazed showcasing – was that it would inevitably be stoned by the mob (viii). The 2011 smashing of glass might be seen, then, as an appropriation of the architects’ view of it, and if it was sometimes a refusal of that kind of rhetoric it was also a way of taking it literally. What is inside is desirable and must be got at even using illegitimate means? Democracy is just another means of delusion? Transparency is finally recognised as obfuscation? If so, then this doesn’t mean the end of a now long history of utopian glass thinking but another chapter in it. After all, even some architects might continue to welcome riots as ‘the awakening of cleanliness’.(ix)

Suggestive parallels to the recent riots can be found in Isobel Armstrong’s fascinating book Victorian Glassworlds (2008). The breaking of glass in riots leading up to the 1832 Reform Act and then during the Chartist-linked Birmingham Bull Ring riots of 1839, were clearly demonstrations of alienation from political process: ‘[the crowds] affirmed something about the specificity of their own experiences as well as, or through, shattering glass’ (x). The patrician attitude of establishment figures like the Duke of Wellington (whose houses and tours were a frequent target for stone throwers) was that such smashing up demonstrated the endemically irrational behaviour of the lower classes, justifying their exclusion from legitimate politics (xi). Although those riots did not have an element of material acquisition to them, it is the cathartic fury directed at glass that parallels the recent riots. Breaking glass generates a visceral excitement as barriers are broken and the building’s orifices penetrated: the façade can demonstratively be cracked, defenestrated. Armstrong suggests that the sound of glass breaking was more than the accompaniment to this somatic release, but also an ‘insistence of being heard… [being] redeemed from anonymity’, challenging the insulation of privilege through the direct agency of body against building. This kind of corporeal assertion contrasts with the property-owner’s order, ‘demonstrating that his are literally constructed categories, bound up as they are in his very buildings (xii).’

Like E. P. Thompson’s famous argument for the ‘moral economy’ of eighteenth-century rioting against the economy of the free market, Armstrong insists on the self-discipline and idealism of her Victorian rioters, their refusal to loot. This may not sit easy with comparisons to the summer of 2011, let alone to other crystal nights. A glib way to express this is to say that the commodification of labour has been replaced by the commodification of desire – a demand for change by a demand for trainers – though this misses the initial protests of 2011 and the sense of deep injustice around stop-and-search and the killing of Mark Duggan. That there were protesters and there were looters, and sometimes the two were indistinguishable, is what makes the riots of 2011 too complex, too diverse in cause and effect, for us to reach easy conclusions about. But there are some parallels with Armstrong’s account. Among its drives, rioting is about a taking over of space, an ownership of it and a sense of power through owning it, however briefly. Such was certainly behind the spontaneous taking to the streets of the powerless and the disaffected after Duggan’s death. And the group action of rioting, its ‘performative unity’ (xiii), raises the prospect not of the spectral rabble but of an urban collectivity acting on its disenchantment – as indicated by those instances of co-operative looting among rioters, even between members of different gangs (as observed in the recent Guardian/LSE report ‘Reading the Riots’). Is to riot in this way to reverse the expected behaviour of the disempowered subject and the individual consumer?

It’s clear that in Manchester’s case the spaces in which riots took place were the same spaces as the city’s much acclaimed ‘regeneration’; that’s to say, at the centre of the Victorian industrial city in those areas revamped in response to the 1996 IRA bomb and the threat of out of town shopping in the Trafford Centre. The post-1990s regeneration has been uneven, and largely focused on the central city. A new urban order has been created which seems mainly to be about the rebranding of central Manchester. Yet although it does not use shops to hide slums from the bourgeoisie, as in Friedrich Engels’s canonical account, it does share much with Engels’s notion of a ‘hypocritical plan’. The conspicuous demonstration of the resources and pleasures of affluence are narrowly bestowed on certain areas of the city, leaving the ‘underclass’ as marginal onlookers. In this context, then, we might adapt Armstrong’s idea that her Victorian rioting constitutes its own style or aesthetic into an understanding of the 2011 rioting as a form of architectural criticism. Was this an ironic way of dealing with the spaces of consumerism as disqualified consumers seized hold and upturned the effects and meanings of transparency? To put it differently, how does the shattering of glass sit with the hermeneutics of glass? Let’s look at one – admittedly limited – instance.

Among the areas of Manchester’s city centre attacked on the evening of 10 August was Spinningfields. The name is redolent of Manchester’s Cottonopolis past and the area, midway along Deansgate and between it and the River Irwell, was one of the most notorious slums of the Victorian city, one selected by Engels for particular attention. Spinningfields was re-zoned in Manchester’s postwar city plan as an area for Manchester’s courts and its legal profession, and it is this legal architecture that has been updated in the last five years, linking it to a considerably expanded business quarter. Two of the features of this form of regeneration are particularly important for the argument here. One is the extraordinary vista of glazed buildings that have taken over the area; and the other is a new kind of mixed zoning that has deliberately been built into this as the area touches Deansgate itself, for long one of Manchester’s main shopping streets.

One of the shops targeted by the 2011 rioters was Emporio Armani, fronting Spinningfields on Deansgate. (Emporio Armani was also a particular target of the looting in Birmingham, as one of the quotes at the head of this article shows.) Apparently, rioters were baulked here by a line of security guards and only smashed one large window before heading off to easier targets. The shop fills the ground floor of No 1 The Avenue, an entirely glazed building but of a specifically 21st century type. It was designed by the London-based architectural firm Sheppard Robson and opened two years ago. Sheppard Robson is one of the many middling practices (though of large size) that diffuse (and perhaps defuse) vanguard styles for mainstream clients. In this case the building is a near-parody of late deconstructivism mixed with high tech, Daniel Libeskind crossed with Norman Foster. Such buildings must have a ‘concept’, and here this is based on a simple-minded game of slicing a parallelogram, flipping it and then misaligning the two blocks. The cantilever created by this misalignment provides a wedge-shaped canopy for shoppers, with a sharp-edged arris of glass panes pointing at the street. One detects that recent concerns about architecture and security have entered many architects’ unconscious – even in a shop like this there is a strange combination of vulnerability and aggression, come-hitherness and repulsion. Across the whole building and reinforcing its strident geometry is a jazzy diagonal cladding of trapezoidal glass panels. The skill of the architects here, if it can be called that, is to tantalize and enthrall. We look into the darkened windows to see the displays but also see beyond them to view parts of the shop’s interior. Perhaps it’s meant to flatter the consumer with a sense of discretion, entitlement, and hipped up slickness. Transparency as obfuscation, then: as teasing glamour, a heightening of emulative desire, with more than a hint of those intoxicating qualities that some modernists perceived in the potential of glass.

No 1 The Avenue is a local if not very distinguished example of a widespread phenomenon, named by Owen Hatherley as ‘pseudomodernism’ (xiv). Here, in a reactionary metamorphosis, the postmodernist love of the building as sign has now turned back to the surface effects of modernism – a veneer of its good taste or even of its political associations – so providing the boosterist built logos of our neoliberal age, its glass shards, obelisks and gherkins. As Hal Foster has suggested, the old transparency of modernism has become ‘spaces that are not only opaque, but that are illusionistic… [such space] purports to be about perceptual experience, but in many ways it does the perceiving for us.(xv)’ One cannot argue that these glazed buildings were the particular target of rioters; in fact many styles and periods of buildings were attacked. But there was a particular poignancy at Spinningfields that would emerge only a few days later.

Passage, Spinningfields

In the week following the riots across British cities many of the perpetrators of both righteous protest and opportunistic shopping were hastily brought to court as part of the avenging government’s attempt to show that it was in control. One of the busiest courts was the Manchester City Magistrates Court and Coroners Court located, as it happens, in Spinningfields just behind the Emporio Armani shop. The court building’s entrance façade is clad to its full height in glass and displays a multi-level escalator within, implying a kind of vaguely efficient and, of course, ‘transparent’ disposal of functions. On one side the court building turns a corner and becomes a menswear shop, on the other it terminates a wide pedestrian passage – while Armani is on the left, the new extension to the John Rylands Library is on the right (the library also fronts onto Deansgate). This passage is parallel with The Avenue, which houses several more luxury clothes shops, but the link between the courts and The Avenue is barred by a glazed wall, clearly an ad hoc measure to separate a restaurant’s outdoor space from court attendees snatching time for a last cigarette. The passage can’t be described as a street nor is ‘pedestrianised way’ quite right – too old fashioned for one thing – though it certainly evokes vague associations with older planning fantasies. Such passages are designed for shopping and certain other leisure activities deemed legitimate, a ‘right to the city’ is the thinnest of its effects. Manchester has quite a few of them, and quite a few were also the places where the rioting happened – in the pedestrianised Market Street, for instance, and in New Cathedral Street. The latter is not as cloistered as it sounds but actually a group of high-end shops on an elevated curve of walkway leading to the ersatz environment that is Manchester’s version of a cathedral close.

With these spaces, seductive and absurd by turn, the city attempts to ward off the rivalry of the out of town shopping centre, offering an urban density of commerce close by the cultural, civic and religious institutions of the traditional city. In Spinningfields the uniform material of different building types signals a uniform rhetoric of accessibility – whether of the judicial system (transparent justice), of a library (access to learning), or even of an ‘exclusive’ menswear shop (‘modern lifestyle… with a sense of classic sophistication’). Cynical and insensitive in social terms, the development is alternately ‘sensitive’ and ‘cutting edge’ in the terms of architects’ and developers’ jargon, the commercial and cultural cream for the business quarter beyond. In Sheppard Robson’s own publicity No 1 The Avenue is described as pivotal in form and location, ‘tying Manchester’s retail and business district with its civic core (xvi),’ and the building itself embodies this mixed-use, combining Armani with offices, a roof terrace, and a basement nightclub. (Another example, that epitomizes the absurd end of this fad for mixed-use, is close by – the oast house-style pub, clad in faux-distressed materials, that now fills the square in front of the older court building.)

Emporio Armani benefits, then, from its proximity to the Rylands Library and the courts. And they all benefit from an extraordinary CCTV concentration inside and outside the buildings, the vehicle of a new social contract assuring security and inviting affluent exhibitionism. We are in the heart of a 21st century panopticon here, one intersected by the complementary practices of shopping, surveillance, and punishment, and coterminous with an immaterial architecture of data formation and retrieval (xvii). And like most previous panopticons, of course, it courts failure, reproducing the conditions that brought it into being, its pleasures and disciplines emptied out and turned perverse because of the lack of a complementary political space.

In its great wisdom Manchester University in 2007 saw fit to build a minimalist glass box to house a café and shop as the most public face of the Rylands Library’s extension in Spinningfields. Sitting in the café one can take a table right beside the glazed wall and, eating one’s carrot cake, observe the human traffic into and out of the courts, as well as into and out of Emporio Armani. The rioters apparently sniffed at attacking this extension, probably because it had nothing obvious that could be looted and perhaps also because a library had no evident recognition factor – it clearly wasn’t a bank or Starbucks or Miss Selfridges. One might complacently say this confirms the marginality of learning in these our neoliberal times, but if so it is a marginality the university itself had already played into with the architectural appearance and the very function of its new extension. The original Victorian library’s glory, now made into a mere appendix by the new extension, was the way it addressed the street directly and then absorbed the visitor in its evocative entrance spaces. It used the gloomth of neo-Gothic tectonics to suggest the special mysteries of learning; access here was a matter of passing through successive spatial densities. Now the hidden structures of contemporary architecture suggest nothing but the lightness of modern being.

So, there is this extraordinary conjunction of functions more or less cheek by jowl in Spinningfields – designer clothes shop, magistrates court, and academic library. And inbetween these buildings, as if to cap the conjunction, is a mini glass shard, an enigmatic transparent pyramid that turns out to be the entrance to the underground nightclub – not so enigmatic after being boarded up following the night of 10 August. So in this 21st century corridor we run the gauntlet or we take to the catwalk. Glass is used to different ends, but the glazing also unites these institutions in a common play on a now meaningless accessibility. Part of the lost potential of this area might have been in the very dissonance of these institutions; that there might be something interesting about the clash of their values. But, post-riot, the leveling transparency had become guilty spectacle. This was where Manchester’s regeneration got differently confrontational, where the contemporary glassworlds of the law, security, consumerism, and learning were newly exposed in terms of who is entitled to use these streets in the manner for which they had been designed.

Georges Bataille defined architecture as the physiognomy of a society’s authority, and saw such events as the storming of the Bastille as a way of transgressing against the very nature of architecture: ‘it is difficult to explain this impulse of the mob other than by the animosity the people hold against the monuments which are their true masters (xviii).’ It is perhaps no more than an interesting fantasy to imagine the riots as an uprising against our present phantasmagoric forms of transparency. But even to say ‘this shattered window is the work of my hands’ is to reveal a certain kind of meaning in the moments of madness.

References

i. John Henn, owner of a shop in Wolverhampton, as reported in The Guardian, 5 December 2011.

ii. http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2011/08/09/birmingham-riots-100-arrested-after-night-of-looting/ accessed 8 December 2011.

iii. www.londonisburning.co.uk/…, accessed 6 October 2011.

iv. David Harvey, ‘Feral Capitalism Hits the Streets’, The Bullet (Socialist Project e-bulletin), 535, 12 August 2011, http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/535.php accessed 10 November 2011.

v.  For the various mythologies that follow see Detlef Mertins, Modernity Unbound: Other Histories of Architectural Modernity, London: Architectural Association, 2011.

vi. The architectural practice Diller, Scofidio & Renfrew, as quoted in Hal Foster, The Art-Architecture Complex, London: Verso, 2011, p. 98.

vii. The first quote is Richard Rogers, the second and third are by Norman Foster: as quoted in Foster, The Art-Architecture Complex, pp. 29, 48.

viii. Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 11.

ix. Le Corbusier, The Radiant City: Elements of a doctrine of urbanism to be used as the basis of our machine-age civilization (1935), New York: Orion, 1967, p. 23.

x. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, p. 62.

xi. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, pp. 65-66.

xii. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, p. 68.

xiii. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, p. 67.

xiv. Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, London: Verso, 2010, pp. xx-xxiv.

xv. ‘Art lessons’, interview between Thomas Wensing and Hal Foster, Architecture Today, 222, October 2011, p. 14.

xvi. www.sheppardrobson.com/projects/page.cfm?projectID=100052, accessed 7 December 2011.

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.

Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim Elbatout: events in Manchester

by Dalia Mostafa, Middle Eastern Studies

cities@manchester, in cooperation with Middle Eastern Studies, the British Academy, and the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW) at Manchester University, sponsored a public talk with renowned Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout as guest speaker. The event, which was entitled “Filming the Revolutionary City: Independent Filmmaking in Egypt after the January 2011 Revolution”, took place on 8th December 2011 (5.30-7.00pm), followed by a wine in the Samuel Alexander Foyer. The event was open to staff and students, as well as the general public. It was well attended, with an inspiring discussion taking place between the speaker and the audience after his speech. El Batout also showed a short film clip from the recent demonstrations against military rule in Egypt.

El Batout’s event came as part of a week he spent in Manchester (4-9 December 2011) whilst taking part in a number of activities. On Monday 5th Dec., Elbatout’s award-winning film Ein Shams was screened as part of the course module “Contemporary Cinema of the Middle East”, with an introduction by the director. Then, on Tuesday 6th Dec., the director held a master-class with the students on the module. However, both events were also open to all. On Wednesday 7th Dec., the Cornerhouse Cinema in Manchester screened El Batout’s latest film Hawi (Juggler) which was released in 2010. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with the director, facilitated by Dr Dalia Mostafa (Middle Eastern Studies) and Dr Joseph McGonagle (French Studies) from Manchester University. These events attracted different audiences who showed great interest in communicating with the director and in discussing fascinating issues with him about the themes presented in his films, his cinematic stylistics, and his future work in Egypt.

Ibrahim El Batout is best known for his internationally acclaimed feature film Ein Shams (Eye of the Sun, 2008), which was rated number 6 of 10 best films of the year 2008. The film won several awards including The Golden Hawk in Rotterdam Festival, and the International Carthage Festival Award. Elbatout is also one of Egypt’s pioneering independent filmmakers. He has traveled widely across the globe and made a number of documentaries in war-tarnished areas, including on the Iran-Iraq war (1987); the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (1992); the massacres in Rwanda (1994); the war in Kosovo (1999); and many others. In 2004, he stepped into the world of fiction and made his first feature film Ithaki in 2005. His third film Hawi won the best film award at the Doha Tribecca film festival, and the Dubai film festival in 2010.

Elbatout’s feature films aim to bring together the two worlds of fiction and documentary. They focus on the experience of living in and shaping urban environments: we see representations of Cairo in his first two films Ithaki and Eye of the Sun, and of Alexandria in his last film Hawi. His characters appear to be products of the cities they live in, and their lives are shaped and influenced by the political and cultural dynamics of the urban spaces they inhabit. In Elbatout’s films, we see beautiful cinematography of city streets, urban landmarks, the sea, and the Nile, as well as little shops, traditional cafés, and private rooms, places which embrace the characters, articulate their identities, and determine the choices they make. On the other hand, cities in his films cannot be perceived in isolation from the masses which re-appropriate urban spaces whilst continuously negotiating and creating new horizons for themselves: reclaiming the streets and squares in mass demonstrations; transforming gender relations; and establishing new free places of their own, and so on.

In his public talk on 8th Dec. at Manchester University, Elbatout stressed the integral relationship between the documentary and the fictional in his films. He said that he was drawn to the world of feature filmmaking after spending so many years as a war reporter and documentary filmmaker, because he felt freer in the world of fiction. He could capture certain emotions through his fictional characters, which he could not do within the documentary sphere. He said that his next feature film, which is due to be released this year, focuses on the lives of three characters who could not take part in the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and the story follows the characters to explore their private lives, their relationships with each other, and their relation to the city they live in. The film interrogates the question of why these characters did not participate in the revolution, hence raising many issues about the individual and politics as well as the relationship to a radically transforming public space in today’s Egypt. Elbatout also explained that cinema in Egypt will see important developments in the aftermath of the momentous event of the revolution.

Indeed, the week was very successful and many important discussions took place throughout. I look forward to inviting Elbatout again in Manchester with his new film!

Dr Dalia Mostafa, Lecturer in Arabic and Comparative Literature
Middle Eastern Studies, School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures