Launching a new Master in Urban and Political Geography in Turin!

In Turin we are launching a new Urban and Political Geography pathway within our Master in Geography and Territorial Sciences.

From Sept 2023 | All in English | With leading scholars | Beautiful City | Low tuition fees.

The curricula include courses on the birth of critical geographical thinking, urban & housing studies, racialised & gendered cities, history and spaces of capitalism, critical migration studies, southern urbanism, political ecology & more.

Check the full brochure: https://www.geography.unito.it/documents/2023_Brochure_Geography_EN.pdf

For subscriptions & further info: https://www.masterstudies.com/Interuniversity-Masters-Degree-in-Geography-and-Territorial-Sciences/Italy/Politecnico-di-Torino-Inter-university-Department-of-Regional-and-Urban-Studies-and-Planning/

Feel free to contact me if you are interested or have any questions.

Launching the Winter 2023 Beyond Inhabitation Lab online Seminar Series

Today we are launching our Beyond Inhabitation Lab 2023 online Seminar series!

We are going to host three wonderful speakers:

  • 26 Jan 2023 with Tanzil Shafique on “The Myth of the Bottom-Up in Precarious Housing: Lessons from the Largest ‘Informal’ Settlement in Dhaka”
  • 23 Feb 2023 with Melissa García-Lamarca’s “Life and Struggle with Mortgage Debt: New Theorisations from Lived Experiences”
  • 16 March 2023 with Joanna Kusiak on “Law and Politics, or the Politics of Law”

All seminars will begin at 5 p.m. (CET) and will take place online.

For info and registration links: https://beyondinhabitation.org/beyond-inhabitation-lab-2023-winter-seminar-series/

 

 

The future of urban epistemic, event @Urban Institute, Sheffield

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s event at the Urban Institute in Sheffield.

The brilliant Beth Perry will speak on Co-production and the Future of Urban Epistemics, with responses by Linda Westman, Aïcha Diallo & myself.

This is part of the “Sheffield urbanism” lectures series (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/urban-institute/news/co-production-and-future-urban-epistemics)

December 14th, 3pm GMT, free online attendance by registering at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-on-the-future-of-urban-epistemics-online-tickets-439607135777

Frontex and Polytechnic: Another vote to confirm the agreement and further connivance with human rights violations

Note: this open letter was also published in Italian in the newspaper La Stampa (see below for the scan of the article)

The EU anti-fraud unit (Olaf) report on Frontex is clear. The Agency ignores the human rights of people in transit across the Mediterranean and the Balkans. There is proof of how Frontex’s planes and drones have witnessed migrants drowning in the high sea between Lybia and Italy, and they did not intervene. This is not only a violation of Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (right to asylum) but also, more simply and fundamentally, of Article 2 (right to life) and numerous international maritime conventions requiring anyone witnessing situations of distress in the high sea to intervene or alert bodies capable of intervention. Frontex systematically avoided any kind of intervention on purpose, on a number of occasions, violating the fundamental right to life of the people in situations of peril on those boats. The Agency itself recognised this, at least implicitly, when its Director resigned seven months ago at the surfacing of the first revelations from the (at the time undisclosed) Olaf report.

As it is known, my Department at the Polytechnic of Turin, where I am full Professor of Political and Economic Geography, provides cartography services to Frontex. This association between the two institutions is problematic not only because there is no way to know how Frontex will use the maps (potentially, to pursue the further violation of human rights), but also because, by proxy, everyone in my Department, me included, is now relatable with the doings of the Agency. This is not just a problem of image, but a serious ethical question: can I carry ‘ethical’ research work, if my Institution is doing affairs with a third party who is involved in the systematic violation of human rights?

For a year, some of us have been forcefully fighting this agreement (back story, in ENG and ITA). In one of the latest chapters of this story, just a few weeks ago, in an unprecedented move, the University of Turin officially asked the Polytechnic to take an active stance against this agreement with the Agency (in ENG, and ITA). Yet, not the overwhelming evidence of the Olaf report, nor the stances of researchers and students in Turin, are enough for my employer to reconsider their untenable position. Following the request from the University yesterday, the Senate of the Polytechnic of Turin was asked once again to vote on the opportunity to maintain the collaboration between my Department and Frontex and, by 19 votes against 29, the Senate voted to maintain the agreement (as reported by Luca Rondi in Altreconomia). As if nothing matters. As if the Mediterranean and its bodies are on another plane of existence. As if collaborating with Frontex was just a technical matter: something detached from the doings of the Agency.

If this is science, as a scientist, I am ashamed. I am angry, furious. It is unacceptable that a public University such as the Polytechnic refuses to confront the overarching amount of evidence against Frontex. It is unacceptable that this has not become a major point of ethical concern: a point where the praxis of doing academic labour can acquire, or lose its sense entirely. To me, yesterday, with that vote, the Polytechnic lost the little credibility they had left. There is no possible talking of ‘ethics’, now. No possible bombastic speech on ‘research excellence’. We are complicit: this is what ‘science’ is at this time in Europe. For the students, and for the very few researchers who are still seeing things otherwise, I will work so that this is not the end.

New 2-year Post-doctoral Fellowship to work on housing financialisation in CEE (deadline 7th Dec)

I am currently offering a new 24-month Post-Doctoral Fellowship as part of a grant I was recently awarded to expand my ERC research project toward Central Eastern Europe (FARE – read more here).

The researcher will work at the DIST department at the Polytechnic of Turin, they will be mentored and followed by myself (profile here), and they will join the Beyond Inhabitation Lab. The salary is around €1.770 net per month, and relocation to Turin is mandatory and non-negotiable.

The context is open internationally, and the application closes on 7th December 2022, 3pm CET. You can submit your candidacy here: https://careers.polito.it/default.aspx?id=292/2022-AR (please selected ‘ENG’ at the top of the page to see the English version of the application)

Please note that the Italian system of evaluating applicants is a point-based system. You will be evaluated by a commission of three academics based at the Polytechnic of Turin as follows. First, the commission will judge the titles (degrees, experiences, publications) that you will upload on the online platform on the basis of the positions’ requirements. Then, you will undertake an oral interview (online) with the same commission, to check your level of English and to discuss your research trajectory. On the basis of both, a ranking of candidates will be generated, and the first one will be assigned the fellowship.

Below you can read an outline of the kind of candidate I am looking for. The context is open, so please refrain from contacting me, unless you have queries about the procedure (but even in that case, please do check for the information available online at the Polito website, before contacting me).

Precarious Housing in Eastern Europe: Histories, Geographies and Urban Political Economies

The research program is part of the MIUR-funded “EASTERNHousing” project, which is a geographic and conceptual extension of the ERC-funded “RadicalHOUSING” project. EASTERNHousing provides an in-depth comparative study of the rise in precarious housing conditions experienced in CEE since the fall of the Berlin wall. The research program investigates how capital flows are reshaping three major underexplored Eastern European cities. We include changes to real estate markets, including the transfer of state properties to the private sector, and the involvement of Western countries in the ‘redevelopment’ of CEE urban cores.

The research fellow (PDRA) will initially engage in collective and collaborative intellectual work in the Beyond Inhabitation research group, which hosts the ERC RadicalHOUSING project. An extensive literature review, discussed collectively, will lead to a mutual appreciation of research paths, traditions, and critical approaches.

After this initial period, the PDRA will structure desk research that will lead to catalog and map the major public housing privatization projects from 1989 until today in the selected CEE cities. In the second phase, the PDRA is expected to engage in the field and desk-bound research – to be defined with the PI. The final part of the project will be dedicated to collective analysis and writing. Support will be provided for fieldwork, as well as for participating in international conferences and preparing academic publications in high-level journals. The PI is committed to advancing the PDRA’s career, and individual plans will be made to this end.

To be considered for the job, the applicant will need, at a minimum, to have the following experience:

  • Publications in some of the following: field of critical geography; critical and comparative urban studies; economic geography; housing political economy; international real estate market studies; housing privatization/commodification
  • Evidence in quantitative methodologies
  • Evidence on research pertaining to housing and platforms, and housing and financialization
  • Demonstrable knowledge of housing financialization processes through publications
  • Excellent fluency in written and oral English

The University of Turin against Frontex (and against the Polytechnic). The fight continues.

The fight to keep Frontex out of our universities continues.

In the summer of 2021, my Department (DIST) at the Politecnico di Torino signed a contract to produce cartography for Frontex (the European Coast Guard and Border Agency). The agreement – passed without any problems in the Department’s Council – was presented as one of the best representations of research excellence at DIST (see the original press release here).

With (very few) colleagues, we contested the contract but to no avail. At that point, the same was the subject of a series of enquiries by journalist Luca Rondi of Altreconomia, to which was added my public stance of denunciation. This was followed by numerous articles in national and international media, as well as student demonstrations, collective meetings and mobilisations to push the Polytechnic to terminate the contract. The reasons that make this agreement unacceptable are related to the work of Frontex: already in the summer of 2021 it was evident that the agency did not respect human rights, operating forced rejections at the European borders both directly (on the Balkan route) and indirectly (passing information to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard) (see my public statement, in Italian, for a summary of these reasons  – In English, read here).

At that point, media pressure on the case intensified (involving publications such as Internazionale, Wired, and RAI – for a list see this file), as well as student and activist mobilisation, on a national scale. Faced with all this, the Academic Senate of the Politecnico di Torino decided to discuss the agreement in an extraordinary session on 14 December 2021. Three options were on the table: termination, suspension or continuation of the agreement with the addition of a hypothetical ‘safeguard clause’ with which the parties (DIST, the Politecnico and Frontex) would undertake to respect ‘human rights’ in the execution of the contract. The Senate, by a very large majority (21 out of 25), chose to maintain the contract with the inclusion of this clause (in Italian, Luca Rondi’s piece; In English, on my blog).

A few months later, again Luca Rondi, through civic access on Frontex, discovered that the Agency knew nothing about this clause, and therefore the contract went ahead without it. Its insertion, in any case, would not have changed anything: how can the Polytechnic expect Frontex to respect human rights, when not even the European Court of Justice can? The fact remains that, even in the face of this news, which in fact de-legitimised the vote of the Politecnico’s Academic Senate, everything in Turin continued to remain silent: my Department (DIST) continued to produce maps for Frontex (In Italian, Luca Rondi). In light of all this, I continued – this time with my colleague Francesca Governa – with internal pressure, but without ever receiving any response (read here).

In recent months, Frontex has been in the spotlight several times. Faced with evidence of abuses, the Director General, Fabrice Leggeri, resigned, and, recently, the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) released a report certifying that Frontex covered up serious human rights violations at the European borders (ITA; ENG). In this context, many students and academics at the University of Turin have taken the issue to heart and have continued to press for DIST and the Politecnico to take a clear position and terminate this collaboration. Frontex is involved in systemic violence against asylum seekers trying to cross European borders: there can be no collaboration with such an entity.

The Board of Directors of the other major Athenaeum in Turin, the University of Turin, also came to this conclusion. Since DIST is an ‘inter-university’ department (i.e. located, formally, between the Politecnico and the University), the University has now finally decided to take a clear contrary stance to the work that DIST does with Frontex. The motion calls on DIST and the Polytechnic to terminate the agreement, immediately, without ifs and buts. This latest development is reported in a further article by Luca Rondi in Altreconomia, where I intervene to reiterate a very simple concept:

Rescinding the contract does not mean taking a step backwards with respect to the missions of an Athenaeum engaged in international contracts and research, but taking one forward. Rescinding the contract is an important signal consistent with an ethical vision of intellectual freedom that the university rightly prides itself on: freedom means being able to re-evaluate decisions taken and change direction if the context has changed. Now is the time to do so.

I don’t have much hope my Department will do the right thing, but we will continue to fight to keep #Frontex out of our Universities.

IJURR event: In conversation on Decentring Critical Urban Scholarship

I am thrilled to take part in “Decentring Critical Urban Scholarship: Conversations with IJURR

I will introduce the work of the Beyond Inhabitation Lab (www.beyondinhabitation.org) together with other Labs located across the globe.

Thursday, 3rd November, 5-8pm UK time

For in person on online attendance, register at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/decentring-critical-urban-scholarship-conversations-with-ijurr-tickets-427917421527

New competitive grant capture – Expanding ERC research toward Eastern Europe

I am thrilled to announce a new successful competitive funding application, from the Italian Ministry of University and Research. The scheme is called ‘FARE‘, which stands for Framework for the attraction and the strengthening of excellence for research in Italy.

My project, entitled Housing precarity in Eastern Europe: histories, geographies and urban political economies, will run for the next four years and has been awarded €238.000. These monies will complement the main ERC work, titled Inhabiting Radical Housing, by expanding its remit towards Eastern European geographies – allowing me to deepen my long-standing interest in Romania and in the wider region.

In particular, the project will focus on three main concerns: i) the financialisation of housing in Central Eastern Europe, and in specific the role of Western capital in shaping the contemporary urban housing question there; ii) modalities and politics of grassroots housing organising (expanding my work with housing activists in the region); iii) changes in everyday housing and urban affective regimes in three selected cities, investigated through audio-visual methods. A postdoctoral position will be offered to help me navigate the intricacies of the first concern, while the other two will be dealt with directly by myself and CEE members of the current ERC team.

Finally, the project’s resources will also be used to support and expand the workings of our Beyond Inhabitation Lab, providing further means of exchange and collective study with scholars and activists based in CEE.

Book review of ‘Global Urbanism’ in IJURR

Thank you Michele Acuto for your generous review in IJURR of the book I’ve done with Colin McFarlane!

56 authors across the globe, for a non-totalising & grounded reading of ‘global urbanism’… It took a lot, but I’m so happy about this book!

https://www.ijurr.org/book_review/michele-lancione-and-colin-mcfarlane-eds-2021-global-urbanism-knowledge-power-and-the-city-london-routledge/

Book available, also in paperback, at: https://www.routledge.com/Global-Urbanism-Knowledge-Power-and-the-City/Lancione-McFarlane/p/book/9780367745349

Ash Amin’s retirement party – My oral festschrift to him

Yesterday, 29th Sept 2022, I took part in the retirement party of my former first PhD supervisor and fundamental academic mentor, Ash Amin. The event was organised by Bhaskar Vira at the Department of Geography, the University of Cambridge, followed by an evening dinner at Emmanuel College.

Beyond an engaging conversation among Ash, Philip Howell, and Maan Barua, the day consisted of a series of ‘oral testimonies’ and celebrations of Ash’s thinking and doing, carried through by four of his former students. I shared the task with the excellent Tatiana Theme, Lisa Richaud and Maria Hagan.

I owe a lot to Ash. His intellectual curiosity and his care for my persona were fundamental to the development of my own thinking and love for academic work. Below you can read my oral festschrift to him, which I hope summarise well my sentiment toward Ash the person, and Ash the scholar. At the end of the text, some pictures of the event, taken by Stephen Ajadi (shared with permission).

 

***

 

The framework of the encounter

Michele Lancione, for Ash Amin

Thank you for having me here today. It is a great honour to be part of this afternoon for and with Professor Ash Amin. I am honoured to be here because it means that in joining celebration, I have also – at least a little – been part of the journey. I am talking about the journey of an individual who has constantly questioned the grounds he has contributed to establishing, the journey of a scholar that has shown, at every turn, genuine conceptual and political curiosity: Ash as a being thirst for ideas, for well written and engaging arguments, for ways of thinking beyond the canon. This day allows me to thank Ash for a unique gift he gave me and many others: I am referring to the reverberance of his intellectual desire, a vibrance that at times accelerated as an impatience, a power inviting who encounters it to question and to push; to read more and to read better; to write with consideration; to treat intellectual labour with care.

The privilege of having encountered Ash’s intellectual affection renders being here at the same time beautiful and tricky. I want to be honest: I have struggled to put this short text together. And this is not because I don’t know what to say about Ash’s scholarship – but it is because, ultimately, I am not sure I want to say, I am not sure I want to be part of the ritual marking the process of retirement.

I started writing these lines few weeks ago. In my spare time, I went back to some of the early writings of Ash, which included, among the known text on economic and regional geography, a rich report – typed in Italian – on the ‘Stella’ neighbourhood in Naples. Then I re-read his foundational works on placing globalisation, regional inequalities, and the quest to argue for a new politics of place (what Doreen Massey called a ‘progressive sense of place’). I then switched to the writings on ethnicity, race, and encounters, and continued with the book through which I first encountered his thinking – back in 2006, reading for my Master’s degree the Italian translation of Cities, Re-imagining the Urban, coauthored with Nigel Thrift. After that, I dwelt again in the pages of my favourite book of his, Land of Strangers; then I flipped, this time faster, through the pages of my least favourite book of his, Arts of the Political (Nigel will pardon me, I hope). This journey was concluded by re-appreciating his most recent works on the notion of animated space, his papers on migrant mental health in Shanghai with Lisa Richaud, and by re-reading the introduction to the book we recently co-edited together for Duke – another of his gifts to me.

In re-approaching these texts, I was moved by the idea of providing to you today a concise overview of how these separate bodies of work are ‘one’; to give you a hint of how, at least in my reading, they are all grounded in a profound desire – a power – to articulate a politics for the just city – a project that for Ash entails questioning and re-approaching each of these terms anew. City, as a mechanosphere of human and non-human that has an act of its own, a life trespassing the rationale of policy, an intelligence of intelligences made of computations but also of affects, of atmospheres as much as of cement, of intentionalities and violent extractions, as much as of di-vidual, only partially and momentarily coherent, assemblage of volitions, metabolic and ecologic impulses, matter and discourse. Just, as a question of what kind of justice and for whom, when so clearly the language of rights has failed to provide the mean for struggles, since fewer and fewer institutions are enabled to capacitate and to defend capacitation, and more and more ‘rights’ become signifier to be appropriated by extractive practices and enduring racial dispossession. Politics, read by Ash at the intersection of urbanity and justice, both as a project to be carried through and an agent of action – a proposition that, for Ash, has to deal with economic, ecological and social structures but requires attention to how these are a matter of multiple agencies (human, non-human, infrastructural, atmospheric) providing much social flesh – disempowering but also affirmative social flesh – to work with.

My intention today was to tell you how much Ash’s quest for a politics for the just city affected my intellectual journey and to point out how his writings – sometimes appearing perhaps disparate and concerned with too much – are instead held together by a profound commitment to social justice with a precise orientation. The project is to unpack the social beyond the pastiche of canonical sociological thinking while simultaneously maintaining a commitment to crafting socio-geographical imaginaries and methods that might be useful, directly appropriated, and put into action. But the more I have tried to write such a text, the more I confronted myself with the meaning of this exercise – the performative act of marking retirement, as I said earlier.

And so I scrapped what I had written, I trashed the ideas and the notes, and I instead wrote a text message to my dear sister Tatiana Thieme and, through a short exchange with her, I got the confidence to say what I really what to say; to affirm what I think today should be all about. My dear audience, that is simple. Today is just an illusion. You, all of you, called out of your busy academic and non-academic lives, you who have taken time off to come into this room to ‘celebrate’ and to ‘perform’, you, my friend, are no more and no less guests of an illusion, because today, I hope the might Cambridge University won’t mind, today, we are retiring no one today. Because if I may accept the fact that, after today, Ash will have more time than ever to chop his fingers in his beautiful garden, I shall not accept the option of retiring the energy of which I spoke, the intellectual burst with which he faces you every time you talk to him, as well as that questioning look of his, which makes immediately apparent to you when you haven’t done enough work, but also those same eyes running places in those rare occasions in which you might have said something he hasn’t already thought of.

No retirement today, no festivities, everybody goes home. Without please, and without excuses. We are just asking Ash to perform again and again because love for intellectual labour is so much needed today more than ever – at times in which your sad country is so clearly detaching itself from its ground and will sooner or later entirely collapse, while mine dances the swing of nationalism and fear once again, and the affect of militarisation wraps all of us together, like a cloth tight on our necks and eyes – tighter for some than others, but increasingly suffocating for the many. It is a violent image; I am conscious of that. A violent image to render the fierce powers of international financial capitalism, authoritarian pursuits, war industries and reactionary tunes, turning our dwelling on planet earth as real and felt, genuine dystopian, Land of Strangers. What is needed to cut through such a violent cloth is a multiplicity of grassroots political struggles – but the latter, to be imagined, require the labour of intellectual unrest – a labour that to speak truth to power needs to be fulfilled by a desire not to be satisfied, by any explanation, ever. To teach of this thirst in our classrooms, to write on such emancipatory affect in our papers and books, to be constantly unsatisfied and to be recharged through that — this is what Ash’s works speak of; this is what he has taught me with his silences, his nods, his sometime incomprehensible fabulations, and this is what today we are not going to retire.

I remember well the first time I arrived in the UK. It was September 2008, and I was due to commence my PhD at Durham. I landed at Heathrow, which was my first time in the country. When there, I passed through the usual duty-free shops, waiting for my connecting flight to Newcastle. To have the chance to relate to what follows, you have to know that I grew up in a tiny rural village in the North West of Italy, in a working-class family. My father, now retired, was a factory worker at FIAT, and my mother a cleaner. Becoming an academic was not in the plan, and neither was, to be honest, completing the entire cycle at Uni. I benefited from the scholarships offered by the Italian Public Education system, and from the fact that Italy is filled with Pizzerias where a waiter is always well accepted. I kept doing multiple jobs up to the end of my PhD, and it is only thanks to Ash’s and my former MA supervisor Francesca’s efforts to mobilise funding that I was able to carry the PhD through completion. But this is not what I want to focus on.

The point is that when I was waiting in Heathrow for my connecting flight to reach Ash at Durham University, I ended up buying two things. Well, I proudly and decisively bought two things. The first was a Paul Smith’s wallet. The second was a Paul Smith keychain. Of course, these were unnecessary and foolish purchases. Of course, in buying those two things, I wasted the money I had saved for many weeks of subsistence (Tesco baked potatoes and beans came to help). And, of course, luxury is evil and should be banished. But also, and at the same time, seeing from the eyes of that working-class kid with totally broken English and zero ideas about his new life, those in the Heathrow candy shop were the only possible purchases. Those purchases were a way for that kid to tell himself that things were going to be different. It’s easy, now, for me and all of us to laugh at that – and to see how problematic that was. And yet, it happened, and those two things are still with me to date, 14 years after my first landing in the country.

I thought that the keychain was the right gift for you, Ash, which is why – while I am still holding onto my wallet – I am giving it to you today. For keys are the object of home, and homing, homelessness, dwelling, inhabiting, and belonging are at the core of our shared interests. But partially, also, because you gave me keys, real ones, when you pushed me to read all those books, when you asked me to write all those essays in the first year of my PhD, and then, after, when you invited me to go back at the drawing board when things did not make sense and, most importantly, to go back there when they made too much sense. The keys you gave me will stay with me for more than 14 years. And so, to celebrate your non-retirement, for all the openings that you will offer to scholars of the future, through your direct engagement and your writing, here is my small symbolic gift for you: a warn, silly Paul Smith keychain figuring a colourful Mini car. Because sometimes the affective, as the political, can be carried through the most insignificant details.