Review forum on my documentary in Dialogues in Human Geography

Dialogues in Human Geography published a review forum of my documentary A început ploaia/It started raining. The Forum contains reflections that encompass the film, to discuss issues of co-production, research-activism, evictions and the history of housing restitutions in Eastern Europe. It contains four contributions from scholars working on these themes since many years, whom I admire for their scholarship and commitment. These include:

  • Katherine Brickell, on Forced eviction, intimate war and disposable homes
  • Liviu Chelcea, on After Engels: Evictions and the urbanization of anti-communism
  • AbdouMaliq Simone, on A film: A comment
  • Ana Vilenica, on Becoming an accomplice in housing struggles on Vulturilor Street

The Forum is wrapped up with a final contribution by myself, entitled Caring for the endurance of a collective struggle.

The essays can be read on Dialogues’ webpage. My contribution can be also read on Academia.edu or Research Gate. Thanks to Ugo Rossi (University of Turin) for organizing this Forum!

 

Powerful screening of ‘A inceput ploaia’ in Berlin

On Friday 06/06/19 we screened our FCDL documentary film around evictions in Romania at the 11th meeting of the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, after a day of workshops and direct action-protest. Although the film has already been screened and debated in more than 35 occasions across Europe (and beyond), this time the night took a powerful turn. The room was filled with activists coming from all corners of the continent watching the 72 minutes of the documentary with attention. They were drawn by its politics. They did not need for somebody to explain it to them: they simply connect to it, watched, and concluded the screening with a very long applause.

The best part took place at the end, in the Q&A session, thanks to the fact that a member of the Vulturilor 50 community was there with us. Emanuel Georgescu – one of the brothers of our comrade Nicoleta – powerfully answered to a number of questions regarding his own experience and the racialized politics of evictions he was subjected too. FCDL member Ioana Florea and myself contributed to the conversation as well, covering a number of points related to the history of restitution and the broader international causes of evictions like that of Vulturilor.

It was a powerful night, which energized many of us and allowed for new bonds to emerge. This is why I spent so much time doing A început ploaia/It started raining: yesterday the role that this film can play as a radical political tool of education, exchange and solidarity came really to the fore.

New paper: Radical housing and the politics of dwelling as difference, in IJHP

Earlier this year I was invited to give one of the keynotes at the Housing Studies Association conference in Sheffield, UK. My talk was sponsored by the International Journal of Housing Policy, which has now published an extended version of my speech at the HSA.

The paper, entitled Radical housing: on the politics of dwelling as difference, is the first of the Journal’s new series of ‘Housing Futures’ essay, where leading scholars will be invited to address the contemporary housing debate from different angles. In my contribution I attack mainstream notions of what is considered to be ‘radical’ when it comes to ‘housing’, and I introduce a more nuanced (decolonial and feminist) take with the notion of ‘dwelling as difference’.

This paper expands on my previous works on housing precarity, homelessness and housing resistance, but it also opens up a new phase in my research interests. It also goes hand in hand with the work that I am doing with a number of comrades in the Radical Housing Journal.

The paper can be downloaded from the publisher’s website here, or on Research Gate or Academia.edu. Below you can find the abstract.

Radical housing: on the politics of dwelling as difference

Urbanites worldwide fight for their right to housing and the city in ways that encompass what Westernized and masculine takes on ‘radical politics’ make of them. This intervention proposes a decolonial, grounded and feminist approach to investigate how resistance to housing precarity emerges from uncanny places, uninhabitable ‘homes’ and marginal propositions. This is a form of ‘dwelling as difference’ that is able to challenge our compromised ‘habitus’ of home at its root, from the ground of its everyday unfolding. The article argues that only looking within those cracks, and aligning to their politics, new radical housing futures can be built with urbanites worldwide.

Keynote @EUGEO on Lessness: Recentering the politics of home

Today I will open the 7th EUGEO Congress in conjunction with the 51st Conference of Irish Geographers, here in the west of Ireland – Galway City. The theme for the 2019 conference is Re-Imagining Europe’s Future Society and Landscapes.  This is one of the largest gathering of Geographers in the world, alongside the RGS-IBG (UK) and the AAG (USA).

In my keynote I will situate my grounded critical approach to homelessness, as I have developed in my research it in the last 10 years. This is essentially a call to de-instutionalize our approach to the matter and to cease seeing ‘homelessness’ as in opposition to idealized notions of ‘home’. The latter needs to be re-thought in their entirety in order to tackle the root of housing precarity, and of the trauma associated with it. These are key themes that I am developing at the Urban Institute, through the Life at the Margins research theme.

Thank you to Kathy Reilly (Galway) for the invitation and support. The abstract of my intervention can be found below.

Abstract for EUGEO conference
On Lessness: Recentering the politics of home.
Michele Lancione
m.lancione@sheffield.ac.uk

Homelessness is one of the strongest cultural signifiers of the contemporary urban age. It works as a machine intersecting structural economic inequalities with cultural stigmatisation, on top of which a whole assemblage of personal traumatic experiences, institutional policing, and charitable interventions flourish. Despite its pervasiveness, homelessness is still framed as a ‘phenomenon’, a social ‘issue’ amongst others to be dealt with: homelessness as the negation of ‘home’. But what if homelessness is not the exception arising from the lack of shelter, but instead the full and most quintessential representation of what ‘home’ is within capitalistic modes of organising and being? In other words, what if ‘homelessness’ cannot be solved, unless one is ready to fundamentally alter the parameters of ‘home’? This keynote address ‘homelessness’ as a socio, cultural and economic process configured within an exclusionary understanding of ‘home’ and assembled through a number of governmentalities, which are identified with the notion of ‘lessness’. Through several ethnographic vignettes, the fundamental relationship between ‘lessness’ and ‘home’ is showed, revealing the impossibility of any reconfiguration without radical change. The latter is addressed through a number of propositions around a new politics of ‘home’.

Relevant works in relation to the theme of the keynote:

  • Lancione, M. (monograph in preparation). On Lessness: Recentering the politics of home
  • Lancione, M. (2019) Weird Exoskeletons: Propositional Politics and the Making of Home in Underground Bucharest. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 43.3, 535–50.
  • Lancione, M. (2016a) Racialised dissatisfaction: homelessness management and the everyday assemblage of difference. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41.4, 363–75.
  • Lancione, M. ed. (2016b) Rethinking life at the margins: the assemblage of contexts, subjects and politics. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London ; New York.
  • Lancione, M. (2016). Beyond Homelessness Studies. European Journal of Homelessness, 10(3), 163-176
  • Lancione, M. (2014c). The spectacle of the poor. Or: ‘Wow!! Awesome. Nice to know that people care!’ Social & Cultural Geography, 15(7), 693–713.
  • Lancione, M. (2014b). Entanglements of faith: Discourses, practices of care and homeless people in an Italian City of Saints. Urban Studies, 51(14), 3062–3078.

New paper: Life in the underground of Bucharest, out in IJURR

In 2003 I visited Romania as an Erasmus student and I got hooked. In particular, I got hooked by the encounter that I had with a community of ‘homeless’ people living in an underground chamber close to the Grozăveşti metro station, in Bucharest. From that moment on I kept on being interested in homelessness and housing precarity, and more specifically in the politics of life at the margins. I kept returning to Bucharest in the following years, to finally find myself again in the city in 2014 – this time with the opportunity to engage with it ethnographically (thanks to the Urban Studies Foundation).

During my time there (2014-2016) I became involved with issues of eviction, race, restitution politics and resistance that brought me to become part of the Common Front for the Right to Housing (FCDL), to fight alongside the Vulturilor 50 community, to produce a documentary film, and to write around the Roma resistance and its uncanny politics (in EPD and Geoforum). That, however, was never meant to be my ‘fieldwork’. The latter took place with drug users and ‘homeless’ people mainly in two distinct places in the city, which have nothing to do with the work I undertook around evictions and resistance. These places are the Alea Livezilor in Ferentari – where I worked with the fundamental help of the NGO Carusel – and the underground tunnels passing below the main train station of the city, Gara de Nord (where I encountered the great work of Massimo Branca, and of people like Dan Popescu and Alina Dumitriu).

It took me a while to start writing about Ferentari and Gara de Nord, mainly because I decided to prioritize the political work done with FCDL in Vulturilor. Now, however, I am going back to it and I am very happy to say that my first paper on the Gara de Nord community is now out in IJURR.  This is just the first step of a work that aim to cast a different light on what was going on within that tunnel, before the violent sensationalistic ‘poverty-porn’ of international media lead to its foreclosure.

IJURR has been incredibly supportive, as have been a number of people that I thank in the acknowledgement section of this paper (including Maliq Simone for the inspiring scholarship and friendship, Irina Georgescu, Zamfi Irina and Charlotte Kuhlbrandt for their support in Bucharest, Eleonora Leo Mignoli for the unconditional love). One extra thank to IJURR for making it completely open-source – the paper can be freely downloaded here:

http://www.ijurr.org/article/weird-exoskeletons-propositional-politics-and-the-making-of-home-in-underground-bucharest/

Keynote @HSA on Radical housing: On the politics of dwelling as difference

On Friday the 12nd of April, 2019, I gave my plenary speech at the Housing Studies Association Conference in Sheffield. The conference, organized by Ryan Powell (Sheffield) and Jennifer Hoolachan (Cardiff) was centred around themes of housing precarity, activism and resistance. The level of discussion and the quality of the papers presented was of a very high standard and the all event was a huge success.

My keynote was sponsored by the International Journal of Housing Policy, with the incredible support of Dallas Rogers (Sydney) and Emma Power (Sydney). The paper will be soon published as the first of their new series of essays around ‘Housing Future’. This was an incredible opportunity for me to think around some of the key themes in my research, from homelessness to housing resistance and everything in-between.

Below you can find the abstract of my intervention at the HSA.

Abstract for HSA conference
Radical Housing: On the politics of dwelling as difference
Michele Lancione
m.lancione@sheffield.ac.uk

In their modes of organising and fighting housing injustice, radical housing movements demand more than ‘just’ housing. Across the urban north and south, they bring to the fore profound critiques of dominant economic, cultural, and societal inequalities. Scholarship investigating these grassroots efforts is copious but still limited: it theorises ‘radical’ struggles mostly from a Western tradition; it largely fails to bring resistance into dialogue with new modes of theorising the city; and it is still too cautious in its theorisation of the political. More and better can be said to grasp how millions of urbanites worldwide change their cities and lives through their fight for decent housing. The paper advances a new epistemological orientation to tackle these questions, expanding on decolonial, vitalist and processual approaches to urban studies. It proposes to rethink the politics of urban precarity from the ground of dwelling, as a historical and generative assemblage that needs to be traced in its unfolding to appreciate its unconventional politics. The paper contributes to scholarship interested in a critical understanding of embodiment, politics, and housing resistance beyond established conventions of ‘radical’ practice and theory.

Launching The Radical Housing Journal

I am so proud and energized by the launch of the Radical Housing Journal: a new, peer-reviewed, open-source publication that cuts across the academy and housing movements internationally.

Together with a feminist, anti-racist and horizontally organized collective made of 13 people (10 women, 3 men) scattered across the globe, we have been working very hard in the last three years to bring this project to fruition. Following the successful launch of our first issue at the 2019 AAG in Washington, we are now actively looking for high quality contributions to be published in 2020, addressing the root causes of housing injustice, its experiences and resistance.

The RHJ is a complex machine that aims to work for radical politics both within its own structuring and mechanisms of knowledge production, and through the support of direct actions in the realm of housing resistance.

Below, you can read the editorial that the RHJ Editorial Collective wrote to present the Journal to its readers, in issue 1.1. Issue 1.2 will be out in September.  To know more about how we work, feel free to visit our website: www.radicalhousingjournal.org.

Introducing the Radical Housing Journal

RHJ Editorial Collective
PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 1.1 // EDITORIALS

The idea for the Radical Housing Journal emerged in 2016 from few but passionate conversations in activist and scholarly spaces. From this, the idea developed at a dizzying speed, and the collective grew from two to five to 13 committed scholar-activists spread across the globe. Most of us did not know each other before joining the journal and many of us have never physically met. In under three years, we have set up an editorial collective, managed a complex web of tasks and projects (related to financing, web-site, and much more), received an overwhelming number of submissions, and are now proud to present our first issue.

The urgency of the project is obviously also a product and response to the level of mobilization around the fight for the right to housing and the city that has been taking place in recent years worldwide. Perhaps, the RHJ was, in a sense, bound to happen. This said, many of us have been involved in radical housing politics and politically engaged research before concepts such as gentrification became such hot topics. For a very long time we have lacked a genuinely open place to discuss housing as a practice in the making, as a space of contestation, and as a politics in its own regard, beyond the calculus of academic citations and the confinements of normative urban studies and housing theory. Crucially, we have lacked a space that scholars, scholar-activists, activists, artists and many more could use to debate ideas, advance knowledge, theory and practices around a radical approach to housing.

For us, that ‘radicality’ lies in how we approach housing as a fundamentally political question, inseparable from implicated, everyday practices of inhabiting space and challenging the forces that make the world unhomely and uninhabitable. It also lies in the journal’s capacity to be put to use by its makers and readers. It is a radicality that has its own political orientation – as clearly expressed in our Manifesto – which pivots around the following points.

First, for us, housing and home are unalienable under any circumstance. There is not much to add to this point; we believe that any form of forced eviction is wrong, and that any form of housing insecurity (as defined by the ones experiencing it) should be contested.

Second, we believe that given the complexity and the potentiality of housing to be absorbed into racial capitalism, thereby catalyzing many forms of exploitation, accumulation, imperialism, raciality, and annihilation – that we need to go beyond the analysis of what problems already exist. Rather, we underline the urgency in contributing to knowledge-sharing for transformation and housing justice. The RHJ wants to create a space that challenges the study of conditions and processes that render housing alienable, combining heterogeneous theoretical standpoints. We therefore welcome transdisciplinarity and transnational approaches to conceptualizing the structural aspects and everyday elements of housing, housing justice, and resistance. We also encourage different methodological approaches, and provide tools for radical epistemology that make use of these methods.

Third, the RHJ promotes a non-exploitative, anti-capitalist, ecologically oriented, antiracist, feminist, decolonial, and horizontal politics in its own structure and functioning. We are autonomous in our making, politics, and financing. Our two Collectives (Editorial and Extended) are horizontally structured and open for new members to join. Internally, these organizational orientations are not always straightforward, and create productive, ethical, and practical tensions that, we hope, result in a more inclusive publication.

The Journal was designed to welcome different kinds of content and elicit conversations across different domains of inquiry and action. The first two sections host substantive original works and are blind peer reviewed (by one academic oriented and one activist-based), while the latter two sections offer for a more “immediate” style (which is reviewed internally by the issues’ Editors). These are:

The long read / Focus on critical analysis and theory-making
For papers focused on theorizing housing resistance and activism worldwide. Papers aim for theoretical innovation and conceptual finesse driven by speculative, case-specific or comparative arguments.

Retrospectives / Focus on specific cases, histories, actions
For papers oriented at reconstructing, in detail, particular histories of movements, organisations and/or actions worldwide. Papers aim for historical rigour and depth.

Conversations / Reflections from the field of action and organisation
Pieces written collectively, to reflect on specific actions and strategies. We welcome reflections and debates on the challenges of particular organising approaches and practices.

Updates / Reviews, provocations, updates on actions
For reviews of books, films, art, and more; as well as updates on current actions.

Launching a new Journal has required more than two years of intensive collective labor and energies, but we are very proud of what we have set up. We aimed high and for the best quality. Of the more than 70 submission that we received for this first issue, we selected 15, which were then thoughtfully peer reviewed, editorially assessed, and accepted or rejected accordingly. A similarly rigorous editorial process was followed for Issue 1.2, ‘Interrogating Rent’, which we will publish in the Autumn.

This massive collective labor is what makes the RHJ; we want to treasure and nurture that collectivity. For this reason, we have designed the Journal with care towards future forms of collective ownership that can last beyond individual editors, and beyond the struggles presented in its pages. We have done so with an attention to the politics of publishing across the boundaries set by the Academy and across geographies. This is a Journal that is designed to host and to foster intellectual and action-oriented debates around radical housing with an attention to geographic specificities and an orientation to experimental and productive comparisons. We want for it to be our sparkling and shining home. And we want this home to be radically open, which we understand in two key ways. First, all content published in the RHJ is open access and will stay so, against the logics of enclosure of much academic publishing, where significant knowledge remains trapped behind paywalls. Second, we want to keep the RHJ open by valuing the work that goes into thinking, researching and writing about and from housing struggles.

Crucially, the RHJ aspires to build a system of self-financing that sustains its independent, radical politics both internally and externally, and offers a small compensation to its writers. Please join our fundraising campaign by donating, if you can, or help by spreading the campaign around.

If you see yourself in our Manifesto, then do get in touch. We await hearing from you and working with you, wherever you are. Our open call for papers for subsequent issues are now live here. Feel free to submit papers and ideas, and please do get in touch about anything else (also about joining our Collective, or becoming a RHJ reviewer) using our contact page, or drop us a line at collective@radicalhousingjournal.org. And, don’t forget to follow us on twitter @Radical_Housing.

We hope that you will enjoy and join this radical endeavour as readers and critical interlocutors, beginning with our Issue 1.1: ‘Post-2008’ as a field of action and inquiry in uneven housing justice struggles. Our second Issue (1.2) ‘Interrogating Rent: structures, struggles and subjectivities’ is well into production and will be published in September 2019.

In Solidarity,

The RHJ Editorial Collective

Erin, Mara, Mel, Meli and Michele

Horizontal solidarities: Screening and debate at the Casalboccone squat (Rome)

Yesterday in Rome at the Casal Boccone Occupato resiste e insiste squat we had a powerful exchange Romania-Italy on racism, evictions and housing justice.

We screened A Inceput Ploaia and then had a debate with the comrades of Blocchi Precari Metropolitani, the Comitato Case Popolari Tufello, occupanti di Colle Salario and Metropoliz Lab.

The Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire was represented by myself and Nicoleta (from the Vulturilor 50 community), who chatted with us via messenger, answering questions from the comrades of Rome and invited all to continue to resist and fight for the right to housing and the city. Mady Gavrilescu was there and we expressed our solidarity for her fight #DajeMada

It was a powerful exchange, which I hope it is going to be just the start of a series of collaborations and common fights. These spaces of encounter are possible only via mixing academic and activist work in ways that are not dictated by the scholars involved, but are aligned with the grassroot politics at play in the context of action.

Thanks Mady Gavrilescu for the hospitality and Margherita Grazioli for organizing!

Interview-Podcast for the Relational Poverty Network

 

The Relational Poverty Network is a USA-based but internationally driven ensemble, which convenes a community of scholars to develop conceptual frameworks, research methodologies, and pedagogies for the study of relational poverty. It is a project inspired and managed by Vicky Lawson and Sarah Elwood, two scholars who have done much to help us rethinking poverty and care.

I’ve joined the RPN a few years back and they always have been incredibly generous to me, firstly promoting my documentary film and now inviting me to their fantastic series of podcast on ‘New Poverty Politics‘. The series includes some of the most exciting researchers, activists and practitioners working around poverty politics in the USA and beyond.

In ‘On Collaborative Art Praxis to Challenge Homelessness‘, Rhoda Rosen (School of the Art Institute in Chicago), Billy McGuinness (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago) and myself have a conversation on challenging communities to engage homelessness through collaborative art praxis. You can read the transcript below and access the podcast here.

 

New Poverty Politics for Changing Times:
What Emerging Nationalist Populisms Mean for Poverty and Inequality
A project of the Relational Poverty Network

A conversation between Michele Lancione (University of Sheffield), Rhoda Rosen (School of the Art Institute in Chicago) and Billy McGuinness (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago)

 

Rhoda Rosen: Hi, I’m Rhoda Rosen.

Billy McGuinness: And I’m Billy McGuinness.

Rhoda: And together we’re co-founders and co-directors of an organization, or we should say an artist collaborative, called Red Line Service. Red Line Service is the name of a train line in Chicago where many people find themselves sleeping overnight in this provisional space for want of appropriate, affordable housing in the City. On one hand, we chose the name because our first artistic interventions as an artist/curator team were with people with a lived experience of homelessness on the train platforms of this train line. But, we also wanted to complicate the term “service”, which implies a yucky hierarchical relationship of people with means and people “in-need” rather than a mutual recognition of humanity, which is what our art project aims to create and model. [as well as an artist collaborative???….]

Michele: So my name is Michele Lancione. I am essentially an urban ethnographer. I do most of my research in relation to homelessness and in relation also to evictions. Recently I have been working around evictions affecting Roma people in Bucharest, Romania.

So probably we can start with the first question and I can ask you, Rhoda and Billy, to tell me something about: what are priority research topics on impoverishment in this moment, accordingly to you and your experience?

Billy: Well it’s a conversation we’ve been having over several years, I think. While Rhoda and I might each describe it differently, for us, we understand research to be a mode of action in the world: a way of relating to people, a way of working with people. And we also understand the work that we do to be a research practice, first and foremost. But it’s a research that is founded on direct interaction with the situation that we’re trying to learn something about, as opposed to pure observation.

Rhoda: Or as opposed to coming in with knowledge, we really see ourselves as in an unfinished, incomplete, and ongoing process of learning. And that for us is really important because every event or interaction we have, or community we engage with and build, and participate in co-building, we learn more and more. So our research is really active and always in process. And for us that’s how art is. So it’s something we can bring because we’re navigating through spaces all the time; we feel that the not-for-profit spaces, or pure academic spaces, can’t really bring that piece to the table.

Michele: This is very beautiful what you are saying. It’s actually – although I’m not an artist, I wouldn’t describe myself as such – it’s actually very close to the kind of understanding that I have of academic research and engagement. And I would say, at large, it’s my definition of being an intellectual. So you do things because you are part of those things and you change in the process of doing them. And in the process of doing research with vulnerable communities, in a sense, you are not trying to – or at least I’m not trying to describe them or to rise above them, but also always trying to do something that is empowering for both. So I think it’s very close to what you are saying. And I do agree that academic spaces, conventional academic spaces, are not ready, are not perfect; and they don’t really allow for that kind of encounter. So I think that creative methodologies and community-based activities are better in that regard. They allow for a better encounter to take place with people. Yeah.

Billy: Well it’s really refreshing that you understand us as well as you do, and that you share some of our values and approaches. Because, while I think there are people who are sympathetic and supportive of our way of working, and the people that know our project well are very enthusiastic, sometimes we feel like we’re all alone in this thing [laughs]. In prioritizing direct interaction with other human beings, sometimes people look askance at us and our approaches as being somewhat unconventional!

Rhoda: Mhm. And, you know, when you’re doing it as an art project, the frame is around something that’s happening in real life, right? The frame is really around an experience and that has been a challenge to communicate to, particularly, not-for-profit direct service organizations who are at the coalface, right? They are right there giving the person the shelter when they need it, or giving them the meal when they need it. But, they almost entrench a power hierarchy, rather than coming to the person on the level of equality and the desire to be open and to change yourself, as you said, which is critical to us. And, also they come, I think, with this understanding that the thing they are helping, homelessness, is more of a trait than an experience – a momentary, current experience. And so we really try to break open everyone’s possibilities – ours and the people experiencing homelessness. We try to help ourselves and others to reimagine our personal possibilities. And so, in that sense, it’s really a kind of re-centering of the voices of poverty

Michele: Well I think I’m going to quote what you just said. Yeah, “re-centering the voices of poverty,” it’s a beautiful way of putting it. And actually, what you said, both of you, it reminds me of the parallels that there are between, let’s take your example, not-for-profit organizations and their way of dealing with homeless people, or other vulnerable communities, and what the university does to us. Because, in a sense, these are both institutions. So they have, you know, clear mandates and, as you said, they are hierarchical. And they don’t allow, you know, for a true encounter with their constituencies, somehow. And I think that, yes, experimentation with creative writing or filmmaking can allow to disrupt some of these spaces and can allow to create new spaces in the in-between, no?

And this is what I tried to do. And I sense that it’s the same thing that you try to do. And it’s always a challenge, as you said. Because when you have your colleagues, your academic colleagues or maybe also within the artist community, looking at you as a foreigner, no? As a foreign element within their space. So there is a double challenge: there is the challenge of having to deal with an institution that is not designed to give you that space, and then also to deal with colleagues that do not recognize that what you are trying to do is still part of the intellectual labor that we are supposed to do as artists, intellectuals, and academics.

Billy: Yeah I love what you said and I think that the flipside of that liability, the liability of being a part of the system which we’re trying to change, is that when we do go into a community, or have an interaction with a population of people, our approach is so different than the institutions they’ve been working with. Precisely because we are a foreign agent in this otherwise understood order of things. We come along and we try to remove hierarchy as a first step before we’ve even walked into the room. And so, you know, I’m fresh from a conversation with a friend of ours that we’ve met through this work from a few weeks ago, who said, “when I met you and Rhoda, it was the first time since I became homeless that anyone didn’t treat me like a second class citizen. I walked in and I felt like an equal, and right away I said, ‘oh well this is different. These people are different.’ And that was what kept me coming back and wanting to have the experience with you.”

Rhoda: So I want to just say that I love what both of you are saying. And thank you so much, Michele, for bringing back the institution. I don’t disagree with the points you are making – you were speaking about it as an academic space not designed for experience. What I’ve also realized is that we have to bring our work to campus, because we also all teach, right? So we teach this kind of socially engaged art practice to students, and work with them on our projects, and with communities. And so we also have to remember that what’s happening in the outside world isn’t distinct from what’s happening on campus and to teach them engaged learning.

Additionally, we have sat in class and a student has said, “I was homeless for this many months or years or whatever.” And we’ve been to presentations in museums where a student came to us crying, saying, “thank you so much for speaking about this; my family” – in the suburbs, this was – “ we slept in the car for two years.” So remembering to know that our campuses are not ivory towers, there are people in the food pantries and in shelters who we deal with everyday on our campuses – and we have to make our classrooms also spaces where we can have those conversations .

And then, you know, to Billy’s point, I love that you brought that idea back too – that we are foreign agents within institutions: it’s not just a hierarchy that excludes a set of ideas. These experiences of poverty are within our campuses too. And when we forget that and assume a kind of privilege for all, that can be very difficult.

Billy: Yeah. I’m also just thinking of the experience, just going off of what Rhoda just said, you know, we had an event yesterday. One of the participants in our program is a PhD candidate who is getting his doctorate in Social Work, and he’s been participating in our program as a way to study and inform his research. And in yesterday’s event, he was just devastated at the end of it, in a good way. He was so moved; he was so challenged; he was so opened up by the experience – and you know he was really surprised by that, it really caught him off guard. And, of course, for us, it’s a bit like, “welcome to the party, man! We’ve been waiting for you to show up and realize what this work is actually about, and how deep it goes.” And the context of his revelation was a museum of African-American history in Chicago. And he’s African-American. And so we talked a little bit about how uncomfortable the space is, necessarily uncomfortable, when we’re having the most important conversations, the conversations that get at past trauma, whether that be on a personal level or a societal level or a global level – those things we’d rather not talk about. If we don’t create a safe space for that awkwardness, then we can’t look at those problems with any kind of honesty and we can’t effectively work to change the situation. And so for him to come, you know, at an advanced moment in his research, and just begin to learn.

Michele: This is, yeah, it’s very powerful. I think actually what we are saying, what you just said, Billy, it’s a possible answer to the second question that they posed us, which is: who should poverty researchers be collaborating with, and also how?

I mean essentially is very beautiful that we have this in common, although we we don’t know each other, is that to create the possibility of collaboration both the researcher and the community, or the people we are dealing with, needs to go outside of their comfort zones. So they really need to do what you just said, Billy, just like moving away from the comfort of what we know, and from the comfort of our established categories, and try to have a conversation from that discomfort. So, in a sense, the discomfort becomes the first step in order to be able to have the encounter that we were kind of evoking before. And I insist on this notion of the encounter, mostly because I am an ethnographer. And I think that before the “graphy” part of ethnography, which is the representation – and that representation can be done in academic form, but also in creative different ways, in artistic forms. Before that “graphy,” the “ethno” part is fundamental: which is exactly the encounter, the getting to know the other. And that encounter is possible only through that initial discomfort.

And also the discomfort, though, if you want, the conversation through Skype through different time zones, and so on and so forth. I don’t know you, I don’t know your faces, there is an initial discomfort. But still, it’s productive, it allows us to become closer. So I’m really enjoying this.

Billy: Yeah, that’s great. We feel the same way. I love that, yeah, the importance of the encounter -– and the crucial nature of the discomfort as a necessary first part of the process.

Rhoda: And maybe the end. I mean, I don’t know about the end point, but maybe the next step is, of course, the reciprocity. So when I think of old fashioned ethnography and what this person, this researcher, actually brought to us was “oh, I can’t participate, I’m here to observe.” But, in fact, that’s why it took him so long! Because as soon as he reached that discomfort and that openness, when he had the rug pulled out from under him, then the moment of an authentic relationship with people, with others – a reciprocal, rather than hierarchical, relationship with others was possible.

Michele: Yeah. I think that everything we are saying points to the next question that they are suggesting for us to tackle, which is: what are priority actions we should be taking to resist exclusionary trends? So we live in different contexts, and maybe you want to say something about a possible answer to this question in relation to your context? I mean the U.S., and Chicago, in particular?

Billy: It’s such a rich question. And of course I immediately think about – when I think about exclusionary trends, I think about equal and opposite trends moving in the other direction, right? And I’m answering really only for myself to say that I think insisting on – and I’ll use Rhoda’s language because I think she says this – “radical inclusivity” in our approach is a very direct and honest rebuttal of exclusionary trends that we’re seeing. To put inclusivity, a genuine inclusivity, at the front of the conversation. But I think to constantly challenge ourselves when we think we’re being inclusive to know that we’re not. To know that we can always open that door wider, expand that conversation further.

Michele: And for you, Rhoda, it’s the same, I guess? Or…?

Rhoda: Well, you know, Billy said that so beautifully and smoothly. It seems so simple to open a door, but it can be challenging! You know, we encounter a lot of mental illness on the streets. To back up to your point about Chicago: Chicago is a wealthy, yet bankrupt city sitting in the middle of a bankrupt state, not that this excuses closing mental institutions, rather than ending the corruption – but they have closed most of the state facilities and those people have been delivered to the streets. Our prison system, which Billy can speak more to, our Cook County Jail, is the largest mental health facility in the world.

Billy: And in fact, the three largest mental health facilities in the United States are all city jails: in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Rhoda: Right. And so we see the impact of those – of not just gentrification, not just the redlining that took place to ensure that Black families in the 60s and 70s wouldn’t be able to buy homes and keep them. The forced gentrification – as the city moves south and west into what were historically African-American areas, and watching people having to leave those. Automation, as well – you know, all of the contemporary things we see globally are being played out in a very heightened way in Chicago. And so, we plop down in the middle of that and say, “you know what? There are solutions, whether that’s housing first or paying people a living wage, and we’re just going to enact those as our art practice.” It’s that simple. And if two of us can do it, how much more if, as Billy likes to say, plumbers start caring or nurses start caring, or art historians start caring together, how might we enact real change.

Michele: Wow, this is very informative for me, that I don’t live in that context. There is one of the examples that you just made, Rhoda, which is housing first. I’ve been working a little bit on that in Italy, in ways. And there is one thing that has always struck me about housing first, is that: it doesn’t really require a huge economic investment. It doesn’t really require a huge managerial investment. What it really requires, the fundamental requirement – I don’t know if you agree with this – is a cultural change in the way you look at homelessness, no? So instead of looking at people from the point of view that they are not ready for it, you just look at them like, of course they are ready for it, no?

But this is such a big change. And I think that one of the ways – just to link my answer to the question – one of the ways to resist excusing these trends, from my point of view, from the work I do as an academic, is just to try to push these kind of radical agendas and policies in a very provocative way. I mean, in a sense, I tell my students, “just stop doing literature reviews.” I mean, of course, you need the literature review, but “start to think about what you are studying in a critical way, and also in a radical way.” And when I say “radical” I mean something that can be made active in the world, that is actually enabled by people in a sense.

So, in a sense, I mean a very stupid way of answering this question is that exclusionary trends, in a sense, can be resisted only by constructing non-exclusionary trends. And you construct non-exclusionary trends, as being an academic, just concerning yourself with constructing ways of making theory and policy radical: action enabled by people. You know, something that can be used by communities. Yeah, and everything you said, I mean, the scale is different, the context is different, the history is different – but many of the issues that both of you highlighted are very much present in the UK as well. And I think we can tackle them. We can try to find solutions to them only if we start to think critically at the jobs that we do; just don’t take things for granted. And as academics I think we have a big challenge, again, because the institutional tells you essentially, you know, to take things for granted – because you have to comply with the metrics, and you have to write papers, and be ranked. OK, now I’m just starting to, you know, babbling about everything, but yeah.

Billy: It’s very important what you’re saying! And I think that, you know, where you have those people who march in the street and yell about keeping out foreigners, you have the very easy target, right? OK, this is the opposition; these are the people whose minds we have to change. But, in fact, the grossness of their approach makes them easy to identify. The harder to identify exclusionary trend is the one that is unspoken and that lurks inside the most progressive institution, the most progressive work environment. You’ll find that little thread of, “yes, we’re lifting the masses but only to the bottoms of our feet and no further because we like our position here.” And so whether that’s the academy, or whether that’s, you know, a not-for-profit system that lives on charity from the for-profit system, or wherever you look, you can find that. Which is not to say people aren’t well intentioned. On the contrary, they’re incredibly well intentioned.

So the same admonition that you give your students about actionable approaches in the world that are radical in their actionability, that same shift in perspective that you’re working with your students to create in the context wherein you work, is applicable at a dinner table with your spouse and your extended family, is applicable in the classroom, on the street – everywhere we go. And it can be confrontational without being aggressive or assaultive. You can simply plant a new perspective in the conversation that requires a response. Even if it’s not a spoken response at that moment – something someone can take away and chew on for a while and say, “hmm, I’ve got something to think about.”

Michele: Absolutely.

Rhoda: Mhm. And I kind of just want to name ¬– I think I want to name the thing that we’re talking about when we say that we want to be inclusionary in a radical and authentic way. And I think it’s about this issue that you raised, Michele, about people assumed to be coming with deficits rather than coming with assets, right? And if you assume that people come with assets then, number one, they’re welcome. But what you’re really talking about is that you recognize – because I think that’s a really important word, to recognize – another’s dignity, that is inherent. And if we were to put our finger – and I’m speaking for you too, Billy – that if we were to put our finger on what we believe about every person who we encounter – it’s that we’re recognizing their dignity and we’re, in turn, recognizing our own dignity.

Billy: Yeah. I would take out the word “dignity” and replace it with the word “humanity.”

Rhoda: I like that. [all laugh]. I agree.

Bill: I think that’s the approach.

Rhoda: Right. Because dignity is filled with historical baggage, right?

Bill: Yeah, it’s got some baggage we don’t want to carry.

Rhoda: But it’s recognizing the humanity of a person, and in turn, our own humanity which is often lost when thinking about meeting people on equal footing.

Bill: Right.

Michele: Yeah. I agree with what you said, replacing with humanity. And I think, in the end it requires just training ourselves to it, in a sense, no? Because, I mean, what we’re talking about is also about empathy. To be humane with somebody else, I think, it means to understand where they come from. And that understanding requires an empathy that can be fostered, can be trained. So, in a sense, being attentive to what other people have to say and how they behave can be learned. It’s not something that we are born with necessarily. And I think it can be born, and to a certain extent it can be taught. So I don’t if you agree with this, but I think maybe one the priorities for critical poverty studies, just to connect to the last question, is probably: find a way to let people feel, more than understand, that empathy is necessary and it’s a prerequisite, probably, of action.

Billy: Well I love that you said that, “I don’t know if you agree with me.” I think that if I didn’t agree that empathy could be learned, it would be very hard to do this work [laughs]. Because I’m trying to learn it myself through this work. Yeah, that’s right, I believe we can learn it. Sorry, I got lost as you mentioned the last question – I had a response that was specific to that, but I guess I’m just really hung up on this idea that we have to be able to learn empathy. We have to be able to learn how to listen to one another, how to be with one another.

Michele: I’m curious to hear your response to the last question then, Billy.

Rhoda: Can you repeat the words.

Billy: Yeah, what was it?

Michele: I said I’m just curious to hear the response that you had for the last question, Billy.

Bill: Can you say that last question again? I don’t have it in front of me.

Michele: Oh sorry, sorry. It’s what are priority keywords for critical poverty studies in this moment?

Bill: I think “shared humanity” might be a good place to start as a keyword, sort of recognizing and participating in shared humanity.

Michele: And for you, Rhoda, it’s the same?

Rhoda: Mhm, mhm.

Michele: Yeah, it’s a difficult question. I find myself a bit lost when it comes to keywords. I kind of don’t know how to deal with them. So probably I would say something that was said before, like “empathy”, “radical action.” And maybe I would add to this becoming a little bit slower. Like “to be slow.” It’s another thing that I throw into the pot, because I am trying to learn that. To just try to slow down, and in a sense, by slowing down, allowing for that empathy to emerge. And maybe for reasons, nowadays, for me to enter into that discomfort, the discomfort zone we were talking about in the beginning, to enter into that zone I need to slow down. Because I am going so fast and doing so many things, like you, I guess. So, in a sense, slowing down may be another keyword – just trying to take time to listen.

Billy: Yeah. That’s right on. And something that I guess that occurred to me earlier, when I read through the questions, was something that we picked up from one of our friends in one of our programs. He said he didn’t like to think of himself as homeless; he preferred to use the term “in transition.” And that really struck a chord with us. And we started using it as the preferred term for anyone experiencing homelessness. And people in our circle caught on and started using that term; they referred to people in housing transition, people in transition. And maybe a year later I was with this man again and I said: “by the way, that word that you use, “in transition,” is that common among people who are experiencing homelessness, or is that just your word?” And he said, “oh that’s just my word; that’s just the word that I like.” I said, “well we’ve been spreading it around” [laughs]. But I love that word to be something that we recognize going into any situation – that it is a situation in transition, whether that’s a personal situation or a societal one; it’s always in transition.

And so we approach, as you say, slowly, deliberately, with our eyes wide open, with our ears open, hopefully – with the understanding that what we’re looking at is changing right before our very eyes through contact with us and countless other factors.

Rhoda: I like this. We’ve got: slow pace, shared humanity, empathy, assets rather than deficits. I love the active research.

Billy: And flux, a sense of flux.

Rhoda: A sense of flux. Authentic encounters, authentic relationships, maybe. We also talk about sometimes, in fact we’ve named a program something around, “disrupting the narrative.” It’s another way of saying that we’re determined to break what people think of as poverty. And, yeah, the expertise – maybe another thing is “changing the expertise.” People come with so much of that that we can’t hear if we lead with our assumptions.

Michele: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more with the changing the expertise – starting with the academic expertise, and then of course going into the practicioning world. Yeah, changing the expertise, it’s fundamental. It’s actually, again, related to homelessness; it’s the key to change the way in which practitioners, or the media, day to day man on the street deals with homelessness.

Yeah I really enjoyed having this conversation. I just hope that sooner or later we will meet. When I come next to the US I will let you know, and I hope that you’ll do the same if you happen to come to the UK.

Rhoda: Great, yeah.

Billy: We will certainly be in touch about that. It would be wonderful to meet you into a person.

Michele: Yeah, the same. OK so we did it, apparently!

Bill: Wonderful! And it’s just 40 minutes since we started the call. [all laugh]

Michele: Exactly. So it means that we really liked it.

Rhoda: Right! Thank you so much, Michele.

Michele: No, thank you both, really. Thank you. Thank you very much. Have a nice day. Bye.

Rhoda and Billy: Bye.

New workshop series: The Urban Human – Conundrums and Interstices

The Urban Human and the Life at the Margins research themes at the Urban Institute are launching a series of internal workshop on ‘The Urban Human: Conundrum and Interstices’. The series is aimed at scholars within the University of Sheffield interested in exploring a number of concerns on urbanity, affects and race.

 

Facilitators: AbdouMaliq Simone and Michele Lancione

 

The program includes five meetings:

    1. Urban Lexicons, 19/2/19, 12-2pm, ICOSS boardroom
    2. The Ambivalent Generativity of Blackness, 19/3/19, 12-2pm, ICOSS boardroom,
    3. Urban Affect, 23/4/19, 12-2pm, ICOSS boardroom
    4. The (A)Climatic Human, 21/5/19, 12-2pm, ICOSS boardroom
    5. The Propositional Politics of Wasted Lives, 18/6/19, 12-2pm, ICOSS boardroom

 

 

To subscribe, please complete the following form: https://goo.gl/forms/ipIGt5ur6HwO91eF3  

 

Precis

Urbanization and humanity as geological force have purportedly attained planetary dimensions, and in this totalizing subsumption of the planet to a narrow band of powers, poses the possibility of extinction. Whereas urban and human could reiterate the other, their present complicity threatens to cancel the other’s existence. Urban life now demonstrates the capacity to make use of anything: to fold the death of bodies into calculable assets, to manage its perennial deviancies through the myth of crisis and emergency, to govern life not as the cultivation of aggregate populations but through multiplying the number of dimensions possibile in the confines of individual distributions – where a single body operates as the scenegraphy of infinite intersections, and to the rendering of flebile desire for life in the calculus of financialised assets.

In the uban human nothing seems to remain of a species in common. For, even the supposed commonality of the ‘human’ was predicated on those dispossed of any eligibility for being human. It is within the reproduction of deviancy through defining apparatuses scattered across the urban field – being those of bureaucratic, intellectual, charitable and arithmetic nature – that the other is maintain as the fundament of the good common life. The black body, the home-less body, are the ground upon which the the storytelling of the urban human is maintained. Just as urbanization is an ongoing story – of articulation, density, contiguity, and absence – it is the concrete underpinning, the infrastructure of this particular storytelling that is the  “nature” of being (urban) human.

So to what extent is cancelling of the urban and the human both catastrophe and liberation? If the urban operates with the capacity to make valuable the intensive particularization of things on the basis of its undeserving bodies, how might it operate as a field of experimental gatherings and provisional sutures? What if the answer does not rely upon a compromised politics of rights and humanitarianism, but instead requires the sabotage of the coherence of a specific subject/object? What if the human was approached as a polyrhythmic constellation of simultaneous stories not judged according to any criteria, but constantly crisscrossing bodies, technics, machines, landscapes and disciplines?

Workshop One

Urban Lexicons

What does it mean to look at the urban human from the problem of how subjectivities are (re)produced in an entanglement of post-human affect? Urban theory is moving beyond the remit of its disciplinary safegrounds. A new grammar to explore forces and rhythms is emerging, which can help us navigate the uncertain terrain of the urban human.

  • Ash Amin (2015) Animated space. Public Culture 27.2, 239–258
  • De Boeck, F. (2015) “Divining” the city: rhythm, amalgamation and knotting as forms of “urbanity”. Social Dynamics 41.1, 47–58.
  • Morten Nielsen (2014) A Wedge of Time. Futures in the Present and Presents without Futures in Maputo Mozambique. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20, 166–182
  • Stengers, I. (2005) The Cosmopolitical Proposal. In Latour, B. and P. Weibel (eds.),
    Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.


Workshop Two

The Ambivalent Generativity of Blackness

If blackness is simultaneously at the margins of human life – that which is depended upon in order to consolidate the human as a particular privileged set of bodies and capacities- – and the platform through which a new genre of human life is imaginable, what is to be made of blackness as a force of urbanization?

  • Fred Moten (2013) The Subprime and the beautiful, African Identities, 11:2, 237-245
  • Saidiya Hartman (2018) The Anarchy of Colored Girls Assembled in a Riotous Manner. South Atlantic Quarterly, 117 (3): 465–490
  • Paul Gilroy (2018) “Where every breeze speaks of courage and liberty”: Offshore Humanism and Marine Xenology, or, Racism and the Problem of Critique at Sea Level. Antipode 50: 3-22

Workshop Three

Urban Affect

In the media saturated worlds of the urban, where the digital, parametric, and algorithmic become the predominant realities through which to understand how human life is articulated to “its” worlds, and where relationalities exceed the capacity of human cognition to register them, what does it mean to “feel” the urban? What role does affect and sensibility play in such an environment?

  • Brian Massumi (2017) Collective Expression. In The Principle of Unrest. Open Humanities Press.
  • Patricia Clough (2018) The User Unconscious: On Affect, Media, and Measure. University of Minnesota Press
  • Kathleen Stewart (2007) Ordinary Affects. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.


Workshop Four

The (A)Climatic Human

If the “promises” of urbanization as an assemblage of judicious intersections amongst all things is betrayed by the constitution of the “human” as a geological force and the intensive fragmentation/particularization of human life through spatial segregation–what remains?, what is the human “in-between” these disjointed positions?

  • Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook (2017) Vortices: On “Critical  Climate Change” as a Project. South Atlantic Quarterly 116 (1): 129-143.
  • Arturo Escobar (2016) Thinking/Feeling with the Earth: Territorial Struggles and the Ontological Dimension of the Epistemologies of the South. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana 11: 11-32.
  • Elizabeth Povinelli (2015) The Rhetorics of Recognition in Geontopower. Philosophy & Rhetoric 48:4, 428-442.

Workshop Five

The Propositional Politics of Wasted Lives

In contemporary urban conditions, what does it mean to point to wasted life or dispossession? Within the urban, is anything really wasted, and what or whose judgment can ever determine this? And what kind of urban political emerges when one engages with the interstices of wasted lives?

  • Judith Butler (2011) Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street. Transversal 1–15.
  • Didier Fassin (2012) Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present.  University of California Press, Part One.
  • Neferti X.M. Tadiar (2013) Life-times of disposability within global neoliberalism. Social Text 31:19–48.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin (1974) The Dispossessed, Gateway
  • Sandro Mezzadra and Bred Neilson (2013) Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor. Duke University Press, Durham, NC