Interview on ‘homing’ and radical research practice

I was recently interviewed by Milena Belloni for the ‘HOMING‘ project run by Paolo Boccagni. In the interview we discuss homelessness, home, and radical research practice. You can read the interview at this website or below.

Interview Michele Lancione (Trento, 25th September 2018)

Milena: What does home mean to you, to your work and to your disciplinary approach?

Michele: Home is where everything starts. We have “the homeless” because our idea of home includes the possibility of being without home: you can be at home but you can also loose that home. That is what interests me about “home”. It’s impossibility. Even if home is the place where you belong, and where you have a nice life, there is always the potential to lose that. This complexity, this conundrum, is the whole point. Home is never something that is safe, that is neat and clean. It is always something that is contested within and outside; something that is lost and re-appropriated.

Milena: While you were talking I was thinking…does the condition of homelessness exist? If we think that we are never completely at home we are also never completely without home. How would you

Michele: That is very interesting. In something I recently wrote I said that homelessness does not exist. What I try to argue is that one can also be homeless at home. Even if you live on the street you have a lot of relationships of affection and care that you consider being part of home. At the same time you can be homeless even if you have a conventional home, as the threat of losing it is always there. Your house can be appropriated by a bank, your love relationship can end. Thus, you can have belonging and safety on the street, in a camp and when you have a real house you can experience the precarity of being homeless. I find very useful a concept developed by Katherine Brickell, a British geographer. She speaks of home making and home unmaking: a continuum, a conundrum.

Milena: Could you give us some ethnographic example of homing and unhoming?

Michele: There is a lot of work on violence, domestic violence, patriarchy, which shows how you can be at home while not feeling at home. My work however is about the opposite: how can people who do not have at home feel at-home? I worked with drug users and homeless people living underground in the canal in front of the main train station in Bucharest. This story is widely known as it has been extensively portrayed by the media and academic world. The standard message you can get out of these portrayals is that these people are resilient. But when you live with them you realise that there is much more to it. People living underground have a community, are not just ‘resilient’. They make life: they do not just ‘get going’, or ‘survive’. This is a life characterised by caring relationships and by an economy – monetary and affective – to support the underground; in fact, in a way this economy is not so different from what you have above ground. Certainly it is a weird arrangement for many reasons. But it works. And when they were eventually evicted from the underground by Romanian authorities, those people were not able to replicate their life outside. Many got jailed, others dispersed. They lost the capacity to be alive, to construct their ‘weird life’… Many died. This is the result of the rejection by the institutions of the possibility of life underground. The institution – that is, the institutional accepted norm – rejected the possibility that you can function even if you are junky and you live underground. The point here is not arguing that homeless people should be maintained in the underground, but that we need a politics able to appreciate first, and embrace second, the proposition of life underground: a lively arrangement was created down there, which does not work (it stops to live) when it is captured into normative understandings of home, of belonging and of acceptability.

Milena: Is there an alternative to keeping them underground and also to the forcing them into shelters which they do not perceive as safe?

Michele: Yes, I think there is. Policies of harm reduction would be important in these contexts. Tthis means that I am not trying to stop you from using drugs, or to destroy your community, to institutionalise you. All I am doing – as the authority – it is to make sure that you are not harming others and yourself, by giving you cleaning syringes and providing you with medical assistance. Life underground is very hard, often without heating, without electricity. But we can reduce the harm of that life in there – or in other similar context – without destroying them. Their relations, their belonging, their care and their economy could be maintained through ‘soft’ interventions, which would not rob vulnerable communities of their capacity of being together. Of being close to each other… Evicting and imprisoning and controlling castrate that opportunity: it silences it.

Milena: What are the most relevant empirical and methodological challenges that you identify in researching home and migration?

Michele: Maybe not about migration so much, as it is not something that I have been looking at. In relation of home, the biggest challenge for me in the last years is how to make research in a way that is meaningful for the people you are researching. I mean it in a profound way. Not simply in terms of co-production of the research goal. But in terms of constituting a shared political ground where the research becomes just a tool amongst other to intervene on the social. This is not per se a methodological challenge but rather an ethical issue…it becomes methodological though. Because you can say from ethical point of view that you want to coproduce the research with your research participants and stuff like that, but then, how do you do it, really? Can a research be co-produced, if sometime (actually, the vast majority of times) is not research what is needed? The first concern of the person in front of you is not to answer your questions, is actually to change the clothes of her child because she needs to go to school. The challenge thereofre is to displace our own research priorities and carefully think about the encounter. For that you need to be humble and realise that for a while you may not do your research because at that point it is more important for the relationships that you are having to engage in forms of collective solidarity and help. We should allocate time in our project to do that kind of work. If that time is not there, then the project is always going to be one-way. Always ‘extractive’, no matter what. If, on the contrary, you are able to meet the other in a meaningful way – keeping in mind all structural power unbalances –  then not only you will establish a meaningful relationship but also your research priorities will change. Here the point is to be open to change. If you start with one idea you should never be able to finish with that same idea, that same project, that same proposition. Actually I think that you get stuck with an idea and you try to enforce that idea on your fieldwork then there is something wrong about your fieldwork.  If you do ethnography in the right way – the crisscrossed way, the minor way – then you will see that people will take you somewhere else. They do. They always do! It’s a big challenge because at the end of the day you also need to give something back to those who have funded the project. But with experience you know how to deal with these issues. The most important thing for me is to follow the fieldwork, not to please the founder or the institutional arrangement.

And then, of course, there is also an added element of complexity. The representation of the encounter. How do you represent this encounter is a way that is truthful to its complexity and meaningful for you and for those you have worked with? The key question is how can they appropriate and use that representation that you create thought your work with them. Here there is a slight difference between giving something back and working toward something that can be appropriated, modified, trashed, changed, used again. Giving something back is a photo voice exhibition. I am thriving for something more radical. Let’s try to find something that is open enough so that once you are not there anymore, communities can see value in it, use it, dismantle it, reassemble. I think that if you want to be a good ethnographer you should at least try to orient your work in that direction.

Milena: Can you give us some example?

Michele: My PhD research was done at Durham, UK, with a fieldwork around homelessness in Turin, Italy. The dilemma was I wanted “to give something back” to my interlocutors, but my PhD was in English. I needed something in Italian and accessible. So I came up with this idea of writing a novel, an ethnographic novel, and to make it as collaborative as possible. I was giving my writings to the homeless men I was working with. These notes and accounts where about their life, and life on the street in Turin. They were giving me feedback and time after time I constructed this book, ‘Il Numero 1’, which is actually a composite book. There is an introduction by one of my homeless friends, there is an ethnographic novel, and then there is a political essay at the end. There are also 22 illustrations in the book by Eleonora Mignoli. We published the book and then we presented it in Turin with my homeless friends and so on. The book was published by an anarchist press and it still travels, but I was never able to continue the engagement on the ground, in Turin. So in a sense it was helpful to ‘give something back’ but not successful in constructing, on in working with, a radical solidarity.

A second example, this time in Romania. I encountered this community of evicted Roma people and I started to work with them as an activist, because my research was with the drug users. Just to keep it short, there were a number of collective actions and involvements, mosty through a group of which I am now part, called the Common Front For the Right to Housing. Protests, petitions, solidarity on the street and more. Including a blog that I’ve set up, where Nicoleta, a powerful woman from the community, explained why they decided to occupy the pavements in front of their home for almost 2 years, to protest against the eviction and fight for their right to housing. During my involvement with the community I also made a lot of videos – interviews and everyday life –  and at the end we decided that there was scope to assemble this material into a documentary. 72 minutes telling a story of racialized dispossession, post-socialist housing privatization and the making of resistance. The interesting thing about this documentary is the following. It did not stop there – as an on-line thing for academics or film-makers. In the past two years we (as FCDL) are using that documentary to do workshops with communities who are facing eviction or experienced it, and we are also presenting it in a number of context where evictions are lived and felt (like squats). We did this in a number of spaces across Europe, including squats in Rome (like Metropoliz). The documentary becomes an excuse to sit together, get inspired and discuss about common struggles. It is not just a film, but an excuse to create solidarity.

Milena: So the difference between your first work and your last documentary is that the first one could not be appropriated but the second one instead is becoming a tool for political actions.

Michele: It can be used by others. The novel is a finished product. It is there. You can buy and that is it. Why the documentary is a moment in a series of things. First the blog then the documentary then with Nicoletta we are now writing a book: all things that are part of a collective process, occupied by different people at different times, but alive and kicking. For the book we just got an award by an American foundation, Antipode (eg. The Scholar-Activist Award). The “Diary of resistance” by Nicoletta will be in Romanian but we will also translate it into English, to continue to travel and create trans-national solidarities. It is a continuum of projects which are not necessarily academic but they speak to the public that you are working with. And the reason why I am able to do all this it is because I am collaborating with people who are doing what they are doing. They have their hand into life and they keep those tight in there! It is really on the same level. When I did the first cut of my movie, they destroyed it. I showed them and they said “change everything”. But that is fine, it couldn’t be otherwise. It is because of Veda, Iox, Misa, Carolina, Nico and many others that this thing is possible and research becomes just my way to get into the flux. They have theirs. What we share is the politics, the orientation.

Milena: Our project is framed around processes of home-making in relation to contemporary migrant trajectories. What do you think this approach can add to the field of migration and home studies?

Michele: I am not entirely familiar with migrant studies. But I know the work of Paolo and his papers. I think that what you are trying to do is super-important and meaningful because you are trying to add complexity to the idea of migration as a set of issues that is not completely detached from home. You are saying there is a continuity between losing your home and finding, or not finding, another home. The matter is the struggle that comes to the fore in this process. The complexity is what I like about the project. The cost is that you are not going to provide an easy answer. It is not going to provide one theory that explains everything and this is the real contribution if the project: to do not reduce things to neat structure, to a fix picture.

Milena: What kind of strategies would you suggest for studying home-making practices, considering that privacy is sensitive point? How did you deal with that gesture of censorship, which came from the mouth of those you were giving voice to in your writing? Do you think that some of our ethnography on the nexus home-migration might stir similar rejection from our research participants, either during fieldwork or at the time of results publication?

Michele: It depends on how you do the research. Of course people may say something to you in an interview after signing a consent forma and after they may be pissed off about the way you represent that thing. Here again I think that ethnography can do something that another epistemologies are not able to do. If you are serious about the encounter it means that you are leaving the window open to dialogue and that implies the possibility of disappointing people and of getting criticised, attacked and rejected. That’s all fine and healthy. When I published the novel on homeless people in Turin, there was this homeless woman that posted on my Facebook wall that she did not feel represented. I knew this was going to happen as I knew that I did not represent women enough. I told her. You are right. We just had a conversation, the problem was not gone. That woman is still not represented. But thanks to that encounter and confrontation I learned a lot about the limits and nuances of my research. And I know that she got something out of that too. The trick in here is to understand that the writing is not the final thing in your project: it is just the part of long term relationship that you are entering with the community you work with. To do ethnography means to continue having relationships with the people you are working with and those are sometime just too much to bear, but that’s the way it is. Relationships affects you and you affect them through what you do, what you write, and that has its onw life that intersect with yours, and keep on intersecting…

Milena: Do you still have relationship with all the people you worked with? In terms of personal engagement. You cannot become friends with everyone. You don’t like everyone…

Michele: I don t meant that we have to become friends with everyone, but that through a careful ethnography you are able to establish relationships that are open to dialogue, even to confrontation, even with the ones you don’t like. That is the beauty of it. It is not about surrounding yourself only with the one you like, but using the ethnography (and the engaged political orientation of which I’ve said) to funnel life, to let it emerge and pass through (through you, your writings, and collective endeavours). This, again, is not about having to come to an agreement with everyone. There is a lot of productive energy into having disagreement and conflict, as much as there is into agreeing and hugging. In my work I just try to create the conditions for these things to come through, and to stay true, in order to fight against discrimination and institutional normativity. It’s still a work in progress.

Thank you!

Publications: www.michelelancione.eu

Documentary film: www.ainceputploaia.com

Getting Rid of Home (Essay for Y-Saatio)

This is a short essay that I have written for the volume Homelessness in 2030. Essays on possible futures, edited by Johanna Lassy and Saija Turunen, for the Y-Foundation (one of the key national developers of the Housing First principle in Finland). It is a provocation in and around ‘homelessness’ and the politics of ‘home’ that makes it possible. The full book is available for free at this page, while my contribution can also be downloaded here (and my academic research on this topic is mostly available here).

 

Getting Rid of Home

I cannot think of homelessness in 2030; of strategies and interventions; of more policymaking and expertise, without addressing the pressing issue of what and where ‘home’ is. The issue is as follows: if, under current conceptions and conditions of home, we have space for something like ‘home-lessness’, then we will never be able to get rid of that thing (‘homelessness’) without tackling the original problem – which is home itself. In the fact that home allows for its negation without altering its fundamental parameters lies the whole issue of what we traditionally conceive as ‘homelessness’. The lack of ‘home’ is very present within, ingrained in, home itself.

Home is an exclusionary act. It is made of walls and doors, which create control and allow the policing of a border. It is made of social relationships based on emotional bonding, which are carved out through exclusion (there is no bonding if there is no exclusion of others). It is constructed, in its material form, thanks to accumulations of capital that, in some form or other, are related to – and contribute to reproduce – systems of oppression. As many have shown, it also has internal exclusions, being filled with unbalanced gendered power relationships and paternalistic modes of breeding. In its most common physical representation – housing – home can quite easily be turned into an exploitative machine, used as a means of capital accumulation that has effects not only on tenants, but also on land values, urban development, and financial markets. It seems as if home is that construct that cuts across multiple dimensions of human life, as a machine that is capable of abstracting from those domains an autonomous function that is then able to reproduce itself in the longer term (it is what Deleuze and Guattari called an ‘abstract machine’). That machine is about extracting one form of existence from the magma of all possibilities, of all possible forms of existence. What I argue is that the possibility of that extraction, the bare primordial functioning of that machine, is carved around the possibility of its negation: home is home because it contains the possibility of not-being-at-home within itself. Home is a full bodied and multidimensional exclusionary act.

So, answering the question of what homelessness might be in 2030, in 3452, in 1861, means investigating the unformed matter that diagrams or sketches out the functioning of the universally accepted, mainstream, homing machine. How can one think of ending homelessness without ending this kind of home?

Further, what home does is more than enabling its negation from within, the creation of home-lessness as a space of existence upon which the whole exclusionary act can be sustained. Home and that negated space of -lessness are productive, because they are not only the site for the (re)production of material and cultural conditions, but also the nexus where subjects are (re)produced. In other words, home-lessness is matter of becoming. It is a non-linear process of subject-formation: one is not born homeless, one does not choose to be homeless, one does not end up being homeless. Everyone, within current systemics of home, endures a process of subject-formation that can be defined of ‘home-less’. The particularity of the socio-technical machines involved mean that even those with a house are not at ‘home’; not fully in-place; not really belonging in the fullest possible way.

The ‘theory’ of homelessness is, for the most part, concerned with making sure that this categorisation is used as a bordering tool to create a minority who are then defined as l’autre, the deviant other. This kind of mainstream normative theory knows nothing of the enduring process of subject-formation that makes home-lessness not an exception, but a true common: our shared experience of not being fully in-place. When mainstream theory speaks of ‘the transition’ from being a ‘normal’ dweller to being an ‘abnormal’ homeless person, it explains it as a matter of stages, of pre-explanatory traumas; it justifies it in terms of linear paths where, at a certain point, something ‘went wrong’ causing ‘homelessness’ to emerge. Cause and effect. But in reality, home-lessness is not a matter of cause and effect. Far from that! Home-lessness is about a process of subject-formation that cuts across sociological categorisations, social groups, classes. Rough sleeping is a traumatic intensification of that process: a dense cusp that is not set apart, but well within a whole pluriverse of intensities of ‘lessness’ that endure above, beyond, before, and after it.

The subject is suddenly kicked out of his or her house. Because s/he wasn’t paying. Because s/he couldn’t cope. Because s/he is ill, sick, addicted. The subject is kicked out of her house and seems to fall in-between. This is a space made of all sorts of relations and objects that the subject was not aware of before, when s/he was living in the fiction of ‘home’: soup kitchens, shelters, begging and the charity of strangers, sidewalks, tents, wet sleeping bags in abandoned buildings, nights, shadows and new fear of violence too. These things are not foreign, totally hidden away, but instead lie in-between a normalised form of everyday life under contemporary capitalism and its expelled version. But once we zoom out and plug into the micropolitics of our shared existences, is there a real distinction between the subject who falls and the one who does not? Is there a real distinction from the subject within and the one without home? I am not denying that there is a traumatic experiential difference, which is a matter of intensities, but there is not more than this. Both subjects never really left home.

Lessness for both starts before getting kicked out. It is beyond, above, before, and after the event of displacement, because it has to do with the substratum of our social lives. It has to do with the answer to the broader question of how we go about life; about how we decide to deal with the power and energy of life in its multiple forms. The power to love, to make connections, to create and destroy, to make ends meet, and more. The way these things are managed and the way they are reproduced is always matter of collective choices, conscious and unconscious in their makings. The mode of reproduction that we have chosen is just one of the ways to go about these things. Under this (capitalist) frame there is an individualistic mould that dominates and regiments all others. From the figure of the successful entrepreneur of the 19th century to contemporary consumer-based arguments about choice and free will, capitalism has (re)produced individualisation as our mainstream mode of assemblage and circulation, meticulously constructing the desire for victory, success, and affirmation into the backbone of each subject. Lessness is one of the substrates that emerges from this, and upon it home is assembled. This is a key assemblage of contemporary life, which is made out of private property; individualised responsibilities and private accountability for ‘failures’; identity construction by exclusion; patriarchy; racialised bordering; and so on.

Home does not sit outside of these relations but is their most evident product, which in turns produces us as home-less: it (re)produces us as subjects in a way that ensures that, being at-home, being-‘OK’ also creates the possibility of our expulsion from that home. This being-OK cuts across the unconscious levels of the skin, the body, the face: it becomes a way of being alive, an entanglement with the codes/axioms brought forward by the capitalistic machine, becoming therefore machinic itself, channelling and reproducing that particular form of exclusion as a normal way of life. The subject at home is far from being free –far from being able to choose and to actuate, far from being allowed the free circulation of will and joy. On the contrary: by accepting the individualisation and commodification of everything (which is the abstract mantra of the capitalistic machine) the subject becomes commodified as well. S/he becomes defined, privatised, wrapped up in opposition to that which is portrayed as less defined, less private: the deviant, the poor, the black body, the ‘homeless’. But again, this is a fictional opposition. When the event of expulsion happens, home-lessness is not generated. It simply re-asserted, intensifying the exclusionary status upon which the norm, is built. That is the shared substratum of -lessness, where life is codified on the basis of home’s possible absence. This is the substratum upon which we have assembled that thing we call home.

Like theories, policies know nothing of the way in which home-lessness is at the core of the homing game. They are built around a false compartmentalisation. They aim to tackle the ‘homeless’ subject as if that subject exists in a domain distinct from that of normality, from that of mainstream, shared functions of home. This is perfectly coherent under current conditions, because it maintains a false distinction that is required for policies – and experts – to maintain their role (as Foucault so clearly argued). Expertise and interventions are designed to isolate and manage, and through that act of isolation and management – through detachment – they are able to reproduce themselves and their function. Policies can, of course, vary greatly in their immediate effects, which can range from outright annihilation to compassion and care. But ultimately, they all fail in recognising the impossibility of tackling ‘homelessness’ and the ‘homeless’ subject as a defined, distinct, element in a wider social plane. That’s because – once again – there is no distinction to start with. Homeless people do not exist. Once we realise that everyone is part of and a producer of a shared way of life, we can recognise that homelessness lies right at the core of the current home we choose to embrace and inhabit.

PAAVO should be celebrated for its capacity to reduce the intensities of lessness. Few programs have achieved so much in terms of restoring forms of ontological security to so many people. Those interested in the short-term alleviation of the symptoms of home-lessness should take inspiration. But PAAVO, and other initiatives (such as Housing First in many other contexts worldwide), will not end home-lessness. Not now, nor by 2030. To tackle home-lessness requires a radical critique of the function of lessness, and then the imaginative labor of reinventing home. We need a new home, based around solidarity, affective care, horizontally shared responsibilities, redistributed means – and more. Only then will we reach a point where home does not include, within its own definition, the possibility of its annihilation. We must move beyond mere shelter, deep into the socio-economic and cultural making of being in the world together, as a true collective being. As anarchist and feminist literature shows, these alternatives makings are possible. An entirely new home needs to be assembled, starting from the radical undoing of the current one.

Screening and debate on right to housing in l’Aquila, Italy

I am happy to be part of the Festival della Participazione, a long-standing festival concerned with civic participation, critical readings of democracy and public debate. The festival takes place each year in L’Aquila, not far from Rome, where the Gran Sasso Science Institute, with its excellent Urban Studies Faculty, is located.

On Saturday 13/10 I’ll discuss #eviction #housing #resistance with a number of excellent Italian colleagues, including Francesco Chiodelli, Margherita Zippata and Alessandro Coppola. The debate will start off from the projection of my documentary film around evictions and the fight for the right to housing in Bucharest, A inceput ploaia/It started raining. The film is available for free at www.ainceputploaia.com 

New project: Antipode Scholar-Activist Award

Thanks to The Antipode Foundation for awarding the Antipode Scholar-Activist Award to Erin MC ELVeda PopoviciNicoleta NicoIoana FloreaCaro Linaand myself, for our project “How the Roma are fighting back: A diary and guide for resistance against restitutions and forced evictions.” (https://antipodefoundation.org/…/sapa-and-iwa-2018-recipie…/)

The project aims to produce a grassroot diary and guide (in Romanian and English) to inspire resistance and organising in Roma communities facing forced evictions in Eastern Europe and beyond. The multimedia publication will include a printed book (history, diary and guide), and a series of online interactive web-maps. The printed book will be based around the diary of an evicted Roma woman and activist, contextualised through the intersectional history of housing struggles in the country. Because of our activist networks, the volume will be used in workshops with communities facing evictions in Romania and Europe. The project final goal is to increase the level of politicisation and awareness of racially dispossessed Roma communities, thereby enabling future resistance against displacement.

The project continues the activist work that we have been carried in Bucharest in the past few years, together with comrades of the Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire. It also resonates with the fights portrayed in my documentary film A Inceput Ploaia/It started raining (available at www.ainceputploaia.com) as well as with scholarly work that I’ve published in EPD: Society and Space and more produced by Erin, Iox and many others!

I am very excited about this Award – thanks again to the foundation. You’ll hear from us soon!

We were striking for pensions, we will be striking even more for our union

Together with many of my colleagues across USP and the Urban Institute, I have been striking for almost two weeks, to defend our pensions against its complete neoliberalisation (here info on the rationale of the action). I also decided to strike to fight for our Union – UCU. This latter point is of particular importance to me. If my pension will probably evaporate anyway because of Brexit (I intend to go back to Italy at some point, and at that point my pension will be taxed like a ‘foreign capital’), preserving a strong Union remains very important in today’s context, where everything becomes increasingly privatised and individualised.

During the pickets organised at the UI building, ICOSS, I shared the ground with some amazing people who, with their bodily politics, reminded me of the importance of collective actions and struggles. What we – Andy, Vicky, Jon, Martin, Tom, Nick and many others – did there, under the snow and the rain, was grounded in an horizontal solidarity that needs to be preserved and fostered further. Striking for our union is both about UCU and, more importantly, about that being together, that feeling that we are more of our individualised subjectivity. That we are and we can be a collective intellectual body, with a clear politics and orientation.

Strike action for the pension will continue. I hope that more colleagues will join, to make us, all of us, stronger and more unite. Avanti!

Below some pictures of one of the marches that we organised in Sheffield, with the amazing support of our students.

Radical Housing Journal – first Call for Papers

 

 

I am, together with a collective of 14 people spread around the world, launching the first call for papers for a new publication called the Radical Housing Journal. This is a horizontally managed, feminist and anti-racist publication aimed at academics and activists working around the fight for the right to housing worldwide. The CfP is reported below attached and you can read our manifesto at www.radicalhousingjournal.org

Please share this information with your colleagues and with non-academic activists that may be interested in this project. We are looking for 500 words abstracts by the 5th of March and that contributions are paid for and peer-reviewed.

 

RHJ – Call for Papers Issue 1

The RHJ is an orientation, a praxis for doing research and action. It seeks to critically intervene in pre and post-crisis housing experiences and activist strategies from around the world without being confined to the strict dogmatism of academic knowledge production. Check out our Manifesto at www.radicalhousingjournal.org.

500 words abstract by the 5th of March 2018 at collective@radicalhousingjournal.org

All contributors will receive a compensation for their work (£50 per article)

The first issue of the RHJ will focus on practices and theories of organising around housing struggles that have emerged post-2008. Conscious of the fact that the 2008 crisis did not impact in the same way everywhere, we invite contributions addressing how, in the last ten years, organising and activism have changed both locally and globally. What did that crisis bring to the fore and how have activists worldwide responded to it? How do those responses relate to older mobilizations, and what emerges as different? How can resistance be theorized today, and what can theory do for the future of housing struggles? We invite theoretical and empirical pieces, focusing on specific cases or speculative in nature.
 

The RHJ is structured around four sections.

The first two host substantive original works and are blind peer reviewed (by one academic and one activist non-academic).  The other two – conversations and updates – are not peer-reviewed.

The long read  / Focus on critical analysis and theory-making

MAX 8,000 words per article, including references, excluding pictures

We welcome papers on theorising resistance and activism in the post-2008 worldwide, being they driven by speculative, case-specific or comparative arguments. Papers should aim for theoretical innovation and conceptual finesse.

Retrospectives  / Focus on specific cases, histories, actions

MAX 8,000 words per article, including references, excluding pictures

This section welcomes papers that are oriented at reconstructing, in details, particular histories of movements, organisations and/or actions in the post-2008 scenario worldwide.  Paper should aim for historical rigour and depth.

Conversations  / Reflections from the field of action and organisation

MAX 6,000 words per intervention

Debate-like pieces, written collectively, to reflect on specific actions and strategies. We welcome reflection on the challenges of particular organising approaches and practices.

Updates  / Reviews, provocations, updates on actions

MAX 1,500 words per text

We welcome reviews of books, films & more; and updates on current actions.

 

Deadline for 500 words abstracts: 5th of March 2018

Response to authors: by mid-March 2018 // First draft of papers by: 2nd July 2018

In a .docx file, write your name, institution or group affiliation, email, title, 500 words abstract, six keywords and submit to  collective@radicalhousingjournal.org

Against the financialisation of housing: protests and workshops in Bucharest (5-6 October)

As part of a European campaign promoted by the European Action Coalition aimed at raising awareness around the financialisation of housing, the Frontul Comun Pentru Drept la Locuire (of which I am part) has organised two days of activities on the 5th and 6th of October in Bucharest, Romania. These includes the launch of a national coalition for the right to housing and the city (on the 5th) as well as a public protest (on the 6th) and a three-hours workshop that I will run (always on the 6th).

The workshop is entitled ‘Visual Ethnography for Radical Action‘. In it, I will critically illustrate the making of ‘A inceput ploaia‘, a 72 minutes documentary around the fight for housing in Bucharest, in order to provide an introduction to the use of visual ethnography as a tool for radical action. In the first part of the workshop, issues of positionality, methodology and co-production of knowledge will be illustrated and discussed. In the second part, I will offer an overview of the main challenges associated with visual anthropology, both theoretically and practically. Groups will be organised and participants will be asked to perform a series of exercises around the making of visual analysis and the production of alternative visual representation of marginalised groups. Lastly, the third part of the workshop will consist in group works revolving around the opportunities of visual methods as a tool for radical action in Bucharest and elsewhere in Romania.

To take part in it, please send an email at fcdloc@gmail.com. Clicking on the image below you can download a flyer summarising the content of this workshop. All welcome!

 

The best intro I ever received on class struggle: Il primo tragico Fantozzi

Paolo Villaggio interpreting the accountant Ugo Fantozzi.

Today Paolo Villaggio passed away. Per-se, this is not big news. The Italian actor, author, director and comedian was 84 and he was not well known outside of the peninsula (and of course not everyone within it liked him!). The news, however, unsettled me for a simple reason: although Villaggio will be remembered also for his collaborations with Fellini and Olmi among others, to me he was relevant because he introduced me to Marxism and provided a convincing representation of what class struggle was all about. His passing away leaves me with a sense of melancholy, perhaps amplified by the dull and grey sky of this early July morning in Wales, where I live.

The ‘ragioniere’ (accountant) Ugo Fantozzi was the most famous character played by Villaggio. Fantozzi came to the fore in short stories published in two major magazines in the late sixties (l’Espresso and l’Europeo), to then be brought to screen by Villaggio in a number of popular films – about 12, from 1975 to the late 1990. Not all of these films are not worth a mention: filled with banal jokes and crass situations, they are not the reason why I am recalling Villaggio’s here. Some of those are, however, true gems that deserve appraisal and consideration. The best one, and the one I would like to recall in these lines, is the first of the series – simply titled Fantozzi.

The poster of ‘Fantozzi’ (1975), with Paolo Villaggio, directed by Luciano Salce

The film shows the tales of Ugo Fantozzi, an accountant working for a multinational company in Genoa, the norther Italian city where most of the story is taking place. He is a mild, clumsy weak man, a very low-rank white collar harassed by his bosses and colleagues, dogged by all kinds of misfortunes and tragedies. Fantozzi is vexed by his own life and he can’t do much to get out of his misfortune: his tragicomic status – to use an hyperbole that he might have used – is apocalyptic. The guy does not, however, accept his destiny but tries everything in his power to change his condition. What is interested to me is not what he does, but what he is after: Fantozzi does not want to be a better man, or even a successful one, but all he wants is to be respected as a human being. Fantozzi is after dignity: at home, with his dysfunctional friends and, most importantly, in the workplace. It is there that Paolo Villaggio’s critical contribution lies: in showing the hierarchical structures and psycho-bureaucratic means by which the ‘Megaditta’ (Mega-company) is able to control and exploit Fantozzi and his colleagues.

Villaggio does not point his critical analysis toward the character he created, which would have meant to wrap the ‘ragioniere’ in self-commiseration typical of the Italian Catholics’ pitiful approach on the less fortunate (which was definitely the most common at that times in Italy). Rather, Villaggio shows how the ‘ragioniere’ is only a misfortuned product of his own context, that of the emergent Italian corporate culture of the post-60’s boom: an industrial society of mass consumption that, like Fantozzi and his colleagues, is attracted by commodities like beautiful cars and utilities but at the same time remain attached to quintessentially Italian paraphernalia like football, pasta and sexist jokes. Fantozzi is a patchwork emerging from that (apparently) ascending provincial life and he is, in this sense, the best son of his times: a caricature of common subjective traits emerging from that Italy and that mode of production and concumption. After all Fantozzi is – as the film poster above states – just a ‘povero Cristo’, a ‘poor Christ’, meaning with that an innocent victim of the system he lived in (and one should not overlook the ironic critique of Catholic’s dogmatism and symbolism contained in that poster’s image, which was an important part of all Villaggio’s writings).

The masterpiece of all Fantozzi’s tales is contained in the first five minutes of that first film. There we see the young ‘ragioniere’ waking up in his home and getting prepared to go to work. Everything is organised to the finest details: Fantozzi has only a few second to wake up, eat his breakfast (while comping his hair), fulfill his physiological needs in the ‘European record-time’ of six seconds, and finally get dressed with the help of his wife Pina. When, however, a shoe lace breaks, Fantozzi is forced to hurry up in an unconventional way to catch the overcrowded bus that will bring him to work. Ceased by a crowd of angry peers that he inadvertently pulled out of the bus, Fantozzi reaches the Megaditta in a ‘ridardo mostruoso’ (monstrously late) and he has only a few second left to stamp his working card in time. His epic running against the factory’s clock, surrounded by colleagues that do no help him otherwise he will get ‘squalificato’ (disqualified from the competition), is one of the best scenes that Italian’s cinema has ever produced.

To get in time to work, Fantozzi has organised his early mornings actions around Taylor’s scientific model: as a series of repetitive action to be completed in a specific time. Errors or unexpected occurrences are not tolerated an they must be dealt with in radical and life-threatening ways: Fantozzi has to climb his balcony and throw himself onto the street as much as shortcuts and out-of-the-box ‘solutions’ are implemented in factories worldwide in the name of efficiency (which of course equates with the capitalist’s profit). The ‘ragioniere’ wants to be efficient too and he does not want to arrive late at work: the reprimands he would receive otherwise and the consequences on his salary would be intolerable for him. The same goes for the other white collars whom he inadvertently pull out of their overcrowded bus. They have no time and no emotional capacity to understand Fantozzi – there is, in a sense, no possible solidarity for him and with him: the workers start to beat each other and to punish the weakest one in the chain, our beloved accountant. Similarly, no solidarity is possible in the final epic run either: Fantozzi is alone against time, in competition with his own peers, exhausted by life – and its peculiar mode of production – already at 8am on a Monday morning.

In those five minutes there is the best popular representation of a Marxian critique to industrial capitalism that I ever saw in my life. We get the extension of factory life into domestic life in terms of timing and division of labor; the alienation from one’s own Gattungswesen (spiece-essence), meaning the disenfranchisement of Fantozzi from any other aspects of his life that is non-work related; the lack of solidarity among citizens-workers (Fantozzi’s peers in the bus) as well as the lack of solidarity within the factory itself, where Fantozzi can’t be helped or the bare rules of the ‘competition’ (the rules of production) would be invalidated. This is pure critical analysis translated into cinematic comedy for the masses: that capacity to reach the many in a comprehensible yet still critical way is, to me, what an intellectual work of the highest standard should be about.

Those five minutes and some other parts of the Fantozzi’s series made me aware – when I was a teenager, unconsciously and without any theoretical presumption – of the subtle mechanisms leading my father to come and go from our home at absurd hours, often working the 22:00-6:00 shift and then the 14:00-22:00 shift in a row to get the better possible pay as a factory worker at FIAT; of the power-structure and domestic division of labor affecting my mother, caring for us while at the same time being confined to informal cleaning jobs around the ‘alta Padana’ (the region where I grew up); but also, later on, of the inadequacy of most of the institutional education that I received in the depressed provinces of the North where we were never exposed to any critical theory or thinking. I am so attached to Fantozzi because it was through him that myself and many of my 80’s-born-peers had their first, nuanced and provisional encounter, with a politicized analysis of the selfish and exploitative society we were growing in.

The ‘ragioniere’ approaching Marx’s texts for the first time in his life (1975).

There is one last reason for which I find the ‘ragioniere Ugo’ compelling. It is that despite all his clumsiness and misfortunes he does, from time to to time, rebel to the system that has framed him and condemned him to his status as nullity. Fantozzi might be slow and perhaps a bit dull, but when he is cornered he gets angry: he starts to question his bosses, to organise with his peers and, at a certain moment, even at reading Marx itself. Deep down in his political conscience Fantozzi is still alive and he knows that something – bigger than the value associated to his labor – had been stolen from him. Paolo Villaggio was not, however, one to concede unnecessary happy endings. He knew too well that somebody like Fantozzi could had not, alone, overturn the machine. This is why Fantozzi is never successful in his attempts: his own bosses are always able to talk him back, approaching him with persuasive voices that speak of compromise and loyalty to the ‘Megaditta’, which in turns leave him constantly in a worse position than before.

Back in 2010, when I was about to publish my first solo-authored academic paper – based around a ‘social justice’ critique of Turin and its ‘margins’ – I had no doubt about the epigraph that I wanted to appear on it (you can download that work here or on academia.edu). The text was taken from the last scene of that first Villaggio’s movie. There Fantozzi is confronted by the ‘Mega Direttore Galattico’ (the Mega-Galactic Director) of the ‘Megaditta’, following a failed revolutionary attempt by the ‘ragioniere’. After some talk, using a viscid and patronizing tone the director is able to put Fantozzi’s back in his submissive status, so much that at the end it is Fantozzi himself that asks the director guidance on social justice-related issues. The dialogue is a masterpiece of failed class struggle:

Fantozzi: Ma in merito a tutte queste rivendicazioni e a tutte le ingiustizie che ci sono, lei che cosa consiglierebbe di fare, Maestà?
Mega Direttore Galattico: Ecco, bisognerebbe che per ogni problema nuovo tutti gli uomini di buona volontà, come me e come lei, caro Fantozzi, cominciassero a incontrarsi senza violenze in una serie di civili e democratiche riunioni, fino a che non saranno d’accordo.
Fantozzi: Ma, mi scusi Santità, ma in questo modo ci vorranno almeno mille anni!
Mega Direttore Galattico: Posso aspettare, io.
Fantozzi: Grazie.
Fantozzi: But in relation to all these requests and all the injustices that we witness, what do you recommend to do, your Majesty?
Mega Direttore Galattico: Here it is: for every new problem, all the goodwill men, like me and you, my dear Fantozzi, they would have to begin to meet without violence in a series of civic and democratic gatherings, until we will all agree on the same point.
Fantozzi: But, I do apologize your Holiness… But in this will take at least a thousand years!
Mega Direttore Galattico: I can wait.
Fantozzi: Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although not all of Villaggio’s production is of the same standard – and despite the fact that many critical points could be raised by a number of his statements or artistic choices – the first and second of Fantozzi’s film will always remain powerful representations of personal and class alienation, both in Italy and elsewhere. I learnt a lot from ‘il ragioniere Ugo’ and I am grateful to Villaggio for having used popular comedy in such a meaningful critical way. Tonight I will cheer up to him with a traditional ‘frittatona di cipolle e famigliare di Peroni gelata‘ (onions omelette with a big bottle of Peroni — although it sounds better in Italian!).

 

A inceput ploaia, ‘my’ first documentary. Why, when, and how.

For updates, please visit the film website at www.ainceputploaia.com (or simply click on the poster)

A început ploaia is the first documentary about forced evictions in Bucharest, which I written, researched and directed after two years of ethnographic fieldwork, activism and engagement with evicted people in the city.

The film follows the story of the Vulturilor 50 community (100 individuals), whom dwelt on the street of Bucharest from September 2014 to June 2016 in order to fight against the eviction from their home, enacting the longest and most visible protest for housing right in the history of contemporary Romania. The vicissitudes of this community are interpolated with a number of interviews with activists, scholars and politicians, composing a picture that speaks of racial discrimination, homelessness, evictions, but also of grassroots practices of resistance and social change. A început ploaia is the touching testament to the everyday revolution of Roma people fighting forced evictions from the centre of Bucharest, an endeavour made of fragile dwellings, provisional makeshifts and tenuous – but fierce – occupancy of public space.

The story behind the makings of the movie is long and complex. You can read about it here.

If you would like to know more about the movie, including release date and screenings, please proceed to www.ainceputploaia.com. You can follow my brand new production house – A Community Productions – @acommprod or check its website at www.acommunityproductions.com

Here is the trailer of A început ploaia. Share it wherever you’d like!

A psalm for Giulio Regeni and us

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Today I went to the remembrance ceremony for Giulio Regeni, in front of the Italian embassy in London. Many Italian and British researchers were there. What happened to him could have happened to us and to all committed researchers like he was. We are all distressed and filled with hanger for what we perceive as an attack to academic freedom, which is also an attack to the joy of being human. The point for us – for the many ‘us’ that still believe in that freedom and that joy – is to do not stop to remembrance, but to turn our distress into something powerful, generative and beautiful. We need to meet and to discuss the issues that we face while doing fieldwork; to start talking again one to the other; to demand better training, protection and insurance from our employers. In Cambridge a few of us are slowly moving in this sense. If this won’t necessarily avoid further attack on our freedom, it will at least make us stronger and better organised. (In this sense, please sign the petition to ensure a full investigation of Giulio’s death).

At the ceremony today some of Giulio’s friends distributed a text by the Syrian poet Adūnīs. I am copying it here, in remembrance of Giulio and as a sign of the beauty we have to fight for.

Adūnīs, Psalm, 1961

He comes unarmed like a forest, like a destined cloud.
Yesterday he carried a continent and changed the
position of the sea

He paints the back of day and creates daylight out of
his feet, borrows the night’s shoes and waits for
what will not come

He lives where the stone becomes a lake, the shadow a
city – he lives and fools despair, wiping out the
vastness of hope, dancing for the soil so it can yawn,
for the trees so they can sleep

And here he is speaking of crossroads, drawing the
magic sign on the forehead of time
He fills life but no one sees him. He turns life into
foam and plunges into it. He turns tomorrow into a
prey and hopelessly pursues it. His words are
engraved in the direction of loss loss loss

Doubt is his home, but he is full of eyes.

He is the wind that knows no retreat, the water that
does not return to its source. He creates his own
kind starting from himself – he has no ancestors and
his roots are in his footsteps.

He walks through the abyss in the form of the wind.