Two seminars in Bristol: Committed positioning and underground Bucharest

Committed positioning_Advocating for messiness

Tomorrow, 23 February 2016, I will deliver two seminars at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol (2pm and 4pm, Seminar room 1). The first will be a PhDs’ workshop on ‘committed positioning’ and ethnography at the urban margins (you can download the presentation here). The second will be a departmental talk around my recent ethnographic work with drug users and homeless people in the underground canals of Bucharest (details are here).

These talks are possible thanks to the generous support of the School of Geographical Sciences. Particular thanks go to Giuseppe Carta and Andrew Lapworth for the original invitation and the organisation of the event.

New Chapter with McFarlane – Infrastructural becoming: sanitation and the (un)making of life at the margins


The new edited book by Anders Blok and Ignacio Farías has now been published by Routledge: Urban Cosmopolitics. Agencements, assemblies, atmospheres. Colin McFarlane and myself have written a chapter for the book, on infrastructual becoming and sanitation at the margins.

Relying on our ethnographic works with homeless people in European cities and informal settlement residents in Indian cities, in this chapter we explore the everyday makeshifts of sanitation at the margins implying the notion of ‘infrastructural becoming’ and framing our discussion in terms of Stengers and Latour’s ‘cosmopolitics’. How is urban life (un)made on the margins? How are bodies, infrastructures, and urban geographical processes brought together – and pulled apart – in the constitution of everyday life? How do vulnerable groups cope with and react to urban conditions that make for them precarious, unreliable possibilities?

The book contains numerous other exciting contributions that explore ‘how and why cities constitute privileged sites for studying the search for and composition of common worlds of cohabitation. You can read our chapter here.

Gehry in Sydney – The Book


My great colleagues at UTS, Liisa Naar and Stewart Clegg, have put together an excellent book on the Dr Chau Chak Wing building, the first building designed by Frank Gehry in Australia.

If I have already published academically about the rationale behind the building (here and here), in this book I wrote two chapters where I illustrate the context where the building sits and the commissioning process to the general public. To read more about the book and to have a first glimpse of it, you can click here.

Approaching chronicity in mental health care – Workshop in Berlin

Screenshot from 2015-11-13 13:24:02

I have been kindly invited in Berlin, at Humboldt University, to comment upon an ethnographic research project titled “The Production of Chronicity in Mental Healthcare and Research in Berlin” (2010-2016, funded by the German Research Foundation DFG). The discussion will take place in a workshop organised by Milena Bister, Martina Klausner and Jörg Niewöhner, on the 20th of November, from 9.30 to 18, at the Laboratory of Social Anthropology of Science and Technology, Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-University of Berlin. More info can be found here.

I very much look forward to the workshop – the research that Milena and Martina have done is great and teaches us a lot about chronicity, institutionalisation and the production of subjectivity. All welcome!


EURA 2016 in Turin – Committed Positioning and Urban Ethnography


Please find below a CFP for the forthcoming EURA conference ‘City lights. ​Cities and citizens within/beyond/notwithstanding the crisis’, Turin (Italy), 16-18 June 2016 (

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele Lancione ( and Elisabetta Rosa ( no later than Thursday, 26 November.

A PDF of this CfP can be downloaded here.

Committed Positioning. Politics, activism and ethnographic encounters in the contemporary city.

Michele Lancione, University of Cambridge (
Elisabetta Rosa, Aix-Marseille University (

We enter the field and have not a clue about the people standing in front of us. We have read about them – the people and spaces we have decided to ‘study’ –, and perhaps we have met them previously, but now things have changed. Set down in the mists of the field, we are now faced with the possibility of encounter: things can go wrong; people may not understand us and we may not understand them, and ethnography may suddenly  cease to be an exciting exploration and turn into a painful and stressful endeavour. In its most basic form, positioning might be understood as the negotiation of this encounter: a fragile process characterised by unbalanced power, criss-crossed by all sorts of ethical implications. But at another, deeper level, positioning is first and foremost about questioning the meaning and relevance of that encounter. Namely: why have we decided to enter the field in the first place? Why have we done it here, with these people and spaces? Why, in other worlds, do we do ethnography and what do we aim to achieve with it?
These questions are anything but a novelty. In geography, they have been discussed for decades by scholars interested in bringing to light the responsibilities, meaning and potential associated with the ethnographic encounter (Caldeira 2009; Cloke et al. 2000; Herbert 2000). Positioning has thus been understood as matter of announcing oneself in the field (McDowell 1992); as a form of reflexivity (Cloke et al. 2000); as a matter of objectivity about the scope and limit of knowledge (Haraway 1988); as aiming to establish ‘constitutive negotiations’ (Rose 1997), and as a way to fictive distinction between ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’ (Butz and Besio 2009). Expanding these lines of thinking, scholars have advocated in favour of an action-oriented form of ethnography (Katz 1994), where the boundaries between activism and academia blur (Routledge 1996), and in favour of a research approach oriented towards the production of radical actions and outputs, through the use of creative methodologies as well (Eshun and Madge, 2012). Our Call for Papers sets out to explore the role of positioning in making ethnography more relevant to the people and spaces it studies. We argue that radical, engaged, meaningful ethnography does not come naturally, but arises out of what we might call a ‘committed’ form of positioning: a relational oeuvre that requires time, involvement and adaptation; that involves stress, joy and a psycho-emotional burden, but that most of all calls for a strong political ethos to fuel the action/research process (Lancione, forthcoming).
We are interested in exploring the link between positionality and urban ethnographic research/activism. We are looking for papers that freely and openly discuss the limits on and opportunities for pursuing political agendas through ethnographic work, questioning the role of positioning in doing so, and recounting (on the basis of first-hand experience as well) the personal difficulties encountered in making urban ethnography matter. We welcome in particular interdisciplinary, creative and non-academic contributions, as well as contributions from under-represented groups. Abstracts should cover one or more of the following points:

  • The intersection between positioning and urban politics
  • The intersection between positioning and activism/research
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – the urban South
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – gender studies
  • Radical urban ethnography – and radical urban ethnographers – today
  • What kind of methodology for what kind of positioning?
  • The physical, emotional and psychological burden of committed positioning
  • Case studies showing details (limits and achievements) of committed positioning

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele ( and Elisabetta ( no later than Thursday, 26 November.


AAG 2016 – The Dark Matter of the Urban

P1040671 - 2012-11-29 at 08-41-30_1

Francisco Calafate-Faria and myself have put together a CfP for the next AAG in San Francisco, 29 March-2 April 2016. You find it below and a pdf can be downloaded from here. Feel free to submit and circulate. Deadline for abstract is the 20th of October. The sessions will be followed by a panel of leading scholars discussing ‘Urban Dark Matter’.

The Dark Matter of the Urban: Forces, densities, velocities, affects, and more.

Session organizers:
Michele Lancione (University of Cambridge, UK)
Francisco Calafate-Faria (Goldsmith University, UK)

Being-in-the-city means being caught up in a maelstrom of bodies, technologies, atmospheres, velocities, and both fixed and fluid elements that are not easy to pin down and understand. Although sociology, anthropology, and human geography have built up a substantial body of scholarship on the urban form – one providing insights into analytically manageable aspects of being-human-in-the-city (such as the economic, the cultural, and the socio-relational spheres) – much has been left out of the picture. In recent years, a new scholarship proposing a focus on urban change and process, and a post-human perspective on the city has contributed greatly to a more nuanced understanding of how cities are and how they become. Outlines of a new urban theorization are emerging from scholars interested in urban assemblages (McFarlane, 2011b; Farías and Bender, 2010; Jacobs, 2012), socio-technical infrastructure (Amin, 2014; Simone, 2004; De Boeck, 2012; Silver, 2014), and vitalist ontologies (Amin, 2007; Braidotti, 2011; Bennett, 2010; Lancione, 2016).

Yet, it seems to us that there is something about cities that escapes the grammar currently employed to describe them. The increasing number of conceptualizations brought forward to grasp urban articulations is a disquieting signal of the tantalizing slipperiness of the urban form. These include Simone’s ‘people as infrastructure’ (2004) and his more recent ‘generic blackness’ (forthcoming); Amin’s ‘animated space’ (Amin, 2015); Chattopadhyay’s ‘infra-structure’ (2012); Piertese’s effort to grasp the ‘unknowable’ of the African city (2013); Thrift’s ‘outstincts’ (2014); McFarlane’s makeshift notions of learning and dwelling (2011a); Gandy’s ‘cyborg urbanization’ (2005), and De Boeck ‘knotting’ (2015) – to cite just a few.

Instead of seeing these attempts as theorization detached from urban praxis, we understand them as concrete attempts to come to terms with what we cannot see, yet perceive; with what we cannot properly theorize, yet foresee; with a new politics of the urban that is largely undefined, yet urgently needed. This is what we are provisionally calling the ‘dark matter’ of the urban: a substance made of times, spaces, forces, densities, velocities, movements, encounters, processes, and affects that is still largely unknown if palpable, perceived, and imaginable. We derive the term from Nigel Thrift and his discussion of Bruno Latour’s ‘hidden masses’ of the social (Latour, 2005). As Thrift puts it, ‘the human world contains a vast hinterland of ‘dark matter’ or ‘plasma’ that we do not understand and of which we often only feel as echoes and intimations which we cannot scry’ (2014, p.4). To research the city is often an attempt to understand such forces, of which we can only, at first, grasp the effects. When we think about and discuss urban assemblages, circuits, networks or meshworks, composed of data (ibid), knowledge (Macfarlane, 2011), human labor (Simone, 2004), finance capital (Simone, 2010), circulating materials (Knowles, 2014), heterotopic waste technologies (Campos, 2013), or migrants and elusive cosmopolitan elites in Michael Keith’s description of the “new dark London”, we are attempting new dialogues that may help us grapple with real problems lived by real people in various cities and in the city as form and process. In this sense, ‘dark matter’ is not here, as in physics, a product of theoretical speculation and rational calculation waiting to be disproved or confirmed by empirical facts. Reversely, the ‘dark matter of the urban’ signals the possibility that there is something unknown and potentially powerful that escapes our current understanding of being-in-the-city, that can be assessed in close dialogue with the empirical. How can we grasp this matter and its potential? How can we think about and theorize it? What do we do to research and account for it? Can it be possible to use it to imagine a radical, alternative form of urban theory and politics?

With this call, we are seeking cutting-edge, provoking papers – of both an empirical and theoretical nature – exploring ‘urban dark matter’, even if not necessarily using this formulation. We particularly welcome contributions from radical feminist, LGBT, and southern perspectives, which are currently underrepresented in the new urban theory we rely upon. As Santos (2014) and others we believe in the epistemological potential of underrepresented viewpoints. Papers should cover one or more of the aspects listed below:

  •     The city as a repository of energies and forces
  •     Empirical case studies on forces, densities, velocities, and affects
  •     Empirical or methodological reflections on accessing hidden processes of urban becoming
  •     Feminist, LGBT, southern, and non-mainstream perspectives on ‘urban dark matter’ and new urban theory
  •     Methodological challenges of investigating ‘urban dark matter’
  •     Oppositional and radical understanding of ‘urban dark matter’ and its potential
  •     The politics of ‘urban dark matter’ (new political imaginings brought forward by investigating the urban through its hidden forces)
  •     Critiques of existing scholarship on urban theory
  •     New theorizations of ‘urban dark-matter’

We plan to organize a few sessions revolving around the above points, followed by a panel including some of the scholars cited (whom we will ask to provide insights into what they conceive as the ‘dark matter’ of the urban, using selected videos and photos as a springboard for discussion).

We also welcome presentations in non-traditional and participatory formats. Abstract selection will be based on relevance to the CFP, boldness, and quality of the proposal. Short papers or presentations of max. 3,000 words must be circulated two weeks in advance of the conference.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Michele Lancione ( and Francisco Calafate-Faria ( by the 20th of October. We will confirm acceptance by the 23th and we expect you to register and submit your abstract on the AAG website by the 26th (here:


Amin, A., 2007. Re-thinking the urban social. City, 11(1), pp.100–114.
Amin, A., 2014. Lively Infrastructure. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(7/8), pp.137–161.
Amin, A., 2015. Animated space. Public Culture, 27(2), pp.239–258.
Bennett, J., 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Campos, M. (2013), `The function of waste urban infrastructures as heterotopias of the city: narratives from Gothenburg and Managua in Campos and Hall (eds) Organising Waste in the City: International perspectives on narratives and practices. Bristol: Policy Press
De Boeck, F., 2012. Infrastructure: Commentary from Filip De Boeck. Contributions from Urban Africa Towards an Anthropology of Infrastructure. Cultural Anthropology Online, 26 November. Available at: <>.
De Boeck, F., 2015. ‘Divining’ the city: rhythm, amalgamation and knotting as forms of ‘urbanity’. Social Dynamics, 41(1), pp.47–58.
Braidotti, R., 2011. Nomadic Theory. The Portable Rosi Braidotti. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chattopadhyay, S., 2012. Unlearning the City. Infrastructure in a new optical field. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Farías, I. and Bender, T. eds., 2010. Urban Assemblages: How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies. London: Routledge.
Gandy, M., 2005. Cyborg Urbanization : Complexity and Monstrosity in the Contemporary City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(1), pp.26–49.
Jacobs, J.M., 2012. Urban geographies I: Still thinking cities relationally. Progress in Human Geography, 36(3), pp.412–422.
Knowles, Caroline. 2014. Flip-Flop: A Journey Through Globalisation’s Backroads. London: Pluto.
Lancione, M. ed., 2016. Rethinking Life at the Margins. The Assemblage of Contexts, Subjects and Politics. Farnham: Ashgate.
Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McFarlane, C., 2011a. Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
McFarlane, C., 2011b. The City as Assemblage: Dwelling and Urban Space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 29(4), pp.649–671.
Piertese, E. (2013). Grasping the unknowable: Coming to grips with african urbanisms. In E. Piertese & A. Simone (Eds.), Rogue Urbanism. Emergent African Cities (pp. 19–35). Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media.
Santos, B (2014) Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide. Boulder: Paradigm
Silver, J., 2014. Incremental infrastructures: material improvisation and social collaboration across post-colonial Accra. Urban Geography, 3638 (September 2015), p. Published on line July, Available at: <>.
Simone, A., 2004. People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture, 16(3), pp.407–429.
Simone A.(2010) City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the crossroads. New York: Routledge
Simone, A., n.d. Urbanity and Generic Blackness. Theory, Culture & Society.
Thrift, N., 2014. The ‘sentient’ city and what it may portend. Big Data & Society, 1(1), pp.1–21.

RGS-IBG 15: Ethnography and Underground Bucharest

Screenshot from 2015-09-01 09:54:55

The RGS-IBG 2015 is about to start in Exeter. It’s a long time I haven’t took part to one RGS-IBG and I am very much looking forward to it: this year program looks great.

At the conference I’ve co-organised two sessions with Tatiana Thieme and Elisabetta Rosa, called The city and the margins: Ethnographic challenges across makeshift urbanismThe sessions are about doing ethnography at the margins today, in the mist of relevant theoretical changes and methodological challenges. We have a great line-up of 8 papers, starting from 9:00 on Wednesday 02 September (Newman Building – Lecture Theatre A/Blue). The program for the two sessions can be found here and here.

Moreover, on Friday 04 September at 9:00 (Peter Chalk – Room 2.5) I’ll be presenting in Lizzie Richardson, Robert Shaw and Jonathan Silver’s session on Producing Urban Life: Fragility and Socio-Cultural Infrastructures (here is the program)My paper is entitled The infra-structure of injectable drugs in underground Bucharest. The presentation contains some provisional thoughts around my 2003 and 2014/15 research about the underground canals of Bucharest. You can read the abstract below.

The infra-structure of injectable drugs in underground Bucharest

From outdoor consumption taking place in liminal street spaces to indoor practices of injection in marginalised and neglected neighbourhoods, Bucharest presents a variegated cartography of drug-related activities. This is a map made up of subjects, objects, urban atmospheres, discourses and practices that take different forms and paths accordingly to the relative urban infrastructure involved. The paper focuses on one of the latter, namely the teleheating network (known also as ‘district heating’). The network consists of an vast web of undergrounds pipes connecting a centralised heating system to Bucharest’s flats and offices, which are consequentially warmed up by this provision of hot water. In one of the canals hosting the teleheating pipes, which passes right in front of Bucharest’s main train station, a community of drug users has established its home. There, in four connected underground chambers each measuring roughly 8 meters in length, 2 meters at the maximum height and 1.50 meters wide, the aforementioned community sleep, eat and performs the everyday practices of drug consumption. Relying on extensive ethnographic observations, photo-taking, and interviews undertaken within the premises of the canal, the paper traces and illustrates the socio-material infrastructures characterising this space. This is an assemblage of bodies, veins, syringes, substances, and various relationships of power and affect, which speaks of drug addiction and extreme marginalisation but also of sense of belonging, reciprocal trustiness, and care. The conclusions of the paper highlight the political relevance of investigating this community from its own contextual complexity in order to build a non-normative understanding around drug consumption in contemporary Bucharest.


VICE, Bucharest and myself

Blocks in Alea Livezilor - Copyleft Lancione 2015
Blocks in Alea Livezilor – Copyleft Lancione 2015

Today Max Daly published his piece on Bucharest’s drug issues on VICE US. Max has focused mainly on the condition of Roma drug users – an entanglement of poverty, lack of fundamental rights and stigmatisation that is second to none.

Max and I have been together in Bucharest in June. I am impressed by its ability to write such a powerful piece only after a few days in the city. Let’s hope that this article, together with a recent one appeared on Drug Link, may raise EU’s attention on the matter, and may allow the excellent people (like these ones) working on harm reduction in Romania to receive adequate funding for their work.

You can read the article here:

– > Max’s piece was translated also in Italian and Romanian.

Assembling Life at the Margins – USF’s presentation

Since one year and a half I’m a Fellow of the Urban Studies Foundation. The USF is a great and somewhat ‘old-school’ institution: they give genuine and consistent support to early career scholars without asking for any neo-liberal matrix to be filled in return. Can you actually believe it?! I invite all early careers to consider the Post-Doctoral scheme of the USF and to attend the events organised by them.

The above video shows the presentation that I gave at the USF in April this year (and here you can find those of my colleagues). The video is a summary of some of the stuff stuff I have been working on in the last year. The presentation is not very exciting – when I delivered it I was in the mist of my 9 months ethnographic fieldwork Romania (namely: exhausted). It offers, however, a good overview of my reasoning around extreme cases of urban marginality, subjectification and the nexus between politics and academia. Now that the fieldwork is over it is time for me to start thinking about the things I have experienced and observed, and to write about them. It’s time, in other words, to turn the USF’s support into something tangible and meaningful (both for them and for my research informants). Let’s hope to make this right – and to keep on rolling!

AAG 2015 – Inertia creep

P1000271_1Great AAG this year in Chicago. Lots of people, stimulating talks and activities – all  settled in the Windy City, which indeed is quite windy, but most of all urban: of skyscraper, tiny alley, fat large American buses, rust & rails – because it’s the elevated train that delivers it all.

At the conference I had the pleasure to act as discussant in two sessions – one around assemblage and power, the other around homelessness – and to take part to a panel organised by Joe Gerlach and Thomas Jellis (University of Oxford) on Micropolitics and the Minor (which included Cindi Katz, Kathryn Yusoff, Ben Anderson and Andrew Barry). Most importantly, I got the opportunity to present some provisional thoughts around the 8 months ethnography I undertook in Bucharest, Romania, around eviction and homelessness. The reason of this post if precisely to share that presentation – the PDF (which excludes videos) can be downloaded here. Below the title and abstract of my talk. A big thank you to Alex Jeffrey, Colin McFarlane and Alexander Vasudevan for having organised two great sessions on Political Enactment!

Inertia creeps. Micro-politics of eviction, enactment, entanglement

The paper investigates the case of 100 Roma people evicted from their homes in early September 2014, near the centre of Bucharest, Romania. Soon after the eviction, a wide range of NGOs and grass-roots activists mobilised to support them. Their effort included assistance in building provisional shelters on the near-by side-walks, where families and individuals eventually started to dwell in order to demonstrate their dissent. Through the presentation of video-ethnographic material, the paper unfolds the micro-politics of three interwoven movements characterising this story. First, there is the molar afflatus of eviction, which violently deterritorialised the life of the evicted via acting in the name of the law. Second, NGOs and activists enacted a provisional social machinery of help, learning on a case-by-case basis how to deal with the unfolding of the protest. Third, while living on the street the evicted people entangled with the urban mechanosphere, being subjected to its materialities and atmospheres – a process that affected their bodily and affective performances. The paper pays particular attention at how desire, as a productive force articulating the micro-politics of the case, moulted in the assemblage of these movements. After the initial violent deterritorialisation and the outburst of protest, desire gradually entered into a phase of inertia, being codified under the spell of a ‘normalised’ status of emergency. The paper spells out the risks associated with such inertia showing its inherently reactionary nature, and argues for the importance of grass-roots activism in keeping desire away from its normalisation.