I am excited to be in Berlin today, to present a paper on minor ethnography at the prestigious Institutskolloquium of the Institute of European Ethnology at Humboldt University. This year the Institute is hosting a number of fascinating talks on how ethnography can do politics – or is already politics in itself. In my talk, I’ve tried to constitute researching and intervening in the politics of life at the margins as part of the same endeavour, which is minoritarian because it aims to unsettle from within. Ethnography is a way of going about it, because it’s intersubjective, provisional, incremental and collective. It is never really ‘done’, only experimented with. The presentation illustrates these points through an engagement with post-colonial and vitalist thinking, as well as through the illustration of a number of cases taken from my works.
In the evening, we will also screen my documentary on eviction and resistance, A Inceput Ploaia/It started raining, at the Carmah Berlin museum.
All of this is possible thanks to the generous invitation of Ignacio Farias and the excellent organising of Jens Adam – thanks to both!!
The first paper that I thought and wrote since I’ve joined USP and the Urban Institute at Sheffield is out now in Geoforum. It is called: ‘The politics of embodied urban precarity: Roma people and the fight for housing in Bucharest, Romania’ and it theorises precarity as an embodied affair, grounded in history and producer of the urban political. It builds on the inspiring works of colleagues like Vasudevan, Brickell, Simone, Roy, Chelcea, Vincze and many others. Crucially, it also builds on my experiences with Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire — all the thanks to comrades are in the acknowledgement section. You can download the paper for free on Research Gate.
In its printed version, the paper will be part of a special issue around ‘Precarious urbanism’, edited by Hester Parr, Chris Philo and Ola Söderström. Thanks to them for inviting me to take part to this project!
Here is the abstract:
The politics of embodied urban precarity: Roma people and the fight for housing in Bucharest, Romania
The paper provides a nuanced reading of the ways in which conditions of precarity arising from forced evictions are ‘made’ and ‘unmade’ in their unfolding, offering a way to appreciate their performative politics. Grounded in an activist ethnography of evictions against Roma people in Bucharest, Romania, the work provides a reading of urban precarity as not only an embodied product, but also a producer of the urban political. It advances an innovative methodology to investigate the politics of urban precarity, which focuses around four intersecting processes: the historical pre-makings of precarity; the discursive and material displacement of its in-making; embodied resistance as a form of un-making; and authoritarian responses as its re-making. Through its theoretical and methodological insights, the paper contributes to scholarship interested in a critical understanding of embodiment, politics, and urban precarity beyond the analysed case.
I am very privileged to teach @UniTrento for their Summer School in Ethnography this week. This is the 6th edition of this prestigious school, and I am looking forward to meeting the 20 PhD candidates coming from all over Europe to discuss ideas, plans and subversions with them. Thanks to Paolo Boccagni and Ester Gallo for inviting me!
Below an extract of my interventions.
Weird Exoskeletons: The Politics of Home in Underground Bucharest
The paper explores the politics of life underground in Bucharest, Romania, and its capacity to invent a home within an infrastructure, and overall socio-technical conditions, which for the many are a matter of uninhabitability. The paper focuses on a canal passing under Bucharest’s central train station, where a community of drug users and homeless people established its home for years. Relying on extensive ethnographic observations, photo-taking, and interviews undertaken within the premises of one of Bucharest’s underground canals, the paper traces and illustrates the socio-material entanglements characterizing life underground. This is an assemblage of bodies, veins, syringes, substances, and various relationships of power and affect, which speaks of drug addiction and extreme marginalization but also of a sense of belonging, reciprocal trustiness, and care. The goal of this work is to trace the emergence of a ‘home’ in the abnormal conditions of life in the tunnels of Gara de Nord and to highlight what that meant in terms of urban politics. The paper contributes to debates around homing practices at the margins of the urban, and it promotes a deeper understanding of the peculiar politics emerging from the assemblage of life underground in Bucharest.
Keywords: Home; Underground; Homelessness; Drug use; Marginality; Bucharest; Gara de Nord.
A început ploaia: Video-ethnography and research-activism in Bucharest, Romania
What can video-ethnography do? Can it be relevant at the urban margins and for whom? What are the temporalities and spaces of encounters that a committed video-ethnographic work is confronted with? The paper reflects upon the making of a two-years video-ethnographic project with evicted Roma people in Bucharest, Romania (2014-16). The aim is to provide provisional answers to some of the above questions, relying upon and expanding recent literature around research-activism and more established strands around situated and ‘committed’ forms of positionality. On the basis of the analysis of my documentary work with Roma people in Romania, the seminar discusses three orientations for what a committed form of video-ethnography can do at the urban margins: it can help to align contingencies; it can sustain alliances aimed at challenging the normalisation of expulsion; and it can allow for the composite ‘more-than-representation’ of everyday life at the margins.
Thanks to The Antipode Foundation for awarding the Antipode Scholar-Activist Award to Erin MC EL, Veda Popovici, Nicoleta Nico, Ioana Florea, Caro 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!
Numerous events took place across Europe to celebrate the 50 years after the backlash of ’68. Pushpa Arabindoo, Senior Lecturer at UCL, organised a very special one at the Institute D’etudes Avancées in Paris last week. In the stunning setting of the IEA, in the middle of the Seine on Île Saint-Louis, Pushpa gather a number of scholars and writers to tackle the question of what it means to write the ‘urban’ into the ‘city’ (here the program). This was a central concern of Henry Lefebvre and of many of his contemporaries, both within and outside the academy (think for instance of George Perec and Italo Calvino). Pushpa rightly brought the theme of writing, with its political resonances, back to the table.
In the two-day event, a number of provocative questions and suggestions were brought to the fore. The first half-day was introduced by two fascinating speech by Diran Adebayo and Sarah Butler two inspiring novelists from London and Manchester respectively. The second day was jammed-packed with insightful presentations from a number of scholars writing the urban from a number of geographical and theoretical perspectives. Following a keynote by Christian Schmid, Monika Streule and Alejandro de Coss-Corzo presented about their respective South-American fieldworks; Pushpa and Anna Dewaele tackled the Asian city; Jennifer Robinson and Philippe Gervais-Labony spoke about their respective works on African cities; while Martin Muller and myself (Michele Lancione) gave our individual perspectives on the city of the East (Ekaterinburg for Martin; Bucharest for myself).
In my presentation I mainly situated my continuous involvement with Bucharest as a matter of political, committed, positioning – mostly related to the fight for the right to housing in the city, but not only. Relying on a feminist and vitalist framework, I argued that is impossible to write the city without being ‘situated’ in it, which is, of course, related to a profound engagement with the politics at stake in the production of academic representations. Some of the reasoning that I have presented in Paris can be found, at least in their general form, in a short paper that I have recently published in EPD: Society and Space. More developed and structured thoughts around the need to pursue ‘translations’ able to encompass the remit of canonical academic work, can be found in another paper published in Social & Cultural Geography.
Well done to Pushpa and to the colleagues that came to Paris from all over Europe to populate this intriguing workshop. I hope the conversation will continue and will stimulate more reflection around the politics of writing the city – which is not detached from the ‘right’ to it, of which Lefebvre was theorising about 50 years ago.
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.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
I was recently generously invited by FEANTSA and the European Observatory on Homelessness to deliver one of the keynotes at the 12th European Research Conference on Homelessness, under the theme ‘Changing Profiles of Homelessness: Implications for Services’. The conference took place at the University of Barcelona, on the 22nd of September 2017.
My intervention was entitled ‘Beyond Homelessness Studies: Thoughts and Actions‘. Expanding upon a paper written for the 10th year anniversary of the European Journal of Homelessness (click here to download it), in the keynote I proposed a reflection around the epistemology of homelessness research, asking if and how what we do is relevant and for whom. After illustrating some of the limitations of contemporary scholarship, I made a case for a more radical approach to homelessness studies based on five tenets: interdisciplinarity; ethnography; activism; creativity; and autonomy. Each one of these points was illustrated with examples taken from the current international literature as well as from my researches around homelessness in Italy, Romania and the UK. The aim of this keynote is to inspire a new radical scholarship that encompasses the regiments of what we currently know as ‘homelessness studies’, to meaningfully respond to – and engage with – homelessness in Europe and elsewhere.
Below you can find the Prezi of the keynote and here you can download the PDF of the presentation.
Together with my good friends and colleagues Tatiana Thieme (UCL) and Elisabetta Rosa (Université Catholique de Louvain) we have just published a very exciting special issue in City: Analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. The special issue is about the challenges of ethnographic research at the urban margins and contains contributions from Silvia Aru, Maurizio Memoli & Matteo Puttilli; Tung-Yi Kho; William Monteith; Yimin Zhao; Kavita Ramakrishnan; Tatiana Thieme; and also a paper co-written by myself and Elisabetta (abstract below).
Download the introduction to the special issue here. The same goes for the paper I wrote with Elisabetta, which is available here.
Going in, out, through. A dialogue around long skirts, fried chips, frozen shacks and the makeshifts of ethnography
In this paper, we shift from conventional academic writing toward something similar to a dialogue, an encounter, a few hours spent in a virtual cafe´where we chat and systematically try to excavate our respective ethnographic endeavours. Such experimentation in format is needed, we argue, in order to re-approach the questions characterising in-depth ethnographic work from a different, possibly fresher, perspective, and to communicate those more directly and freely. Rather than embedding our doubts, fears and wishful thinking in academic formalism, we spell those out aloud, as a composite and unfinished flow that touches upon relevant literature but is still raw and grounded in our current and respective fieldwork. Relying on our differentiated works with Roma people in Italy, France and Romania (2004– ongoing), in our dialogue we talk about the challenges of positioning; the construction of new (self)identities; the building of relationships of trust, care and affect, and their break; the role of ethnographic knowledge in activist work; the risk and the certainty of failure; the difficulties associated with entering and leaving the field. The aim of our dialogue is not to offer answers to questions that have been at the centre of the ethnographic discipline since the start, but to open a space of incremental and reciprocal learning that may serve as an inspiration for other young ethnographers like us.