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.

New review in IJURR on Pieterse and Simone

I’ve recently reviewed Pieterse and Simone’s latest book for IJURR. The book is called New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times. Cambridge: Polity Press and the review can be found below, or here.

To inhabit a paradox
Review of Simone, A., & Pieterse, E. (2017). New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times. Cambridge: Polity press.
Michele Lancione, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield
m.lancione@sheffield.ac.uk

“To inhabit the urban is to inhabit a paradox”, say Simone and Pieterse (p. 95). This is because inhabiting the urban means more than just being in the city: it requires the navigation of conflicting planes made of infrastructural arrangements, financial logics, and everyday encounters with l’autre. Simultaneously, the act of inhabiting makes the urban, bringing the city to the fore, breathing life into it, giving it substance and form that render it tangible and malleable. Such is the paradox of inhabiting the urban: staying in it means making it, and inhabiting it changes the status of both the urban and oneself.

New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times is a paradoxical guide to this urban paradox. At a time in which grandiose claims to truth abound, it does not provide reassurance or explanation. It is best described as a set of splinters; a Mikado made of thin, colourful sticks thrown onto the table where each indicates a possible direction to follow, a strategy for dwelling in the city in a way that makes make sense of it, allowing one to study it. The directions given by the sticks are multiple and confusing if one tries to read them vectorially – if one searches for established paths and solutions. Instead, the trick is to let oneself to be carried away, to be nudged by one orientation and then by the next; to allow the fragmentary, splintered nature of the urban to unfold; to read it as something made of challenges, orientations, multiplicities. What comes out of such a reading is the opposite of vectoral directionalities, which are about foreclosing meaning and potentialities. The invitation here is to stay within the paradox, to remain close to it, to approach it and to allow oneself to be approached by it. Simone and Pieterse do not provide neatly packaged explanations or escapes, since what they want is for us to stay with the messiness of the urban; and to acknowledge that understanding it involves inhabiting it from within, unceasingly.

Is this therefore a book without hope, a wild post-structuralist conundrum that offers no beginnings and no ends? Two decades after Amin and Thrift’s seminal Cities: Reimagining the Urban, scholars are more divided than ever on the methodological question of how to approach the urban: while some engaged in a hard-core search for generalisations that can function at a planetary scale, others have retreated to the safety of contextual specificity and the highly bounded case study. Journals keep expanding their publishing rotas, and more and more scholarship exists in a frenzy of closed-circle citations, canonical radicalism, and generalising theory. In the midst of this, Simone and Pieterse are unapologetic: they know that they are going to disappoint many by offering no solution, no grand theory, and by their layered, dense, patterned style. Yet they also believe that this is what is needed in urban theory today, that only such a method can grapple with our ‘dissonant times’ – times when the urban south emerges with all its multitude of challenges and opportunities; but also, times when the urban north increasingly requires southern approaches to be grasped and (re)understood.

The book provides a number of situated orientations to come to grips with the contemporary urban paradox. These are invitations, illustrated through a number of encounters with cities scattered across Africa and Asia, to look for secretions, or permeation of life; resonances, or pre-conscious affective capacities; signposts, or signs of everyday governance; and other mundane infrastructures of urban life. The key contribution lies, for me, in the authors’ notion of re-description, which encapsulates the ‘ethic-aesthetic paradigm’ of this project (in a Guattarian sense, its political cartography). Re-description, for Simone and Pieterse, is about composing an urban knowledge that accounts for what can be as well as what is. The authors invite the reader to recognise everyday urban experimentation (beyond, but not in opposition to, or detached from, socio-economic structuration) and to account for what might go on if possible lines of escapes and fluctuation were followed. The book argues that these can tell a story of their own, if only one is attentive: re-describing is a call to a scholarship committed to trace the potential of urban life beyond analytical regimentation.

One major re-description explored by the book is that associated with the ‘uninhabitable’, where environments do not provide that which is normally considered necessary for human sustenance, thus rendering their inhabitants less than fully human in the eyes of the dominant culture. Here the book relies upon Simone’s recent work on the interstices of black life (also the subject of his forthcoming book, published by Polity). As a concept, the uninhabitable is conceivable only because one does not pay attention to details, to the cartography of the here and the now. If one gets closer, goes into the messy reality of the city, if one inhabits the paradox by paying attention to affective atmospheres, and to material and immaterial modulations and their becomings, the uninhabitable can be re-described as something more than a simple negation of home. This allows it to assume new dimensions, showing the ways in which the uninhabitable is actually inhabited and inscribed with a politics of life. It offers an alternative to the language of resilience and, of policy ‘best practice’ that dogs much research on homelessness and precarity, instead opening a politics of alternative propositions that can also be relevant for other settings (p. 63; see also my forthcoming paper in IJURR on ‘propositional politics’). Re-description expands concerns raised by other urban critics (Roy, McFarlane, Amin, Robinson, etc), but here it is the detailing that becomes key. The book offers a way of generating knowledge about the urban through a process of detailing and abstracting, or rather detailing through abstraction, where abstraction is possible only through a constant process of exploring the tiny minutiae of urban life.

In short, this work orients readers towards what is at stake, and towards what is needed to grasp the shifting nature of everyday life in the emerging urban worlds of the global north and south. It is an experimental book about the politics of urban experimentation, a work that explores how experimentation can open up and close down city life, going deep down into what Vasudevan calls “make+shift”. This process of experimenting also orients the subject, and provides a direction for research, suggesting multi-directional trajectories for urban thinking that offer a radical departure from the dozens of neat, established theories, policy analyses, and case studies that currently dominate the field. What Simone and Pieterse offer is a new grammar for the paradoxical urban that is attentive to the politics of everyday life at the urban margins, a grammar that promises to be useful for anyone engaged in detailed ethnographic work aimed at maintaining a ‘multiplicity of story lines’ (p. 197) which resonate. For these reasons, despite and because of its messy character, I invite every critical urban thinker to read this book and be contaminated by it.

 

Workshop with housing activists in Cluj, Romania (Antipode Award)

The first workshop of the Antipode Scholar-Activists Award managed by Michele Lancione (UI) together with Nicoleta Vișan, Carolina Vozian, Ioana Florea, Erin Mc ElRoy and Veda Popovici (members of the Bucharest-based grassroots organisation FCDL, of which Michele is also part) took place in Cluj-Napoca on the 15th of November. The project supported by the Antipode Foundation aims at producing a grassroots diary and guide (in Romanian and English) to inspire resistance and organising in Roma communities facing forced evictions in Eastern Europe and beyond. This project is a continuation of a number of other FCDL interventions, including the online diary of the Vulturilor community (who fought for their right to housing in between 2014-16, www.jurnaldinvulturilor50.org) and the first documentary around housing restitution and related displacements in Bucharest (www.ainceputploaia.com). It also expands upon some activities and campaigns that FCDL has been organising in several Romanian cities (thanks to a broader alliance called BLOC) and Europe (with the Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City).

The workshop saw the participation of a number of activists coming from several Romanian cities, belonging to different grassroots groups including FCDL, E-romnja, the BLOC and Căși sociale ACUM!. The objective of this first meeting was to establish a clear plan regarding the writing of the ‘guide’ that will complete the book alongside the historical introduction on restitutions/evictions and Nicoleta’s extended diary. Participants discussed the need to have a guide that will speak about evictions and strategies of resistance to different constituencies. After a number of ideas and experiences were circulated and discussed, an agreement was reached and a plan for action established. The guide will contain three main parts: one with hands-on strategies of resistance targeted to evictees according to a number of housing and displacement typologies; another for activists; and a third for journalists that would like to write about evictions without reproducing stereotypical discourses. The material will be based on the knowledge and experiences accumulated by FCDL and cognate groups in the past years of direct action and radical thinking.

Beyond the guide, the printed book will be based around Nicoleta’s extended diary of struggle and resistance against eviction, contextualised through the intersectional history of housing struggles in the country. Carolina and Nicoleta already started their work on the diary and some excerpts were discussed at the meeting. All the participants were extremely excited by the quality and power of Nicoleta’s writing, which will prove for an excellent read for activists and communities facing housing displacement in and beyond Romania. At the meeting it was also agreed that Veda will write a first draft of the book introduction and that other members of the team (Michele, Ioana, Erin and other members of FCDL) will tackle the remaining tasks, including commenting on drafts, proofreading, liaising with publishers and translating the book into English (which will then pitched to an international publisher).

The team working on the book is planning to have the printed Romanian version by summer 2019. The volume will be used in workshops with communities facing evictions in Romania and Europe. The project goal is to increase the level of politicisation and awareness of racially dispossessed Roma communities, thereby enabling future resistance against displacement.

CfP for the RC21 in Delhi: Dwelling in the interstices

 

RC21, September, 18-21, 2019 @Delhi

CFP: Dwelling in the interstices: modes of inhabitation and common life in the contemporary city

Please submit your 250 words abstract by the 20/01/19 filling this form: https://goo.gl/forms/v1QLbEe61Mp15kLf1

Convenors

  • Dr Margherita Grazioli, Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Studies, Social Sciences Department, Gran Sasso Science Institute, L’Aquila (Italy)
  • Dr Michele Lancione, Senior Research Fellow, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield (UK)
  • Dr Gaja Maestri, ESRC Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Media, Communication and Sociology, University of Leicester (UK).

Rationale

Inhabiting the contemporary city is increasingly a matter of dwelling in its interstices. As urban spaces become privatized, securitised and governed through the logic of immediate private profit and return, urbanites worldwide organise to craft multifarious forms of urban
livings. Through this panel we are interested in attracting cutting-edge scholarship investigating the variegated practices challenging the predominant logic of bordering and governing the city.

The latter include specific devices of governance and control assembling the urban across the north and the south through privatising devices that include, among others: the marketisation of housing; gentrification; racial, spatial, social segregation; the adaptation of
urban routes to logistics movements; borders’ and mobility’s policing and securitisation. Urbanites worldwide contest these processes on a daily basis, constructing forms of dwelling at the interstices of urban space and politics. Recent scholarship has increasingly pinpointed these struggles, looking at housing squats; social centres; self-managed urban camps; co-housing and hosting; self-construction; spontaneous settlements; temporary autonomous zones (TAZs); and many others.

In this panel we are interested in exploring new forms of dwelling that articulate manifold commons within saturated and highly conflicting urban environments. The panel is not necessarily limited to the modalities listed above, and we welcome contributions that show uncanny forms of living vis-à-vis increased urban uninhabitability across the North and the South.

Key themes

We invite papers addressing, but not limited to, the following questions:

  • What forms of alternative urban dwelling are emerging across cities worldwide?
  • How do these alternative practices unfold, and what are their modes of organising?
  • What commons and solidarities are produced through encounters in these spaces?
  • How can urban theory better theorise urban interstices and their politics?
  • What are the affects and material cultures activated at the interstices of the urban?
  • How are these forms of urban dwelling re-captured by dispositifs of institutional governance?

Submit your abstract

Please submit your 250 words abstract by the 20/01/19 filling this form: https://goo.gl/forms/v1QLbEe61Mp15kLf1. If you have any questions regarding this session, please email Margherita (margherita.grazioli@gssi.it), Michele (m.lancione@sheffield.ac.uk) and Gaja (g.maestri@leicester.ac.uk). More info on the 2019 RC21 conference can be found at this page: https://rc21delhi2019.com

Paper at the Institutskolloquium, Humboldt Universty, Berlin

 

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!!

New paper around Urban Precarity in Geoforum

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.

Keynote at an ethnography conference @LSHTM

I am delighted to be part of this exciting workshop for early career ethnographers @LSHTM. In my keynote tomorrow I will develop ideas on ‘minor ethnographies’ starting from a conversation around Cindy Katz’ work to which I have contributed to in EPD: Society and Space last year (https://bit.ly/2xRDqRV).

In Minor ethno-graphies and the activist mode of existence I will speak of the first core of ethnography (encounter) and the second (representation) as fuelled by a specific intellectual politics (activism) which encompasses various domains of life. The aim is to conceive those beyond un-helpful distinctions of ‘research’ and ‘action’ (mode of existence).

Thanks to Charlotte Kuhlbrandt for organising and inviting me!

Teaching at the Trento’s Summer School in Ethnography

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.

Lecture
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.

Seminar
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.

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!

Writing the city [into the urban] – Workshop in Paris

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.