Collective international paper on ‘Early Career’ struggles in Urban Studies

When I was working at the Urban Institute and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning back in Sheffield, I designed and run for 3 years an ECR Post-Doc scheme to provide meaningful engagement to scholars who are too often isolated and not cared for.

Now that amazing group came out with this powerful international paper in City – Analysis of Urban Change, Theory, Action

A very powerful reading and expression of international solidarity: https://rsa.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604813.2022.2091826#.YtVmEexBwX6

 

PS – Chuffed by the generous acknowledgement… “We are grateful to Michele Lancione who established the ECR Urban Studies Network at the University of Sheffield, UK in 2018. Without Michele’s hard work, kindness, and support, as well as a dedication to empowering precarious colleagues, this article, the establishment of the Collective, and the international workshops from which they grew would not have been possible”

New Radical Housing Journal issue out now!

The Radical Housing Journal seventh Issue is now out!!

Issue 4.1 – Carcerality, Housing Precarity and Abolition
Edited by Samanta Thompson, Erin McElroy, Ana Vilenica and myself.

Peer-reviewed, open-access and freely available at https://radicalhousingjournal.org/issue/issue-4-1/

In Issue 2.1 (May 2020), our editorial collective published ‘Covid-19 and housing struggles: The (re)makings of austerity, disaster capitalism, and the no return to normal’. The paper ended with the following provocation: ‘It is imperative to make the impossibility of returning to normal a praxis: a terrain of inquiry and a terrain of struggle. This means that we need to think about what to do next with what we have at hand’ (RHJ Editorial Collective​​, 2020, p. 25). Two years later, we reflect on this question through this collective editorial with new clarity. We are writing at a point in which there are old and new wars further degrading the living conditions of many, bolstering the power of fascist regimes. Further, there is a widespread urgency to declare the pandemic over and as an episode of the past, thereby paving the way for a return to ‘normal’. What is this normal that too many seem to be longing for? It seems especially clear now that normal simply means the reproduction of a racial capitalist machine that continues to accumulate profit through violence and dispossession. The state has continued to consolidate power, enact violence, and inflict harm upon those who need protection. Rather than safeguard people’s homes and communities, the state extends its protection and power to landlords, private property, and capital. This is the context in which we, in collaboration with the Unequal Cities Network, have decided to focus our 4.1 Radical Housing Journal issue on the nexus of continuous crisis, carcerality, housing precarity, and abolition.

Interview on radical housing and urbanity with WOZ (Swiss-German critical left newspaper)

I am grateful to the WOZ (DieWochenzeitung) and to Raphael Albisser for giving me space on their pages to express some ideas on urbanity, radical housing struggles and the meaning of academic work.

You can find the interview, in German, here: https://www.woz.ch/-c857

Below I am providing an un-edited automatic English translation of the piece.

Credit for the photo of the actual copy of the magazine above: David Kaufmann

 

AUTOMATIC ENGLISH TRANSLATION

 

“When it comes to housing, it quickly becomes existential”.

When people in the world’s urban centres resist displacement, they are fighting for much more than a roof over their heads. Understanding the radical quality of their resistance also requires radical research, says Turin geography professor Michele Lancione.

“I’m interested in cities where struggles for housing coincide with other problems,” says Michele Lancione: a woman dyes laundry in the polluted Makoko lagoon in Lagos, Nigeria.
Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba, AFP

WOZ: Mr Lancione, where is the future of a city decided?
Michele Lancione: That’s not an easy question. And the first answer that comes to mind is: probably in a bank here in Switzerland.

Seriously?
No, of course that’s far too simplistic. I am not a Swiss expert at all. But the country is one of the most important locations worldwide in terms of financialisation, i.e. the transfer of capital into financial products, which in turn plays a central role in the development of cities and what we think of as urbanity.

How exactly?
Urban development and thus the further development of infrastructure just like housing do not only need capital. They are also designed for capital. They are designed to make even more money out of financial investments. The city is the place where this takes on a particularly concrete form, in infrastructure projects and a real estate economy that promises profits through mortgages and rents.

At the same time, the future of the city is also being decided from below, for example through processes of internal and transnational migration, which have brought about huge changes in the last forty years, especially for cities in the so-called Global South. Today, climate change also plays an important role, let’s think of the Indonesian capital Jakarta for example: parts of the city are subsiding by about 25 centimetres per year, flooding is increasing. This causes problems that are not decided in the context of financialisation – but in the experienced reality of the people who are forced to relocate. So the city is shaped as much by global economic interests as by the reality of the urban, the experienced struggle for housing. And there is a third level in between.

Politics?
Certainly, but I mean mainly a cultural understanding of a global political class that cities should look a certain way and function in a certain way. These three levels together result in the direction in which cities develop.

In your research, you have long been dealing with urban struggles over housing, with forced evictions and resistance to them. You describe this with the term “radical housing”. Where does it come from?
I don’t know exactly, to be honest. You can find it in pamphlets from housing movements in the UK in the seventies. As I understand it, and as my colleagues understand it, the radicalism that we use it to describe occurs particularly when movements are fighting the larger and broader issues that underlie housing in the first place. This can refer to economic mechanisms and profiteering, but also to completely different aspects.

Which ones, for example?
Sometimes it’s about climate justice, sometimes it’s about fighting racism or patriarchy. Most of my research so far has been done in Romania, especially in Bucharest. There I studied how people – especially Roma – fight for their right to housing. People, for example, who are evicted from their flats in the city centre. My focus was always on the struggle for the right to housing, but I found that it was about much more: it was a struggle of marginalised communities against racist dispossession. My new research project is now about examining in a number of cities around the world the social struggles with which the one over housing is interwoven.

The project started in September and is funded by the EU until 2025. What is the research goal?
We are trying to understand what people and communities are essentially trying to achieve when they struggle for a place to live in their city – sometimes without expressing it in language that is immediately accessible to us. We are investigating this in a number of cities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. As a global research project, however, we try to avoid an overarching theory.

Why?
That would be problematic. We are dealing with geographically and also historically very specific contexts with different forms of political expression, which are not immediately understood in our very westernised academic world. It is therefore crucial that the researchers in this project are familiar with the relevant contexts and the forms of structural violence that operate there. The kind of knowledge that should come out of this project should not be: We have here overarching knowledge that can be derived from the housing struggles from Lagos to Mexico City. No, we want to provide a set of specifically locatable insights to enrich our collective knowledge of what the global struggle for housing actually is.

So you’re not creating a synthesised theory, but rather a kind of mosaic?
Yes, and I can explain why. Essentially, we want to create a decolonised scientific framework. Because the way the political in the struggle for housing has mostly been described so far stems from a Eurocentric tradition. It is perfectly fine to understand squatting in Italy as an essential practice of housing politics; but when people squat houses in Johannesburg, it probably takes a different form of expression than in Turin. One that has been hijacked in the past by certain narratives: humanitarian narratives, for example, that are about the resilience and adaptability of urban dwellers – and not about political practices. This is problematic because these narratives and this language come from the colonial centres. But sometimes the political is not just about organising or mobilising, but about multiple, nuanced forms of resistance that cannot be generalised – hence the mosaic approach.

Was it difficult to get public research funding with this approach?
I’ll be honest here: To a certain extent, you just have to play the game. The European Research Council (ERC), which is now funding my project, has a very neoliberal language. Then you have to say something like: this is a new paradigm of science, it’s groundbreaking. To get research funding, you also need a certain track record. It’s about how much and where you’ve already published – an exclusionary way of defining scientific excellence. But that’s how it works, and for better or worse, I fit into their scheme. At least the upside is that the ERC isn’t constantly breathing down your neck when funding is spoken for.

So as a professor you are a kind of door opener?
If you successfully apply for the research funds, you can hire the researchers yourself. When I got the grant, I was still at the University of Sheffield, but then had to return to Turin for family reasons. At the Polytechnic, I practically started the project all over again. And I found out: The research environment there is far less diverse than that in the UK. All around me were Italians, all white. One of the central prerequisites of the project is that people work in it who already know the respective contexts very well. So I hired people from Nigeria and Brazil. And it was a nightmare.

Why?
I spent a lot of time on bureaucracy. The system is simply not ready to hire international researchers. Mistakes were made with all the visas. It was a painful process to build this team of people with seven nationalities. Yet it was the only way to do this kind of work: I don’t want to send someone to Mumbai who was doing research on the real estate market in Rome yesterday. Because that would simply be reproducing what the vast majority of social sciences have always done.

How did you choose the cities?
I am interested in cities where struggles for housing obviously coincide with other problems. In Lagos, for example, there are two levels: First, financialisation is clearly a displacement driver; Lagos is the fastest growing city in Africa in terms of population and economy. Secondly, environmental and climatic factors play a role. Because most of the displacement is in the waterfront areas of the city.

You say that you are concerned with intersectionality, that is, with intersections of social struggles. Does housing have a prominent role in this?
I think so. After all, it is a place where we find our existential security as human beings. For me, whose interest is in cities and how people inhabit the world, housing is where an incredible number of things come together: Sexism, queerphobia, racism. Issues of how housing is granted or taken away from people. Economic issues. And it’s pretty obvious by now that the struggle for housing has become a global struggle.

Why now of all times?
Maybe it’s a bit oversimplified, but I think there are two reasons: first, the stark demographic reality. The world population has grown exponentially over the last fifty years. This inevitably brings with it questions about housing and infrastructure. Secondly, it is about the space in which capital has decided to multiply.

Where else? The lemon has been squeezed in many respects.
Exactly. And in actually every city – from Zurich to London and Belo Horizonte to Hong Kong – the primary need for housing has become the decisive growth factor. What this can mean was seen in Spain, for example, when the real estate bubble burst in 2008.

At the same time, it makes the functioning of capitalism very directly tangible for people from the most diverse backgrounds. It is all the more interesting that local and national authorities as well as international organisations and the UN are still dealing with this as if it were a simple local political issue. As if the problems could be solved with technical solutions. I have not investigated this further, but I suspect that this is being done deliberately. Because it is only by negotiating the right to decent housing in this way that capital can continue to do whatever – please excuse the language – shit it wants in urban centres.

Where does your passion for urbanity actually come from?
I grew up in the country, in a village eighty kilometres north of Turin. When I was eighteen, I moved to the city, a fairly small city, but a city nonetheless. In Turin, I started to get interested in questions around the urban. And of course I was also influenced by what I saw during my studies; there was an incredible amount written about urbanity back then.

Is it common to work with the concept of radicality in the academic world?
My colleagues and I use it to refer to militant communities that worked with the term “radical housing” because it was politically obvious. When it comes to housing, it quickly becomes existential and radical action becomes necessary. In science, my main concern is that knowledge must also be radical.

How is that to be understood?
It’s about the question of how you produce knowledge. About the decisions you make in the scientific context. It may sound silly that I have spent a year of my academic life hiring researchers who come from the context of their research. But it is a conceptual radicalism that is central in my eyes. It could make it possible to create a different kind of knowledge.

Or another example: six years ago we founded the “Radical Housing Journal”, in which we publish articles according to all scientific standards, but without letting ourselves be taken over by one of the big publishing houses. They take publicly funded academic work, privatise it and sell it back to the universities. Others even pay academics to publish with them.

They now call themselves “activist academics”. I guess that’s easier once you have a full professorship. Did you have to become more conformist on the way there?
If you publish well in the Anglo-Saxon system, you can have a fast career. I got my doctorate in 2012, and my first open ended contract as Associate Professor just four years later. And the reason was that I knew how to play the neoliberal game in the academic business. I am not ashamed to say that. Me and my partner, who is a filmmaker, were also very mobile; we lived in ten cities in three countries on two continents in less than eight years.

Where did you become an activist?
I was not yet a professor at the time, I was doing research in Bucharest as part of a post-doctoral position. I already knew the city very well and started to get involved with the Roma communities there – and that’s when the political caught up with me. I got to know feminist, anarchist, queer activist collectives – all personal matters close to my heart. And I had to learn to navigate the tensions between research and activism.

How does that work?
First, you have to be careful. It may be hip right now to call yourself an activist:n researcher: but there is a certain self-interest in the relationship. That’s why you should separate these two worlds quite strongly, because traditionally academics have always been very extractive towards activists, using them for their own purposes.

There is the same problem in journalism. What is your solution?
You must always be vigilant about your role – otherwise you risk exploiting activists for academic gain. Therefore, when I enter activist spaces, I either do it as an individual, as an activist; or I do it as an academic and in return I try to let resources flow from the academic enterprise into the activist struggles. When I call myself an activist researcher, it also refers, above all, to a critical attitude towards my own institutions. Today, as a professor, I have the opportunity to do this.

This was demonstrated last year when you publicly opposed the fact that the Polytechnic of the University of Turin, where you are employed, cooperates with the European border protection agency Frontex. What happened there?
The Polytechnic won a public tender from Frontex and now my department, where many cartographers and geographers work, is supposed to produce maps for the agency. I heard about it at a departmental meeting, and since then I have tried to fight it.

Did you succeed?
No, nothing could be done about the cooperation with Frontex. The department’s solution was to put a note in the contract stating that both parties are obliged to respect human rights. Which is of course complete rubbish, sorry. How can you ask Frontex to respect human rights? That’s madness. But at least there was some movement within the department, some colleagues took my side. And by writing an open letter to the public, it was at least noticed that not everyone in the scientific community agreed. It was encouraging for some activists, as well as for students who are grappling with the issue.

And how did the colleagues react?
The matter has caused quite a stir in the media, and for many people I am a stain on their reputations because of it. That also shows that the academic world today is largely depoliticised. A world in which young people study to pick up a degree and then have good job prospects – a functional thing for neoliberalism.

But many in the academic profession hardly have the privilege to expose themselves without consequences because many work under precarious employment conditions.
Yes, that is true. The professorship allows me to fight back. I feel it is a responsibility. But I am not the only professor at the Polytechnic. Just one of the few who speak out critically. And unfortunately that’s not only the case in Turin or Italy, many professors today are technocrats.

But there are always those who speak out clearly on political issues …
It is one thing to take a public stand, for example to co-sign an open letter, to get involved in debates. And that is also good! But it’s something else again to speak out against the academic establishment. Even if you have a full professorship, it’s not easy, because it can isolate you. I myself am on the safe side at the moment, I have my research project and my team. But what about 2025, when that ends? I wouldn’t suffer, but it would be difficult to work in an environment where I am spurned.

So should students in particular politicise the universities again?
That would probably be most effective. After all, we academics are mostly quite self-centred, we want to be liked. So if students build up pressure and start challenging their professors, they might hit a nerve. But I know from my own experience that you can’t expect that from students easily: I come from a working-class family, my father was a factory worker at Fiat, my mother a cleaner. When I arrived at the university, I first reverently accepted all hierarchies there. It is important for students to gain dominion over their own thinking and base the political on it.

Michele Lancione (38) is a professor at the Turin Polytechnic. He teaches at the Department of Economic and Political Geography of the Department of Territorial Studies and Planning. He is also Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at the University of Sheffield.

In his current EU-funded research project, Inhabiting Radical Housing, Lancione and a team of international scholars are investigating radical struggles over housing in a number of cities around the world. Lancione is co-founder and editor of the academic Radical Housing Journal and a member of the grassroots movement Common Front for Housing Rights in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

Update on the Polytechnic – Frontex case

Following the ongoing investigative work of Luca Rondi at Altra Economia (ITAENG) I am writing again – this time not alone, but with my colleague Francesca Governa – to the regents of the Polytechnic to ask for clarity on the Polito – Frontex agreement.

Below it’s the translation of our letter. Note that I am still waiting for a reply to the previous email, dated 18 March 2022.

Previous updates: this, this, and the original post.

Dear Rector, Dear Pro-Rector
Dear Director and Vice-Directors of the Dist
Dear Fellow Representatives of Full Professors in the Academic Senate

L’altra economia published an article (https://altreconomia.it/frontex-polito-ecco-le-prime-mappe-e-la-clausola-sui-diritti-umani-non-vincola-lagenzia/) on 7 June that returns to the issue of the contract between Frontex and the Politecnico di Torino. We learn from the article that the “binding clause” linked to the observance of “respect for human and fundamental rights of persons” by both the “researchers” and the “principal” within the “Frontex OP/403/2020/DT” agreement, decided at the Senate meeting of 14 December 2021, does not involve the Agency. The consortium agreement thus seems to be deficient precisely because of the lack of agreement on the part of an entity – Frontex – that has been repeatedly accused of violating the human and fundamental rights of persons. It seems to us that this lack conflicts with the fundamental contents of the programme manifesto on the ‘Integrity of Research at the Politecnico di Torino’ and the Code of Ethics of our University, as well as disregarding the decision of the Academic Senate.

We believe that it is important for the Politecnico, in compliance with its institutional mandate, its autonomy as a centre of excellence for higher education and research, and as a place of reflection and debate open to the territory and society, to clarify the situation regarding the Consortium agreement by requesting that it also involve the offices of the Frontex Agency.

Please also note that no reply was ever sent to the email sent on 18 March 2022, containing a similar request for clarification.

With best regards

Michele Lancione and Francesca Governa

Grammar of the Urban Ground – new book with Ash Amin for Duke

Grammars of the Urban Ground“, the book I co-edited with Ash Amin for Duke University Press, is now out at https://www.dukeupress.edu/grammars-of-the-urban-ground

Get 30% off the paperback with code E22GRMMR, and check in the coming weeks for the Open Access version of this volume at https://read.dukeupress.edu/ (thanks to the support of the British Academy).

This book has been many years in the making. It started with a series of workshops organised by Ash at the BA (as far as 2018 if I remember well), and it germinated into a remarkable compendium of critical urban lexicons from authors that have been foundational to my own urban thinking (see table of content below).

What came out is a – open-access – helpful text for students and scholars interested in grounded, yet experimental, ways of tracing the multiple politics of urban life – from banishment to social junk, from density to transitoriness, from suturations to deformation and to affirmation.

Thanks to Ash for having me in this, to all our authors for the great texts, to the BA for the support and to Courtney Berger at Duke for her wonderful editorial steer.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Thinking Cities from the Ground / Ash Amin and Michele Lancione
1. Social Junk / Natalie Oswin
2. Grammars of Dispossession: Racial Banishment in the American Metropolis / Ananya Roy
3. Future Densities: Knowledge, Politics, and Remaking the City / Colin McFarlane
4. Big: Rethinking the Cultural Imprint of Mass Urbanization / Nigel Thrift
5. Urban Legal Forms and Practices of Citizenship / Mariana Valverde
6. Transitoriness: Emergent Time/Space Formations of Urban Collective Life / Teresa Caldeira
7. Suturing the (W)hole: Vitalities of Everyday Urban Living in Congo Filip De Boeck
8. Infrastructures of Plutocratic London / Caroline Knowles
9. Affirmative Vocabularies from and for the Street / Edgar Pieterse and Tatiana Thieme
10. Deformation: Remaking Urban Peripheries through Lateral Comparison / AbdouMaliq Simone
11. Edge Syntax: Vocabularies for Violent Times / Suzanne M. Hall

Keynote at Malmö’s Institute of Urban Research during workshop on Evictability

I am excited to take part in a two-day event on “Evictability: Understanding the nexus of migration and urban displacements” at Malmö University, Institute for Urban Research, June 2-3 , 2022

I will be delivering one of the two keynotes (the other by Huub van Baar), followed by the screening of my documentary on forced evictions in the city centre of Bucharest, A Inceput Ploaia/It Started Raining.

At the core of this event, there is a full-day workshop with scholars working on migrations, eviction, displacement and racialised dispossession coming from all over Europe. I very much look forward to the conversation! The program is below, and here.

Thank you to the wonderful Maria Persdotter, Valeria Raimondi and Mauricio Rogat for the organising!

 

Thursday, June 2:

ABF Malmö, Stora salen, Spånehusvägen 47 (from Malmö C take bus #5 to Folkets park)

13:00-14:00 Informal lunch, location TBD (at your own expense)
14:00-14:15 Welcome and introductions
14:15-15:15 Huub van Baar (KU Leuven) – keynote address + Q&A
15:15-15:30 Break, snacks
15:30-16:30 Michele Lancione (Polytechnic of Turin), keynote address + Q&A
16:30-17:45 FILM: A început ploaia/It started raining: Fighting for the right to housing in Bucharest
17:45-18:00 Break, snacks
18:00-19:30 City walk: Local social movement history, Pål Brunnström and Fredrik Egefur
9:30 Pizza-dinner at Far i Hatten, Folkets park (https://www.farihatten.se/)
These events are open to the public

 

Friday, June 3:

Malmö University (Niagara building, 4th floor, Room A0407), Nordenskiöldsgatan 1 (nearest bus stop: Anna Lindh’s plats)

9:00-10:00 Workshop Session 1 (3 papers)
10:00-10:15 Break
10:15-11:45 Workshop Session 2 (4 papers)
11:45-12:45 Lunch
12:45-13:45 Workshop Session 3 (3 papers)
13:45 -14:00 Break
14:00-15:00 Workshop Session 4 (3 papers)
15:00- 15:30 Break
15:30-17:00 Final group discussion
18:00 Informal dinner and drinks, location TBD (at your own expense)
NOTE: The workshop sessions are not open to the public.
Photo: Jenny Eliasson, Malmö Museer.

Beyond Inhabitation Spring 2022 Seminars Series

Today at the Beyond Inhabitation Lab we are announcing our 2022 Spring Seminar Series! In our first set of interventions and collective conversations, we are very excited to host three distinguished scholars here in Turin, exploring how ideas of inhabitation are being reimagined through urban struggles in diverse geographies.


The first event will occur on 19/05, with Irene Peano’s presentation Thinking Through Radical Inhabitations in Italy’s Encampment Archipelago: Geographies, Genealogies and Militant Research. To attend online register at: https://polito-it.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcud-qtpjsrGdJYu3v0rTI4j0OYsu2P3tpp


The second event will take place on  30/06, with Alana Osbourne’s Decolonial Tours: Quilting Time for Living in a Fractured City. To attend online register at: https://polito-it.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYod-2uqTIqG9LuhvTXFWoVOGbrMYqLDWlj


In our third and final Spring session, on 14/07, we will have Wangui Kimari intervention, “We Are All Taxonomists”: Vernaculars of Geological Time From Southern Margins. To attend online register at: https://polito-it.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkdeiprj0qGtVVyL_Jau2t2dgE_ZQmpUTM


All events will be at 4:30 p.m. (CET). Participants can attend online (registering at the above links) and in-person (DIST, Castello del Valentino, Torino). All sessions will be recorded and made available afterwards on our website.

Below you can find the Spring 2022 Seminar Series flier, while specific ones for each talk will be posted on this blog in due course. Looking forward to having you join us!

Spring seminar series Flyer

Public debate on radical housing in Zurich – 11th May

Last night I had a wonderful time at Urban Publics Zurich event, where we discussed radical housing theory and praxis with organisers and scholars based in Zurich.

I was on the stage with Philipp Klaus from Inura, Antonia Steger from Urban Equipe, Philippe Koch from ZHAW. The whole thing was masterfully organised and modered by Hanna Hilbrant.

These kinds of engagements are not easy to pull together. They require lots of care in their making – partially because of the extractive traditions of academia vs activist spaces and partially because lexicons of ‘radicality’ are not easily shared across geographies. Nonetheless, yesterday I think we had a very productive and enriching night. Kudos to my Zurich comrades and colleagues!