New paper in Transactions: Racialised dissatisfaction and homeless management

Picture by Eleonora Leo Mignoli
Picture by Eleonora Leo Mignoli

It took me a long time but finally is here… my Transactions’ paper on how homeless people negotiate their differences at the margins. The paper shows how the management of the urban poor carries effects on the ways homeless people encounter and negotiate their cultural, societal and ethnic differences. It does so providing a post-human and affect-oriented understanding of the assemblage of difference, which means, in other words, that small urban devices, discourses and atmospheres play a pivotal role in the emergence of positive and negative encounters. The paper introduces the notion of ‘racialised dissatisfaction’ to show how racialised encounters among homeless people can be negatively mediated by services made of precarious material artifacts, normative blueprint to action and negatively charged affective atmospheres. The paper provides also evidence on how less normative and more empowering services are able to trigger positive a-racialised encounters among the homeless people I have encountered. In this regard the theory and ethnography behind this paper can inform the challenges that European cities are facing today: a positive politics of difference passes through the material and affective ways cities will welcome, or not welcome, their most marginalised populations.

I am thankful to many people that made this paper possible. To Ash Amin and Francesca Governa, for their constant support and mentorship, to Transactions for feedback and support, and to many others – including Jonny Darling and Colin McFarlane – for their encouragements. Below you can read the abstract, while the paper can be downloaded on this website, on academia.edu and on Transactions’ website.

Racialised dissatisfaction: homelessness management and the everyday assemblage of difference

Faced with increased waves of refugees, economic migrants and internal vulnerable groups, the challenge for the contemporary European city is to welcome, assist and manage these populations in ways capable of fostering a positive and productive articulation of difference. The paper tackles this issue by investigating the ways in which difference is perceived, negotiated and performed among Italian and migrant homeless people in Turin, Italy. Through the presentation of detailed ethnographic material, the paper proposes a processual and affective take on the everyday assemblage of race and it questions the role of normative spaces in its making. The notion of racialised dissatisfaction is advanced in this sense, signalling how street-level racism among the homeless poor is deeply connected to the broader machinery of homelessness management and the material and affective components of life on the street. Despite its contextualised ethnographic nature, the paper offers insights that encompass the analysed case and advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of everyday life at the urban margins.

New Paper: Life at the urban margins with Colin McFarlane

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Environment and Planning A has just published a paper that Colin McFarlane and myself have written on the infra-making of sanitation at the margins of Turin and Mumbai. The paper informs debates on comparative urbanism and on urban infrastructure. In this work we bring to the fore two main ideas — first, that is possible compare cities and experiences at the urban margins that seem to share little in common (our ‘experimental comparison’); second, that is useful to think about the makeshifts of sanitation at the urban margins as a form of ‘infra-making’, namely as something mediated by more-than-human agencies and atmospheres. I am glad for this collaboration with Colin and I hope the paper will be able to bring some new life into debates around comparative and critical urbanism.

You can download this contribution clicking here (or here, if you are into Academia.edu). Title and abstract are below.

Life at the urban margins: Sanitation infra-making and the potential of experimental comparison

How is life at the urban margins made and remade? In this paper, we examine this question in relation to ‘sanitation urbanism’, and through attention to what we call ‘infra-making’, defined as the interstitial labour of human and non-human agencies and atmospheres that take place in the production of forms of sanitation. We do so through close engagement to sanitation at the margins of two very different cities across the global North–South divide: Turin and Mumbai. Despite the apparent impossibility of comparing such different cities, in the paper we develop a form of ‘experimental comparison’ that is oriented at understanding the everyday making of specific urban processes around urban sanitation. We argue that a comparative focus on how urban life at the margins is made and remade is important for critical urbanism. Our experimental comparison leads us to a discussion of the relationship between specification and generalisation, in which the latter is positioned not as an end-point but as an informant serving to enlighten understanding and intervention in specific contexts.

My first book: Rethinking Life at the Margins

Rethinking life at the margins_Cover

After two years of intense work with 13 exceptionally talented scholars, my first book is finally out for Routledge! Rethinking Life at the Margins. The Assemblage of Contexts, Subjects and Politics is not a definite statement around marginalisation but an exercise in post-categorical and processual thinking. Beside my theoretical introduction, where I lay out the assemblage-approach that drives my research around the urban margins, the book is packed with in-depth ethnographies of life at the margins from the Global North and the South, the city and the rural, the body and the virtual spaces of the web. I am proud of this book and, most of all, proud of the people that wrote for it.

The book has been positively reviewed by Colin McFarlane and Edgar Pieterse, whom I thank very much for their kind assessments:

This excellent collection brings a new focus to an enduring and vital question: how is urban marginality produced, lived and contested? […] An important contribution to debates on urban life and inequality’ Colin McFarlane, Durham University, UK

‘This impressive volume, with its masterful introduction, is illuminating and essential reading for urbanists determined to rethink and remake the city anew.’ Edgar Pieterse, University of Cape Town, South Africa

To have a look at its content, you can click here. If you want to purchase a copy, please follow this link and insert the code ‘ASHGATE230’ to receive a 50% discount on the hardback price. For anything else, including reviews or queries, feel free to write to me at ml710[at]cam.ac.uk . Finally, here you can download a promotional flier of the book. Enjoy!

Content (running heads): (1) Michele Lancione, The assemblage of life at the margins; (2) Kavita Ramakrishnan, Grand visions fizzle on the margins of Delhi; (3) Francesca Governa and Matteo Puttilli, After a revolution: Tunis; (4) Mark Tirpak, Tasty vehicles: San Antonio; (5) AbdouMaliq Simone, Cities that are just cities; (6) Tawhanga Mary-Legs Nopera, Under heartbeat city’s golden sun; (7) Tatiana Thieme, Hustling and belonging in Nairobi slums; (8) Gaja Maestri, From nomads to squatters in Rome; (9) Jean-Baptiste Lanne, The machine and the poet; (10) Francisco Calafate-Faria, Marginal attachment and countercycling; (11) Eszter Krasznai Kovács, The ‘differentiated countryside’; (12) Elisabetta Rosa, Marginality as resource?; (13) Cheryl Gilge, Citizen participation as microfacism; (14) Darren J. Patrick, Between the Fool and the World.

Book reviews

 

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

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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.

AAG 2016 – The Dark Matter of the Urban

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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 (ml710@cam.ac.uk) and Francisco Calafate-Faria (f.calafate@gold.ac.uk) 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: http://www.aag.org/cs/http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/how_to_submit_an_abstract).

References

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: <http://production.culanth.org/curated_collections/11-infrastructure/discussions/7-infrastructure-commentary-from-filip-de-boeck>.
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, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/. Available at: <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2014.933605>.
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

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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.