In 2003 I visited Romania as an Erasmus student and I got hooked. In particular, I got hooked by the encounter that I had with a community of ‘homeless’ people living in an underground chamber close to the Grozăveşti metro station, in Bucharest. From that moment on I kept on being interested in homelessness and housing precarity, and more specifically in the politics of life at the margins. I kept returning to Bucharest in the following years, to finally find myself again in the city in 2014 – this time with the opportunity to engage with it ethnographically (thanks to the Urban Studies Foundation).
During my time there (2014-2016) I became involved with issues of eviction, race, restitution politics and resistance that brought me to become part of the Common Front for the Right to Housing (FCDL), to fight alongside the Vulturilor 50 community, to produce a documentary film, and to write around the Roma resistance and its uncanny politics (in EPD and Geoforum). That, however, was never meant to be my ‘fieldwork’. The latter took place with drug users and ‘homeless’ people mainly in two distinct places in the city, which have nothing to do with the work I undertook around evictions and resistance. These places are the Alea Livezilor in Ferentari – where I worked with the fundamental help of the NGO Carusel – and the underground tunnels passing below the main train station of the city, Gara de Nord (where I encountered the great work of Massimo Branca, and of people like Dan Popescu and Alina Dumitriu).
It took me a while to start writing about Ferentari and Gara de Nord, mainly because I decided to prioritize the political work done with FCDL in Vulturilor. Now, however, I am going back to it and I am very happy to say that my first paper on the Gara de Nord community is now out in IJURR. This is just the first step of a work that aim to cast a different light on what was going on within that tunnel, before the violent sensationalistic ‘poverty-porn’ of international media lead to its foreclosure.
IJURR has been incredibly supportive, as have been a number of people that I thank in the acknowledgement section of this paper (including Maliq Simone for the inspiring scholarship and friendship, Irina Georgescu, Zamfi Irina and Charlotte Kuhlbrandt for their support in Bucharest, Eleonora Leo Mignoli for the unconditional love). One extra thank to IJURR for making it completely open-source – the paper can be freely downloaded here:
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 urbanism. The 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.
Today Max Daly published his piece on Bucharest’s drug issues on VICE US. Max has focused mainly on the condition of Roma drug users – an entanglement of poverty, lack of fundamental rights and stigmatisation that is second to none.
Max and I have been together in Bucharest in June. I am impressed by its ability to write such a powerful piece only after a few days in the city. Let’s hope that this article, together with a recent one appeared on Drug Link, may raise EU’s attention on the matter, and may allow the excellent people (like these ones) working on harm reduction in Romania to receive adequate funding for their work.