It was a powerful exchange, which I hope it is going to be just the start of a series of collaborations and common fights. These spaces of encounter are possible only via mixing academic and activist work in ways that are not dictated by the scholars involved, but are aligned with the grassroot politics at play in the context of action.
I am happy to be part of the Festival della Participazione, a long-standing festival concerned with civic participation, critical readings of democracy and public debate. The festival takes place each year in L’Aquila, not far from Rome, where the Gran Sasso Science Institute, with its excellent Urban Studies Faculty, is located.
On Saturday 13/10 I’ll discuss #eviction #housing #resistance with a number of excellent Italian colleagues, including Francesco Chiodelli, Margherita Zippata and Alessandro Coppola. The debate will start off from the projection of my documentary film around evictions and the fight for the right to housing in Bucharest, A inceput ploaia/It started raining. The film is available for free at www.ainceputploaia.com
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.
Several activist groups and communities concerned with the right to housing in Italy have organised screening of my documentary A inceput ploaia/It started raining in the peninsula. One of the aim of this film is precisely that of being used as a ‘excuse’ to allow for genuine discussion around eviction, displacement and the fight for the right to housing to take place in various locales across Europe. After similar screenings in Romania, Hungary, Croatia, the UK, Austria and more, I am particularly happy that this is happening, now also in my native country. From the 15 to the 19 of January 2018, screenings will take place in Rome (two times), Naples, Florence, and more will be organised in Milan and Turin.
16th January, Rome – From 6pm at the Squat Metropoliz
Starting from 6pm, we will meet at the squat Metropoliz (which host also the self-managed MAAM). After an aperitivo we will screen the film for the inhabitants of the squat, and in particular for the Roma people living in there (who moved there after having being evicted from a Roma camp some years ago). The idea is to stimulate a debate around the living conditions of Roma people in Rome but also to allow for the Roma of Metropoliz to express their sentiments about the occupation and other political strategies of resistance.
Thanks to my friend and excellent photographer Valerio Muscella for organising the event.
17th January, Rome – From 9pm at the Cultural Centre Apollo Undici (via Bixio, 80/A) (Info on Facebook)
Always in Rome, this time at the ‘Centro aggregativo’ and cultural centre Apollo Undici, for a screening that will be followed by a debate featuring the most active, grassroots, voices fighting for housing in the Italian capital. Thanks to the organising efforts of Sandra Annunziata, of EtiCity, a number of incredibly interesting people will take part to the discussion following the film. These includes: the evicted inhabitants of via Curtatone, activists for the ‘Coordinamento di Lotta per la Casa, activists of Action and of Spin Time, representatives from the Sportello di Lotta per la Casa of Magliana, of the anti-eviction network, and of the ‘Comitato Abitanti Milano Sansiro e Asia Milano’.
Thanks to Sandra Annunziata for the organisation, to Giacomo Ravesi for allowing this to happen in the spaces of the Apollo, and to my friend Claudia Meschiari for her original idea and continous support.
18th January, Florence – from 6pm at Complesso le Murate (via dell’Agnolo)
This will be a screening and a debate organised for PhD students, focused on participatory visual methods. Giovanni Attili (who worked extensively on visual and participatory methods with Leonie Sandercock) will act as discussant.
Thanks to Francesco Chiodelli and the GSSI for the invitation and sponsorship.
19th January, Naples – From 1pm in Scampia and then screening and debate from 6pm at the Ex Asilo Filangieri (Info on Facebook)
This time in Naples, one of my favourite city par excellence, for a full day of talks, debates, screening and food. The screening has been organised at a time of political tension in the city in relation to the housing need of its Roma people. In particular, the aim of this screening is to boost the debate around the conditions of two communities or Roma living in the areas of Scampia and Gianturco. The first, in particular, have faced evictions and relocations, and are now living in very precarious conditions (like many other Roma in the city). To the full day of activities – including a walk in Scampia, meetings with the community and a large debate in the evening – have been invited key figures of this struggle, from local activist to representatives of the affected communities. Below the detailed flier of the event.
Huge thanks to Emiliano Esposito (GSSI) for the idea and effort, to Emma Ferulano for the excellent organisation, to Fabio Amato and to all the other friends from Naples for the energy, time and effort put into this event.
As part of a European campaign promoted by the European Action Coalition aimed at raising awareness around the financialisation of housing, the Frontul Comun Pentru Drept la Locuire (of which I am part) has organised two days of activities on the 5th and 6th of October in Bucharest, Romania. These includes the launch of a national coalition for the right to housing and the city (on the 5th) as well as a public protest (on the 6th) and a three-hours workshop that I will run (always on the 6th).
The workshop is entitled ‘Visual Ethnography for Radical Action‘. In it, I will critically illustrate the making of ‘A inceput ploaia‘, a 72 minutes documentary around the fight for housing in Bucharest, in order to provide an introduction to the use of visual ethnography as a tool for radical action. In the first part of the workshop, issues of positionality, methodology and co-production of knowledge will be illustrated and discussed. In the second part, I will offer an overview of the main challenges associated with visual anthropology, both theoretically and practically. Groups will be organised and participants will be asked to perform a series of exercises around the making of visual analysis and the production of alternative visual representation of marginalised groups. Lastly, the third part of the workshop will consist in group works revolving around the opportunities of visual methods as a tool for radical action in Bucharest and elsewhere in Romania.
To take part in it, please send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clicking on the image below you can download a flyer summarising the content of this workshop. All welcome!
Tomorrow I will be at the School of Urban Studies and Planning, The University of Sheffield (RJ Room Geography and Urban Studies Building – 17.00 – 18.30). I will deliver a seminar around my work with evicted people in Bucharest, Romania, and I will also spend some time talking about the role of visual ethnography in pursuing research-activist goals.
‘Eviction, Enactment and Entanglement: ‘Inertia Creep’ and Committed Positioning at the Urban Margins.’
The paper investigates the case of 100 Roma people evicted from their homes in early September 2014, near the centre of Bucharest, Romania. Soon after the eviction, a wide range of NGOs and grass-roots activists (including the author) mobilised to support them. Their effort included assistance in building provisional shelters on the near-by side-walks, where families and individuals eventually dwell for more than one year in order to demonstrate their dissent. Following the unfolding of this story, and via the presentation of extensive visual-ethnographic material, the paper provides a unique account of the interplay between eviction (from one’s own house), enactment (of a prolonged protest in public space) and entanglement (with the everyday doing of homelessness). The major contribution of this work consists in showing and analysing the role played by an apparently irrelevant power — inertia — in determining the logic of eviction; in moulding the everyday doing of entanglement; and, consequentially, in affecting the political capacities enacted in the protest.
The paper in this sense contributes to academic and non-academic debates on occupation, displacement and urban activism, with the aim to strengthen our capacity to imagine alternative strategies of resistance. Moreover, offering some evidence from other ethnographic work carried by the author, the presentation will also reflects upon the intersection between academia and activism arguing in favour of a ‘committed’ form of positioning.
Open Democracy has published the piece I wrote on Eviction and Housing Racism in Bucharest. The piece narrates the story of the Vulturilor community, which has been living on the street since 1 year following their eviction on the 15th of September 2014.
Great AAG this year in Chicago. Lots of people, stimulating talks and activities – all settled in the Windy City, which indeed is quite windy, but most of all urban: of skyscraper, tiny alley, fat large American buses, rust & rails – because it’s the elevated train that delivers it all.
At the conference I had the pleasure to act as discussant in two sessions – one around assemblage and power, the other around homelessness – and to take part to a panel organised by Joe Gerlach and Thomas Jellis (University of Oxford) on Micropolitics and the Minor (which included Cindi Katz, Kathryn Yusoff, Ben Anderson and Andrew Barry). Most importantly, I got the opportunity to present some provisional thoughts around the 8 months ethnography I undertook in Bucharest, Romania, around eviction and homelessness. The reason of this post if precisely to share that presentation – the PDF (which excludes videos) can be downloaded here. Below the title and abstract of my talk. A big thank you to Alex Jeffrey, Colin McFarlane and Alexander Vasudevan for having organised two great sessions on Political Enactment!
Inertia creeps. Micro-politics of eviction, enactment, entanglement
The paper investigates the case of 100 Roma people evicted from their homes in early September 2014, near the centre of Bucharest, Romania. Soon after the eviction, a wide range of NGOs and grass-roots activists mobilised to support them. Their effort included assistance in building provisional shelters on the near-by side-walks, where families and individuals eventually started to dwell in order to demonstrate their dissent. Through the presentation of video-ethnographic material, the paper unfolds the micro-politics of three interwoven movements characterising this story. First, there is the molar afflatus of eviction, which violently deterritorialised the life of the evicted via acting in the name of the law. Second, NGOs and activists enacted a provisional social machinery of help, learning on a case-by-case basis how to deal with the unfolding of the protest. Third, while living on the street the evicted people entangled with the urban mechanosphere, being subjected to its materialities and atmospheres – a process that affected their bodily and affective performances. The paper pays particular attention at how desire, as a productive force articulating the micro-politics of the case, moulted in the assemblage of these movements. After the initial violent deterritorialisation and the outburst of protest, desire gradually entered into a phase of inertia, being codified under the spell of a ‘normalised’ status of emergency. The paper spells out the risks associated with such inertia showing its inherently reactionary nature, and argues for the importance of grass-roots activism in keeping desire away from its normalisation.
I am in Bucuresti since one month and a half. I live in a very depressing block, in the souther periphery of the city, full of cockroaches and with water available at random times. But I like it: there is a 24h Covrigarie not far, a 24h magazin (where I buy beers and cigarettes), and a nice market called ‘Piata Agroalimentara Progresului’. That market is the reason why I have decided to live in this area. I keep on telling myself that the reason for such a choice was related to my research, which is supposedly taking place not far from here, in Ferentari. But the true is that I liked that market too much, the first time I saw it. It is about progress. It is about food. It is about concrete and potatoes and varza and beer – it has its own aesthetics, which I love.
Speaking of love, I decided to come back to Romania for research because 10 years ago, when I did my Erasmus in Bucuresti, I encountered poverty. Real poverty. People living underground. Kids and Aurolac. Students living in blocks without current water, random electricity. People eating once a day to save money, despite what one could say about cultural differences. Orphanages of which I do not want to speak. And so on.
So I came back. And I found expensive cars in the city centre, a ‘centrul vechi’ full of bars and pubs and stuff, no more kids in the streets, and some general improvements in the infrastructure of the city. But it did not take much time for Bucuresti to show me its real face. A face made of people working – in the social sector – for free, of people without work, of people that still eat once a day (still not for cultural reasons). But one could say that I am exasperating things, that I am prone to describe more the half part of the glass than the full one, that Romania, and Bucuresti in particular, are not so bad. Of course they are not. Romania, as one of the candidate for the next presidential election states, is Lucruilui bine facut (a job well done). Perhaps.
I am turning my body to a place where I have been for the first time 5 weeks ago. This is close to the city centre, close to Piata Unirii and the Palace of People. It’s a street, called Vulturilor. Here since 5 weeks there are 20 families, which sum up to more than 70 people, living on the side-walks in front of what was used to be their house. These people have been evicted – legally so – and are now protesting since more than one month in order to get a place where to stay. (A full account of the story can be found, in English, here). Besides the technicalities of the process, what is interesting to me is precisely this word: eviction. Eviction comes from evice, to overcome, to conquer. Its violence is astonishing. It is about ripping off. It is about opening: bodies and walls. Histories and souls. Postcards, fridges, shoes, hats, underpants, pictures, tables and matresses: all expelled from the home, the relational home, the loved home, the space-cum-memories-cum-afflatus of joy and tears-cum-copii – from the home, to the street. It is about eradicating weeds from the field, where the field obliviously is the one you know – private accumulation. So people have been evicted. But these are not common people. These are angry Roma people. The reasons why they should be angry by default encompass what I could possibly grasp and write in a life, and it does not matter here. What matters is that they were (and are) angry, and that they were joined in their protest by some other people, a strange cohort of beings that do not fit in the aforementioned field as well. There is Carusel, a penniless NGO that does so many amazing things that I have not the strength (and enough Palinka) to enumerate now. It suffices to say that in Vulturilor they keep people going on, for good. They built tents, they provide food (with the help of another cohort of amazing volunteers), they bring clothes, medical help, but most of all they provide moral support, constantly, day by day, night by night. Praise to them – later on it will become clearer why. Besides them, there is theFrontul comun pentru dreptul la locuire– a name, a revolution. Another bunch of amazing people. They take care, with others, of the legal framework and try to find all sorts of alternative solutions to the street – always putting the wishes and the needs of the people first. One of them does this particularly well. She goes there every night. Talk to people. Listen to people. Gets angry with people. Amazing stuff.
So… All good, one could say. People protest. Other people help. All good. It could be so if one forgets about the most important element of the equation, a thing ceaselessly diminished by the current neo-liberal machine. Namely: the public. The public in this story has three facets. First, there is the idea that an eviction can be legal. What is legal and what is not – it should be clear – it is defined by the public and it’s public matter. So, if an eviction could be legal – and I use a language appropriate for a Cambridge’s scholar here – the public is fucked up. (Why? Eviction, from evice, to overcome, to conquer, to police, to beat, to throw everything you have out. A public that accept such violence is, by definition, not public any more). Second. Public is the space these people now occupy – both at the level of the street and at the level of media portrait. On the street, they do what Roma people do. They are noisy and loud and stuff, and I like this. Moreover, their are gradually becoming homeless, a process of subject-formation that passes through the cold substance of the rained pavement, the lack of sanitary facilities, the exposure to elements and to the rusty identity of the street. This is the public space – in the literal sense – of a trauma that the media are ignoring. So at the level of the media portrait the public discourse is reproducing the same old narrative, which serve the apparatuses of control: they are wrong, they are dirty, different, bad, lazy, and so on and so forth. Both at the level of the street and at the level of the media we have therefore two public issues: one is the trauma of bodies displaced like things, the other is the the waste of public money, time, and resources given to journalist that cannot tell the difference between a story and a reproduction of a pitiful paradigm.
The last forgotten public bit of this story is politics. I want to be clear here. These people have been evicted in September 2014. The property was sold to the foreign ‘investor’ in 2009. Where was the public-as-politic in-between? The public knew, or should have known, that the eviction was coming. If evictions, in our deranged society, are legal, it should not be legal to do not provide a solution for the evicted people – to do not find anything (social housing, substantial renting help, monetary compensation, etc) in five years! Where was the public-politic in-between? I want Ponta, the current Prime Minister running for presidency under the slogan ‘Presedintele care uneste’ to reply (and if he will reply, I ask him to do not plagiarize his answer from someone else). I want the major of this city to reply. The major of the sector. I want the media to report and reply. (But I do not expect Iohannis, the candidate running for presidency with the idiot slogan I grabbed for this post, to even understand these questions). Of course, nobody will ever reply. But the good news is: the people are still out there. Protesting, posing questions, demanding answers.
This is why the Vulturilor protest is a public matter: it is an awakening slap on each one’s face. And I insist so much on this terminology, the public, because this is what I have learned in the past five weeks on the street: the protest is affirmative micro-politics, the only afflatus that could bring our minoritatian mode-of-being to the fore, to the re-appropriation of shared means, resources, and knowledge. The public, again. What the Vulturilor’s families are doing is great. Because it speaks truth to power: it tells us, all of us, that being marginalised is not a pathology. It is just normality under abnormal conditions. A condition that can change – also in this hard, snowy, lazy, and a little bit bitchy, Bucuresti.