I was recently generously invited by FEANTSA and the European Observatory on Homelessness to deliver one of the keynotes at the 12th European Research Conference on Homelessness, under the theme ‘Changing Profiles of Homelessness: Implications for Services’. The conference took place at the University of Barcelona, on the 22nd of September 2017.
My intervention was entitled ‘Beyond Homelessness Studies: Thoughts and Actions‘. Expanding upon a paper written for the 10th year anniversary of the European Journal of Homelessness (click here to download it), in the keynote I proposed a reflection around the epistemology of homelessness research, asking if and how what we do is relevant and for whom. After illustrating some of the limitations of contemporary scholarship, I made a case for a more radical approach to homelessness studies based on five tenets: interdisciplinarity; ethnography; activism; creativity; and autonomy. Each one of these points was illustrated with examples taken from the current international literature as well as from my researches around homelessness in Italy, Romania and the UK. The aim of this keynote is to inspire a new radical scholarship that encompasses the regiments of what we currently know as ‘homelessness studies’, to meaningfully respond to – and engage with – homelessness in Europe and elsewhere.
I am very happy to be part of this exciting forum around micro politics and the minor, which builds on Cindi Katz’s 1996 ‘Towards Minor Theory‘ published in EPD: Society and Space. The forum was organised by two friends at Oxford, Thomas Jellis and Joe Gerlach, with contributions from Anna Secor and Jess Linz; Cristina Temenos; Caroline Faria; Andrew Barry; Ben Anderson and an inspiring conclusion by Cindi Katz.
My intervention is a short reflection around the (un)making of ethics at the intersection of ethnography and activism at the urban margins. It is related to my work in Romania with evicted people, of which I published here (and made a documentary called ‘A inceput ploaia/It started raining‘).
Housing Studies has published a paper that I have co-authored with two Italian colleagues, Alice Stefanizzi and Marta Gaboardi. The paper is entitled: ‘Passive adaptation or active engagement? The challenges of Housing First internationally and in the Italian case.’ In it we offer a critical overview of a peculiar homelessness policy, Housing First, which is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and the UK. We approach Housing First investigating its international success — as a case of policy mobility — and we illustrate the challenges of its implementation in contexts beyond the US. Having being involved, at different phases, with the Network Housing First Italia, we take the Italian case as an example to illustrate these challenges in details. We hope that this paper will contribute to the already existent — although rather minoritarian — critical approach to Housing First (which, to be clear, does not reject the policy but it argues for a non-superficial implementation).
In recent years, a peculiar homelessness policy that goes under the name of ‘Housing First’ has become increasingly popular all over the world. Epitomising a quintessential case of policy-mobility, Housing First can today be considered an heterogeneous assemblage of experiences and approaches that sometimes have little in common with each other. Introducing and commenting upon this heterogeneity, the paper critically analyses why and how Housing First has become a planetary success and what are the issues at stake with its widespread implementation. If recent scholarship published in this journal has granted us a fine understanding of Housing First’s functioning in the US, this paper offers something currently absent from the debate: a nuanced and critical understanding of the ambiguities related to the international success of this policy, with specific references to the challenges associated to its translation in the Italian case.
A început ploaia is the first documentary about forced evictions in Bucharest, which I written, researched and directed after two years of ethnographic fieldwork, activism and engagement with evicted people in the city.
The film follows the story of the Vulturilor 50 community (100 individuals), whom dwelt on the street of Bucharest from September 2014 to June 2016 in order to fight against the eviction from their home, enacting the longest and most visible protest for housing right in the history of contemporary Romania. The vicissitudes of this community are interpolated with a number of interviews with activists, scholars and politicians, composing a picture that speaks of racial discrimination, homelessness, evictions, but also of grassroots practices of resistance and social change. A început ploaia is the touching testament to the everyday revolution of Roma people fighting forced evictions from the centre of Bucharest, an endeavour made of fragile dwellings, provisional makeshifts and tenuous – but fierce – occupancy of public space.
Social and Cultural Geography has recently published a paper that took me many years to write and to think upon — it is called The ethnographic novel as activist mode of existence: translating the field with homeless people and beyond. The paper is about the way in which I ‘translated’ my fieldwork with homeless people in Turin into something more powerful than ‘bare’ academic research — namely, a composite book called ‘Il numero 1’ made of a full-length ethnographic novel, a participant introduction, 21 illustration by Eleonora Mignoli and a political essay at the end. The book was oriented toward an activist interventions that I call, following Latour, ‘mode of existence’: a way of doing and living research that exceeds the boundaries of canonical forms of knowledge production and engagement.
I hope this paper will inspire people to experiment with creative methodologies in ways able to de-centre ourselves (as researcher) and re-centre the meaning of what we do in empowering ways. The abstract is below and the paper can be downloaded on S&CG’s website or, for free, on this website or on Academia.edu.
The ethnographic novel as activist mode of existence: translating the field with homeless people and beyond
The paper argues in favor of creative methodologies as tool for relevant academic praxis. It provides the analysis of a concrete case in which a non-academic text – a composite book made of a participant’s introduction, an ethnographic novel, 21 graphic illustrations and a political essay – allowed for a meaningful re-appropriation of a fieldwork with homeless people in Italy. Such re-appropriation is understood and theorized as a research-activist ‘mode of existence’, namely as a way to use creative methodologies to pursue active and emancipatory engagement with vulnerable groups. The paper analyses this ‘mode of existence’ as a process made of several ‘translations’, or orientation toward the same interests, and it clearly shows the role of non-human agencies in their unfolding. Through its more-than-human narrative, the paper provided an innovative contribution to debates on research-activism and a new reflection on how to engage meaningfully with vulnerable groups. The conclusion highlights areas of improvement to further strengthen the activist-research mode of existence presented in the paper.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow, 23 February 2016, I will deliver two seminars at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol (2pm and 4pm, Seminar room 1). The first will be a PhDs’ workshop on ‘committed positioning’ and ethnography at the urban margins (you can download the presentation here). The second will be a departmental talk around my recent ethnographic work with drug users and homeless people in the underground canals of Bucharest (details are here).
These talks are possible thanks to the generous support of the School of Geographical Sciences. Particular thanks go to Giuseppe Carta and Andrew Lapworth for the original invitation and the organisation of the event.
I have been kindly invited in Berlin, at Humboldt University, to comment upon an ethnographic research project titled “The Production of Chronicity in Mental Healthcare and Research in Berlin” (2010-2016, funded by the German Research Foundation DFG). The discussion will take place in a workshop organised by Milena Bister, Martina Klausner and Jörg Niewöhner, on the 20th of November, from 9.30 to 18, at the Laboratory of Social Anthropology of Science and Technology, Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-University of Berlin. More info can be found here.
I very much look forward to the workshop – the research that Milena and Martina have done is great and teaches us a lot about chronicity, institutionalisation and the production of subjectivity. All welcome!
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.