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:
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.
The first workshop of the Antipode Scholar-Activists Award managed by Michele Lancione (UI) together with Nicoleta Vișan, Carolina Vozian, Ioana Florea, Erin Mc ElRoy and Veda Popovici (members of the Bucharest-based grassroots organisation FCDL, of which Michele is also part) took place in Cluj-Napoca on the 15th of November. The project supported by the Antipode Foundation aims at producing a grassroots diary and guide (in Romanian and English) to inspire resistance and organising in Roma communities facing forced evictions in Eastern Europe and beyond. This project is a continuation of a number of other FCDL interventions, including the online diary of the Vulturilor community (who fought for their right to housing in between 2014-16, www.jurnaldinvulturilor50.org) and the first documentary around housing restitution and related displacements in Bucharest (www.ainceputploaia.com). It also expands upon some activities and campaigns that FCDL has been organising in several Romanian cities (thanks to a broader alliance called BLOC) and Europe (with the Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City).
The workshop saw the participation of a number of activists coming from several Romanian cities, belonging to different grassroots groups including FCDL, E-romnja, the BLOC and Căși sociale ACUM!. The objective of this first meeting was to establish a clear plan regarding the writing of the ‘guide’ that will complete the book alongside the historical introduction on restitutions/evictions and Nicoleta’s extended diary. Participants discussed the need to have a guide that will speak about evictions and strategies of resistance to different constituencies. After a number of ideas and experiences were circulated and discussed, an agreement was reached and a plan for action established. The guide will contain three main parts: one with hands-on strategies of resistance targeted to evictees according to a number of housing and displacement typologies; another for activists; and a third for journalists that would like to write about evictions without reproducing stereotypical discourses. The material will be based on the knowledge and experiences accumulated by FCDL and cognate groups in the past years of direct action and radical thinking.
Beyond the guide, the printed book will be based around Nicoleta’s extended diary of struggle and resistance against eviction, contextualised through the intersectional history of housing struggles in the country. Carolina and Nicoleta already started their work on the diary and some excerpts were discussed at the meeting. All the participants were extremely excited by the quality and power of Nicoleta’s writing, which will prove for an excellent read for activists and communities facing housing displacement in and beyond Romania. At the meeting it was also agreed that Veda will write a first draft of the book introduction and that other members of the team (Michele, Ioana, Erin and other members of FCDL) will tackle the remaining tasks, including commenting on drafts, proofreading, liaising with publishers and translating the book into English (which will then pitched to an international publisher).
The team working on the book is planning to have the printed Romanian version by summer 2019. The volume will be used in workshops with communities facing evictions in Romania and Europe. The project goal is to increase the level of politicisation and awareness of racially dispossessed Roma communities, thereby enabling future resistance against displacement.
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.
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‘).
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.
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.
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.
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.