New paper in S&CG: The activist mode of existence and creative methods

Illustration by Eleonora Leo Mignoli
Illustration by Eleonora Leo Mignoli

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.

ps: More about the novel at the centre of the analysis can be found at this page (in Italian).

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

home_cover

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.

Eura 2016: Urban Walk at the Margins of Turin

 

Urban Walk Turin

I am very happy to be part of the EURA 2016 conference in my – adoptive – city of Turin! If you are around, here are just some of the exciting things we’re are gonna do in Turin:

  • We will start on Thursday the 16th at 9pm with the presentation of Alex Vasudevan’s book ‘Metropolitan Preoccupations’ with Francesco Chiodelli and Ola Soderstrom as discussant (all info here)
  • Second, there are the two interesting panels that Elisabetta Rosa and myself have organised around ‘Committed positioning. Politics, activism and ethnographic encounters in the contemporary city‘ (one and two)
  • Third, always with Elisabetta, we have organised a very exciting urban walk at the Margins of Turin. Below you can read our brief, while at the following link you can find more info and additional material: Turin and its margins_Urban Walk_EURA 2016;
  • Lastly, on Saturday at 6.30pm we will also present my own edited book, Rethinking Life at the Margins (all info here, at the bottom of the page).

Please feel free to join us for the urban walk, but write to me ahead if you would like to do so!

Turin at the margins: A view from the bridge

Organisers: Michele Lancione and Elisabetta Rosa

Turin’s marginalised spaces and populations are numerous and nuanced. With this urban walk we aim to approach three of these spaces in order to sense their complexity and invite further explorations and reflections. Conscious of the limits of such exercise, and out of respect for the people that perform spaces, our walk will be centered around two/three bridges that – metaphorically and infrastructurally – connects mainstream Turin to its margins. The first bridge is the Passerella Olimpica, where we will hear the story of the refugees that are currently occupying the ex Olympic Village. The second bridge is the Ponte Carparini, in the Porta Palazzo area, where we will discuss about homelessness and services for homeless people in Turin. The third bridge is on the other side of the city, in the Lungo Stura Lazio’s area (Ponte Amedeo VIII, where we will approach the story of the Roma people living on the river’s banks. This walk is connected to the presentation of the book ‘Rethinking Life at the Margins’, which will be launched at the ‘Via Baltea’ centre in the evening.

At the following link you can find more info and additional material: Turin and its margins_Urban Walk_EURA 2016

EURA 2016 in Turin – Committed Positioning and Urban Ethnography

P1010334

Please find below a CFP for the forthcoming EURA conference ‘City lights. ​Cities and citizens within/beyond/notwithstanding the crisis’, Turin (Italy), 16-18 June 2016 (http://www.eura2016.org/).

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele Lancione (ml710@cam.ac.uk) and Elisabetta Rosa (elisabetta.rosa@mmsh.univ-aix.fr) no later than Thursday, 26 November.

A PDF of this CfP can be downloaded here.

Committed Positioning. Politics, activism and ethnographic encounters in the contemporary city.

Michele Lancione, University of Cambridge (ml710@cam.ac.uk)
Elisabetta Rosa, Aix-Marseille University (elisabetta.rosa@mmsh.univ-aix.fr)

We enter the field and have not a clue about the people standing in front of us. We have read about them – the people and spaces we have decided to ‘study’ –, and perhaps we have met them previously, but now things have changed. Set down in the mists of the field, we are now faced with the possibility of encounter: things can go wrong; people may not understand us and we may not understand them, and ethnography may suddenly  cease to be an exciting exploration and turn into a painful and stressful endeavour. In its most basic form, positioning might be understood as the negotiation of this encounter: a fragile process characterised by unbalanced power, criss-crossed by all sorts of ethical implications. But at another, deeper level, positioning is first and foremost about questioning the meaning and relevance of that encounter. Namely: why have we decided to enter the field in the first place? Why have we done it here, with these people and spaces? Why, in other worlds, do we do ethnography and what do we aim to achieve with it?
These questions are anything but a novelty. In geography, they have been discussed for decades by scholars interested in bringing to light the responsibilities, meaning and potential associated with the ethnographic encounter (Caldeira 2009; Cloke et al. 2000; Herbert 2000). Positioning has thus been understood as matter of announcing oneself in the field (McDowell 1992); as a form of reflexivity (Cloke et al. 2000); as a matter of objectivity about the scope and limit of knowledge (Haraway 1988); as aiming to establish ‘constitutive negotiations’ (Rose 1997), and as a way to fictive distinction between ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’ (Butz and Besio 2009). Expanding these lines of thinking, scholars have advocated in favour of an action-oriented form of ethnography (Katz 1994), where the boundaries between activism and academia blur (Routledge 1996), and in favour of a research approach oriented towards the production of radical actions and outputs, through the use of creative methodologies as well (Eshun and Madge, 2012). Our Call for Papers sets out to explore the role of positioning in making ethnography more relevant to the people and spaces it studies. We argue that radical, engaged, meaningful ethnography does not come naturally, but arises out of what we might call a ‘committed’ form of positioning: a relational oeuvre that requires time, involvement and adaptation; that involves stress, joy and a psycho-emotional burden, but that most of all calls for a strong political ethos to fuel the action/research process (Lancione, forthcoming).
We are interested in exploring the link between positionality and urban ethnographic research/activism. We are looking for papers that freely and openly discuss the limits on and opportunities for pursuing political agendas through ethnographic work, questioning the role of positioning in doing so, and recounting (on the basis of first-hand experience as well) the personal difficulties encountered in making urban ethnography matter. We welcome in particular interdisciplinary, creative and non-academic contributions, as well as contributions from under-represented groups. Abstracts should cover one or more of the following points:

  • The intersection between positioning and urban politics
  • The intersection between positioning and activism/research
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – the urban South
  • Theory of positionality in – and from – gender studies
  • Radical urban ethnography – and radical urban ethnographers – today
  • What kind of methodology for what kind of positioning?
  • The physical, emotional and psychological burden of committed positioning
  • Case studies showing details (limits and achievements) of committed positioning

500-word abstracts should include title, keywords, name of the author(s), affiliation and full contact details, and should be sent to both Michele (ml710@cam.ac.uk) and Elisabetta (elisabetta.rosa@mmsh.univ-aix.fr) no later than Thursday, 26 November.

 

New paper in City on Homelessness and Public institutions

The 'Emergenza Freddo' camp in Turin, 2010 (Photo ML)
The ‘Emergenza Freddo’ camp in Turin, 2010 (Photo ML)

City has recently published one of my paper on homelessness, from my 2010 fieldwork in Turin, Italy. The paper can be downloaded here, below is the abstract.

Lancione, M. (2014), Assemblages of care and the analysis of public policies on homelessness in Turin, Italy, City, 18:1, 25-40

This paper investigates the ways urban policies on homelessness are discursively framed and practically enacted in Turin, Italy. The notion of ‘assemblages of care’ is introduced to show how these policies contribute to the constitution of different experiences of homelessness, by means of their discursive blueprints and practical enactments. Relying on 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork, the paper questions four policies. Three of these interventions are found to have negative impacts on homeless people’s emotions and ways of life; the remaining policy, I argue, holds the potential to produce alternative assemblages and more positive engagement with the individuals encountered. The conclusion provides more general critical reflections on urban policy and homelessness.

New Paper: Entanglement of Faith (on Urban Studies)

A new paper of mine is available on Urban Studies (online first). The paper is entitled ‘Entanglements of faith: Discourses, practices of care and homeless people in an Italian City of Saints‘. It is about Faith-Base Organisations in Turin, and the work they do with homeless people. I am particularly fond of this paper: it summarises an important part of the research I did in Turin in 2010. Here is the link to download: http://usj.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/01/08/0042098013514620.abstract

If you can’t access Urban Studies, contact me and I’ll send it to you.

Abstract:

This paper investigates how Catholic-inspired services for homeless people are delivered in Turin, Italy. The purpose is to critically interrogate particular faith-based organisations’ moral discourses on homelessness, and to show how they are enacted through practices of care directed at the homeless subject. The paper contributes to the geographical literature on faith-based organisations addressing its shortcomings – namely the lack of critical and contextual focus on faith-based organisations’ ‘love for the poor’. To address this point, the paper takes a vitalist perspective on the urban and introduces the notion of the ‘entanglements of faith’, which allows an integrated and grounded perspective on faith-based organisations’ interventions. The outcomes of the work suggest that these faith-based organisations propose standardised services that, producing particular assemblages and affective atmospheres, have deep emotional and relational effects on their recipients. Further lines of research are sketched in the conclusions.

Il Futuro del Mondo Passa da Qui

Segnalo l’uscita di un volume+dvd intitolato “Il Futuro del Mondo Passa da Qui”. Si tratta di un insolito esperimento in cui 16 fotografi, 18 autori (tra cui il sottoscritto) e 2 illustratori documentano, rileggono, raccontano… una “periferia” torinese – quella del Lungo Stura/Parco Stura.

Il volume è appena uscito ed è, a mio avviso, un buon esercizio di “geografia sociale” (non posso parlarne male, ci sono dentro anche io!). Allegato al libro c’è un film documentario presentato al Torino Film Festival (2010) e vincitore del Premio Joris Ivens a Cinéma du Réel (Parigi, 2011). A Torino il volume si può acquistare in alcune librerie (Feltrinelli, Comunardi, Trebisonda, Therese…), si può ordinare ovunque, e si può acquistare online (sia su Amazon.it che sul sito del “collettivo”: http://www.ilfuturodelmondopassadaqui.it/). Il racconto breve che ho scritto, se interessati, si può scaricare gratuitamente dal mio sito.

Ne approfitto anche per dire che il mio romanzo sui senza fissa dimora, Il Numero 1, è stato recensito positivamente da “L’indice dei libri del mese” di Dicembre – il libro vive, è là fuori, anche se io galleggio in Oceania. Se avete voglia di aiutarmi a farlo conoscere, proponete qualunque nefandezza: accetterò. Dico sul serio!
Info sul libro, qui: https://www.michelelancione.eu/libri/publishedbooks/ilnumero1/ilnumero1.html (qui la rassegna stampa).

C’est tout!

———- Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution. Check out my website: https://www.michelelancione.eu