EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Governing urban commons

Location A-402
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Goran Janev (Sts Cyril and Methodius University Skopje) email
Fabio Mattioli (John Jay College of Criminal Justice) email
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Short Abstract

This panel embraces both theoretical and ethnographic papers that engage with the notions of right to the city and similar politically articulated demands for change of the regulation of urban commons and related democratic citizenship entitlements and to alternative practices that points the way.

Long Abstract

The latest wave of protests around the globe has one thing in common - they are urban phenomenon first and foremost. Lefebvre's urban society theory gains traction with each new Tahrir or Puerta del Sol square occupation, with each new Zuccoti or Gezi Park protest. Disappearance of the city and the rise of the urban society are evident with each new urban revolution and the question arises as to what these will lead? Each new protest challenges our economic and political system and questions its capacity to create sustainable communities. The redefinition of our entitlements to urban commons is key for this change. Bringing together, within thus framed analytical scope, the notions of public space and public sphere points towards imminent redefinition of the basic categories of citizenship, democracy and political governance. We also must remain open for noting the spatial practices that reveal the emerging pockets of resistance.

It becomes apparent that neoliberal logic of privatized or state appropriated public space is the main obstacle for successful culmination of citizens' occupations. While our main focus will be on the public space and the sites of resistance we would embrace papers that look at infrastructural, housing and otherwise related demands and alternative practices that challenge the existing regulation of urban commons.

This panel seeks for both theoretical and ethnographic papers that engage with the notions of right to the city and similar politically articulated demands for change of the regulation of urban commons and related democratic citizenship entitlements and to alternative practices that points the way.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Contested commons

Author: Maja Hojer Bruun (Aalborg University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the multiplicity and coexistence of different types of political, moral and legal claims to urban space, including the enactment of commons. The paper discusses two ethnographic cases of contemporary controversies over public space in Danish cities.

Long Abstract

Commons refer not only to material resources and physical space but also to social and cultural values, forms of governance and organization and anything that contributes to the material, social and cultural sustenance of communities, ranging from local communities to nations and global commons. While natural resource commons and commons in rural settings such as indigenous or tribal land and natural parks are well researched, we know very little about urban commons and the communities that produce them. All commons include some people and exclude others, and claims to urban commons usually coexist with other property regimes such as private property, public or state property. Moreover, urban spaces may be claimed as commons by several different communities at the same time and become sites of contested belonging and identification. Thus, urban commons are usually contested urban space.

This paper focuses on the multiplicity and coexistence of different types of political, moral and legal claims to urban space, including the enactment of commons. The paper discusses two ethnographic cases of contemporary controversies over public space in Danish cities: The pulling down of housing blocks and reshaping of a large modernist social housing area that has been declared a ghetto by the Danish government and the current development of the alternative freetown of Christiania that began as squat in 1971 and was bought free from the state by the Christiania Fund in 2012.

Diversity, inter-ethnic relations, trust and 'social cohesion' in urban spaces

Author: Tina Jensen (Danish National Centre for Social Research)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation draws on an ethnographic fieldwork in a mixed social housing estate in Copenhagen, focusing on the interplay between physical places and social relations. It illustrates the complex meaning of diversity, contact and trust that challenge common politicized notions of social cohesion.

Long Abstract

This presentation deals with the politicized notions of trust and social cohesion in urban spaces through a focus on practices of everyday relations in a mixed neighbourhood. With the recent declaration of the death of multiculturalism, public debates have deemed the existence of urban ethnic `diversity´ as a hindrance for trust, inter-ethnic contact and social cohesion. Predominant studies maintain that ethnically diverse neighbourhoods are hunkering down on solidarity, trust, mutual cooperation and friendships, and that diversity has negative effects on social interactions. Yet, other studies claim that mixed neighbourhoods promote inter-ethnic contact. The very meaning and effect of concepts such as `diversity`, `inter-ethnic contact`, `trust´ and `social cohesion´ are, however, often very unclear. Drawing on a fieldwork in a mixed social housing estate in Copenhagen, this presentation explores what meaning neighbourhood relations, e.g., notions of trust, have for residents. The analytical focus of the presentation is on the interplay between physical places and social relations such as physical sorroundings and architecture, sociological factors, network relations and narratives about the place. The presentation shows ethnic differences as relative and a matter of perspective, and illustrates the complex meaning of contact, trust and neighbourhood cohesion. The presentation argues that trust and strong ties - that tend to overemphasize active positive relations and interdependence among people who are alike - may not be the prerequisite for co-existence in neighbourhoods. Instead, `weak ties´ and the micro-politics of everyday contacts predominate inter-ethnic relations.

In this way, these ethnographic findings challenge common discourses on what constitutes social cohesion in urban spaces.

The gifts of the city: an ethnography of networks, politics and redistribution amongst squatters in London

Author: Giovanna Capponi (University of Roehampton)  email

Short Abstract

I will investigate the creative ways in which squatters reclaim the right to the urban space in London. By occupying abandoned buildings, dumpster diving and organising protest actions, radical groups challenge the notion of what is clean, edible, valuable or necessary for the mainstream society.

Long Abstract

Squatting is defined as the occupation of an empty or abandoned building or territory without the consent of the owner. The squatters' activities are often included within the framework of grassroots movements and protest groups, with the aim of replacing national welfare services, regarded as inefficient, with local and self-organised associations based on mutualism and self-determination. In this way, the concept of citizenship is questioned through the formation of free and voluntary cooperation and through the rejection of national authority. My research concerns a few squatted social centres in London and the different community projects they carried out, providing a shelter for homeless people (migrant workers or local families who suffered an eviction) or to the activists themselves, organising talks or communal meals, even restoring a loan service for an occupied library. I also analyse the practice of skipping (the British expression for dumpster diving), meaning the collection of food items (but also other items like clothes, pieces of furniture, etc.) from the bins scatted around the urban area. As a wide-spread practice of food provision amongst squatters, skipping represents a critique of the current system of production and distribution. Making a living out of the neglectfullness and the waste of the economic system, squatters challenge the notion of clean, edible, valuable or private. By doing so, squatting crews create new underground networks based on the exchange of knowledge, legal help, food and resources.

Right angles, vicious circles: state regulation of the urban informality in contemporary South Africa

Authors: Daria Zelenova (Institute for African Studies)  email
Vladislav Kruchinsky (Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The paper investigates the phenomenon of “Temporary Relocation Areas” in Cape Town, the resident’s resistance towards forced removals and argues that even successful campaigns for housing are likely to collapse in the situation where ‘the city’ is being substituted with ‘the ghetto’.

Long Abstract

Temporary Relocation Areas (TRA's) were first established in Cape Town as an attempt to 'normalise' what state perceived as social 'emergencies' - pockets of squatting and perpetration of urban informality throughout the city. This process coincided with the development of a N2-Gateway mega-project, preparations for FIFA 2010 football World Cup and shaping of the neoliberal urban development strategy in Cape Town.

The initial plan was to maintain these areas as a surveilled and controlled spaces which would serve as a temporary 'layovers' for the residents forcibly removed there. It was anticipated that as municipal housing programme unfolds and new housing units become available for the TRA's residents, these zones would be gradually dismantled. However, the situation on the ground proved that this technocratic approach led to the situation where 'emergency', which existed only in state-maintained discourses employed to justify evictions and creation of the TRA's, materialised into an actual state-maintained disaster.

Besides, the districts where the state offers housing for the evictees can be classified as ghettos, which further complicates overcoming of the marginality for their inhabitants and essentially places them in a vicious circle of ongoing and deepening marginalisation.

Based on the methods of participant observation, interviews with the officials and in-depth interviews and focus-groups with the residents of TRA's and Southern Delft, the paper compares 'successful' and 'unrealised' direct-action based campaigns for the right to the city employing the case studies of Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers community and Delft South community.

"The figures are flourishing while the people are dying": currency, commons and aspirations in Volos, Greece

Author: Andreas Streinzer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The TEM network in Volos, Greece, operates a complementary currency to cope with the effects of crisis and austerity. The paper engages with the constant struggles to navigate towards their heterotopia of a currency as commons. The paper is based on exploratory fieldwork for a PhD thesis.

Long Abstract

In Volos, Greece, a heterogeneous coalition of activists are operating the TEM complementary currency scheme as resistant practice to policies of austerity and neoliberalism. Around 800 members, from individuals to businesses and the city council, use the TEM as means of payment for services provided by other members. The network runs a market, an office and several other activities including housing for homeless and refugees as well as an associated cultural centre in a squat. Their resistant spatial and economic practices center on the organisers' aspiration for a future that values solidarity, horizontal organisations and spaces of fear turned into spaces of hope (Harvey 2000).

As resistance to austerity policies, understood as an income generation game for economic elites, the TEM members are renegotiating currency as commons - issued and used by the members of the network. The paper will engage theoretically with the question of currency as commons as well as ethnographically with the struggles of the TEM network to create a sustainable and nonexploitative community. Through the operation of the currency scheme, issues of financialisation, discrimination and the politics of capacities are materialised and subject to debate. The paper will argue for understanding currencies as values in practice and discuss the coalitions of the network as a way of navigating towards the heterotopia of an alternative means of exchange challenging the existing economical regime. The paper is based on exploratory fieldwork and interviews for a PhD thesis.

Defending the commons and acting for the 'public good' in a Chinese urbanized village

Author: Anne-Christine Trémon (Université de Lausanne)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how the public good is defined in a former village that has recently become part of Shenzhen city. It focuses more particularly on mobilizations initiated by the community to defend commons that were threatened by government plans in the process of urbanization.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on notions of the public good and public goods provisioning in a Chinese village-in-the-city. In China, many rural villages have become engulfed by expanding cities and host large numbers of temporary migrant workers. Collectives are still in control of the real estate income drawn from their collective land and as a legacy of a long-standing urban/rural divide, they are also in charge of the delivery of public goods - welfare and public services. The level of public-goods is therefore often very low, and is generally restricted to village natives, excluding migrants. The literature on villages-in-the-city often depicts them as victims of the absence or low involvement of the state in ensuring proper public good provisioning. Here I look at how the public good is defined in a former village that has recently become part of Shenzhen city. Its native inhabitants form a closely-knit community almost entirely constituted of same-lineage members. The notion of gongyi shiye (public good) is commonly used in reference to projects that contribute to the community's welfare and prosperity. I examine two collective mobilisations that were initiated locally to counter decisions made at higher levels of government in the process of urbanization. These decisions threatened the existence of two of the community's commons - the founding ancestor's gravesite, and the elementary school. I reflect on the uses and understandings of the notion of the "public good" and what it reveals about the particular ways in which the newly urbanized members of the community claim a "right to the city".

A Candomblé politics of visibility: marching for religious tolerance and state recognition

Author: Elina Hartikainen (University of Chicago)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I examine public protest marches organized by practitioners of the African diasporic religion Candomblé in Salvador, Brazil in 2008-2010. I explore how these marches were informed by a religious politics of visibility that sought to bring state recognition for Candomblé practitioners.

Long Abstract

Over the past ten years, a growing number of practitioners of the African diasporic religion Candomblé have taken to the streets of Salvador, Brazil to protest Neo-Pentecostal discrimination and attacks against the religion. These protest marches are explicitly framed as efforts to draw the general public's attention to the gravity and prevalence of Neo-Pentecostal religious intolerance in the city. However, they are also understood by practitioners to provide a means for gaining broader state recognition and support for practitioners of African diasporic religions. At their core these efforts are motivated by a particular understanding of the political effects of public visibility that envisions visibility as both a means and a prerequisite for state recognition and that conversely associates invisibility with political neglect and discrimination, but also civic passivity. In this paper I turn a critical eye on how this understanding of the relationship between visibility and state recognition informed Candomblé marches organized in Salvador, Brazil in 2008-2010. Specifically, I examine how organizers of Candomblé marches worked to respond to and insert Candomblé practitioners in the rubrics of recognition employed by the Brazilian state by bringing thousands of religious practitioners to Salvador's main public streets and thoroughfares in protest against religious intolerance, and how their efforts, in turn, affected and, ultimately, reconfigured the religious self-understandings of practitioners.

Çapulcu ("looter"): an ungovernable figure of the urban commons in Istanbul

Author: Jeremy Walton (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes the çapulcu (‘looter’)—the carnivalesque identity that united the Istanbul Gezi Park protestors—as a figure of the urban commons in Turkey. It argues that the çapulcu constitutes a dilemma of governance in relation to both state sovereignty and neoliberal governmentality.

Long Abstract

In the wake of the Taksim Square-Gezi Park Demonstrations, which rocked and riveted Turkey in summer 2013, two competing interpretations of the protests rapidly emerged. Were the Gezi demonstrations an unprecedented outpouring of public, liberal dissent, aimed both at the draconian pronouncements of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and at the pervasive illiberality of Turkish state and political culture more generally? Or, on the other hand, were the protests principally the reactionary spasms of a crumbling elite, previously favored by the illiberal state, that has witnessed its privileges and prerogatives erode in the context of a new Turkish political culture? In this essay, I pursue a reading of the Gezi Demonstrations that mediates between, and thereby avoids, these two opposed interpretations. Based on both an analysis of formal and informal mass media surrounding the Gezi Protests and a series of brief ethnographic interviews conducted in between June 2013 and April 2014, I pursue one particularly vivid aspect the Gezi Park Demonstrations: the carnivalesque figure of the "çapulcu" (roughly translatable as "looter"), which protestors seized upon as a comprehensive identity uniting their various commitments and aims. By tracing radical aesthetics and politics of the urban commons in Istanbul that the çapulcu champions, I argue that the Gezi Protests represent a dilemma of governance for both assertions of Turkish state sovereignty and more recent, neoliberal modes of governmentality rooted in the tolerance and coordination of social and cultural differences.

Acting-out subjectivities: two scenes of the history of politicization in Madrid

Author: Romina Magdalena Colombo (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED))  email

Short Abstract

The paper aims to analyze two cases of emergence of neighborhood assemblies in Madrid, inscribing them in a certain social history of politicization, so to resignify them as commoning struggle episodes and interpret their praxis loci as a result of the topological dimension of the right to the city.

Long Abstract

Our starting point is the comparative-historical analysis of two scenes of politicization taken from the recent history of Madrid: the emergence of neighborhood assemblies in the poor periphery during the 1970s and as a part of the 15-M mobilizations during 2011, both in conjunctions of depoliticized citizenship and strict state administration of scarcity conditions (inexistence or dismantling of public rights infrastructures).

The specificity of the politicization process represented by these milestones is condensed in three traits, namely: (i) it is existential, since it doesn't appeal to consciousness (such as class belonging) but to subsistence (e.g. bread or house price); (ii) it is collective, for it allows to constitute a certain political community around a determinate system of satisfaction of needs (i.e. space-time structures of everyday life); and (iii) it is urban.

An analysis of traits (i) and (ii) will enable us to use the notion of common in its theoretical fertility, thanks to which a neighborhood assembly might be conceived as a commoning practice, hence related to the defense of a certain moral (ergo emancipatory) economy. A subsequent reflection on trait (iii) will lead us to the deep semantics of the right to the city, in a hardly thematized aspect: interpreting the neighborhood topoi or common(ized) places as public spaces sanctioned as such (for instance, public) by means of an appropriation through bodily practices, we will reflect on the topological dimension of the right to the city as a territorialization strategy of political subjectivities in-act.

The maidan stand: reclaiming the rights and governing the commons

Authors: Svitlana Shlipchenko (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy)  email
Igor Tyshchenko (National university of "Kyiv-Mohyla academy")  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyzes maidan in Kyiv as a self-managed civic body living a life of its own in the very center of the city. Through several situated group-identities we look at the ways the city inhabitants have organized themselves to reclaim their basic rights and to govern the urban commons.

Long Abstract

Initially, Euromaidan that started on Independence Square on Nov 21, 2013 in Kyiv was intended to be a peaceful protest. But on Nov 30, after the riot police detained dozens of protesters in a violent crackdown it has become mass-scale and open-ended. After 22 Jan 2014, when two protesters were killed during clashes with police, protests spread across the country.

Having become a metaphor, maidan in Kyiv celebrates its rebellious character and appears to be not just a protest, but a self-managed civic body with its everyday routines, toponyms and spatial practices living a life of its own in the very center of the city. Through several situated 'group-identities' (e.g. self-defense/ maidan-guards, kitchen aid, doctors-volunteers, automobile-maidan, and volunteers of the hospital-watch) we look at the ways the protesters have organized themselves to reclaim their basic rights and to govern the urban commons. The special interest presents the mapping of 'Euromaidan' as a spatial configuration that occupies certain space and interacts with the rest of the city (segregated and sometimes even hostile to its inhabitants) on the principles of a military camp; we also intend to analyze the practices of occupying public/administrative buildings and manning the barricades that refer to the practices of urban revolutions, the ones the city did not experience in previous times. In all its complexity, Euromaidan could be grasped as a metaphor of civility, as reclaiming the public life in a city, thus turning segregated and commercialized spaces into inclusive public ones.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.