EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Urban space under (re)construction: affective and economic geographies under rapid social change

Location S-236
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Ingo Schröder (University of Marburg) email
Vaiva Aglinskas (CUNY Graduate Center) email
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Short Abstract

The panel will explore anthropological engagements with processes of neoliberalization and civic engagement in the city between the political and the intimate.

Long Abstract

Eastern Europe has been cited as a poster case for the establishment of neoliberal regimes of economy and politics which can be observed all across the globe. Especially cities are seen as laboratories of rapid transformations of various kinds. The neoliberalizing cities of Eastern Europe provide a fertile ground for anthropological approaches to change, in terms of state pullback/ intervention, austerity politics vis-à-vis the takeover of people's living space by market liberalism, but also the emergence of various forms of resistance centered on claims to space. Theoretical and practical anthropological engagements with the formation of new spatial regimes highlight processes of civic engagement between the political and the intimate, as well as the reconfiguration of a sense of place as part of a politics of space.

The panel aims to explore the urban as a contested space between hegemonic strategies of political and economic elites, on the one side, and local actors' ideas and practices, on the other. It wants to question the simplistic dichotomy of neoliberalism/resistance by diagramming concrete projects and political configurations that may reveal a more nuanced understanding of the processes and actors involved,

Contributions are invited on topics that address practices and logics of spatialization; cultural intimacy and sense of place; urban space as key arena of a state's "public life" (Navaro-Yashin); fragmentation, inequality, and gentrification; the right to the city/housing activism; emerging alternative spatial practices (squatting, guerrilla gardening, etc.); forms of anthropological collaboration, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


In the shadow of skyscrapers: social constructions of space in Snipiskes, Vilnius

Author: Vaiva Aglinskas (CUNY Graduate Center)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the intersection of urban development, heritage preservation, and housing issues regarding the emergence of the new city center of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Long Abstract

Over the last decade, Vilnius has undergone dramatic urban redevelopment in an effort to project an attractive image of a modern, Western, and global capital. The glass and steel skyscrapers of the new city hall, office tower, and shopping center called "Europa," serve as emblems in the urban landscape affirming the country's successful 'transition' to a market economy and the EU. However, these dynamic transformations have also given rise to complex spatial contradictions marked by stark contrasts in the built environment. Just across the street from the new business district, a neglected quarter of 19th century wooden houses remains despite ambitious city plans to transform the area into a prestigious modern city center.

This paper addresses the tensions arising from various actors' (local government authorities, heritage experts, cultural activists, residents) conceptualizations of this neighborhood of Šnipiškės that create an arena for negotiating and articulating values, identities and sensibilities of place. In particular, I focus on how post-Soviet economic and political transformations have affected the way residents of the wooden houses experience and perceive the spaces of their everyday lives. Caught between discourses of demolition and preservation, residents remain uncertain about the future of their homes as they compete for space amongst themselves and view the government's plans and promises with distrust. Although the financial crisis of 2008 dashed many people's hopes of selling property at peak prices, the lull in the construction boom has fostered new revaluations of place that celebrate autonomy and ways making-do.

The secret life of street facades: an exploration of shifting public-private boundaries in post-socialist Ostrava

Author: Kristina Alda (University of Toronto)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how street facades mediate meanings of public and private in the Czech city of Ostrava. By attending to how shop owners and local activists co-produce window displays and store fronts, I explore emerging public discourses on the changing identity of this post-industrial city.

Long Abstract

Henri Lefebvre's comment that a revolution must produce new space in order to be truly successful underscores the idea that space was key to achieving the goals of state socialism. An important way in which the space-citizen dynamic unfolded in the socialist city was through a reassembling of public-private boundaries -- boundaries that are again being redrawn in the post-socialist context.

This paper explores how street facades -- window displays, store fronts, balconies, doorways -- mediate meanings of public and private in the Czech city of Ostrava. Following James Holston's concept of the facade as a liminal space that at once defines and enables passage between public and private spheres, I examine how facades are co-produced by shop owners, local activists, and graffiti artists to create public discourse on the changing identity of this economically depressed, post-industrial city.

I argue that, in their function to reveal and conceal, facades serve to highlight the aspirations of a city, as well as to hide (or protect) what Michael Herzfeld might call culturally intimate practices, namely, practices that are both a source of shared sociality as well as of possible embarrassment -- and, in the case of Ostrava, ones that often have strong continuities with the city's socialist past. Seen through the lens of a facade, public-private boundaries start to appear porous and often self-contradicting, reflecting, perhaps, ambivalent local attitudes towards the city's shifting role from a socialist industrial epicentre to a yet-undefined peripheral town in a neoliberal state.

Diverging concerns about the transformation of the city center: the Taksim renewal project in Istanbul

Author: Vivienne Marquart  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the dichotomy of neoliberal politics and civic engagement by discussing the urban renewal project of Taksim area in Istanbul. Neoliberal projects are not always opposed by local interests and the stigmatization of residents as “victims” of neoliberal politics is often misleading.

Long Abstract

Several urban studies on Istanbul (Dinçer 2011; Enlil 2011; Lovering et al. 2011) highlight Turkey's neoliberal politics in the transformation of urban space. Thereby local residents and actors are often stigmatized as "victims" of these implementations without looking more closely at spatial practices engaged in these processes. Portrayed as urban protest against neoliberal practices and the destruction of a park, the Gezi Park protests in summer 2013 in Istanbul has to be situated in the wider context of the renewal of Taksim area (including Gezi Park, Tarlabaşı neighborhood and Istiklal pedestrian area) to understand how this urban space has been contested and negotiated for some time before the protests. In Tarlabaşı residents had formed a neighborhood association to protect their property, while others occupied dilapidated houses. On Istiklal street local activists protested the restoration of historic building and the Taksim Solidarity Platform was collecting signatures against the announced renewal of Taksim Square. However, the implementation of the projects not only faced resistance by local groups, but was accepted or compromised by many residents as an improvement of urban infrastructure.

The paper will explore the wider transformation of this area to reveal the various ways in which local actors participated in discourses that were fought out over the reconstruction of this urban space. This allows to elaborate on the composition of actors involved in the (re)construction of urban space, exemplifying that these are not only conflictive, but sometimes even overlapping.

Urban regenerations as the profit gaining mechanisms of neoliberal urbanism: an ethnographic case study into the Karapınar Valley Regeneration Project in Eskişehir, Turkey

Author: Cansu Civelek (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Urban regenerations have appeared as the significant profit tools of neoliberal urbanism in Turkey. My case study in Karapınar reveals the profit making mechanisms of a regeneration project under the name of "social housing" while the locals face financial woes and eviction threats.

Long Abstract

Since the 1980s, the neoliberal turn in the Turkish economy introduced new urban strategies in cities. Poor and slum neighborhoods, which were not seen as a means for regenerations before, have become the targets of profitable urban renewal projects. Moreover, Mass Housing Administration (TOKİ) has become the superpower of numerous regeneration projects which have resulted in state led gentrification, eviction of locals, and social exclusion of lower income households. My case study of the Karapınar Regeneration Project of a 48 hectare zone in the city of Eskişehir was introduced in 2011 with the collaboration of TOKİ, private sectors and one of the provincial municipalities. Through discourses on provision of "social housing" and "regeneration on-site", the project asserts to "clean" the zone while creating a social and income "diversity". The project constructs luxury villas, a five star hotel, and commerce and shopping centers next to the 10-11 storey apartments that have been built for the locals. Yet the locals have monthly payments to TOKİ depending on the size and legality of their previous houses. My ethnographic research reveals the enormous political and financial profits that the partners of the project gain whereas many of the locals are already worried about the payment difficulties and the new living conditions in the multi-storey buildings next to rich newcomers. Some have already decided to move elsewhere at the outskirts of the city. As the squatters claim, missions of "diversity" and "regeneration on-site" have only been to sugarcoat forthcoming evictions.

Who is invited: super-diversity and ethnic citizenship in South Tel Aviv

Author: Daiva Repeckaite (Vytautas Magnus University // VU University Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This paper, based on ten months of fieldwork, looks into practical and symbolic enactments of citizenship and belonging in urban spaces of 'super-diversity' in South Tel Aviv. The are became a contested space for anti-refugee demonstrations, struggles and competition for scarce housing and jobs.

Long Abstract

Parts of Tel Aviv have become localities of 'super-diversity' (Vertovec 2007), where native Israelis, large numbers of Russian-speakers, guest-workers from the Philippines and other Asian countries, and African asylum-seekers live in coexistence and various urban tensions. Whereas various public actors present the state of South Tel Aviv (it being poor and unsafe) as a result of the presence of migrant groups, it is clear that South Tel Aviv is a classical semi-peripheral area, trapped between touristy, business and industrial areas, ambitions of property owners, and economic pressures. Socio-economic tensions relating to housing in Tel Aviv exploded in mass protests for social justice, but they subsided as another committee to investigate the situation was established, and the potential to build solidarities across citizenship and ethnic lines. In my fieldwork, I explored how inhabitants and workers in these spaces construct belonging and difference from other groups. Their ideas of belonging were detached from urban space, but firmly attached to the country, and on the basis of that they were able to argue for more privileged belonging than the more disadvantaged groups. On the other hand, my informants did not buy into simplistic nationalist narratives, spread during right-wing demonstrations in South Tel Aviv and in right-wing Israeli media. Several of them took pride in their 'diversity management' skills. It is precisely 'minoritization' they experienced in their ethnic state as Russian-speakers that fueled their grievances rather than exposure to the more disadvantaged migrant groups.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.