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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P114)

Rescaling localities: place, culture and history in the neoliberal era

Location Block 1, Piso 0, Room 38
Date and Start Time 18 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Alexandra Szőke email
Ayse Yuksel email
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Short Abstract

With neoliberalism, localities are reinterpreted and reconfigured along particular cultural, natural and historical values, in a bid to attract investments, grants and tourists. These processes are often used by various groups to reinforce or reconstruct their relation to the place itself.

Long Abstract

During the past decades of late capitalism, the infusion of neoliberal logic into many spheres of life has crucially changed places, as well as people's relation to, and lives in, them. The rescaling state appears to play crucial roles in these processes, by construing particular areas within its boundaries as crucial development poles worthy of further investments and developments. Concurrently, state support is often decreasing and localities are left to compete for non-state resources. This often pushes cities, regions and villages to develop 'unique' local advantages in a bid to attract tourists, investment, new inhabitants or other resources. This response on the part of localities includes not only 'creative' solutions such as recasting themselves as centres of health, finance or culture but also 'sweeping' changes regarding the relation between place, memory and identity. It also creates opportunities for both various local groups and other actors, such as tourists, businessmen, NGOs and development agencies, to more actively participate in shaping local places and lives. How are such processes changing and reconfiguring places, such as declining rural areas, war-ridden regions and ex-industrial towns? What are the particular local processes through which certain historical events, cultural aspects, natural assets and local identities are construed as valuable? And how do these processes reconfigure the relation of people to their localities?

This panel seeks papers that address such issues by relying on empirical research, or that discuss theoretical challenges to analyse these recent processes from an ethnographic angle.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The politics of poverty in southeastern Turkey

Author: Will Day (Harvard University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper builds on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Diyarbakir, Turkey to explore the emergence of a contested field of public language around "poverty" and "joblessness" and its wider social and political significance for the people who actually constitute the abstract noun, the economy.

Long Abstract

This paper is on the politics of poverty in the city of Diyarbakir, informal capital of Turkey's predominantly-Kurdish southeast. Since the political unrest and massive demographic and economic transformations of the early 1990s, there has emerged a contested field of public language around "poverty" and "joblessness", and on how to best bring "improvement" and "development" to the troubled city. Not surprisingly, given the political history of the city and its environs and the dizzying array of actors claiming to speak for the present—central government, local Kurdish opposition party politicians, self-styled civil society organizations (STK'lar) and associations (dernekler)— divergence and disjuncture is shown to pervade this field. Why does the central government hold on to the figure of the entrepreneur and the aid recipient, as well as ideas of service (hizmet) and beneficence? Why do local government actors return to political history and notions of economic and political justice? And how do NGOs fit into this? Dissecting the debates, I ask whether, if at all, they matter for the people who are their presumed objects and would-be benefactors. Building on two years of fieldwork in the city, including interviews and participant observation with dispossessed families, unemployed/underemployed younger men, and a range of shopkeepers, I answer that these debates undoubtedly matter, yet in a less direct sense than we might expect. The paper concludes with some critical reflections on the concept of neoliberalism and its usefulness for analyzing this and similar situations growing increasingly common in a rapidly urbanizing world.

The role of the architecture politics in the rescaling of state power. Case study: the nationalized housing in Bucharest

Author: Daniela Ionescu (Central European University)  email
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Short Abstract

A rescaling of state power marks the nationalized housing process from Bucharest. An analysis of the sociology of architecture through the study of the economics and politics of this profession determines the extend to which the social space is produced and controlled by the political class.

Long Abstract

With the concern of a boundary between the state, the market and the individual, the present paper tries to understand a fine section within the broader debate of an urbanization process in post-socialist Romania, to gain a deeper perception on the renovation and selling process of old nationalized buildings declared representative for the cultural local heritage. This focus implies an understanding of the social space as incorporating social actions, as a means through which the social actors (architects, state officials and journalists) develop a general discourse or engage in a representational space by attaching meaning and regarding the nationalized houses as statements of esthetical perception, means of increasing the cultural heritage or excuses found by the political class in the process of establishing their positions in the field of power. In addition, the paper addresses the issue of social space as a means of control (Lefebvre, 1991) through which the state power is rescaled: authorities through their spatial practices, political pressures or state managed bureaucratic strategies power re-imagine the political patronage. The uniqueness of the restructuring process lies in the economics and politics of the architecture profession, its internal and external culture, its discourse and its language. Hence the research question: is the capitalist space and time (Petrovici, 2006) of Bucharest one characterized by architects as a tool of thought and action, by a renovation process as a first step towards a social production of the space and a bourgeois' reenactment of a hegemonic tool?

"Becoming a world-class city": visions and politics of urban change in New Delhi

Author: Lena Michaels (Oxford University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses recent processes of a neo-liberal “re-making” of New Delhi. In particular, it focuses on how visions of India’s capital as a truly modern world-class city came to dominate discourses on the city in the public sphere.

Long Abstract

Through an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on the insights of anthropology, media studies, human geography and political science on the social construction of space, this paper examines contemporary discourses on New Delhi and their implications for the 'reinvention' and 're-making' of the city.

It seems that Delhi is increasingly becoming India's "dream-town" - a place embodying the aspirations of a nation trying to establish itself on the global scene as a major economic and political power. My analysis of discourses on the city as pronounced by political and administrative elites and the media in advance of the Commonwealth Games, held in New Delhi in October 2010, highlights that such discourses are filled with visions and hopes for a shining, successful future as a world-class city. And it is precisely this 'world-class-city ideal' which served politicians to powerfully articulate the urgency of rapid urban development and modernisation in New Delhi.

The longing to become a world-class city is certainly not unique to India's capital. It is important however, to analyse how and why specific visions for a city are generated at the local level and come to dominate public discourses on the city. Hence, this paper addresses the question of why the 'world-class-city ideal' remained largely unchallenged, despite various protests against specific measures of urban renewal in New Delhi.

Further, this paper addresses some of the theoretical challenges of anthropological research on discourses of space as generated by urban political and administrative elites and mainstream commercial media.

Urban development and the policy of diversity

Author: Christian Peer (Technical University of Vienna)  email
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Short Abstract

A glance beyond agenda setting: urban development and diversity policy in Vienna. Biographies of migrants tell us, what ideologies do these diversity policies conceal, and which were already a part of postmodern urban development before diversity management became an issue.

Long Abstract

This ethnological study focusses on urban development and diversity policy in Vienna. Diversity is both a condition of postmodern urbanism, and a management concept implemented not only by private industries but also more and more by local authorities in cities and metropolitan regions. The question is, what ideologies do these diversity policies conceal, and which were already a part of urban development policy before diversity management became an issue. The investigation analyzes urban culture through narratives of citizens with multilocal belongings. This biographical point of view transcends the micro-, meso- and macro-levels, which are often considered to be separate research fields. Urban culture is a product of a neighbourhood's history, of its physical appearance, and of the mélange of its residents. All these elements are subject to change over time. The city is a place where concepts such as diversity and urbanism overlap, and where both cross-sectional and translocal perspectives take part in the process of urban development. The study takes into account the importance of transnational cultural, social and political networks for the production of space, as well as translocal belongings between different geographical locations. Despite transnational dimensions, traditional regimes (like national narratives) have not lost importance. By putting different biographical narratives of citizens with "turkish" migrational backgrounds in the contexts of their cross-sectional, translocal, and transnational networks, this work describes how different scales of belonging mingle with policies of social urban development.

The "New Rurality" of Value-Adding: Towards a "Neoliberal" European Countryside?

Author: Elisa Da Via (Cornell University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper argues that the emergence of "multifunctionality" as a new paradigm for agricultural policy reforms in Europe is closely associated with the deployment of a neoliberal approach to rural development premised on new processes of commodification and "value-adding."

Long Abstract

This paper conceptualizes the transformation of food from a source of cultural and social reproduction into a commodity for speculation and bargaining as the underlying cause of the ongoing world food crisis. Within this framework, I underscore how the emergence of market-based strategies for the valorization of agricultural multifunctionality in Europe has deepened the subjection of agriculture and food to circuits of capital accumulation, rather than promoting the development of ecologically sustainable and socially embedded farming systems. In particular, I analyze how the strategic deployment of a Euro-centric notion of multifunctionality has allowed for the retention of subsidies decoupled from production which are compliant with WTO demands of trade liberalization and benefit large producers and food industries operating on a world scale. Correspondingly, I argue that the discourse of multifunctionality promoted by the EU is closely associated with the deployment of neoliberal concepts of self-help, social capital, and value-adding which seek to justify the contested withdrawal of the state from the provision of public support to small scale producers. As such, the commercialization of agriculture's multiple functions has become a focal site of resistance for farmers' movements and rural communities across Europe advocating for an alternative model of agricultural development premised on the notion of food sovereignty. In this respect, the paper concludes by focusing on forms of agrarian politics which seeks to transcend the structural contradictions of the neoliberal project of agricultural restructuring by re-embedding agriculture and food in their social and ecological foundations.

Exploring status, communities and meanings of the Protected Food Names system in the United Kingdom

Author: Erica Farmer (Smithsonian Institution)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between artesan food producers in the UK and the Protected Food Names system, which protects geographically linked agroalimentary products. It will highlight negotiations and debates that surround the system and changing perceptions about products and place.

Long Abstract

Regional foodstuffs in the United Kingdom have a fraught history, in part because of the legacies of post- World War II governmental food policy. In recent years, however, forces have emerged to encourage a revival in such products, particularly due to changes in approaches to food culture worldwide. These changes couple with the establishment of an European Union- wide legal system (Protected Food Names) to protect geographically linked specialty products, which has led the way such products are constructed and articulated started to evolve even further. This paper will consider the relationship between the spread of Protected Food Names legislation and debates about the system among artesan food producers in the United Kingdom, with a focus on the relationship between law and communities. The Protected Food Names system works to reaffirm linkages with traditional foodstuffs, techniques of artesan productions, real and reconstructed history, and the particularities of place and locality. I will explore the kinds of communities being built by engagement with the Protected Food Names system, the motivations and choices being made by producers, and the ability of status to encapsulate values and a sense of tradition. Studying the system and the engagement of producers with that system highlights the spaces for cultural debate about British artesan foods in a broader context, as well as aligning with ideas about place, tradition, and culturally significant products.

"Out there is now at home": a bit of Swedishness in the forest of Latvia

Author: Mats Lindqvist (Södertörn University)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I will discuss neoliberal discourses involvement in shaping local places and lives in a globalized world. These discourses are materialized by Swedish businessmen and industrialists setting up a sawmill industry in the forests of Latvia. This is analyzed as a sort of neocolonial venture.

Long Abstract

In 2002, under the heading "Out there is now here at home", the Swedish Trade Council described on their website the new global economic scene for Swedish entrepreneurs with ambitions to expand. As a result of globalization the possibilities of setting up "homes" outside the national borders have increased. In this paper I will discuss the impact of neoliberal discourses, materialized by businessmen and entrepreneurs, as forces of the kind of "home creating" arising out of transnational cross border capital flows. In the concrete example I will refer to - a sawmill in Latvia owned by a Swedish company - neo-colonial tendencies can be traced. A major transformation of the social and material reality was organized in accordance with the colonists' ambition to make profits through an installation of Swedishness. A national symbolic transfer and reorientation was taking place involving language, naming, social organization, ethics and morality, etc. The Latvian native ground was captured by the purchase of forest land to secure resources, while the prospective Latvian workforce was sent to Sweden to learn craftsmanship and the Swedish culture. At the same time local communities in Sweden were losing parts of the native home when sawmills were dismantled and machines were removed to be put up abroad. What influence had this annexation respectively loss for the involved peoples understanding of what is home and away? What significance has the native ground in relation to the physical objects? Is out there now here at home, and if so is the case for whom and in what respects?

Public funding and local culture: developing cultural tourism in the Westfjords of Iceland

Author: Áki Guðni Karlsson (University of Iceland)  email
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Short Abstract

A change occurring in the form of public funding for cultural activities has created a new resource for locally based associations and non-profit organisations in periferal areas to redefine and enhance local cultural interests, somewhat to the dismay of national public heritage institutions. Here it will be argued that while the proliferation of local NGOs is part of a global „NGOisation“ of culture, this development can be seen as a way of empowering local culture and initiative.

Long Abstract

In the past two decades a change of paradigm has taken place in our conception of the state and its role as broker of culture. Concrete consequences, such as a preference for competitive project funding over the funding of public cultural institutions, has created a new resource for the institutionalisation of local cultural interests in low-investment areas such as the Westfjords in Iceland. The proliferation of local NGOs has raised concerns within larger public institutions and is the subject of an emerging debate concerning the boundaries of the public and the private in cultural brokerage and expressions of cultural history.

In the Westfjords of Iceland, an area that has been severely hit by depopulation since the 1980s, some 19 cultural tourism projects dealing with various aspects of Icelandic cultural history have emerged since 1995. While each project has a unique history they are almost all based on local initiatives and run by third-sector entities. This proliferation of third-sector cultural actors in a peripheral area of Iceland is, it will be argued, the result of several movements or trends in policies regarding culture and cultural funding, rural development and tourism development, trends that have their roots in international political and academic attitudes.

In the past eight years this development has been the subject of increasing criticism, mostly as seen from the viewpoint of national public heritage institutions. I will discuss the form of this ongoing debate and its implications.

Historic townscapes in transformation

Author: Grete Swensen (Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research)  email
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Short Abstract

New development projects in Norwegian towns have put emphasis on culture and creative industries. Although cultural heritage can be seen as a means for developing place-specific character, several development projects primarily play on international trends and result in stereotype townscapes.

Long Abstract

From being primarily an intrinsic value defined by experts, cultural heritage is turning into an instrument to revitalise and create new businesses in Norwegian towns. The pulsating nerve of urban life necessitates constant changes and hereby continuously challenges an essential problem in cultural heritage - the balance between change and conservation. Emphasis paid to culture and creative industries has shaped a considerable part of the new development projects. These tendencies can be described and understood in light of international trends. By copying ideas tested elsewhere, the ability to create uniqueness diminishes correspondingly and tends to act as a "serial reproduction of culture" (Harvey 1989). Cultural heritage can constitute a platform for developing place-specific character in urban regions. Much of the new urban fabric is however designed in accordance with international trends and play on a "glocalised" image (Beriatos et al. 2004), rather than stressing the uniqueness which exist in the reciprocity between local historic fabric, townscape and surrounding nature. The study shows that current planning practice has evident limitations that affect the opportunities for exercising a comprehensive cultural heritage management. Although three of the four towns have been classified as valuable historic centres for a considerable time, this does not carry enough weight to give the cultural heritage managers empowerment outside their limited domain. Despite that use of strategic plans is rampant in municipal planning the situation is domineered by a large degree of "patchwork planning" where each project is considered independently, hereby causing unwanted and unexpected results for adjoining districts.

Place(s), power and culture: the case of the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira practitioners from the state of Bahia, Brazil

Author: Theodora Lefkaditou  email
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Short Abstract

Based on thirteen months of fieldwork research in Salvador de Bahia Brazil, the paper discusses how Afro-Brazilian Capoeira teachers from the State of Bahia aim to assert power, legitimacy and value by investing with meaning specific places and people related to Capoeira’ s origins and significant past.

Long Abstract

Capoeira, once a marginalized and illegal social practice, has nowadays attained a radically different status due to tourism, State policies, local initiatives and the Afro Brazilian Capoeira practitioners' migratory movements. However, new conflicts arise as various agents aim to strategically appropriate it. In this context, Capoeira's origins emerge prominently as one of the most central and controversial issues relating place(s) and people. Africa, Salvador de Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, the urban space, the street, ex slave communities and the Bahian interior have claimed primacy.

Based on thirteen months of fieldwork research in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and twelve months in Barcelona, Spain, the paper is concerned with the discourses and strategies Afro Brazilian Capoeira teachers deploy as they struggle to assert control over their heritage. Striving to gain recognition they organize commemorative events in politically significant places to express solidarity to certain mestres who are in need. In times of scarce resources these activities are facilitated by the involvement of NGO's and foreign apprentices' participation, giving rise to new interpretations of Capoeira's past.

The paper addresses the following questions: What places do they choose to invest with meaning; how do they remember them and how do they associate them with Capoeira's origins and past? Who are the mestres who embody Capoeira's essence and consequently, the essence of a place, and who has the legitimate right to define them as such? Finally, is Capoeira a symbol of the city of Salvador, of Brazil or of the localities in the Bahian interior?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.