Mixing transportation studies, film analysis, and urban geography, this article looks at El tren blanco (The white train), a documentary film from 2003 by directors Nahuel García, Sheila Pérez Giménez, and Ramiro García. In light of work by train theorist Wolfgang Schivelbusch and urban geographer Henri Lefebvre, the documentary's interviews with cartoneros—cardboard workers who ride daily into central Buenos Aires to pick up recyclable goods—speak to the alienation and spatialization of class that characterize the contemporary urban experience. Following an urban cultural studies approach, attention is balanced between the social context of Buenos Aires itself and the film as an item of aesthetic value. In the end, it is important to pay attention both to the train car as a space in itself and to the historical and contemporary positioning of the train in larger-scale urban shifts.
Spatial and Social Alienation in the Documentary Film El tren blanco
Optimism of the will permeates this article, which builds on Lefebvre’s idea of The Right to the City ( 2009) and its more recent revival by Harvey, specially in his last work where, after a period of scepticism regarding recent urban social movements as potentially politically transformative, he seems to vindicate their potential as part of a class understanding of these movements (2012).
Response to Susser and Tonnelat
Susser and Tonnelat’s article on the three urban commons is both visionary and heartening. Its counterpastoral polemic glorifies urban modes of sociality and the forms of common property fostered by urban life. The authors find in cities communities of experience that cross class lines and create inadvertent coalitions around shared problems. They argue that specific components of what has been called “the right to the city” need to be understood as “commons”—collective property that is neither fully public nor private but shared by individuals as they go about everyday life in urban settings.
Harvey, Graeber, and the reunification of anarchism and Marxism in world anthropology
New books discussed in this article:
Graeber, David. 2011. Debt: The first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House.
Graeber, David. 2013. The democracy project: A history, a crisis, a movement. London: Allan Lane.
Harvey, David. 2011. The enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism. London: Profile Books.
Harvey, David. 2012. Rebel cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. London: Verso.
Harvey, David. 2013. A companion to Marx’s Capital, volume 2. London: Verso.
Lazar, Sian. 2008. El Alto, rebel city: Self and citizenship in Andean Bolivia. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press.
Deportability, Indeterminacy, and the 'Feel of Law' in Migrant Moscow
While deportability has elicited interest as a legal predicament facing migrant workers, less attention has been given to the way in which this condition of temporal uncertainty shapes migrants' everyday encounters with state agents. Drawing on ethnography among Kyrgyzstani migrant workers in Moscow, I show that in conditions of documentary uncertainty 'legal residence' depends upon successfully enacting a right to the city and the personalization of the state. Alongside fear and suspicion, this space of legal uncertainty is characterized by a sense of abandon and awareness of the performativity of law. I explore 'living from the nerves' as an ethnographic reality for Kyrgyzstani migrant workers and as an analytic for developing a more variegated account of state power and its affective resonances in contemporary Russia.
Contested spaces and contested politics
The global Right to the City network challenges exclusionary effects of neoliberal urbanization by claiming citizens' rights for access to urban space and to the benefits of urban culture. Artists belong to one of the most vulnerable groups in the context of gentrification and urban exclusion. At the same time, their creative and expressive capacities put them in a privileged position to voice protest. Oscillating between counterhegemony, accommodation, and strategic collusion, a group of artist-activists from the city of Hamburg in Germany have been employing the means of empowered symbolism, activist art, and emancipatory knowledge in order to implement an alterpolitics of space. Their occupation of the historic Hamburg Gängeviertel has successfully repoliticized questions over urban use value and urban access, which had been purposefully excluded from the realm of the political in the revanchist, neoliberal city.