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Commoning in New York City, Barcelona, and Paris

Notes and observations from the field

Ida Susser

Based on fieldwork in New York City, Barcelona, and Paris, this article explores recent Occupy events and how these represent a claim for an urban commons, and the building of a new political consciousness. The article analyzes commoning in the three cities as a form of popular education that transforms space, time, and language. The reemergence of commoning is seen as a response to neoliberal policies, the creation of a temporary and insecure workforce (or precariat), and the need to develop different approaches to power and transformation. Although clearly reflective of historical experiences, commoning can be seen as a newly significant form of protest that brings together and creates a shared culture among fragmented progressive groups often divided by issues of identity and topic.

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Transformative cities

The three urban commons

Ida Susser and Stéphane Tonnelat

Drawing on Lefebvre and others, this article considers contemporary urban social movements with a selective review of urban research and suggestions for future ethnographic, cultural, and sociological questions. Under a generalized post-Fordist regime of capital accumulation, cultural workers and laborers, service workers, and community activists have all participated in urban movements. We consider such collective action, generated in the crucible of urban life, as a reflection of three urban commons: labor, consumption, and public services; public space (including mass communications and the virtual); and art, including all forms of creative expression. We suggest that the three urban commons outlined here are not necessarily perceived everywhere, but as they momentarily come together in cities around the world, they give us a glimpse of a city built on the social needs of a population. That is the point when cities become transformative.

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Invaded city

Structuring urban landscapes on the margins of the possible in Peru

Sarah Lund

In Peru, land invasions have played an informal yet prominent role in implementing agrarian reform. In the southern Andes, peasant mobilization and land takeover were used as a means to circumvent a stalled expropriation process. Strategic lessons learned in agrarian settings have application on the margins of cities as well. New “urban areas” created out of expropriated hacienda lands in Cuzco were initiated by spontaneous occupancy which gradually became regulated and standardized in predictable ways. Administrative planning becomes a response to land takeover, playing a retrospective role in situations in which internal kinds of development already are unfolding. State permissiveness towards illegal occupancy is a carefully courted prize, not to be taken for granted. Nevertheless, residents invest years of effort in building their homes and neighborhoods, in the hope of eventually prevailing, despite contradictory and frustrating experiences with changing policies and bureaucratic encounters.

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Transitory Citizens

Contentious Housing Practices in Contemporary South Africa

Kerry Ryan Chance

This article examines the informal housing practices that the urban poor use to construct, transform, and access citizenship in contemporary South Africa. Following the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, the provision of formalized housing for the urban poor has become a key metric for 'non-racial' political inclusion and the desegregation of apartheid cities. Yet, shack settlements—commemorated in liberation histories as apartheid-era battlegrounds—have been reclassified as 'slums', zones that are earmarked for clearance or development. Evictions from shack settlements to government emergency camps have been justified under the liberal logic of expanding housing rights tied to citizenship. I argue that the informal housing practices make visible the methods of managing 'slum' populations, as well as an emerging living politics in South African cities.

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'Worklessness'

A Family Portrait

Gillian Evans

Inspired by the examples of Stewart (1996) and Weston (2009), this article is an experiment in narrative form. It portrays the 'cultural poetics' (Stewart 1996) of lives lived in and through experiences of poverty in contemporary London and considers the potential of long-term participant-observation fieldwork, and the development of relations of mutual obligation in the field, to create a collaborative anthropology de fined by a politics of mutually transformative action. The article enters into debate about the effects of changing structural inequalities, which differentially impact on the post-industrial urban neighbourhoods of the U.S.A., the U.K. and Europe (Waquant 2008; 2012). Waquant's work is taken to be a rallying cry for Europe and the U.K. to wake up from the American Dream of neo-liberalism. The 'utter desolation' (Waquant 2012: 66) of life in the worst of the U.S.A.'s post-industrial urban housing projects and, to an extent, in France, demands a reaction from and suggests (especially post-August 2011 riots), that the time is now to debate how to prevent further deterioration in British cities. The article should be read as two parts in conversation with each other. The first section is an experiment in narrative form and hence the reader is asked to bear with and consider the fruitfulness of the departure from conventional scholarly form. In the second part of the article academic insight is drawn out in more standardized form, with a more usual engagement with literature, highlighting of relevant points and movement towards the formation of argument.

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Erin Moore Daly

This article explores the hidden, suppressed elements of New Orleans leading up to and immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The article is juxtaposed with excerpts from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities in order to provide a lens through which to ask questions not typically raised by government officials, city planners, and science and technology experts. This uncovers aspects of New Orleans that must not be overlooked in the rebuilding process. If policy, culture, and technology render aspects of New Orleans invisible, then only by revealing these aspects can one ascertain the truth of the city.

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The Poetry of Cities

On Discovering Poems in Istanbul, Sarajevo, and Bratislava

Daniel Xerri

This article discusses how poetry allowed a first-time traveler to three different cities to explore each place and his identity as a traveler. Focusing on Istanbul, Sarajevo, and Bratislava, the article describes the experience of using a poem the traveler finds in each city to serve as a guide to its spirit. By referring to issues related to anthropology, post-colonialism, politics, history, the social sciences, and cultural studies, this article discusses the transformation experienced by the traveler as a result of both a physical and inner journey.

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City, Community, Nation, State

Participation and Spectacle

Judith Kapferer

The events and sites of a national holiday (17 May in Bergen, Norway) are the grounds from which to draw out meanings of nationalism and tradition, and analyze ideologies of egalitarianism and individualism in a social democratic welfare state. My project has two aims: to open up and deconstruct aspects of the material and symbolic life of the city, and to engage an examination of patterns of local and national community life in relation to shifting evaluations of localism and nationalism within the a changing state formation. Bergen can be thought of as a case study of social order and control, with women, children, and reverence for home life, highlighted in the town’s celebrations. The symbolism of the day discovers community and state in a difficult relation between domestic communities and nationalist ideology in the maintenance of governmentality, a relation mediated by the city itself.

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Christianity and the City

Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities

Anna Strhan

This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel's writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel's urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals' relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals' engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals' systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.

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Blood and the City

Animal Representations and Urban (Dis)orders during the ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’ in Istanbul and Khartoum

Alice Franck, Jean Gardin and Olivier Givre

Based on comparative fieldwork studies of the Muslim ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, this article questions the places, shapes and stakes of ritual animal death in the urban space. The examples of Istanbul (Turkey) and Khartoum (Sudan) illustrate different but comparable perceptions, practices and management of a ritual event simultaneously associated with religious traditions and confronted with deep transformations in urbanised and globalised societies. Between ritual normalcy and controversial practice, sacrifice in the city is not reducible to a religious matter but addresses at once spatial, social and cultural issues, informed by economic and political stakes. Through a ritual performance and its manifold aspects, the article explores the multiple and evolving representations of the place and role of animals (and their death) in an urban context.