revisiting the concepts of critical urban studies
Makeshift Urbanism by Occupation. Negotiating evictions and housing rights in Lisbon, Portugal
This paper explores everyday practices of social housing occupations in the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures, Portugal. Recently, studies that focus on the political aspects of “needs-based” occupations have begun to emerge in Europe. Yet, it is argued that this field still lacks a solid theoretical basis, evident in the way the concepts of “resistance” or “everyday practices” are often not clearly defined. I propose to contribute to filling this gap, through a careful analysis of everyday practices and politics, using the conceptualisations of “quiet encroachment” (Bayat, 2013) and “improvised lives” (Simone, 2019b). Occupations present an interesting case of everyday politics, because they are used to enact directly the right to housing and contest housing exclusion. By occupying, bodies make political claims: the act of occupation alone, the refusal to succumb to the existing conditions, is already an act of delegitimation of the state (Butler, 2011). They occupations can thus be conceived as acts of collective world-making which can contribute to alternative political imaginaries. The paper is based on ethnographic and activist fieldwork, conducted from December 2017 to April 2019 in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon, in close collaboration with the Association Habita. The paper illustrates how both the everyday modalities of governance as well as the everyday practices of occupiers are enmeshed with diverse forms of informality, producing both housing exclusions and inclusions. The management practices of the state, forcing the residents to wait patiently, further encourage the adoption of everyday practices, rendering the creation of long-term strategies of resistance difficult and thus undermining the conditions of collective action. The paper argues that occupations contribute directly to the making of a different kind of everyday, but the condemnation and stigmatisation they face often undermines their potential to question current neoliberal practices of production of space and to produce of new democratic urban practices.
Keywords: occupations, right to housing, housing exclusion, everyday politics, Portugal
Figuring It Out: Care, Futurity, and Urban Transformation in Tarlabaşı, Istanbul
In 2006, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) legalized the expropriation of property in neighborhoods chosen for sites of urban transformation projects, like Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı, often targeting racialized communities. Since then, many Tarlabaşı residents—internally displaced Kurds, Roma, West African and Central Asian migrants, Syrian refugees, and trans women—have been evicted to make room for an upscale residential and business complex, which is still under construction. For the rest, the possibility of displacement looms large. I found that within this uncertain present, residents enact a set of everyday care practices to assert themselves as part of Tarlabaşı’s future. Residents and I call these practices “figuring it out”: using the delayed durations of urban transformation, they cultivate relationships with politicians and builders to curtail the project’s expansion, devise creative ways to retain their property and access government services, and maintain community by hosting public events.
I conceptualize “figuring it out” as a quotidian mode of future-making, challenging the linear trajectories attached to urban transformation. I argue that engaging with futurity is a reconfiguration of broader political projects, like urban transformation and migration. “Figuring it out” in Tarlabaşı is laden with everyday modes of care, which are intimately temporal. Within the open-endedness of urban transformation, residents carve out new political possibilities. In doing so, my work forces a rethinking of dominant conceptualizations of displacement, under the assumption that when space is annexed through urban transformation, the fates of residents are sealed. Instead, a temporal lens provides an alternative to the teleological theories of accumulation by dispossession and displacement, showing that the future—alongside urban space—provides opportunities for new kinds of potential urban politics.
And care emerges here as a political practice that takes shapes through future-oriented negotiations and solidarity. Yet, it is not an idealized ethics that comes to life. Multiple tensions, differences in mobility, social capital, race, and sexuality shape care as a practice, as it hits the ground. These forms of difference play into the future-oriented calculations and considerations that are intrinsic to “figuring it out.” Hence, I assert care as a not-always-pleasant set of acts that are somewhere between altruism and pragmatism, always in the making.
Figuring It Out draws on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork and community-based archival work in Tarlabaşı between May 2017 and August 2018. My fieldwork, drawing on my long-term activism with local community groups prior to this period, took me to homes, celebrations in the streets, community meetings, negotiations with municipal officials and Taksim 360 managers, courtrooms to assist undocumented migrants, and informal religious spaces and restaurants organized by West African residents. I also conducted a dozen visits to the construction site where urban transformation is materializing, and completed semi-structured interviews with local government officials, construction workers, and midlevel managers. In addition, Tarlabaşı residents had compiled photographs and legal documents showing how the neighborhood has changed before and during urban transformation. I collated and analyzed these community archives, juxtaposing them with the Istanbul Chamber of Architects’ official archives documenting the shifts in the neighborhood since the 19th century for my broader project.
What is the opposite of public space?
Long before the publishing of Habermas’ seminal work on the transformation of the public sphere (1962), the opposition between public and private was well established. Urban planning was already operating with a stark representation of the division that was first established by Nolli in 1748 in his iconic, and revolutionary at that time, representation of Rome. Its black and white contours are still governing the administrative logic of territorial division, in a sort of a celebration of a foundational duality that allows us to move alongside an axis, and to identify intermediate positions that answer to our need to place some of the ambiguous cases that we deal with on a graded scale.
More or less this also applies to the urban-rural division, with a remarkably long scale of in-betweens, or to the civil-military opposition, that at a first glance might look to have a much shorter transition area, but in fact entails a whole set of lateral relations. Understandably, the linear logic is never formalized in a rigid way by theorists, who are always engaging with a complex web of relations, but it came to cultivate a didactic mantra in the form of the transformation from public to private through semi-public and semi-private. We can further identify and refine some of the associated terms that participate in this model (commons, monument, memory, intimacy, safety, inviolability etc.), but as long as they are arranged in order to converge towards one of the ends of the line, we are still trapped in a unidimensional explanatory universe.
The paper will try to argue that, following the logic of defining public sphere and public space as realms and physical spaces in which we place the individual subject in the light of his or hers citizenship, the precise opposite is not the private, but the carceral space, the place that abolishes most or all of the rights of a person as a political subject. Moreover, the commons and the private form an axis of their own, and we can further identify a way in which commonality not only is the foundation of the public space, but has a dynamic way of changing its attributes in order to allow the public character to grow.
The limits of the very concept of public space, and the way in which it is related to the private one, are rendered visible when one visits for example India, where the physical overlapping and the intertwinement of commonality and state authority, of private and public realms or of infrastructure and the non-built is not only dissolved in the informal spaces of a (former) slum like Dharavi, but in many other parts of the urban fabric, puzzling the European gaze.
This complex diagrammatic relationship in between architectural and urban spaces will be illustrated with examples that aim to reorganize the semiotic field of the concept of public space using examples that take into account the most important architectural objects that can be found in the built environment and analyze the way in which they are transformed in their daily interactions.
Nick R. Smith
The Naturalistic Fallacy in Urban Studies: Reconceptualizing Urbanization from Contemporary China
Over the past two decades, scholars working on urbanization in China have grappled with a fundamental contradiction: the nation’s urban-rural binary simultaneously over-determines livelihoods and life chances and fails to capture the under-determined nature of urbanization as a set of social and material processes. Critical urban scholarship must therefore account for how China’s urban and rural categories both indelibly shape urbanization and fail to describe it. This paper intervenes in this problematic with a critical re-reading of recent urban studies scholarship on China through the lens of the initiatives the Chinese government has itself deployed to deal with the nation’s urban-rural contradictions. What emerges from this analysis is the realization that the disjuncture between China’s urban categories and its urban processes is a feature of Chinese urbanization, not a bug. I therefore argue for a shift in analytical focus for scholars of urban China, from closing the representational gap between categories and processes to exposing the ways in which this gap is instrumentalized to produce new forms of urbanization. These findings also have implications for the broader field of urban studies, where the insufficiency of received analytical categories has been a topic of intense recent debate, including arguments around both “planetary urbanization” and the “comparative imagination.”
To resolve the contradiction between categories and processes, urban scholars have variously redefined, complicated, and recombined China’s existing urban and rural categories to more accurately reflect the socio-spatial complexity of urban processes. These strategies all share a common assumption, that the nation’s urban and rural categories should faithfully describe its processes of socio-spatial transformation. As a result, their efforts focus primarily on categorical refinement, while leaving the underlying urban processes largely unproblematized. Meanwhile, state actors have also been dealing with the contradiction between China’s categories and processes. Whereas analytical engagements with China’s urban-rural relations have focused on conceptual refinement, the state has pursued both the recalibration of China’s urban and rural categories and the transgressive transformation of the socio-spatial landscape. Furthermore, state actors have not primarily been concerned with resolving the disjuncture between categories and processes but with manipulating and reshaping it in their own interests. Policy programs such as “urban-rural coordination” and the “National Plan for New-Type Urbanization” have therefore served to consolidate and expand the state’s political and economic hegemony: on one hand, these programs have extended state-led processes of urban transformation and resource extraction to new populations and territories; and, on the other, they have recalibrated urban and rural categories to ensure that those resources are concentrated in forms that best serve the state. This instrumentalization of urban-rural relations thus reveals a “dialectic of dialectics,” in which the dialectical tension between urban and rural categories and the dialectical tension between processes of concentration and extension intersect in a larger dialectical disjuncture between categories and processes. As the practices of the Chinese state make clear, this dialectical disjuncture is not a conceptual problem that can be solved analytically but is itself an important generative force in the production of urbanization.