Editorial: ‘This place is pre-something … ’

‘[B]uffeted by economic catastrophe, vastly reconfigured by a sporting jamboree of militarised corporate banality, jostling with social unrest, still reeling from riots. Apocalypse is less a cliche than a truism. This place is pre-something.’

This place could be Rio, was/is Athens/Greece, the Balkans and beyond, now Istanbul, perhaps could come to be true of Singapore? This could be, to take an apocalyptic view, so many places in the world. But surely not London?

Economic catastrophe? No, not as yet, anyhow. A militarised, corporate and banal sporting jamboree that has reconfigured the place? Some such claims have been made about the Olympised fate of London and other similarly endowed and beset cities. Some truths here, then? Jostling with social unrest? A not too uncommon phenomenon, world-wide. Still reeling from riots? Apocalypse? Surely not?

Can it be, taking the lack of precision of the term ‘pre-something’ as an invitation, rather than a windy nothing, in fact a challenge, to look for and into, critically nevertheless, unfamiliar phenomena, so as to defamiliarise such places/situations in London, and other such places, we shall discover signs of apocalypse as a truism rather than a cliché? But in different proportions, ambiences and totalities, in some cases perhaps with, signs of becomings, of ‘pre-something’, even of hope as well as disaster.

The provocation, the invitation to observe, imagine, rethink, is there in the agoras as much as academe, in the streets and homes (where still, permitted) as much as their so often blocked dialogue. Is it in the antagonisms and occasionally unblocked openings between agora and academe, or in the labours of transdisciplinary knowledge or, of what Andy Merrifield calls amateurism, that we will find glimmerings of a de-scientised paradigm for science, for knowledge of the contradictory, shifting realities unearthed and emplaced in the local and global fantasies and realities of ‘the twenty-first century’.

On this occasion we turn, then, to three places/situations, always with activists and activisms in mind, to ‘Singaporean “spaces of hope”’, to refugees and ‘Europe’s Last Frontier’, and back/forwards to London’s housing crisis itself.

Re-housed, de-housed London

The fact that the epigraph here, is taken from an essay(1) by a writer with the, to some, unlikely name of China Miéville, London-based, though Norwich-born, multi-prizewinning novelist, also a Marxist, a formidable intellectual, a writer of science fiction/fantasy, of ‘the new weird’(2) is itself a challenge. One or the other, of these facts, particularly the combination, might explain his verdict away? But no enshrined disciplinarities can explain such places and this characterisation away.

It is through the prism of housing that the editors of our multifold special feature, Anna Minton and Paul Watt, observe what London is becoming. It is in a contribution by a perhaps partly deviant academic, Paul Watt, a contribution topped and tailed by the paragraph from China Miéville that now also adorns with some necessary additional provocations this editorial.

Watt takes us on a critical and sensually empirical (thereby not ‘taking us for a ride’) ride on a deleuzoguattarian ‘nomadic war machine’ through the now bilaterally embattled war zones of contemporary East and London. A prospect begins to emerge of a possible urban social movement against systematic de-housing and grossly unsuitable re-housing, as the latest desperate twist of late capitalism largely supported by, if often reluctantly, ‘mediations’ of the state. That movement involves, for example, the march of young mothers aided by the technical skills and international perspectives of a groupescule (see our cover photo, Figure 2), the life-affirming occupation by them and their children of a model home in a Housing Association (Figure 2), and of a stall as a campaigning, information and support-gathering point in a busy high street (Figure 3).

Figure 1. Mother’s protest housing crisis, London. (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 1 Occupation at East Thames Housing Association, 21 January 2014 (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 2 Occupation at East Thames Housing Association, 21 January 2014 (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 2 Focus E15 stall in Stratford Broadway, November 2014 (Photo: © Paul Watt).

Figure 3 Focus E15 stall in Stratford Broadway, November 2014 (Photo: © Paul Watt).

All the contributions, without exception, to this remarkable special feature demand attention. Particularly notable is the combination of journalistic and academic perspectives—another aspect of the new paradigm—that co-editor, Anna Minton, brings to it.

From Singaporean ‘spaces of hope’ to ‘the spatialities of the refugee crisis’ on ‘Europe’s last frontier’

We continue the turn to the signs of becomings, of ‘pre-something’, of hope but also to the acute ambiguities, socio-economic and authoritarian obstacles to homes, jobs and even life that we see in London further afield in Singapore and on Europe’s last frontier, and the implications for activists and activisms.

Building out, from David Harvey’s ‘spaces of hope’, Jason Luger’s approach is to emphasise the value of cultural activism to urban social movements in Singapore, guided by ‘new geographies’, seeking to evade the quasi-authoritarian controls imposed in the advanced digitalised context of the city-state . He considers the need to no longer take for granted that the West is necessarily its appropriate context:

‘considering the size and breadth of states such as China, Russia and (increasingly) parts of the African continent …  the debate should continue to expand in a cosmopolitan manner, broadening and worlding conceptions of culture, cultural activism and urban space’

It is a much larger European and an extra-European context that Dimitris Dalakoglou introduces in his paper ‘Europe’s last frontier: The Spatialities of the Refugee Crisis’. It is an introduction to a Europe that has been infiltrated, but not by outsiders, homeless refugees, but by upsiders, footloose economic elites, inside as well as outside, whose activity is transforming both the skyline (the upside) and the streetscape (the downside), working-class estates into ‘estate’, no longer primarily involved in the activity once dignified by the now largely obsolete term ‘gentrification’, but now involved in a re-building spree, accurately classified as domicide(3) (in plain English, the murder of homes), and in the as yet to be reclassified complex combination downsizing, de-skilling and outsourcing, the murder of jobs.

Pre-something?

What Dalakoglou is describing in his profound essay (the product of the transdisciplinarity of social anthropology at its best) are the post-cold war ‘new conditions for the dominant European spatialities’, transforming the momentary victory of the end of the Cold War, the downing of the Berlin wall that is to be succeeded, unless resisted, not by the liberation of a ‘brave new world’ but by the gleaming glass and steel symbol of London’s Shard—the product of the cooption and capture of a gentle and creative talents of a distinguished architect despite its lofty fascination for Londoners and tourists—for a new tyranny of domicide and of jobs emptied of meaning. What stands against the new tyranny could include the combined effect of, on one hand, ethical challenge from the incoming refugees(4) and, on the other, the playful and constructive challenge of the mothers, children and their allies. That would be ‘something’.

Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

 

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 20 Issue 2; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 20.1

Editorial: ‘This place is pre-something … ’ Bob Catterall, pages 175-179

Europe’s last frontier: The spatialities of the refugee crisis Dimitris Dalakoglou, pages 180-185

Singaporean ‘spaces of hope?’ Activist geographies in the city-state Jason Luger, pages 186-203

Special Feature: London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms

London’s housing crisis and its activisms: Introduction Paul Watt & Anna Minton, pages 204-221

The housing crisis and London Michael Edwards, pages 222-237

A view from the top Unpacking capital flows and foreign investment in prime London Luna Glucksberg, pages 238-255

The housing crisis: A visual essay Anna Minton, Michela Pace & Henrietta Williams, pages 256-270

The London clearances Simon Elmer & Geraldine Dening, pages 271-277

Complete control: Developers, financial viability and regeneration at the Elephant and Castle Jerry Flynn, pages 278-286

‘Regeneration’ and ‘consultation’ at a Lambeth council estate: The case of Cressingham Gardens Pam Douglas & Joanne Parkes, pages 287-291

Building urban power from housing crisis: London’s Radical Housing Network Jacob Wills, pages 292-296

A nomadic war machine in the metropolis: En/countering London’s 21st-century housing crisis with Focus E15 Paul Watt, pages 297-320

Speculating on London’s housing future: The rise of global corporate landlords in ‘post-crisis’ urban landscapes Joe Beswick, Georgia Alexandri, Michael Byrne, Sònia Vives-Miró, Desiree Fields, Stuart Hodkinson & Michael Janoschka, pages 321-341

Notes

  1. China Miéville, London’s Overthrow, 2012.
  2. See the collection, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, The New Weird, 2008.
  3. For domicide see Hyun Bang Shin’s ‘Contesting Speculative Urbanisation and Strategising Discontents,’ City, 16.4–5, 2014.
  4. See the very challenging epigraph to Andreea Deciu Ritivoi; Intimate Strangers – Arendt, Marcuse, Solzhenitsyn and Said – in American Political Discourse, 2014.

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