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Editorial: Writing and Righting the City

Two grand narratives, somewhat haltingly, seek to ride, right and write the world. Each seeks to represent itself and its rival in similar ways. Neoliberalism likes to present itself, as it ‘recovers’, as rising from what it sees as a momentary lapse, as compelling, with an assured though austere (for some) immediate future. It presents its rival(s), forms of what are perhaps most accurately referred to as communalism, as either naive, well-meaning schemers whose best features can anyhow be incorporated in a slightly wiser capitalism or as threatening, past-encrusted, grandiloquent spectres that have to be kettled, disabled or eliminated. The communalist alternatives present themselves as a rising, not tainted, compelling movement with a future in which austerity will be moderated or abolished. They increasingly distrust the blandishments of capitalist incorporation, and seek transformation, sometimes an apocalyptic variety.

Both narratives present ways of writing and supposedly righting a now universal accumulation of interlinked problems. How beyond the labels, neoliberalism, capitalism, communalism, apocalypse, is our situation to be written, characterised, and righted, improved or superseded?

In this issue Caroline Knowles offers a characterisation of a somewhat indistinct form of global capitalism drawing on research among migrants on Beijing’s periphery. Michele Lancione, reacting against grand narratives of capitalist oppression in common with many assemblagist respondents on other occasions, considers the homeless in Turin, a social situation which he chooses not to characterise as other than unsatisfactory. Andrew Wallace examines the riots of 2011 in England, as a situation of imposed and mystifying ‘alchemical austerity’.

Moving on to attempts at improvement or supersession, Lancione seeks better intentioned and better designed assemblages of care. Marie Huchzermeyer, referring particularly to South Africa, and Peter Marcuse, on the other hand, engage with the assertion of rights, picking up on the Lefebvrian notion of the Right to the City as applied and misapplied in current confusions, debates, and struggles. But is this all there is to writing and righting the city? And is it enough? Welcoming ‘the multiplicity of readings’ that Jim Pine’s The Art of Making Do in Naples lends itself to, reviewer Pascal Menoret nevertheless observes of Naples and beyond:

‘The city is under deconstruction, torn by free-market policies, deindustrialization, European symbolic and economic violence, and the growth of informal strategies of making do. But make no mistake: this is not a peculiar southern European story … ’

But clearly adding in ‘a multiplicity of readings’ will not be enough. Is there, rather, an alternative way, a new paradigm? Adding in previous and subsequent material from CITY and elsewhere(1) we address these questions in our next issue.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 1; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.1

Editorial

Editorial: Writing and Righting the City, Bob Catterall, Pages 1-3

Articles

Reading the Right to the City, Peter Marcuse, Pages 4-9

The English riots of 2011: Summoning community, depoliticising the city, Andrew Wallace, Pages 10-24

Assemblages of care and the analysis of public policies on homelessness in Turin, Italy, Michele Lancione, Pages 25-40

Debates

Invoking Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’ in South Africa today: A response to Walsh, Marie Huchzermeyer, Pages 41-49

Scenes and Sounds

Introduction: Navigating urban fabrication, Anna Richter, Pages 50-51

Dancing with bulldozers: Migrant life on Beijing’s periphery, Caroline Knowles, Pages 52-68

Reviews

Treading on Naples’ contact zone: anthropological encounters with the Camorra, Pascal Menoret, Pages 69-72

Finding meaning in alternative spaces, Stephen Przybylinski, Pages 73-77

Squatting in Europe, Amy Starecheski, Pages 78-81

References

Abourahme, N. 2013. “‘The Street’ and ‘The Slum’: Political Form and Urban Life in Egypt’s Revolt.” City 17 (6) : 716– 728.

Atkinson, A. 2013. “Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?” City 17 (5) : 580–605.

Brenner, N., ed. 2014. Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, Berlin: Jovis.

Brenner, N. and C. Schmid. 2011. “Planetary Urbanisation.” in Urban Constellations , edited by Matthew Gandy. Berlin: Jovis.

Catterall, B. 2013a. “Towards the Great Transformation: (9) Where is the Planet in ‘Planetary Urbanization’?” City 17 (5) : 703–710.

Catterall, B. 2013b. “Towards the Great Transformation (10) Earthing ‘Planetary urbanization”, City 17 (6) : 835–844.

Catterall, B. 2014, forthcoming. “Towards the Great Transformation (11): Where/what is Culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’?” Link >>

Merrifield, A. 2013. The Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanisation . Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press

Notes

1 Particularly by Abourahme, Atkinson, Brenner and Schmid, Catterall, and Merrifield.


  1. Note 1 Particularly by Abourahme, Atkinson, Brenner and Schmid, Catterall, and Merrifield.

Gray Space and the new urban regime: Between liberalism and creeping apartheid

Lecture with Professor Oren Yiftachel, Ben-Gurion University, Israel.

Date: 30 January 2014

Time: 18.30-20.00pm

Venue: UCL Conference Suite 05, 188 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7PH

Chashem Zaneh, an unrecognized Bedouin locality with the city of Beersheba in the background, August

Chashem Zaneh, an unrecognized Bedouin locality with the city of Beersheba in the background, August

This lecture will analyse the impact of structural economic, identity and governance tensions on urban regimes and societies in the twenty-first century. It draws attention to the pervasive emergence of ‘gray spaces’, that is, informal, temporary or illegal developments, transactions and populations. ‘Gray-spacing’ has become a central feature of urbanism in most parts of the world, as well as a strategy to manage the unwanted/irremovable, as well as the wanted/uncontrollable.

Urban planning is central to this process, given its ability to approve, deny, legitimate and criminalise urban development. Gray spacing enables the mobility of marginalised groups into privileged regions, often under the guise of liberalising economies. At the same time, this puts in train a process of ‘creeping urban apartheid’ under which the region is governed through the principle of ‘separation and inequality’. These tensions and trends will be illustrated by highlighting research findings on the planning of cities around Europe, Africa and Asia, with special focus on the ‘ethnocratic’ cities of Israel/Palestine, such as Beersheba, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

Prof. Yiftachel teaches urban studies as well as political and legal geography at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. His research has focused on critical understandings of the relations between space, power and conflict, with particular attention to ethnic, social and urban aspects of these relations. Yiftachel has taught as guest professor at a range of universities including RMIT Melbourne, Curtin, Columbia, Penn, Berkeley, Venezia, Kolkata and Cape Town. He has published over 100 articles and ten authored and edited books, including “Indigenous (In)Justice: the Bedouins in Comparative Perspective” (co-ed, Harvard University Press, 2013); “Ethnocracy: the Politics of Land and Identity in Israel/Palestine” (Pennpress, 2006); and “The Power of Planning” (ed, Kluwer, 2001).


Oren Yiftachel”Critical theory and ‘gray space’ Mobilization of the colonized” CITY , Vol. 13: 2–3, June–September 2009
(http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604810902982227)

(Free download link: http://www.geog.bgu.ac.il/members/yiftachel/new_papers_2009/City%202009.pdf)

‘The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt

Excerpt from Nasser Abourahme (2013) The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt, CITY 17.6 available here.

It starts with a black screen. A single female voice recites: “Deliver us from evil”. It cuts to a solitary figure in a gas mask, walking down a dusky, battle-ravaged, eerily empty—even sad—Cairo street. Her mediated breathing through the mask is audible, at once ominous and vulnerable. Her voice seems to come from somewhere behind the scene—more prayer than reflection. Heavy with the pathos of an already thwarted desire for a return of innocence, she pleads:

“Spare us this trial.

The battle this time is terrifying.

The battle is murky, strain upon strain. And on our side, the General …”

This figure—masked, anonymous, generic—that had previously seemed so full of collective purpose, so confident in its own political and universal truth, walks alone … lost, despondent. Severed from the crowd that had previously been the medium of both its de-individualization and its re-emergence; the crowd that now carries an essential ambivalence, perhaps even a taint. The screen cuts to people demonstrating in support of the army, jubilantly waving the image of the latest general to assume control. There is loss here. But also something much more troubling. Black filthy water pours down stairs. Something won’t be washed away. The editing cuts to images of the Rabe’ el-‘Adawiya massacre,(1) but we watch this scene from within our protagonist’s sonic space, there is no sound but her breathing and monotonous speech. We share her inner space, and maybe her inner guilt:

“We stood like corpses, watching the massacre. Blood on our chest.

Are we winning? Or in line for slaughter?

Is this question shameful? Or is silence worse?

Should we go down to scavenge the spoils?

Or count the bodies of the martyred?”

This is more than prayer, this is testimony, confession. This video put out a few days ago by the Egyptian activist-media collective Mosireen (2) cuts—with the very honesty of its confusion—to the affective core of the current impasse. The military junta effectively ruling Egypt since July 3rd of this year have done worse than physically smash the revolutionaries, they have embraced them. Implicated them. Tarnished them. What we are left with is a disoriented revolutionary subject, weighed down heavily with a sense of associated guilt and taken aback by the closing of societal ranks around the military. This is not a question of Egypt’s “absent third” as Slavoj Zizek recently put it when he rhetorically asked “where are the agents of the Tahrir Square protests from two years ago?”, only to reply to himself that they have been reduced to “surprised impassive observers” {2013: unpaginated}. No, that won’t do. The disjuncture is far more vexed than that. What underpins the bewilderment and self-interrogation is that they might have been reduced not to observers but to unwitting accomplices.

Full article Nasser Abourahme (2013) The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt, CITY 17.6 available here.

  1. The Rabe’ el-‘Adawiya Mosque was the main sit-in for the pro-Mursi supporters. On the morning of August 14th the army cleared the encampment, killing over 1,000 people in the process, though figures to this day remain oblique and contested.
  2. Mosireen, a Cairo-based activist-media collective, put out the video in September; the poem recited in it is called “Prayer of Fear”, by Mahmoud ‘Ezzat.

Editorial: Beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’

‘This is the world of real, not theory. Our categories are always going to be stretched by it.’ (Paul Mason, 2013).

The message was from Paul Mason (2013), journalist, author, academic, writing to us one night in October from Athens. The story at this point, he says, is “not the ‘network versus the hierarchy’ but three hierarchies against each other: the Greek left …, Golden Dawn …, and the Greek state… ” And each of them, as he describes it, is further divided, (see, in this issue, ‘Why It’s (Still) Kicking Off Everywhere’). But the real, too, is a category. Both categories, ‘real’ and ‘theory’, need to be and are stretched in this issue.

Editorial 17.6

We begin with the current situation in Egypt where Nasser Abourahme’s (2013) gaze moves beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’ towards political form, urban life and revolt, and back again. We move on to Blair Taylor’s (2013) critical survey of protest and revolt, mainly in the West, ranging from the Alterglobalization and Occupy movements to Neoanarchism and ‘the new spirit of the left’, and on, with Yael Allweil and Rachel Kallus (2013), to the interplay of male bodies in public spaces in Tel Aviv, concluding this sequence, stretching our categories even further, to Debra Shaw’s  (2013) explorations of ‘strange zones’ of the posthuman city, drawing on science fiction (including China Mie ́ville’s fantasy novel Perdido Street Station).

But it is not just the categories of our theory that we need to extend, it is also those of our actions. In the concluding episode of our Forum series on NGOs and Social Movements, David Sogge (2013) sets out the case for new thinking and action about their relative roles, and Adam Elliot- Cooper (2013), reviewing John Akomfrah’s fine documentary The Stuart Hall Project, argues, beyond its almost obituary-like ambience and ‘muted optimism’, that:

‘The subtleties of racially-coded signifiers, the U.S-led bombings and occupations in the Middle-East and beyond, in addition to the continual march of neo-liberalisation make Hall’s critique an essential component in building alternatives as well as resistance.’

Two other perspectives come together so as to stretch our categories of theory and action with an emphasis on reversing key capitalist economic and urban trends. In an extensive survey and reconsideration of pioneering Marxist analysis of financialisation, Costas Lapatvitsas (2013) argues that it ‘cannot be reversed without re-establishing the command of the social and collective over the private and the individual.’ And, picking up on our previous issue, entitled Reversing Urbanisation, (1) challenged and informed by Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria,’ Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?’ (Atkinson and Viloria, 2013), our current episode in the series, Towards the Great Transformation, argues against much current work on ‘planetary urbanisation’ that, drawing on the marginalised insights of ‘late Marx’ and recent much-neglected urban and rural struggles, the planet has to be re-earthed

Extreme events

Writing in the immediate aftermath of super-storm Sandy in 2012 a New Scientist editorial (2) noted that it was ‘suggestive of the extreme events that a changing climate will visit on us – much sooner than we had anticipated.’ One of the much-neglected rural projects is Atkinson’s and Viloria’s (2013) work in the Philippines. Atkinson reports:

‘The Hayen typhoon rushed across the south central islands of the Philippines and was truly destructive. I have been to Tacloban in the past and the pictures were horrendous. But also the countryside right across the island of Leyte was laid totally waste, including destroying so many trees and totally rubbishing the harvest which was almost ready.

‘Our area was pretty much wasted just a month back (two weeks before Hayen) with a direct hit from a typhoon, also rubbishing the harvest.’ (3)

It is ironic that such attempts are threatened by climatic conditions for which the system that they seek to supplant is almost certainly responsible. It is deeply worrying that those engaged in or concentrating on street battles cannot in the main see that ‘readjusting to reality’ is of at least equal importance Paul Mason too needs to stretch his categories. One analyst who can and does is Nasser Abourahme in both his recent contributions to CITY. In the current one he sees into and beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’. His atmospheric photograph of ‘a young boy earning a living fetching and delivering food walks under the watchful gaze of plain-clothes security officers’ illustrates his reference to ‘the possibility of new collectivities that might be found in the coordination between the revolutionary subjectivities and network that emerged from the revolt and the life-worlds of Egypt’s ‘informal’ urban poor that have both participated in and provided the enabling conditions of revolt.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 17 Issue 6; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 17.6

Editorial

Editorial: Beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’ Bob Catterall, Pages 713-715

Articles

‘The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt Nasser Abourahme, Pages 716-728

From alterglobalization to Occupy Wall Street: Neoanarchism and the new spirit of the left Blair Taylor, Pages 729-747

Re-forming the political body in the city: The interplay of male bodies and territory in urban public spaces in Tel Aviv Yael Allweil & Rachel Kallus, Pages 748-777

Strange zones: Science fiction, fantasy and the posthuman city Debra Benita Shaw, Pages 778-791

The financialization of capitalism: ‘Profiting without producing’ Costas Lapavitsas, Pages 792-805

Why It’s (Still) Kicking Off Everywhere: Part Two

Introduction: The global revolution as one of ideas? Bob Catterall, Pages 806-807

Why it’s STILL Kicking Off Everywhere Paul Mason, Pages 808-809

Forum: NGOs and Social Movements: Convergences and Divergences: Part Three

Introduction: on structures and conjunctures, rules and exceptions Marcelo Lopes de Souza & Barbara Lipietz, Pages 810-811

Urban organisations amidst transnational pressures David Sogge, Pages 812-817

Reviews

The Political is Noch Nicht (not yet)! Eduardo Mendieta, Pages 818-821

Around the illegal city Véronique Dupont, Pages 822-826

Film Review

The Stuart Hall Project: Review and reflections Adam Elliott-Cooper, Pages 827-834

Endpiece

Towards the Great Transformation: (10) Earthing ‘planetary urbanisation’ Bob Catterall, Pages 835-844

References

Abourahme, N. 2013. “‘The Street’ and ‘the Slum’: Political Form and Urban Life in Egypt’s Revolt.” CITY 17 (6) : 716– 728.

Allweill, Y., and R. Kallus. 2013. “Re-forming the Political Body in the City: The Interplay of Male Bodies and Territory in Urban Public Spaces in Tel Aviv.” CITY 17 (6) : 748– 777.

Atkinson, A., and J. Wiloria. 2013. “Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?” CITY 17 (5) : 580–605.

Catterall, B. 2012. “Editorial: Reform and/or Transformation?” CITY 16 (6) : 621– 625.

Catterall, B. 2013. “Editorial: Reversing Urbanization?” CITY 17 (5) : 577– 579.

Elliot-Cooper, A. 2013. “The Stuart Hall Project: Review and Reflections.” CITY 17 (6) : 827– 834.

Lapavitsas, C. 2013. “The Financialization of Capitalism: ‘Profiting Without Producing’.” CITY 17 (6) : 792–805.

Mason, P. 2013. “Why it’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere.” CITY 17 (6) : 808– 809.

Shaw, D. B. 2013. “Strange Zones: Science Fiction, Fan- tasy and the Posthuman City.” CITY 17 (6) : 778–791.

Sogge, D. 2013. “Urban Organisations Amidst Transnational Pressures.” CITY 17 (6) : 812– 817.

Taylor, B. 2013. “From Alterglobalization to Occupy Wall Street: Neoanarchism and the New Spirit of the Left.” CITY 17 (6) : 729– 747.

Notes

  1. See Catterall (2013).
  2. Discussed in Catterall ( 2012 ), p. 624.
  3. Email, 19 November 2013

Global Uprisings: first reflections on a historic get-together of radicals in Amsterdam

by Antonis Vradis

Note: CITY will be publishing an upcoming special issue on the Global Uprisings event at De Balie with contributions from many of the speakers and participants… Please check back for the special issue!

Global Uprisings event at De Balie, Amsterdam, November 2013.

There might be no better sign that we may be “living in the end times”, as Slavoj Žižek has had it, than the fact that the day came when dozens of anarchists, council communists, autonomous Marxists and other radicals descended in Amsterdam, gathering in one of the city’s most well-established cultural venues, De Balie.

What took place during the past weekend in the Dutch capital is, in this sense, already the stuff of legend: direct participants in some of the most important uprisings of the past five years, plus some of the strongest and most passionate voices that have come in their defense since, got together under one roof. In the opening plenary, Paul Mason set the tone by moving on from his recording and mapping out of the global uprisings in Why it’s (still) kicking off everywhere (see 17.5 for the CITY reflection and response – Editorial and contents list here), Mason outlined his vision for what may, or should happen from now on.

In the morning plenary of November 21st, Lobna Darwish from the Mosireen collective in Egypt, Foti Benlisoy from Istanbul, Turkey and from Victor Khaled from Brazil offered an inspiring account of their respective struggles – the most recent ones in this continuing global thread of revolt.

What followed was nothing short of a complete mapping-out of the some of the most important struggles of our times. From the crisis in Europe – and the way in which it has hit the European periphery in particular, to the question of housing, all the way to feminist and LGBTQ organising in the revolts, attempts to network and fight back across the Mediterranean and even, experiments and attempts at self-organisation; that crucial threshold when the moment of revolt is (sur)passed in favour of a more permanent shift in the way that people live their lives. The end-of-day plenary saw David Graeber and George Caffentzis putting the day’s discussions in perspective, and tackling the question of the in/visibility of class struggle at the time of crisis.

November 22nd was the last day of the conference (and videos are not yet uploaded on the De Balie Vimeo channel). The day saw some excellent discussions on the topics of migration, the question of urbanization and revolt, student struggles around the world, grassroots media at the sites of revolt around the world, and the question of ‘reinventing’ the strike – an important attempt to reflect on new tactics and trends in strike organization. At the event’s closing plenary, Paul Mattick Jr. reflected on the current crisis in a much larger, historical perspective – explaining how the current disaster is little more (or less) than capitalism’s business as usual.

In what was most definitely the most powerful of moments in an already moving event, the closing moments of Global Uprisings played out down the street from De Balie, at the space where hundreds of migrants have found refuge, in a parallel attempt to make their voices heard, to become visible in the Dutch society. What kind of impact might Global Uprisings have? What is its legacy? The answer to the question will take a while to discern in the horizon, but there is already enough evidence that it will be formidable.

‘Prayer of Fear’, a video by the self-organised media collective Mosireen from Egypt – reflecting on their thoughts, their questions and their dilemmas after the massacre of approximately 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the Egyptian Army. (A translation in English of the text is underneath the video on Youtube).

Videos from all sessions at Global Uprisings are available through the De Balie Vimeo Channel.

Antonis Vradis is a research fellow at http://www.crisis-scape.net, a member of the Occupied London collective and alternatives editor of CITY. See also http://blog.occupiedlondon.org/.

Readjusting to reality 2: Transition

Earlier this year CITY published an article under the title of Readjusting to Reality (see the online excerpt on our website here), that analysed the growth in Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture (UPA) around the world in the context of the emerging decline in fossil energy resources and the accompanying ‘fall of modern civilisation’. In Issue 17.5 (October 2013) the journal has published a sequel to this, focusing on the growing Transition Movement that involves local communities that are attempting to ‘relocalise’ life ahead of the decline in energy resources.

To be meaningful any revolution will need to address the issue of how humanity can live sustainably within the limits of the planet's biosphere. Painting: "New Pioneers" by Mark Henson.

The full article (Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria “Readjusting to reality 2: Transition?” (2013) CITY 17.5, pages 580-605) starts with a brief critical review of the current debate on ‘fracking’ that is being presented as a route to continued availability of fossil energy (1) and then goes on to analyse the Transition Movement in terms of its growth, intentions and activities. However, the main body of the article is concerned with an enquiry into the present ‘tumult’ that is spreading around the world in the form of Protest Movements and demonstrations. The issue is: are these a prelude to Revolution that will address what are felt to be the contemporary social, political and economic woes of the world? The analysis reflects on the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and related manifestations, the anti-Globalisation Movements and finally the anti-Austerity Movements that are arising particularly around the countries of the European Union.

The article expresses concern that these Movements have not yet produced much by way of significant improvements in the political and social consequences of the directions in which the modern world is moving, with indications that the results may in some cases actually be worse than the situation ex-ante the advent of the Movements. This discussion leads to broader consideration of whether the Movements are likely to be able at all to achieve improvements, particularly in the face of the decline, in the coming decades, of energy resources.

The paragraphs below, that comprise the conclusions of the paper, present a discussion that looks deeper into the causes of the Movements as cultural phenomena and what at a deeper level they might be striving towards. Finally, the article returns to consider the Transition Movement in this context, indicating that perhaps this is the real Revolutionary Movement that has genuine promise to address the ills that we are facing today and, increasingly, into the future.

Excerpt from Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria

Is ‘revolution’ a meaningful phenomenon ‘if things get worse’?

Standing back to review the turmoil, the protests and the longer events of occupation with the multifarious activities that developed in the places occupied, one is in the first instance at a loss when trying to answer the question of the meaning of these events if, as is clearly the case, they eschewed making concrete demands and in the end had no significant impact on the outcome of the formal political process (2) in the supposed direction of changing the way that the political system is working in its impacts on the health of societies and economies. And if the dysfunctionality of the present contemporary neo-liberal mentality and system with respect to its impacts on the ‘common people’ continues to deepen, furthering inequality and thence, post peak oil, spreading poverty, what might we expect from continuing protest movements?

It seems that still in the back of the radical Occidental consciousness there remains the Marxist scenario of global revolution, brought about by a broad uprising of the ‘working classes’ or, more rhetorically, a ‘class that has nothing to lose but its chains’. The recent debate in City around what we might consider to be the working classes in London—namely, Mark Davidson and Elvin Wyly debating with Tim Butler, Chris Hamnett and Mark Ramsden (3) —seems to be underlain by such a notion although nowhere overtly referred to. The issue of class antagonisms is asserted and Davidson and Wyly (2012, 401, 4) note that

‘… the point is to continue a concern with class relations, given the incontrovertible evidence of widening inequalities and regressive politics of (public) austerity in recent years’.

There is an argument about the growing ‘middle class’ but at the same time that within this ever complexifying phenomenon there are also losers, whom we might think of as at some stage siding with the more obviously working class to form a revolutionary force.

In fact this goes back to a lively debate on this issue starting with Castells (1972) and Poulanzas (1978) in the early 1970s, with the revival of Marxism in academia, and it seemed to die out again by the early 1990s.(5) Perhaps the reason was that, as is clear from within the CITY debate, whilst in the 19th and early 20th century the working classes, easily identified, comprised the majority of populations of the burgeoning cities of Europe, today they have declined substantially in size, with a melange of occupations that may or may not be defined as ‘middle class’ having become a majority over the ‘classic working class’ and a small, exceedingly rich, class (that one is loath to call an elite).

The real point, however, is that the solidarity of the working class that made it seem as if one day it would revolt against the condition to which its members were being subjected—in the extreme as set out by Engels (1845; 1969) in mid-19th-century Manchester—has long subsided. The 19th-century British working class felt their class as it had been created after the French Revolution as so well documented by E. P. Thompson (1964, 6) and this was lived in their workplaces and their conditions of work. In the years of the forging of the class as a political force, the summit, in terms of organisation in Britain—which was, of course, Marx’s focus on the issue of class evolution—was the Triple Alliance of coal miners, railwaymen and dockers that, although not present in the form of any organisation in the post-First World War era, was nevertheless a strong ideological force—or threat—to ‘the Establishment’ evident in high levels of unionisation with a direct link to the Labour Party.

Thatcher’s ‘counter-revolution’ focused precisely on the destruction of the very notion of working-class solidarity through the destruction of the three foundational industries—regardless of economic rationality.(7) In any case, the productive economy was no longer a place of mass employment and even the social housing estates where the working classes might have seen their neighbours as a source of solidarity were privatised and broken up—again as a conscious policy to destroy the very notion of working-class solidarity and to recruit all to the ‘middle-class’ mentality and lifestyle (a property-owning democracy).(8)

Social antagonisms there undoubtedly still are (unfortunately the more obvious urban antagonisms these days relating to race rather than class). But how these might gel again into ‘class solidarity’ in a situation where inequality turns into mass deprivation, if not impossible, is extremely difficult to imagine in the current ambience. Above all, we might not like to admit that the ‘middle class’ does exist, not as a well-defined class, but definitely as an ideology, where Thatcher did win and where ‘we are all middle class today’ in our orientation to, put simply, possessive individualism—or consumerist ‘commodity fetishism’—and the struggle for individual status and wealth (however modest this may be in practice for the broad middle class). And then when we fail, rather than adhering to class solidarity, we succumb to what we might refer to as the ‘American disease’, of blaming ourselves as individuals for our failure rather than making common cause against the super-rich elite and their political agenda.

Assuming, on the other hand, that radical economic decline could lead to ever more violent and insistent protest movements, let us conjecture (from history) what the results might be. Although in the Greek and more broadly European events this is not yet evident, Lila Leontidou (2012, 301, 9) notes that:

‘In fact, though spontaneity may emancipate people and make a success of movements without leaders (and we might add, without any concrete idea of what they want), it may also sometimes breed monsters.’

She then goes on to quote Gramsci as writing:

‘It is almost always the case that “spontaneous” movement of the subaltern classes is accompanied by a reactionary movement of the right-wing of the dominant class.…’

She then continues by asserting the need to find the right leaders to forestall the rise of—in the then Italian case—fascism or in any case tyrants who proceed to keep the people in subjection. Peter Marcuse also, in the context of the CITY debates, asked in passing whether we really want revolution when we look back at the historical record and see the outcome of the great European revolutions: culminating in Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin/Stalin. Can we have any confidence that Marx’s ‘old mole’ as one of the characters in Bob Catterall’s (2012–13, 10) ruminations about where we are going, which refers to the idea of the periodic manifestations of revolution as expressions of progress, is in reality nothing more than a series of random events along a contingent, serendipitous path of history?

This takes us right back through European history with our first stop with Plato (1974, 27–30, 11), whose discourse on political systems in The Republic led him to a scepticism of democracy due to the relinquishing of responsibility where ‘people can do as they please’ that inevitably ends in the rise of tyranny. We needn’t agree with him that this is inevitable, nor in the solution he proposed of creating a class of warrior-philosophers bred to rule. However, we are seeing everywhere around the contemporary turmoil, the response of governments to unleash police forces to ‘keep the peace’—and maybe we should listen carefully to Stephen Graham (2010, 12) in his warnings that below the surface, the means to implement tyranny are growing everywhere.

So why and from where does the apparently ultimately fatal phenomenon of revolution arise? We note that other major Eurasian cultures have not so readily produced revolutions as has been the case in Europe. Indeed, it is difficult to image revolution in Indian caste society where the subordinate nature of the lower castes is so deeply ingrained and kept in place by tacit contempt and everyday violence on the part of the superior castes. However, we can certainly see revolution emerging from Christian traditions, particularly associated with the notion of the millennium and the Second Coming. Throughout the Middle Ages, millenarian movements, some on a massive scale, arose again and again, always orchestrated by some religious leader or through some biblical exegesis (Cohn 1970, 13). The English Revolution, generally thought of as the first truly secular revolution, was nevertheless transfused with religious interpretation and movements that seemed to be the energy behind the revolution (Hill 1975, 14).

Perhaps we have the religious dimension behind us today—we have lived through the Enlightenment: Lenin was certainly definite in proposing rational ways forward for the Russian Revolution. The sad thing is firstly that he had several programmes, pre-revolution—particularly as set out in What is to be Done? and State and Revolution (Lenin (1902), 1973, (1917), 1965)—that were contradictory in ways that allowed many alternative things to happen. Moreover, in the end, his insistence in the second of these publications written on the eve of the revolution on ‘smashing the State’, on implementing a true democracy with ‘all power to the Soviets’ and the ‘withering away of the (by then worker’s) State’ were simply shelved once he and the Communist Party had attained (absolute) power. Nor did any of these ever reappear on the Soviet agenda.

So maybe we should understand the European penchant for protest demonstrations and revolution as an extension of millenarian sensibilities yearning for the Second Coming. In detail there is also the idea of achieving a (momentary) sense of solidarity and community in such manifestations. Given how modern society has systematically instilled the notion of ‘Possessive Individualism’ in what has become the norm of the ‘middle class’ (almost a definition of middle classdom) and in so doing has progressively subdued the aspiration for solidarity and community and even any very meaningful notion of society—as so well analysed by Zygmunt Bauman.(15) Such events where people come together in common cause—even if extremely ill-defined—is a very general revolt against the mental and social predicament and Weltanschauung in which we find ourselves. Whilst the contemporary protests seem to be ‘against’, perhaps we should see a more forceful dimension as their being ‘for’ in the image of ‘Senseless Acts of Beauty’ (McKay 1996, 16). The festive atmosphere amongst the occupiers, if antagonistic towards established forces, nevertheless insisted on direct democracy and consensus decision-making and then performed ‘cultural’ manifestations to encourage such a conclusion.

But there are other, we hope effective, traditions and ways to overcome the political and social problems of our day and at the same time recreate—maybe as the main issue—solidarity and community on a permanent basis. In the wake of the European Enlightenment and throughout the 19th century there were rich debates as to what kind of society we should be creating. Of course, in the end we got two—in retrospect equally horrible—competing models that slugged it out over what Eric Hobsbawm (1994, 17) called The Short Twentieth Century. However, whilst Marx had a penchant for belittling the many ‘utopian’ ideas, proposals and experiments of his day as being small-minded and ‘impractical’ in contrast to the grand vision of revolution, perhaps if we turn this criticism on its head, we can say that, on the contrary, many of these were intensely practical where what Marx was encouraging by way of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was not only impracticable, as genuinely answering the desires and needs of the proletariat, but also, evidently, extremely dehumanising.

It is not necessary here to run through these ‘utopian schemes’ with some kind of evaluation, but we should be sensitive not only to the fact that some of these did improve matters for the subaltern classes—for instance, Robert Owen’s many ideas and schemes sowed the seeds both of modern trade unionism and cooperativism (Harrison 1969, 18). Indeed, there is a vast wealth of utopian writing that isn’t all fiction—indeed much of even the fictional could be turned into fact to greatly improve the world—with good examples of the genre even in recent times.(19) By picking and choosing one can certainly come up with an alternative world that is both intensely practical and addresses comprehensively the problematic of the one we have now.

Perhaps, as something of the culmination of the 19th-century alternative to Marx’s Communism as its ‘arch-rival’ Anarchism, should be given a pitch. Piotre Kropotkin, exiled from Tsarist Russia and participating in late 19th-century movements, agitating and pamphleteering, settled in later years in London, where he became part of the rapid growth at that time in various leftist movements, becoming the heart of the then Anarchist Movement (Miller 1976, 20). Besides copious journalism, pamphleteering and many invitations to speak before audiences of thousands in Europe and across North America—with a vast following including, but not exclusively, much of the working-class movement—Kropotkin had time to write a series of books that even today say much about what the great 20th-century revolution, that never was, could have yielded.

In a series of essays published under the title of Fields, Factories and Workshops of Tomorrow (Kropotkin (1899) 1985) he analysed—not unlike Marx’s copious researches that underlay Capital—the early phases of mass industrialisation and what has become economic globalisation. However, he noted that this never totally killed smaller scale local industries which, if pursued with imagination, could continue to satisfy diverse local needs, and what the revolution should be about is the ‘withering away of large-scale industry’ and not just the State. Nevertheless, local industry would need to be developed in concert with local intensive agriculture—what we are now calling UPA—and he included the need to use urban waste to improve soils and levels of production. Unfortunately, with time, the scale and complexity of the global production system has grown to a magnitude that Kropotkin could hardly have imagined. This is, of course, courtesy of fossil energy and can be expected to retreat down the other side of the peak oil curve.

This should open up the possibility—indeed the necessity—of local revival of diverse small-scale production. Kropotkin set out three important dimensions that revolutionaries should try to promote in the context of such an evolution. The first is the need to continue invention of appropriate technologies (which in future will be needed to replace the energy-intensive technologies of our day) not only as the basis of local production, but also to enhance the beauty of the products; the second is to reform the education system to ensure that, even if there were some specialisation, everyone would be encouraged to learn various skills, both practical and theoretical and thence contribute to farming, work in production and participate in theorising and planning; the third is the organisation of all such activity in the form of cooperatives. In fact in his last years, returning to the emergent Soviet Union, Kropotkin worked tirelessly in his local area, in the countryside north of Moscow, to establish cooperatives—having once the opportunity to discuss this with Lenin who, unsympathetic, asserted Marx’s insistence on centralisation of the economy that as things progressed, undermined the autonomy of the cooperatives that had been initiated in the early days of the Soviet Union, essentially disempowering and disillusioning the people.

Concluding Remarks

Whilst in the first instance circulating around the difficulties of weaning themselves of the contemporary ideological mindset, it seems that all this is exactly what the Transition Movement is trying to do. Over the past decades, there has been a steady formation of what are, these days, referred to as ‘intentional communities’ that have experimented with all kinds of mechanisms for recreating community and for re-localising life generally, turning their backs on Possessive Individualism.(21) Although not seeming to know—or at least to discuss—their own pre-history, the Transition Movement picks up on this experience and insistently ‘re-educates’ the participants in Transition Initiatives in being community, regardless of class background and insistent on classless anarchist relations, living alternative lifestyles aimed at surviving the deluge ahead, that is emergent now and can be expected to accelerate into the future, created by the perversities of modern society. As things progress, more imagination and action will certainly be needed to go into local economic reconstruction and Kropotkin still has things he can teach, or at least inspire us with.

So what does this have to do with the protest demonstrations discussed at such lengths in this paper? Simply, with the trajectory of the mass-industrialised, consumer society running into increasing problems, increasing numbers of people—qua Transition Movement—are seeing that there is a way out. Maybe there needs to be increasing discussion of the ‘direct democracy’ called for by OWS and other protesters not just abstractly in the piazzas, but in terms of practical ways to implement it in the context of rebuilding local economies to give us jobs and incomes, but much more importantly to recreate community where we can enjoy being together all the time and not just in the ‘time out’ of Senseless Acts of Beauty. Maybe this is the real revolution, with results that not only change our lives in a positive way, but more urgently these days, to save us from the terrible indignities and hardship of poverty and dispossession that are currently the lot of relatively few, but may be expected soon to become much more widespread. Instead, jettisoning the illusions of what is cool in life supported by incessant movement, handphoning, Facebook, Twittering, video-gaming and hanging out—even living the quiet suburban life surrounded by a cornucopia of stuff—and thence protestations in the streets and the piazzas. Coming again instead, face to face with our fellow humanity to do meaningful things in a modest way: ay, there’s the rub!

  1. Readers might already wish to read Richard Heinberg’s recent book entitled Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future. 2013: Post Carbon Institute, Santa Barbara, California
  2. There are, of course, some exceptions—such as in Istanbul, where the initial spark of the protests was to prevent the sacrifice of a park to a new shopping centre. What is meant here, however, is that no significant changes were made to the political conjuncture that might have set things on the course of either a more social democratic state or, more radically, towards significant steps to decentralisation and/or national autarky.
  3. Butler, T., C. Hamnett, and M. Ramsden. 2008. “Inward and Upward? Making Out Social Class Change in London 1981–2001.” Urban Studies 45 (2) : 67–88.; Davidson, M., and E. Wyly. 2012. “Class-ifying London: Questioning Social Division and Space Claims in the Post-industrial Metropolis.” CITY 16 (4) : 395–421.; Hamnett, C., and T. Butler. 2013. “Re-classifying London: A Growing Middle Class and Increasing Inequality. A Response to Mark Davidson and Elvin Wyly’s “Class-ifying London: Questioning Social Division and Space Claims in the Post-industrial Metropolis”.” CITY 17 (2) : 192–208.
  4. Davidson, M., and E. Wyly. 2012. “Class-ifying London: Questioning Social Division and Space Claims in the Post-industrial Metropolis.” City 16 (4) : 395–421.
  5. For two groups or respectively ‘less’ and ‘more’ radical readings from the debate, see: Giddens and Held (1982) and Wright (1989).
  6. Thompson, E. P. 1964. The Making of the English Working Class. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  7. Obviously, this is a very swift sketch of things we all know but nevertheless need more discussion here: working-class solidarity ebbed away over the post-Second World War era and studies began to show how conservative values arose amongst the working class (Hoggart 1957; McKenzie and Silver 1968) as these were co-opted by the implementation of housing and welfare programmes. The significant working-class vote that brought Thatcher to power confirmed this.
  8. For the story of the Heygate estate in the London Borough of Southwark—once the crown amongst the social housing estates, which once housed almost 80% of the borough’s population—see: Sebregondi (2012).
  9. Leontidou, L. 2012. “Athens in the Mediterranean “Movement of the Piazzas”: Spontaneity in Material and Virtual Public Spaces.” City 16 (3): 299–312.
  10. Catterall, B. 2012–13. “Towards the Great Transformation (1–6).” City 16 (1–2) to 17 (2).
  11. Plato. 1974. The Republic. Translated and edited by H. D. P. Lee, 2nd ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  12. Graham, S. 2010. Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. London: Verso.
  13. Cohn, N. 1970. The Pursuit of the Millennium. London: Paladin Books.
  14. Hill, C. 1975. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  15. We could cite a long list of Bauman’s publications on this theme. Let the following suffice: Bauman (2001, 2002).
  16. McKay, G. 1996. Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties. London: Verso.
  17. Hobsbawm, E. 1994. Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century—1914–1991. London: Michael Joseph.
  18. Harrison, J. F. C. 1969. Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  19. For instance, readers may be familiar with David Harvey’s (2000, 259–281) sketch in the final pages of his Spaces of Hope.
  20. Miller, M. A. 1976. Kropotkin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  21. For a perceptive analysis of the difficulties such communities have faced in a world where everyone else is encased in possessive individualism, see: Abrams and McCulloch (1976). Biennial accounts of the state of the intentional communities movement in the UK were published from 1989 to 2007 under the title of Diggers and Dreamers. See the most recent publication: Coates (2012). For the USA, see: FIC (2010) and for a Europe-wide directory, see: Eurotopia (2005) in English—an update in German is available for 2009.

Editorial: Reversing urbanization?

Is there a need, an increasingly urgent need, to move from large-scale industry and agriculture to localised industry and agriculture? If so, might this not involve a reversal of the present largely taken-for-granted course of urbanization, of ‘planetary urbanization’? Alternatively conceptualised, may it be the dominant formula of combined economic and urban progress that should be questioned?

With particular emphasis on urban and rural trends, this issue of CITY suggests that there is a need for an extensive redirection of our priorities, a reclamation of the much-abused notion of ‘revolution’, beyond the current sites of struggle, the streets and the squares, to include as well urban and rural working and living spaces, towards contesting the economic imperatives that undermine and threaten the nature of work and life. In doing so it takes in, in their order of appearance here, developments, in and their possible global implications, in an area of Britain, Stokes Croft in Bristol, in Bogota, Colombia, the Parliamentarium in Brussels, the wideworld protests and contests included by Paul Mason and/or his reviewers in Why it’s still kicking off everywhere, in ‘Emerging Cities’ by Allen Scott and Ed Soja as they move out from Los Angeles to that ‘Third Wave’ and beyond, considering ‘cognitive-cultural capitalism’ and ‘regional urbanization’, and on to dimensions of the planet.

Permaculture project, Philippines. Photo: Adrian Atkinson.

Permaculture project, Philippines. Photo: Adrian Atkinson.

A grounded alternative

A crucial development ignored in current studies of ‘planetary urbanization’ is permaculture, defined informally by the Permaculure Institue, as ‘an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.’

What the photograph shows (see the frontispiece) is one such site in the Philippines. In brief, it consists of organic rice strains, pest-repellent intercropping, bamboo and thatch building, and an orchard in the background. Explained further now by Adrian Atkinson:

‘The group inherited 5.5 Ha of monoculture; rice: flat, featureless, green during the growing season. The whole area now is divided into parts of varying intensity from the human to the virgin forest. There are now over 1,000 species growing on the farm, and agricultural ‘wastes’ are used to generate compost and fertiliser, with some of the species, growing along the hedgerows—which can be seen in the picture—known to repel pests.

The photograph is looking from the edge of a regenerated forest area, across one of the rice fields to one of the buildings built to house various training exercises (almost a laboratory) which, as is evident, is built out of bamboo with thatch roof. Behind the building you can see the fruit orchard – again m any species.’ (1)

Disturbed by an approach to revolution that seems to devote almost total attention to street battles, Atkinson suggests that such (spreading) alternatives maybe: the real Revolution, with results that not only change our lives in a positive way, but more urgently these days, to save us from the terrible indignities and hardship of poverty and dispossession that are currently the lot of relatively few, but may be expected soon to become much more widespread.’(2)

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 17 Issue 5; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 17.5

Editorial

Editorial: Reversing urbanization? Bob Catterall, Pages 577-579

Readjusting to reality 2: Transition? Adrian Atkinson & Julie Viloria, Pages 580-605 (Read free online excerpt here!)

Cultural activism and the politics of place-making Michael Buser, Carlo Bonura, Maria Fannin & Kate Boyer, Pages 606-627

How to help, and how not to help, the poor in the megacities of the South Alan Gilbert, Pages 628-635

EUtopia? The European Union and the Parlamentarium in Brussels Caspar Pearson, Pages 636-653

Why It’s (Still) Kicking Off Everywhere

Introduction: Why it’s (still) kicking off everywhere Anna Richter, Pages 654-656

One hundred and forty characters will not be changing the world Andrea Gibbons, Pages 657-660

In the middle of a revolution … so where the hell is Stringer Bell? Mark Davidson, Pages 661-670

Still? Antonis Vradis, Pages 671-673

Reporting on the unreported with Paul Mason: Scenes from Sydney, 2011 Kurt Iveson, Pages 674-682

‘Emerging Cities of the Third Wave’ Revisited: Part Two

Introduction: ‘Emerging Cities of the Third Wave’ Revisited: Part Two Bob Catterall, Pages 683-684

Response to Meagher and Wyly Allen J. Scott, Pages 685-687

Regional urbanization and third wave cities Edward W. Soja, Pages 688-694

Reviews

The city: complex, material, imagined and lived Therese Kenna, Pages 695-698

Liberatory struggles for housing Andrea Gibbons, Pages 699-702

Endpiece

Towards the Great Transformation: (9) Where is the planet in ‘planetary urbanisation’? Bob Catterall, Pages 703-710

  1. Email, 10 September, 2013.
  2. Adrian Atkinson and Julie Vilaria, Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition? (this issue).

Towards the Great Transformation: (8) Relocating Egypt and the West

‘That Egyptians refuse the sterile dictates of ballot box domination—at a historical conjuncture when people across the world in formal democracies from Turkey to Brazil and via that most anodyne of corporate electoral spectacles, the USA, cast it into deep crisis—speaks to a vigilance and an awareness of this mechanism’s current incommensurability with revolutionary desire.’ (Nasser Abourahme, (1)).

This mechanism is what others know, or claim to know, as democracy. But is it democracy? A hint that it is not is given by the qualifying adjective added by Abourahme, ‘formal’. For this is not to reject the possibility that the label ‘democracy’ stands for something, some process, that despite the encroaching ‘corporate electoral spectacle’, is still of value. What, then, is that corporate dimension that makes democracy ‘formal’ or largely so? It is surely that other form of rule labeled, one that interestingly is rarely used, plutocracy, rule by wealth.

Another label for that dimension, a presence and a word all too familiar, is ‘capitalism’. What escapes popular consciousness at the moment is that capitalism, rather than a mere economic phenomenon, a particular form of distribution of goods, class and status, is increasingly and almost totally occupying (the use of this world is deliberate, the Occupy movement is one of counter-occupation) the political sphere, hence we have plutocracy.

The hope has been that we could regulate plutocracy. But that hope is fading. What can stand against it? Abourahme points to the streets:

‘The concatenation of genuine political events, the quick rise and fall of ruling formations, and above all the speed of resonance, all bespeak an extraordinary velocity produced not by the algorithms and coded flows of networked capital but by the determined and expansive movements of bodies in the street.’

That velocity along the streets is remarkable and at times essential but it is not enough. It can hold back the ‘algorithms and coded flows of networked capital’, undermine the extant legitimacies of capital and the state, but it cannot supersede them. There is no doubt that there is need, absolute need, for the physical struggle for its ingenuity and heroism, but there is also the need for a developing agenda (no matter how small its beginnings) alongside and beyond the physical struggle. There is no excuse for a fetishism of the street(s). Food has to be grown and distributed. Goods have to be made. Children have to be cared for. Hospitals have to be funded. Trains and buses, not just bikes, have to run. Workers’ energies and imaginations have both to flow and to be engaged. Priorities have to be established. Decisions have to be made, ones that do not follow the dictates of networked capital and the state. Critique and praxis have to flow both ways. ‘The people’ has to assemble and re-assemble not just to oppose, but also to build. But how?

“Forget ‘the West’”?

“[O]ur dependence on a politics of alterity …leaves us unable to think outside the shadow of the figure of ‘the West’… [W]e need to urgently forget ‘the West’; not simply to provincialize it, but to* really forget it.” (Abourahme)

Parts of that shadow are the corporate electoral spectacles that sustain the masquerade in which democracy becomes formal as plutocracy asserts itself and as liberalism is presented as the only alternative to Islamism. But it is not only the mask that has to be removed but also the reality that produces it. The West/North needs, too, to perform that necessarily double operation of removal and elimination.

There has not been much success so far with even the first half of the operation. Abourahme refers to the continuing danger of being exposed to ‘the smarmy endorsements of the Tony Blairs of this world’. But that particular mask has not itself been successfully exposed. The former minister in his government, Clare Short, in her book, An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power (2004), made a courageous attempt to examine the bland sophistries that overlay Blair’s dealings with truth. The rush of moral philosophers to the rescue was not too evident …. More successful have been those operating outside these restrictions. The thriller, Ghosts (2007 – subsequently a Polanski film) by Robert Harris, a former member of the Blair circle, got close to the phenomenon in his portrait of an ex-prime minister, his wife and their context. So, too, did the cartoonist Steve Bell in his 1999 cartoon of Blair as a seemingly comforting latter-day reincarnation of Mao intoning such measured messages as ‘Middle classes of the world unite’, ‘Advance into the beige heat of class snuggle.’(2)

But thrillers are fiction, cartoons are not serious, and Short is a lefty politican, a woman and therefore a figure of fun! Or so the corporate media and much academic and intellectual comment portray them. Urban and socio-spatial studies are perhaps a little better.

Amin presents a disturbing picture of the imbalance between the two largely exclusive models of telescopic urbanism, a business consultancy as opposed to a human potential or concessionary model. It is a picture that at times matches Abourahme’s:

‘[T]he elites are on the march, intolerant of even concessionary urbanism, bent on clearing slums and people of an unpleasant bearing to make way for the city of shiny buildings, glitzy consumption, fast highways, clean streets, plentiful real estate and relaxed planning regulations. The manoeuvres of the cleansing class—a coalition of middle classes, aspirants, cosmopolitans, consumers, businesses and global investors—promise a very different city, one that cannot abide the poor within sight or making a claim on the city now considered as theirs’.(3)

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY, extract from the Endpiece (download full article free here) to Issue 17.4. (See Editorial and contents list)

  1. Abourahme, N. (2013) Past the end, not yet at the beginning: On the revolutionary disjuncture in Egypt (this issue): The author notes in relation to this article: “This text is an early conceptual response to the Egyptian events of June 30th, and part of an ongoing reading of the larger historical moment in the Arab world that will take shape in the journal and website over the coming months”.
  2. From Bell’s book, Bell’s Eye: Twenty Years of Drawing Blood London: Methuen, 1999. Reprinted with permission in Catterall, B (2000), ‘End review: New Spaces’ City 4:1, pp 161–168.
  3. Amin, A. (2013) ‘Telescopic Urbanism’ (CITY 17.4)

Past the end, not yet at the beginning: On the revolutionary disjuncture in Egypt

In Egypt, talk of revolution began almost immediately after thousands filled Tahrir Square in Cairo in Spring 2011. More than two years later, the word has become quite commonplace, leaving much to be understood about the reality of transition and what will emerge from it.

In his article for the latest issue of CITY (17.4) – free to download from the link below – Nasser Abourahme looks at these turbulent times of transition(1), referring to a ‘revolutionary disjuncture’. Below the abstract and link, we also quote here from the novelist Ahdaf Soueif in the Guardian, (‘Egypt after the revolution: curfew nights and blood-stained days’) whose report tells of dark times unfolding in this period of the country’s history.


Special offer free article download from the online Journal: Nasser Abourahme (2013) “Past the end, not yet at the beginning: On the revolutionary disjuncture in Egypt”; CITY 17.4, pages 426-432

Abstract

Egypt today sits at a temporal disjuncture of revolutionary potential—already past a form of politics that has been overthrown but not yet near its replacement. This means both a contraction of time as the pace and intensity of revolt, in a society now all but ungovernable, regularly upends institutional planning and calculation; it also means that previously stable instruments of rule are rendered unviable. That is, more than simply an acceleration of time, what defines this period is a non-reformist desire for a radical break with the past. More than anything else it was the Muslim Brotherhood-led government’s failure to recognize the character of this time that spelled its end. By relying on the very same—that is, its predecessor’s—instruments and mechanisms of subjection (security, torture, paternalism) they failed to realize that something fundamental had shifted in the relationship between subject and authority. No doubt the risks after ‘June 30th’ are real and grave; the potential of the army consolidating a hold it never relinquished over institutional politics has grown. Yet the flurry of talk about coups, legitimacies, legalities and electoral politics misses the temporal specificity of this disjuncture and implicitly raises, yet again, the false choice between Liberals and Islamists. Part of the impasse, this paper argues, is our dependence on a politics of alterity that while rightly occupied with debunking European conceits of universalism and correcting historical narrative, leaves us unable to think outside the shadow of the figure of ‘the West’. Yet to recognize the experimentation with new and concrete universalities in which Egypt leads us all, we need to urgently forget ‘the West’; not simply to provincialize it, but to really forget it.

From “Egypt after the revolution: curfew nights and blood-stained days. Protesters suffocated in police vans, young men executed in the desert and constant fear are the realities of Egypt today” The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013. (Full article here)

Egypt, August 2013.

Photo: Nameer Galal/Demotix; from Christianaid.org.uk.

The revolution – the revolution of 25 January 2011 that we all fell in love with – needs to not get caught in the war between its two enemies. The police state and the Brotherhood are both hierarchical, patriarchal, militarised, centralist, dogmatic, conformist, exclusionary organisations. Both are built on obedience. Both hate critical thinking and debate. Their wars are not ours.

And yet the revolution is not, and cannot, be silent in the face of the killings. Our regard for life and dignity cannot be compartmentalised. The personal is also my unending respect for our activist lawyers, our medics, our journalists and writers who continue to act and speak with humanity and professionalism, in the spirit of the revolution, through these terrible times. My respect and solidarity to Ziad Bahaa el-Din, my friend who agreed to his cost to serve as deputy prime minister and is fighting hard to dam the blood-lust; my love, and an arm round the shoulders of the young activists who are lying low, getting on with their day jobs, staring despair in the face and refusing to surrender to it, waiting and working for that moment when the street will come back, when we will give the ideals of freedom and social justice another push forward.

Mubarak’s release is a set-back, but it’s one more act in the circus of the ex-president. The Saudis have always requested it and the Saudis are now giving us money, but Mubarak has more court cases hanging over him. This will run.

Also not ours is the confrontation between the official Egyptian media and the old, frayed governments of the west; the Britain that arrests Green party MP Caroline Lucas for taking part in an environmental protest, the US that persecutes the journalist Barrett Brown and convicts Bradley Manning have nothing of value for us. The common struggle of young people everywhere is against the elites enforcing a corrupt system that’s sending the world to hell. It’s just that in some countries, like the UK, there’s more of a margin for life, a margin for doing things without getting shot.

Here, we’re getting shot and asphyxiated and slaughtered for free. Someone was saying yesterday that perhaps the most useful thing we can do right now – while we wait out the monoliths’ battle – is collect money to expand the morgue at Zeinhom. We’re back to the black humour we were so used to in the Mubarak days. But we know it won’t last. Our spiralling cycles happen so quickly now. At this moment, the revolution is reduced to banging pots into the dark curfew at 9pm. But, once again, each day our noise grows louder; it’s a noise that signals our determination to work for an Egypt – for a world – that is kinder and fairer to more of its people.

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (Bloomsbury).

  1. This text is an early conceptual response to the Egyptian events of June 30th, and part of an ongoing reading of the larger historical moment in the Arab world that will take shape in the journal and on the website.

Editorial: End without end?

‘[W]e have left the end but are not yet at the beginning’.

Nasser Abourahme is writing about Egypt’s ‘revolutionary disjuncture’. But do his words apply elsewhere, even to ‘the West’?

The consideration of three questions, making use of the contents of issue 17.4 (August 2013) of the journal, may take us nearer to an answer.

Apocalypse now.

First, can it reasonably be argued, drawing here on two kinds of evidence – Abourahme’s account of recent events in Egypt, and on David Cunningham’s and Alexandra Warwick’s take on an overlapping concern with metropolitan apocalypse in some urban literature and science fiction – that they point towards the prospect of socio-economic forms of urbanism and urbanization that have reached a kind of ending to all the paths we have pursued, an end without end. Or is there a possible revolutionary beginning? Or what?

Neither an end nor a beginning,

Second, looking elsewhere do we see other urban situations that are either not (yet?), it would seem, at the point of revolutionary disjuncture. Or are less evidently so? We look- with Stefano Bloch at Hollywood’s ‘waste regime’ where all seems to be well; and at ‘post-conflict’ Belfast with Liam O’Dowd and Milena Komarova where the situation is extremely difficult: the causes of ‘the troubles’ still run deep and none of the available ‘solutions’ seem able to deal with them. We turn to accounts of cities of principally the global South through, and beyond, the contrasting optics of ‘telescopic urbanism’, a business consultancy as opposed to a human potential model – presented by Ash Amin and further examined by five contributors (Ananya Roy, Colin McFarlane, Pushpa Arabindoo, Robert Neuwirth, and Ayona Datta) – where some kind of synthesis of the two models seems desirable but unlikely short of an immensely competent revolutionary process

Towards a beginning

Third, moving towards praxis, we conclude with a consideration of four aspects of an approach that could contribute to an end that leads to a beginning. We look at the creation, as proposed by Yves Cabannes, of counter-hegemony around, within and beyond NGOs and social movements; at Yannis Kallianos’ conception of the streets themselves as a form of agency; and Andrea Pollio’s emphasis on the choreographic role of leaders, not just social media, in the formation of that agency. In a speculative totalisation, in our endpiece, an episode in our continuing series, Towards the Great Transformation, we look at the overall nature of that transformation as re-contextualised in the light of the current widespread wave of protests, at Egypt’s ‘revolutionary disjuncture’ as theorized by Abourahme, and, in effect sharing some of the cultural tools referred to in this series, at Ananya Roy’s Spectral Futures’.

Egypt’s current moment, Abourahme asserts, is a universal moment:

‘Revolutionaries in Egypt have already swept away a form of politics and with it political subjectivities that had dominated life for as far back as memory can reach, but the horizon of newness they so tantalizingly suggest is not yet with us. This is the lineament of our present: an end that is not yet a beginning.’

But, even so, does it require an uncritical acceptance of his injunction to ‘Forget ‘the West’’? Or does it rather require us to discover and develop, rediscover and redevelop appropriate revolutionary approaches? The alternatives are end without end or Apocalypse?

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 17 Issue 4; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 17.4

Editorial

Editorial: End without end? Bob Catterall, Pages 423-425

Past the end, not yet at the beginning: On the revolutionary disjuncture in Egypt Nasser Abourahme, Pages 426-432

Unnoticed Apocalypse: The Science Fiction Politics of Urban Crisis David Cunningham & Alexandra Warwick, Pages 433-448

Hollywood as Waste Regime: The revalorization of a cast-off mattress as film prop Stefano Bloch, Pages 449-473

Telescopic Urbanism and the Urban Poor: Symposium

Introduction: Telescopic Urbanism and the Urban Poor: Symposium Michele Lancione, Pages 474-475

Telescopic urbanism and the poor Ash Amin, Pages 476-492

Spectral futures Ananya Roy, Pages 493-497

Metabolic inequalities in Mumbai: beyond telescopic urbanism Colin McFarlane, Pages 498-503

The calculus of telescopic urbanism Pushpa Arabindoo, Pages 504-509

More telescopic urbanism, please Robert Neuwirth, Pages 510-516

Encounters with law and critical urban studies: Reflections on Amin’s telescopic urbanism Ayona Datta, Pages 517-522

Post-conflict Belfast

Introduction: Post-conflict Belfast Adele Lee, Pages 523-525

Three narratives in search of a city: Researching Belfast’s ‘post-conflict’ transitions Liam O’Dowd & Milena Komarova, Pages 526-546

Alternatives

Agency of the street: Introduction Antonis Vradis, Page 547

Agency of the street: Crisis, radical politics and the production of public space in Athens 2008-2012 Yannis Kallianos, Pages 548-557

Forum: NGOs and Social Movements: Convergences and Divergences: Part Two

Introduction: NGOs and Social Movements: Convergences and Divergences: Part Two Barbara Lipietz, Pages 558-559

Urban movements and NGOs: so near, so far Yves Cabannes, Pages 560-566

Review

If the Revolution is not tweeted but choreographed Andrea Pollio, Pages 567-569

Endpiece

Towards the Great Transformation: (8) Relocating Egypt and the West Bob Catterall, Pages 570-575

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