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).
Earlier this year CITY published an article under the title of Readjusting to Reality(see the online excerpton 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.
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!
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 ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
For two groups or respectively ‘less’ and ‘more’ radical readings from the debate, see: Giddens and Held (1982) and Wright (1989). ↩
Thompson, E. P. 1964. The Making of the English Working Class. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ↩
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. ↩
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). ↩
Leontidou, L. 2012. “Athens in the Mediterranean “Movement of the Piazzas”: Spontaneity in Material and Virtual Public Spaces.” City 16 (3): 299–312. ↩
Catterall, B. 2012–13. “Towards the Great Transformation (1–6).” City 16 (1–2) to 17 (2). ↩
Plato. 1974. The Republic. Translated and edited by H. D. P. Lee, 2nd ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ↩
Graham, S. 2010. Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. London: Verso. ↩
Cohn, N. 1970. The Pursuit of the Millennium. London: Paladin Books. ↩
Hill, C. 1975. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ↩
We could cite a long list of Bauman’s publications on this theme. Let the following suffice: Bauman (2001, 2002). ↩
McKay, G. 1996. Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties. London: Verso. ↩
Hobsbawm, E. 1994. Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century—1914–1991. London: Michael Joseph. ↩
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. ↩
For instance, readers may be familiar with David Harvey’s (2000, 259–281) sketch in the final pages of his Spaces of Hope. ↩
Miller, M. A. 1976. Kropotkin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ↩
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. ↩
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.
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)
‘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)
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”. ↩
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. ↩
Amin, A. (2013) ‘Telescopic Urbanism’ (CITY 17.4) ↩
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.
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” TheGuardian, Friday 23 August 2013. (Full article here)
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).
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. ↩
‘[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.
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?
Grass-roots protest is, in some places at least, getting a good press at the moment. The apparent welcome from the The Economist is initially a little surprising. But is there something suspect about it? “Polticians beware”, they go on to assert. Though the tone seems disarming, the warning is more likely to lead to state and capital re-arming. Such re-arming may in some cases be subtle, tactical, with palatable reforms but nevertheless ones backed by increased surveillance, policing and military re-tooling. What will it take to come up with an actual March of Protest, rather than the one that The Economist seems to offer?
June 25 Sofia, Bulgaria; (Reuters/Stoyan/Nenov) From a collection of images from The Atlantic; http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/06/in-protest/100542/
Naser Abourahme (2nd July): “This slogan in Egypt stood out today: ‘The legitimacy of your ballot box, is cancelled by our martyrs’ coffins’.
Electoral politics didn’t even last a year. Alone cause for hope.”
Peter marcuse (4 July) on The Atlantic and The Economist, etc.: “And Turkey, Cairo, Bahrain, Rio, etc. – and Berlin, Washington, Tianamin Square, etc. It’s precisely this homogenizing all protests together, as if going on the street were a clear phenomenon, whether it was pro or anti Morsi, Krystal Nacht or marching on the Bastille, Gay Rights or Nazi parades. I hope others will deal with the underlying issues, perhaps in more nuanced fashion than I did in the brief piece attached. The Atlantic piece is similar to the Economist piece in this regard. Soon someone will write an article entitled: “Look out for the 8′s: 1778, 1848, 1918, 1938, 1968, 2018…”
There IS a big picture. To put the revolts of 1776, 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1968, 1989, 2010(1), 2013, (and that misses some2) into a single historical sweep, is surely grossly oversimplified. All big pictures are, and surely many small ones that should be included. But one might trace the impact of four different forces in these events, forces with roots in the roiling dissatisfactions of masses of people with things as they are, dissatisfactions with deep roots in the very make up of modern human beings.
I. We might plausibly separate out (although they are deeply intertwined) four currents:
1. Material deprivation (class);
2. Demands for freedom, autonomy (autonomy);
3. Objections to injustice (inequality); and as a strong but ambivalent counter-current:
4. Insecurity (one-dimensionaltiy).
II. At the risk of caricature, might not these currents be found in each of these pivotal periods:
1. In uprisings up to the end of World War I, in the industrialized countries, material deprivation, extreme poverty of the large industrial working class, in the classic Marxist picture. Thereafter, a decreasing level of poverty as the productiveness of increasingly technological development and organization made possible a generally rising safety net with a decline of extreme immiseration.
2. After about the same flex point, the linking of claims for national and religious autonomy, identity, against oppression and colonialism (and accompanying internal servitude), continuing but in diminishing total scope through today.
3. Particularly after World War II, a growingly mass-based but deep feeling of dissatisfaction with existing dominant social arrangements, seen as inhibiting human growth and development, personal flourishing, recognizing gross inequality but not limited only to those at the bottom.
And working in the opposite direction, but a critical element in the actual event:
4. Increasingly felt satisfaction with major components of people’s lives, a rising standard of living, and a hegemonic ideology of every increasing prosperity, with an accompanying fear of losing gains already achieved to move to an uncertain and cloudy, promised alternative. The manifestations of this force are of course heavily influenced by the established powers, but they are not created by them.
These are the driving forces of popular unrest.
III. What they will produce depends on a simple factor: power. That in turn depends on two factors: position and organization. Again grossly over-simplified:
1. Marx saw the industrial proletariat as a class occupying a critical position within the economy, able to bring it to a stop and take over its reins. Deprivation that would drive it has diminished; its size and role in the economy has likewise, certainly in the most technologically advanced economies. (Militant labor?)
2. Autonomy claims, an awkward term for the right to be free of oppression linked to race, religion, nationality, color, gender, life-style, seems to be manageable although inflammable in most countries, but in others, with a different historical background, productive on more re-alignment of those relationships than productive of broader economic or social change. (Arab Spring?)
3. Inequality, feeling of injustice, legitimate at the explicit level almost every form of protest and claim for change, but are often either so limited as to end up producing individual reforms, or so general as to undercut concrete direction. To the extent that these feelings arise from inescapable aspects of the present system, they may become the most productive of change, but that will mean an increasing shift of focus from or framing the immediate to the ideological and moral. (Occupy?).
4. Insecurity, on the other side, expressing itself as the opposition to change, is widespread, perversely even fed by claims of class interests, autonomy, and equality. (Tea Party)
But what these forces produce, whatever their situation may be, also depends on how the are organized. That’s true of all forces for and against change. That’s a very complicated question, and no attempt is made here to dissect it. Except to ask one question:
“Is it possible that, unless the proponents of change are organized and prepared themselves to take over state power, that the change they produce will only be, at best, superficial?”
One possible answer is that it may be possible to take over state power one bit at a time, or to neutralize state power, or certain kinds but not others. Maybe, given the strength of the physical forces of law and order, it means electoral organizing? Or…?
Protesters on 20 June, 2013 in Natal, north east Brazil.
Let us designate things by the right names: what has been internationally called the “Brazilian Spring” was not a social movement; it was rather a wave of protests, animated by various organizations: from social movement organizations and political parties to trade unions to loosely organized groups to isolated individuals.
Popular mobilization gravitated initially around a particular organization, the Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre/MPL), polarizing a specific social movement − namely the movement that started among high school and college students ten years ago, demanding free pass for the public transportation. In June this year, this mobilization passed up quickly to a “sociopolitical spillover effect” which expresses an enormous, dammed social energy: indignation and resentment, certainly, but also creativity and good sense of humor. The initial agenda represented by MPL, a socially critical and even largely anti-capitalist agenda in its content, was from mid-June on slowly engulfed and partially eclipsed by a much broader and ideologically amorphous agenda, which emphasized “politically correct” demands (i.e. conform to the essence of the capitalist and ‘democratic’ status quo, such as fighting corruption and the rejection of specific legislative acts) and in part even moralistic and reactionary slogans and criticisms (such as hatred expressed by skinheads and other right-wing groups and individuals against the “communists,” the “reds,” the “anarchists” etc.) instead of radical claims and interpretations. For those who realize and understand the conservative ideological hegemony in Brazilian society, the partial “kidnapping” or “usurpation” of the revolt by the conservative sectors is by no means a surprise. If it was not inevitable, it was at least foreseeable.
Police firing rubber bullets at protesters in São Paulo; source: Wikipedia.
Writing in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo (19.06.2013), the celebrated Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta, despite not being exactly a genius of critical social research (or perhaps precisely because of this…) was able to summarize the prevailing interpretation of the middle class about the wave of protests: “(…) a surprising wave of riots motivated by the overall inertia of the rulers in the face of the chaos we all experience in the Brazilian cities, without urban transport, with a level of crime that resembles a civil war and in the context of an impossibility to use the car because of lack of space and civic education.” With all the usual stereotypes and undisguised class bias, Da Matta synthesized – even though this was not his intention – the diffuse feelings of the petty bourgeoisie of big and intermediate cities. It is clear that this has nothing to do with anti-capitalist critique, as well that the objections to the PT (Workers Party) government have been very often made from a right-wing perspective (in a neoconservative and not uncommonly even (proto)fascist way) and not necessarily from a progressive point of view.
At the beginning, the meaning seemed almost univocal: the public space (understood not as a vague synonym for ‘public scene’ or ‘public sphere,’ but in its geographical expression as materiality of streets and squares), which is very often ‘public’ in a purely formal sense in its condition as a collectively used space that is controlled and maintained by the state apparatus, acquired a rare visibility. It became public in a strong, socio-political sense. However, gradually violence not only perpetrated by the police but also by protesters against each other (in general [proto]fascist groups against left-wing activists) was undermining, under the sign of intolerance and hatred, the truly public dimension in that way of experiencing the urban space. Tellingly, frightened by the direction of the wave of protests, the MPL decided on June 21 not to convene new protests for fear of unwittingly contributing to the escalation of co-optation of the protests by conservative sectors. Between June 6, when the MPL led about 2,000 people to the streets of São Paulo against the bus fare increase of R$ 3.00 (= ca US$ 1.20) to R$ 3.20, and the 21st of the same month, two things happened: the expansion of mobilization and protests on a national scale, reaching many cities across the country; and at the same time the expansion of the agenda of resistance and protest in a way that enriched it but partly also distorted it, and in a sense that to some extent even denied the critical-radical content of the political forces that originally called for resistance and mobilization.
Notwithstanding all this, it would be a serious mistake to reduce the development and evolution of the wave of protests to a widespread political and ideological “kidnapping” of a mobilization that, in principle, had at least indirectly a clear class content (concretely: students and the politicized youth in general, mostly with a middle class background and often revealing a high degree of critical consciousness and advocating an agenda convergent with the objective interests of workers), but that gradually was becoming a phenomenon marked by “nationalism,” petty bourgeois prejudices and sometimes even “(proto)fascist” feelings. If we restrict our attention to these conservative and even reactionary aspects that would mean, in my view, that the difficulties to understand the positive aspects of the current popular mobilization are blurring our vision and preventing us from realizing the potential gains derived from the presence (perhaps an ephemeral presence, but not necessarily or not always) of new socio-political actors.
Let me stress something obvious: there are two ways of counteracting and attacking the “center” (which in contemporary Brazil and at the various levels of government commonly stretches from the “center-left” to the “center-right”): “from the left” and “from the right.” In the wave of protests of June 2013 (which apparently began to vanish at the beginning of July), the two forms were present. The protests were a tense, fluctuating mix of different and partly opposite trends. From the point of view of the accumulation (or not) of socio-political gains, the short term may suggest a partial victory (in the best of all cases), while at the same time the more lasting effects do not necessarily promise any consistent win. Be that as it may, the last chapters of this story are yet to be written, and it is essential that the anti-capitalist forces learn the necessary lessons and prepare themselves for the next challenges.
Marcelo Lopes de Souza is a professor at the Department of Geography of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Rio de Janeiro.
‘Why not oppose ephemeral cities to the eternal city, and moveable centrality to stable centres? All audacities can be premised.’ (Lefebvre)
Lefebvre’s ‘premised’ assertion of audacity was made in 1968. It is repeated in this issue of CITY as an epigraph to an article on ‘Austerity urbanism and the makeshift city’. It is an issue which begins with the actual audacities now of the unfolding events and spatial extensions of the urban uprisings in Istanbul and Turkey.
The notion of ‘the makeshift city’ is applied by Fran Tonkiss in her article to ‘a politics and practices of small incursions in material spaces’ within the context of the macro-space of ‘austerity urbanism’ in Europe. Seen in the context of the analysis presented by Mehmet Barış Kuymulu in his article, “Reclaiming the right to the city: Reflections on the urban uprisings in Turkey”, might we not also begin to imagine and think the possibility of making cities shift towards a new vision of ‘occupy’ and ‘the right to the city’? Moving to Africa, might not such a shift appeal to the ‘woman on a rooftop’ in Johannesburg introduced pictorially by Shannon Walsh in her piece, “ ‘We won’t move’: the suburbs take back the centre in urban Johannesburg.’ Might the ‘woman on a rooftop’ dream of and begin to make her contribution to that shift?
But cities are being made to shift in a different direction by the currently dominant forces of neoliberalism and the ‘austerity urbanism’ version of hedonistic totalitarianism which have so far managed to appropriate the words and meaning of ‘vision’ and ‘imagination’. This is apparent from Andrew Harrison’s account of the ‘concrete geographies’ being assembled in ‘global Mumbai’. The groundwork for this appropriation was laid, as Nate Gabriel shows for an earlier stage of capitalism, in a case study of the apparently neutral but in fact deeply ideological mapping of urban space in nineteenth century Philadelphia.
Muddle over the Middle
Such an account is, of course, contested. It appears not to be foremost in the actions and pragmatic reasonings, vividly recorded and carefully interpreted by AbdouMaliq Simone and Achmad Uzair Fauzan, of people ‘on the way to being middle class‘ in Jakarta. It is an account that seems to be confirmed as an apparently universal tendency by Chris Hamnett and Tim Butler in their account, in the previous issue of CITY of class in contemporary London.. Yet Hamnett and Butler also pointed to growing inequality, as does Allen Scott in his earlier seminal paper on Emerging Cities of the Third Wave now discussed in a feature, based on a session to which Elvin Wyly and Sharon Meagher also contributed at the 2013 meeting of the AAG in Los Angeles. Wyly and Meagher point here to a more sinister dimension of growing inequality. In ‘Class Analysis for Whom: An Alien-ated View of London’, Wyly and Mark Davidson take this ‘darker underside’ up again in their reply to Hamnett and Butler, exploring Zizek’s Marxian argument that the middle class is a non-class.
Making the shift
Are there alternative possibilities and trends? The Istanbul rising provides another sign that, despite the still emerging ‘darker underside’ (increasingly hardly an underside, as is also evident in Greece and perhaps now in Turkey and less evident but possibly just as threatening in the global North), the Occupy movement and associated energies are, in Paul Mason’s words, ‘still kicking off everywhere’(1)
The series Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture, edited by Adrian Atkinson, comes to an interim conclusion in this issue. The final paper in the present series, Farmers not gardeners: the making of environmentally just spaces in Accra, by Adriana Allen and Alexandre Apsan Frediani, provides a sophisticated account of the nature of radical (ie getting, literally as well as metaphorically, to the root) socio-economic transformation. Who, then, might the woman on a rooftop be and what might be her dream? She is, suggests Walsh in subsequent correspondence, ‘‘most likely a migrant worker, as many women are in that area, likely working precarious work: domestic work for the rich inthe suburbs, or make-shift work in the city, perhaps at one of the shabeens (bars) in the area, perhaps selling vegetables in the market, perhaps cooking corn for sale at the train station exit.
‘She is sitting on the roof looking out, towards the wastelands of the gold mines. These were some of the first mines that brought people to the city. This was the seat of the randloards, as they were know, who have since moved north, and moved on to other mines. She sits across the road, only a breath away, from the new developments that will most likely, soon, displace her.
‘I do think she can be the woman between things, a representation of all the upheaval we see all over the world around us.’
The endpiece, “Locating Gezi Park’, puts the case for such intuitive reading of situations in the extended, ‘de-scientised’ pursuit of critical theory and practice.