Monday, June 2, 2014

Remembering Tiananmen Square: the 25th Anniversary of the June 4 massacre

Protesters in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, June 2 1989 (Source: Boston Globe)

4 June 1989 was the date on which the Chinese Government brutally smashed the occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Square had been the target of protest since April of that year, in a pro-democracy protest initially led by students but which quickly gathered broader support. At times during these 6 weeks, the Square was filled with over 1 million people.

There will no doubt be plenty of anniversary articles written about these events to mark their 25th anniversary. Among them, novelist Ma Jian has written a great article for the Guardian about his experiences of the 1989 movement, and of the fate of some of his fellow protesters and the Chinese democracy movement in the years since.

Of course, the stories of historical events like this are always told through the lens of the present, and for me at least, it's hard not to think about Tiananmen in relation to other more recent pro- (and anti-) democracy occupations and demonstrations. Reading the article, passages like the following have a strong resonance with recent events:
The democracy protests were ... a spontaneous mass uprising, a jubilant national awakening, in which millions of students, workers and professionals gathered peacefully in public squares around the country for weeks on end to call for rights guaranteed to them by the constitution: freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly and freedom to elect their leaders – basic liberties that the west takes for granted. They were among the most orderly, restrained and self-disciplined protests the world has seen. Student marshals maintained crowd control; armies of volunteers distributed food and drink and provided free medical care. In the madness of 20th-century China, the Tiananmen protests were a moment of sublime sanity, when the individual emerged from the somnolent collective and found their true voice.
 In this atmosphere of freedom, people used their innate creativity and intelligence to challenge and question state power. Teenagers strummed Bob Dylan ballads around campfires and danced in the dark. The Beijing Symphony Orchestra brought its instruments to the square and gave an impromptu performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Art students erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty right opposite the huge portrait of Chairman Mao on the square's northern edge. The student leader, Wu'er Kaixi, rebuked Premier Li Peng on national TV, dressed in striped pyjamas. In a makeshift Democracy University, professors gave seminars on Thomas Paine and the French revolution. When the government rejected pleas for dialogue, hundreds of students tied white bandanas around their heads and went on hunger strike. On 3 June, Liu Xiaobo, then a lecturer at the Beijing Normal University, staged his own hunger strike on the square with the economist Zhou Duo, the rock star Hou Dejian and party member Gao Xin, to protest against martial law and call for a peaceful transition to democracy.
Reading this great article reminded me of a couple of articles about Tiananmen Square that I read a long time ago as an undergraduate student by sociologist Craig Calhoun. I went back to those pieces briefly today, they make for fascinating reading.

Calhoun was actually in Beijing teaching at the time of the 'Beijing Spring'. One of his articles, "Revolution and Repression in Tiananment Square", provided a blow-by-blow account of the events that he witnessed (and in which he participated, alongside some of his students), along with some initial thoughts on the kinds of . He had some particularly interesting things to say about the improvisation of the repertoire of protest by the activists, and also about some of the different outcomes being sought by those protesting (including the relationship between 'the people', democracy, and economic inequality and development). Calhoun concluded this account by saying:

I think this movement is more likely to be one of the moments to which future Chinese democrats will look for inspiration, as they did this year to May 4, 1919. The inspiration of the movement will come partly from the very scale on which it happened, and partly from the common cause found for a while between students and intellectuals and workers and other citizens. However thinly it may be understood, the idea of democracy was spread. People demanded to be seen as citizens, not just as the government's masses. The citizens of Beijing (and other Chinese cities) showed that the totalitarian communism had not destroyed all institutional bases for social revolt; "society" was still separate from "state," at least to some extent – an extent growing because of Deng-era reforms. Perhaps most of all, however, the movement will be remembered for June 4, the day of infamy and massacre. It has brought about a massive loss of legitimacy for the government, and perhaps even more tellingly for the army. Over and over again students told me, "the People's Liberation Army will not shoot the people" They will not soon be so trusting again.

In a second article, "Tiananmen, Television and the Public Sphere", Calhoun argued that the protests had an 'intensive' and 'extensive' relationship to space. Here, he was seeking to understand the relationship between co-present and mediated forms of public address - in the Square and on the screen. The occupation of the Square was crucial:
When students seized Tiananmen Square, they seized a powerful, multivocal symbol. The Square spoke at once of the government, which used it to display its power, and of the people who gave the government authority by gathering there to acclaim official leaders. It linked the imperial palace to revolutionary monuments; it represented the center of China. By their actions the students transformed the meaning of the Square. Its popular side became dominant; this was the challenge to its power which the state well recognized. For a time, the students also made Tiananmen Square into a genuine place of public discourse. They met in small groups of friends for discussion, large audiences for speeches and even a more or less representative council for debating their collective strategy and carrying out self- government.
But as the title suggests, the article also focuses on the highly significant role of television, in both circulating narratives about crisis in China that influenced the Tiananmen movement, and in circulating stories and images of events to a global audience. As Calhoun noted, plenty of the actions of those in the Square were actually addressed towards that global audience - protesters were highly aware that some of the folks who were co-present with them in the Square were international journalists and photographers who would spread the word of their actions beyond both the city and China. Reflecting on that, Calhoun insisted that while face-to-face gatherings in 'public spaces' might be crucial to a democratic public sphere, democracy and public debate in large modern societies also depends upon mediation:
In modern large scale societies, ... democracy depends on the possibility of a critical public discourse which escapes the limits of face-to-face interaction.
This was an important message then, and still now.

But re-reading this article 25 years down the track, after the rise of social media, other passages stand out. In particular, there's an interesting discussion about the failure of the student movement to develop its own media. He noted the:
absence of some organized media 'voice of the students'. There was talk of forming a newspaper but none ever materialized. Hand printing presses were used to produce single sheet flyers, but there was no place for reporting news from the students' point of view, let alone a discussion journal. Even the 1979 Chinese democracy movement had formed several of these. Its 1989 counterpart was stronger on mobilization and found deeper popular sympathy, but it fell behind on both theory and communication. 
Of course, it is hard to imagine anyone coming to this conclusion about more recent insurgent movements, who had made use of social media to communicate amongst one another and to a broader public. As a growing number of folks are noting, there's an important relationship between urban and media spaces in these events that is being transformed but certainly not transcended with the use of social media.

So ... there's lots of food for thought in returning to these really powerful events (or in reading about them for the first time, if you are a younger reader!).


Craig Calhoun, 1989, "Revolution and Repression in Tianenmen Square", Society, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 21-38.

Craig Calhoun, 1989, "Tiananmen, Television and the Public Sphere: internationalization of culture and the 'Beijing Spring' of 1989", Public Culture,  Number 2, pp. 54-71.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unrequited Art: Documentary on Graffiti and Street Art in Sydney

The full-length version of Jake Lloyd Jones and and Merryn Calear's doco Unrequited Art, about graffiti and street art in Sydney, has just been made available on YouTube. It was shot a couple of years ago, and bits of it appeared on ABC Television a little while back ... but it's nice to see the final  full cut. Interviews with artists, graffiti removalists, Council staff, local politicians, even dodgy academics...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review of Alice Arnold Film 'Electric Signs'

OK, so ... it's been a while between posts. I'm mostly blaming industrial action (which kept me too busy to actually write about politics for a while!) and holidays. And a little inertia. But it's time to get things rolling again.

First up, then, a quick link to something I've written elsewhere that might be of interest here -- it's a review of Alice Arnold's documentary film Electric Signs, which is coming out in the journal Antipode and (like all their book reviews) is available free online here.

It's a great film, which explores the ways in which new forms of screen-based signage are transforming the public domain in cities around the world. Given my on-going fascination with outdoor advertising and its impact on the possibilities of urban public address, I found the film really interesting.

And as I say in the review, one of my favourite scenes in the movie features New York artist Jason Eppink, who has found a beautiful way to hack the screen advertising on the New York subway ... check out a video about his pixelator project below.

Friday, September 20, 2013

New blog: 'politics of location'

London 'Spy Bin' ... now disabled.

As I've mentioned before, I'm starting up some research on the ways in which applications of locative media are being put to work in urban governance by a range of actors in cities. There are lots of incredibly interesting and important things happening at the digital-urban interface ... indeed, it's kinda hard to keep up!

The first phase of the research is primarily information gathering ... and given that we are being generously funded by the Australian taxpayer to gather the information, it seems only fair to share. So, as Sophie Maalsen and I find interesting stuff, we are going to post about it at a new blog called 'The Politics of Location'. It's a good way for us to talk to each other, and hopefully might be useful to others too. There's a bunch of posts over there now, including an introduction piece here.

So, if you're interested in that kind of thing, check it out and say hi....

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Building a City for 'The People': the green bans in pictures

I'm very excited to say that I've got an article on the green bans coming out soon in the journal Antipode. The article is part of a Special Issue on Grammars of Urban Injustice that has been put together by Gordon MacLeod and Colin McFarlane -- big thanks to Gordon and Colin for including the piece. Here's the abstract:
How can we act to contest urban injustice? This article grapples with this question through an analysis of the green ban movement that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s. For a time, this unruly alliance of construction workers, resident activists, and progressive professionals powerfully enacted a radical right to the city, blocking a range of unjust and destructive “developments” worth billions of dollars and proposing alternative development plans in their place. Drawing on archival research, I demonstrate how the figure of “the people” was crucial to their action. The article examines the rights and the authority that was invested in “the people” by green ban activists, and traces the work of political subjectification through which “the people” was constructed. “The people” was not invoked as a simple majority or as a universal subject whose unity glossed over differences. Rather, in acting as/for “the people”, green ban activists produced a political subject able to challenge the claims of elected politicians, bureaucrats and developers to represent the interests of the city. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this construction of “the people” for urban politics today.
The article is available on now on Antipode's 'early view'. If you want to read it and can't access that, please get in touch!

Anyways, this post is not (just) an exercise in self-promotion. There was no room to include any illustrations with the piece, and I promised in the article that I would post some illustrations here at Cities and Citizenship. I think these images add quite a lot to the story. They're annotated here with some basic notes, so they might be of interest regardless of whether or not you read the article. These images are all courtesy of the very generous Meredith Burgmann, who has made her papers on the green bans available for researchers at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra, and who also shared some pictures with me. Enjoy...

Demonstrators stopping demolition at The Rocks, 1973. Jack Mundey (who was at that point Secretary of the NSW Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation) in foreground, Meredith Burgmann on right of picture wearing very snazzy suit. The green ban at The Rocks was one of the most dramatic and successful of the bans ... although as Evan Jones has written recently, working class housing in the area is once again under threat.

Jack Mundey gets arrested at The Rocks, 1973.
NSW BLF Journal article about the green ban in the Rocks ... "People or Profits"? A big part of my article talks about the way that various green ban activists invoked the needs of 'the people', and considers the importance of this figure in the building of alliances between building workers, residents, and others.

Joe Owens (Secretary of the NSW BLF who took over from Mundey in 1973) negotiates with police in Victoria Street, Kings Cross, January 1974. The Victoria Street ban was another of the most high profile bans, and involved squats and barricades against developers and their hired thugs. For a great accounts of the squat, visit Ian Milliss' webpage, where there copies of a couple of great articles from the City Squatter that he wrote at the time.

Juanita Nielsen, Victoria Street resident and editor of the community newspaper Now!, disappeared in 1975 at the height of the conflict over Victoria Street.

Joe Owens (NSW BLF Secretary) and Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) speak with BLs occupying a crane at Institute of Technology site, Broadway. The crane was being occupied in a dispute over coverage between the NSW Branch and the Federal Branch of the union, which launched an 'intervention' against the NSW leadership in 1974.

Joe Owens addresses a crowd, with Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) looking on (on his right as you look at the picture)

Graffiti in Woolloomoolloo

Anti-expressway graffiti, Glebe

Col James, an architect/planner who worked closely with residents to develop People's Plans and who died recently, with Mary Kristensen, Woolloomoolloo, 1974. The green ban here bought previous time for the development of alternative plans which did not evict low income residents from the area. Col was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Urban and Regional Development to work with 'loo residents to come up with alternative development plans for the area.

NSW BLF Christmas Card, 1971, listing a range of causes to be supported in the following year. Right on...

Female BLs march at International Women's Day March 1974, Left to Right: Glenys Page, Lyn Syme, Rhonda Ellis, unidentified, Michelle Fraser, Janne Reed, Caroline Graham. The NSW BLF was very active on women's liberation issues, including the 'working in' of female workers onto building sites that I describe in more detail in the article.

'Moratorium for Black Rights' banner flying from crane. The NSW BLF were also very active supporters of Aboriginal rights. This included enabling activists from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to address workers on building sites to talk about their protest and raise money for their cause.

Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973
Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973. Here again, we see the explicit reference to the people. If you click on this picture, it should be large enough to read...
Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973. During a very fractious dispute in 1973, the Master Builders Association took out several full-page newspaper advertisements against the NSW BLF. Coupled with editorials in some of those newspapers, these constituted a sustained attack on the goals and tactics of the union.

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973
Mick Fowler, one of the residents of Victoria St in Kings Cross, entertains a crowd at an anti-Gallagher rally. Norm Gallagher was the Secretary of the Federal Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation that expelled green ban activists from the union after working with the Master Builders Association to have the NSW Branch of the union deregistered.
Advertisement in support of NSW BLF, 1974. This advertisement exemplifies the way in which the union had become a 'pole of attraction' for many dissident groups in the process of alliance-building, to quote Sydney Gay Liberation activist Richard Wilson.
Protesters in support of NSW BLF outside Master Builders Association office, Sydney. Their banner reads "The Master Builders and Gallagher are colluding to destroy the only socially conscious union in Australia. NSW Builders Labourers care about people. So we care about NSW Builders Labourers"

Flyer advertising rally in support of NSW BLF, 1974

Builders Labourers for Democracy was formed by supporters to try to protect the NSW Branch against the Federal Branch intervenion

Advertisement taken out by expelled NSW BLF leadership after the Gallagher intervention

Badges in the Bob Pringle collection at the National Library, Canberra

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sydney University Forum on the Green Bans

A couple of weeks ago, I had the very great pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on the Green Bans that was organised by the Sydney University Greens.

The forum had a particular emphasis on the connections that existed between the wider Green Ban movement and students and staff at the University of Sydney. I was on a panel alongside Liz Jacka, who talked about the struggle of feminist philosophers and students to get the University to allow them to teach courses on feminist philosophy. At the time, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation placed a ban on building work at the University in support of their struggle. Frank Stilwell talked about the parallel struggle of heterodox economists to establish courses in Political Economics. And finally, Jack Mundey was on the panel to talk about the green ban movement more generally and its implications for today. Jack was the high-profile Secretary of the union when the green ban movement kicked off ...  and it was a pretty big thrill to be on the same panel as Jack!

Anyways, I've got a piece on the green bans coming out in the journal Antipode in the near future, based on the archival research I've been doing over the last few years. I'm going to post some pictures on this blog some time soon to accompany the article. But in the mean time, here's a link to a video of the forum.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The voices of the street": the protests in Brazil

Protesters fill the streets in Rio de Janeiro. Source: The Guardian

"The voices of the street want more citizenship, health, transport, opportunities...": so said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, in response to several days and nights of protests by hundreds of thousands of people across a number of cities in Brazil.

I'm currently in the middle of writing a piece in response to Paul Mason's book Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere for City ... and while I've got my issues with some bits of the book, it's also hard not see recent events in Turkey and now in Brazil as further evidence to support some of his claims about the manner in which things are indeed still 'kicking off' in lots of places as various crises unfold.
Of course, as Mason is first to admit, different instances of contemporary mass protest each demand their own analysis. In Brazil, the grievance that seems to have been the spark for protests was a raise in bus fares, but clearly the protesters are articulating wider grievances about policing, public services, and spending on the up-coming Football World Cup (would it be wrong for me to say 'Go, Socceroos!' at this point?)

So, as with the recent post on Turkey, here are a few quick links to follow for some more information and analysis.

As ever, the Guardian has been a great source of information for me: you can find a page with links to their coverage of the protests, including reportage, analysis, and pictures/videos here.

Marcelo Lopes de Souza, a Professor in the Department of Geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, has been publishing some of his work on insurgent social movements in Brazilian cities in English in City and elsewhere. In his 2012 piece for City "Panem et Circenses or The Right to the City (Centre) in Rio de Janeiro" is a great piece for understanding the source of tensions about policing, spending, and displacement that now seem to be spilling onto the streets. He notes in that piece that:
In Rio de Janeiro, the dispute between the favela residents and the sem-teto [squatter] movement on the one side, and the interests linked to the ‘revitalisation’ of the harbour and down-town areas on the other, currently has everything to do with the municipal administration’s gradual implementation of the ‘revitalisation’ project christened Porto Maravilha (‘Marvellous Port’) along with the ‘slum upgrading’ programme Morar Carioca. The implementation of both the Porto Maravilha project and the Morar Carioca programme is taking place in the context of a very repressive policy named by the municipality as Choque de Ordem (‘Shock of Order’). What is in fact going on is the fostering of gentrification and increasing social control on a large scale within the framework of a very conservative urban regime, supported by the state government of Rio de Janeiro and even by the self-professed left-wing federal government under both President Lula da Silva (2003 – 10) and President Dilma Rousseff (2011 – present). The situation has become increasingly tense since 2009.
For a while now, I've also been meaning to blog about James Holston's 2009 piece "Insurgent Citizenship in an Age of Global Urban Peripheries". It's kinda awesome. I still hope to write on it in more detail at some point ... but in light of recent events in Brazil and beyond, it seemed appropriate to share this passage:
"although insurgent urban citizenships may utilize central civic space and even overrun the center, they are fundamentally manifestations of peripheries. In so far as the urban civic square embodies an idea of centrality and its sovereignties, its architectural design, institutional organization, and use represents the hierarchies, legalities, segregations, and inequalities of the entrenched regime of citizenship that the insurgent contests. The forces of centrality are entrenched in the civic square by design and that entrenchment establishes the terms of an official public sphere. Insurgent movements may adopt these terms to frame their protests—property rights, urban infrastructure, justice, even motherhood, for example. But whereas the center uses the structuring of the public to segregate the urban poor in the peripheries and to reduce them to a “bare life” of servility, the very same structures of inequality incite these hinterland residents to demand a life worthy of citizens.
My point is that it is not in the civic square that the urban poor articulate this demand with greatest force and originality. It is rather in the realm of everyday and domestic life taking shape in the remote urban peripheries around the construction of residence. It is an insurgence that begins with the struggle for the right to have a daily life in the city worthy of a citizen’s dignity. Accordingly, its demands for a new formulation of citizenship get conceived in terms of housing, property, plumbing, daycare, security, and other aspects of residential life. Its leaders are the “barely citizens” of the entrenched regime: women, manual laborers, squatters, the functionally literate, and, above all, those in families with a precarious stake in residential property, with a legal or illegal toehold to a houselot somewhere far from elite centers. These are the citizens who, in the process of building and defending their residential spaces, not only construct a vast new city but, on that basis, also propose a city with a different order of citizenship.
Both pieces above examine the nature of centre-periphery relationships in urban life in Brazil. I'm nowhere near educated enough to know just who has hit the streets in the past few days and whether they are from the 'peripheries' ... but the centres are certainly being overrun, to powerful effect. What kind of jolt might this produce in Brazilian politics?

[Note 1: of course, neither author considers the 'periphery' to be a simple geographical designation...]

[Note 2: if you can't access full copies of these articles, get in touch...]