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...]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The green bans, the people, and the right to the city - for Frank Stilwell

A while ago, I mentioned that I had been conducting archival research on the green ban movement -- an extraordinary alliance of building workers and resident action groups that imposed bans on various forms of development that threatened low-income housing and urban environmental amenity in Sydney during the 1970s.

I've now presented an initial paper based on that research in a few places - at an annual meeting of the Institute of Australian Geographers, at a seminar at UCLA, and recently at a conference in honour of Frank Stilwell, a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney who has recently retired (not that retirement seems to be slowing him down!).

There's a longer version of this work in preparation for publication, but in the mean time, I thought I would post this most recent presentation that I gave at the Australian Political Economy conference in Frank's honour. 

A few caveats. It's the script of a talk, so there are few explicit references to other work on the green bans and urban politics that I've used to develop these ideas. Apologies to those folks, of course the references will be in the longer publication!

Also, I've left in a little story I told about Frank -- it's nice to be able to post something about him here, as well as saying something at the conference, because he has been such an inspiration to me and countless others.

If anyone reads this, feedback would be very gratefully received!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Making Space Public in Istanbul (with update 11/6/13)

Turkey protests day five: People in Gezi park
Protesters gather in Gezi Park, Istanbul. Source: The Guardian

Apologies for the long radio silence here ... our industrial campaign for a fair enterprise agreement at the University of Sydney has been soaking up any spare time for luxuries like blogging!

However, I've spent a little time this morning reading about recent events in Istanbul, so figured I could at least share some links.

Plans to redevelop Gezi Park in the centre of the city (including a shopping mall, of course!) have catalysed a significant mobilisation, with mass demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people and occupations of the park and nearby Taksim Square, and violent confrontations with police.

As is often the case with such events, the park and plans for its redevelopment have come to stand in for disagreements on wider political and economic issues.

The Guardian has been reporting on events, and you can find several articles and multi-media resources here

The London Review of Books Blog has also posted a couple of very interesting pieces which dig a little deeper into the wider political and economic context in which these events are taking place - one by Kaya Genç is here and another by Çağlar Keyder is here. The latter especially speaks of the 'Islamist neoliberalism' of Erdoğan's Government in Turkey. This seems to be producing quite particular 'regimes of publicness' (to borrow Staeheli and Mitchell's term), with restrictions on the sale of alcohol, memorialisation of controversial religious figures, and commercialisation all impacting on public space and helping to generate interesting alliances in opposition including religious and ethnic minorities, trade unions, intellectuals, and the secular urban middle classes.

The academic journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space has also put together a 'virtual issue' on the background of these events in Turkey, with free access to five articles until the end of August.

And there is a fantastic piece reflecting on the events by Timur Hammond and Elizabeth Angell called Is Everywhere Taksim: Public Space and Possible Publics here. This piece offers a very interesting analysis of the kinds of new publics that are in formation in the protests, and their relationship to the wider public sphere and the kinds of publics that have been constructed through the infrastructure projects of the Erdoğan Government.

The interaction between urban and media/digital space in such events is of particular interest to me at the moment. Apparently in this conflict, police have been using mobile phone jammers to prevent protesters using their devices to coordinate their movements. Turkey's mainstream media has been accused of siding with the government by not covering the events. Nevertheless, social media has once again proved important in circulating information and images of the events in a manner that has contributed to their rapid escalation. In response, the prime minister has apparently branded Twitter 'a menace to society', and some have been arrested in Turkey for spreading false information and incitement to disorder on social media.

The image below is one that has apparently been widely re-circulated through social media - it's an image of Ceyda Sungur, an academic from the town planning department at Istanbul's Technical University, being pepper-sprayed at short range by a police officer. You can read about her and the photo here.

Ceyda Sungur is showered with pepper spray. Source: The Guardian