RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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155 Urban Precarities (2): Precarity in Urban Places of Work and Residence: Experiences and Resistances
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ella Harris (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Mel Nowicki (Oxford Brookes University, UK)
Chair(s) Mel Nowicki (Oxford Brookes University, UK)
Timetable Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Peter Chalk - Room 2.4
Session abstract Judith Butler argues that although our overwhelming dependence on and vulnerability to others means that precariousness is an inherent state of humanity, precarity is on the other hand a politically induced phenomenon (Frames of War, 2009). The onset of the Anthropocene gives this statement renewed importance, bringing to the fore the fact that human actions structure how, where and by whom precarity is experienced. It is clear that the actions of certain groups impact on environments in ways which in turn affect different demographics, across both space and time. For example, the disproportionate contribution of the Global North to climate change via carbon-centric lifestyles instigates precarity for both present and future populations across the world in myriad ways. Equally, we can see how gentrifying populations change city peripheries in ways that reformulate geographies of the middle classes, whilst simultaneously unmaking home for more working class demographics; or how the success of establishing settlements in areas prone to extreme geo-physiological conditions, such as along tectonic plates or in close proximity to live volcanoes, depends vastly on socio-economic power relations.

This session seeks to consider the ways in which precarity is enacted, exploited and resisted in the particular context of the urban. In recent years, urban living on a global scale has superseded rural habitation as the most common environment in which we live. This given, it is crucial to understand the particular ways in which precariousness is politicised and precarities are formulated and maintained in urban landscapes. The session aims to conceptualise urban precarities through understanding cities as sites of power from which precarity can be induced, as the meeting points of trajectories which structure and stabilise precarity's global distributions, and as environments which offer the potential for precarity to be resisted.
Linked Sessions Urban Precarities (1): Precarity and urban imaginaries in declining, derelict and unregulated spaces
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Politics and practice in the corner shop: The compound precarity of ad hoc retailing
Mia Hunt (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Ubiquitous in the urban landscape, independent corner shops quietly get by. Though they seem unremarkable, these banal places are points where politics and practice intersect and where constellations of precarities are felt every day. This paper considers the challenges facing corner shops in an area of Central London undergoing rapid urban change. The pressure on these everyday places is manifold. Their ad hoc-ness, everydayness, and difference mean they bear the brunt of many issues facing global cities, including the corporatisation of urban retailing, the effects of neoliberal governance and gentrification, translocality and labour market marginalisation, and everyday racisms. The shops exist in a state of hyper-precarity, where the livelihood and dignity of shopkeepers and the diversity of urban retailing are at risk; their longstanding insecurity of small margins and independence has recently been intensified by changes in urban policy, development, and retailing. For example, recent government policy meant to help independent retailers instead increased competition from small format chain stores. Likewise, new modes of urban governance – like Business Improvement Districts – have instituted holistic urban aesthetics and neighbourhood brands that put pressure on the marginalised material of corner shops. The translocality of many shopkeepers and their position as labour market outsiders may compound the challenges they face. Furthermore, everyday racisms shape the shops’ public and institutional reception; because the material of shops may be wrongly conflated with the racialised bodies of the shopkeepers, both may be positioned “out of place” in a gentrifying urban neighbourhood. The paper asks what these precarities say about the values guiding change in urban neighbourhoods and the right of public expression in the built environment. It suggests that, despite difficulties, corner shops might be sites of quiet resistance, where innovation and creativity rework and rejig, adapting to challenges, and providing space for alternate urban futures.
Prejudices in the Global North and precarity in the Global South: Disability as risk for exclusion
Julia Richter (Münster University, Germany)
Exclusion from work, education, public transportation, in short, from urban life, is a daily experience of persons with disabilities. Despite all efforts with accessible planning and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities the body still seems to make a difference for equal participation in social life. Fewer opportunities and social prejudices against persons with disabilities can be found in the Global North and in the Global South.

In my paper I will show some positive changes for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the urban Global North, using the example of German legislation and discuss some of the reasons why this is still not enough to ensure equal opportunities for all. Apart from changes in the physical urban environment and the improved medical technology, persons with disabilities face many prejudices that augment their unemployment rate or oblige them to work in jobs that do not correspond to their qualification levels. I argue that reasons for this are in the relation between the term “person with disability” and the reality. Disability is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different conditions. Being “disabled” never is the only attribute of a person but it is a strong label in society. Actions based on stereotypical thinking can cause social withdrawal and exclusion. Together with the changes in the physical environment we still need changes in attitudes. My research shows this using the example of hearing impairment.

If persons with disabilities face problems in a rich country like Germany with social market economy and a good public health system, persons with disabilities often have very few possibilities for a self-determined life without medical assistance (in my example hearing aids, implants or sing language education) and with an urban environment determined by barriers as it is the case in many countries of the Global South and as I will show on the example of Brazil. In some cases the social cohesion provides individuals from precarity, but in many cases in these circumstances having a disability increases a person’s vulnerability significantly.
From invasion, to upgrading… to displacement? What the 30-year history of a favela tells us about urban change in Rio de Janeiro
Matthew Richmond (King's College London, UK)
The favela of Asa Branca in Rio de Janeiro was established by a co-ordinated land invasion in 1986, at a time when the suburb of Jacarepaguá remained a semi-rural region at the edge of the rapidly developing, elite neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca. Its subsequent history reveals important, and often contradictory transformations that have occurred in Rio de Janeiro – to urban governance, the production of space, and wider social relations. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the favela existed in a state of social and environmental precarity with no public investment and high levels of poverty. Nonetheless it was characterised by social stability, built around the tight social networks of original settlers and access to low-paid employment in the construction and domestic service industries. From the 2000s the favela was strongly impacted by the growth and expansion of the informal housing market, as its proximity to employment opportunities made it a desirable location for new migrants. This allowed many original settlers to enrich themselves by renting out apartments to newcomers, while at the same time eroding social cohesion and pricing some young families out of the area. Since 2009, when Rio de Janeiro won its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the region surrounding Asa Branca has been transformed by both state and private development linked to the nearby Olympic Park. In contrast to other favelas in the region, which have been threatened with eviction, Asa Branca in fact benefitted from a major urban upgrading scheme at the end of 2012, albeit one that ignored important social and environmental problems. However, many residents fear that the speculative construction of gated condominiums that now encircle the favela will at some point in the future lead, directly or indirectly, to their displacement. As such, although their neighbourhood has been utterly transformed over three decades, the lives of Asa Branca’s residents continue to be characterised by precarity and uncertainty.
Effects of gentrification on the identity of the historical environment of Istanbul: the case of Galata
Aysegul Can (The University of Sheffield, UK)
Galata is an Istanbul neighbourhood with a longstanding history of multicultural identities and it is these identities that make it suitable for gentrification and attractive to gentrifiers. However, as seen in many neighbourhoods experiencing gentrification, there is tension between many different groups of people in Galata. This paper focuses on the process of gentrification through the private housing market and the tension between different groups of people that arise during and in the aftermath of this process. Although there is widespread debate that suggests gentrification leads to social mixing, there is poor evidence for this, and much more evidence for social tensions arising between different classes as a consequence of gentrification. This tension exists not only between ‘old comers’ and ‘new comers’ but also between different groups of gentrifiers themselves. Conflict and tension among and between gentrifiers is a rather understudied consequence of the gentrification process. This paper will therefore explore the varied types of tension that exist in Galata, and the multiple effects of gentrification on the identity of the neighbourhood.
Milan before the Expo: New precarity, more precarity
Alessandro Froldi (Loughborough University, UK)
The context of Italian social movements provides a particularly significant framework for situating the concept of precarity. In the early 2000 this concept had been adopted by both cognitive workers and casual workers with the creation of a new wave of cultural and symbolic activism that had been more evident in the mobilisation of large street protests. Looking at the development of the concept of precarity within the Milanese context of social movements in the period 2007-2015 I will show how ideas of precarity informed and contributed to a redefinition of urban social movements and helped a re-composition of struggles around housing as well as environmental mobilisations and public debt in original ways. In particular the idea of urban precarity and precarity of territories had been adopted to link and develop new mobilizations against the World Expo Fair in 2015 in parallel to similar protests against large urban infrastructures all across Northern Italy.