RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

RGS-IBG Logo

133 On edge in the city (2): tactics and precarious urban lives
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ola Söderström (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Chris Philo (University of Glasgow, UK)
Hester Parr (University of Glasgow, UK)
Zoé Codeluppi (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Chair(s) Chris Philo (University of Glasgow, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract Recent work on mobility, care, mental health and homelessness has promoted a performative, practice-oriented understanding of the urban everyday for psychologically vulnerable persons in precarious life situations. This perspective addresses, on the one hand, the logics and effects of policies aiming to govern these urban lives and, on the other, the situated urban practices of persons with serious health or affective problems, but suggests a focus beyond a simple binary of structural control and agentic resistance. This does not mean that issues of domination and exclusion or processes of categorisation and subjectification, central to previous work, have been discarded, but rather that inquiry has been opened up to new dimensions. The role of atmospheres (Adey et al. 2013) or assemblages of care (Lancione 2014; Duff 2016), alongside renewed conceptions of dwelling or ‘niching’ (Bister et al. 2016), have come to the fore, often through the use of innovative non-representational methodologies. Furthermore, the ambivalence, contradictions and diversity of state policies regarding marginalised social groups - questioning accounts of a monolithic punitive or disciplining State - have also been highlighted (DeVerteuil 2014). Concerned with these recent developments in studies of precarious urban lives, our session aims to identify convergences and divergences between conceptual framings, fieldwork methodologies and empirical findings across recent studies of different marginalised urban social groups.
Linked Sessions On edge in the city (1): the politics of precarious urban lives
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Between Precarity and Security: The Everyday Geographies of Property Guardianship in London
Gloria Dawson (Independent Researcher-Activist)
Mara Ferreri (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Alex Vasudevan (The University of Nottingham, UK)
In this paper, we examine the precarious everyday geographies of property guardianship in the United Kingdom. Temporary property guardianship is a relatively new form of insecure urban dwelling existing in the grey area between informal occupation, the security industry and housing. Young individuals, usually in precarious employment, apply to intermediary companies to become temporary 'guardians' in metropolitan centres, most notably in London. The scheme allows guardians to pay below market rent to live in unusual locations while 'performing' live-in security arrangements that are not considered as a form of 'work'. The experiences of becoming and living as a property guardian can be ambiguous and contradictory: guardians often highlight the economic and social advantages of 'being temporary', while also acknowledging their underlying stress and anxiety produced by living 'on edge.' Drawing on fieldwork conducted in London, this paper examines the relationship between property guardianship, precarious living and urban security. The paper places particular emphasis on what it means to become a property guardian tracing the ambivalent connections between personal responsibility, risk management and the securitisation of urban space. What does property guardianship – both as a form of housing and as an unpaid mode of 'security' - tell us about the acceptance of insecurity as a way of inhabiting cities? How do property guardians negotiate their own precarity? We seek to answer these questions by locating the mechanisms of guardianship within wider logics of precarious work and conditionalised living that are increasingly dependent on interiorized risk, codes of behaviour and in-kind work.
Dealing with intake and elimination. Roma people and self-care practices at the margins
Elisabetta Rosa (Aix-Marseille University, France)
In this paper I explore the complicated relation between vulnerability and autonomy as expressed through the practices of self-care (Orem 1991) in/at/within the margins of the city. Among the possible landscapes of care (Milligan 2003), I am interested in the way the body and the sanitation and water infrastructures interact (Desai McFarlane Graham 2015) in precarious domestic space, and how they affect self-care practices. Relying on my ethnographic works with Roma people living in informal settlements and squats in Turin and Marseille (2013-ongoing), I will therefore focus on the way they assemble the intake and the elimination of water and food, considered here as basic requirements of self-care practices such as eating, drinking, washing. Take toilets for example: as the material dimension of a precarious living entails a lack of drainage system, the corporal-phenomenological relation with excrement is radical, whereas in a "normal" flat the presence of interstices in the walls where this system runs prevents inhabitants to confront with elimination. Somehow, living at the margins is marked by a lack/penury of margins and the relationship between body and bodily wastes is not mediated. At the same time, emergency issues characterising Roma policies both in Italy and France are often legitimated by care and sanity discourses. Fitting in makeshift settlements with chemical toilets while evicting Roma squats because of the lack of water and sanitation, and their unhealthy living conditions, are aspects which coexist in the political routine vis-à-vis of these populations. In cases like this, how is the landscape of self-care combined? Which kind of tactics (de Certeau 1990) do people develop to gain autonomy against public policies? How is the relation between care and power finally articulated?
Rendering the City Habitable: Case Studies from Community Psychiatry in Berlin, German
Martina Klausner (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Patrick Bieler (Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany)
The last decades have seen fundamental changes in the provision of mental health care in Germany as well as in many other Western countries: from a focus on patients in hospital care to clients receiving community based services, from institution-oriented to person-centred services and assistance in daily living "at home". Yet, the aim of reintegrating people into the community has only partly been successful. People living with a psychiatric diagnosis must still be regarded as the most vulnerable of a city's inhabitants and often lead lives in what some describe as parallel worlds within a city. But what does this "diagnosis" actually mean in everyday practices and how do the people concerned render the city habitable in their own means? To address these questions we will present ethnographic material from a research project in Berlin where we carved out the choreographies of mental health care in a district in Berlin and worked with people who have been diagnosed with mental illness and treated over the course of many years. Our case studies show how so called clients navigate care infrastructures as well as the urban environments in their own way and engage with what we call "niching": a constant effort to develop a mode of dwelling in urban space that is bearable, at least for the moment. What counts as integral to this process remains a continuous empirical question. With our findings we want to contribute to an empirical program to further investigate the questions posed above.
Encountering the urban: the city/psychosis nexus beyond epidemiology
Ola Söderström (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Recent calls for new alliances between biology and the human sciences have described the relation between cities and mental health as a fertile ground for experimentation in that domain (Lederbogen et al. 2011; Rose 2013; Fitzgerald et al. 2015). Exploring this relation, they argue, can enable us to understand biosocial entanglements beyond 'illusory totalities' such as 'body' and 'society' (Rose 2013, 19). Drawing on preliminary results from an interdisciplinary research on the city/psychosis nexus involving geographers, psychiatrists and linguists, this paper scratches some patches of this fertile ground. To do so, I first summarise some of the results of recent epidemiological research on the role of urban living in the onset of non-affective psychotic troubles. This body of work identifies a series of individual and neighbourhood level factors that are likely to contribute to the higher prevalence of psychosis in cities. Secondly, I argue that a better understanding of the city/psychosis nexus needs to move beyond epidemiology. More specifically, I suggest that design methodologies exploring how different aspects of the urban are assembled and encountered in the everyday flow of experiences in cities are necessary. Thirdly, I draw on results from video-recorded go-alongs and video-elicitation sessions with persons with diagnosed psychotic troubles to show that an experience-based approach brings three types of insights. It allows us to re-specify the role of factors identified in recent medical research (such as density), to pay attention to the urban tactics of persons with mental health problems and, finally, to see factors of urban stress as situational rather than deterministic. In my conclusion, I return to the introductory 'biosocial debate' and argue that new forms of interdisciplinarity can enable us to helpfully unpack (too) broad categories used in research on these issues such as 'the city', 'the neighbourhood', 'social capital' or 'schizophrenia'.