RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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99 On edge in the city (1): the politics of 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) Ola Söderström (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
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 (2): tactics and precarious urban lives
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
The Affective Right to the City
Cameron Duff (RMIT University, Australia)
This presentation draws on recent discussions of the 'right to the city' to rethink questions of power, social exclusion and economic marginalisation in urban settings. I will ground this discussion in ethnographic research conducted in Melbourne, Australia among young people experiencing homelessness, addiction problems and mental illness. I will assess some of the ways 'fractured lives' are governed in urban spaces in Melbourne by way of recent geographical analysis of affective atmospheres. I will argue that the study of affective atmospheres provides a means of exploring how the right to the city is brokered in urban space; how it is contested, denied and reclaimed by young people experiencing health and social problems in urban spaces. I will focus on three discrete atmospheres encountered in the course of my research, and the ways these atmospheres modulated specific events of social inclusion and exclusion. In reviewing my data, I will argue that the right to the city has to be lived, felt and materialised in bodies in an atmosphere of inclusion. In this respect, there can be no right to the city other than the actual experience of social, material and affective participation in the transformation of urban spaces. This analysis involves a shift from a juridical conception of rights to an affective one, more accommodating of the social and material contexts in which rights are exercised, contested and neglected in urban spaces. I will conclude with a brief discussion of the major implications of this affective conception of rights for analyses of social inclusion/exclusion among young people experiencing health and social problems in urban settings.
The Politics of Marginal Experience(s)
Michele Lancione (Cardiff University, UK)
Is there anything peculiar about marginal experiences? By whom are they endeavoured? Does it even make sense to think about anything as a marginal experience? The paper provokingly asks these questions using them as tools for transcendence; namely as ways to articulate alternative knowledge, imaginaries and politics of life at the margins (Purcell, 2013). The paper starts by presenting a series of ethnographic vignettes on cases of extreme marginalisation. These include narratives on the everyday makeshifts, material culture and emotional labour of Roma people, homeless people, sex workers and drug users collected in almost 10 years of ethnographic work undertaken mainly in two European cities (Turin and Bucharest). Adhering to a post-human take on the assemblage of marginality (Lancione, 2016), these experiences are analysed with attention paid to the role that non-human agencies, atmospheres and discourses play in their constitution. It is argued that although one is confronted with specific and heterogeneous contexts, subjects and margins, it still is possible to identify what makes marginal experiences peculiar in respect of others. In this sense, the paper identifies three affective capacities of the contemporary, westernized, urban experience of marginality: (dis)placement, as forced bodily and emotional mobility (cf. Robinson, 2011); (de)materialisation, as renewed socio-material entanglement (cf. Amin, 2015); and (de)institutionalisation, as reconfiguration of citizenship (cf. Basaglia, 1968). These affective capacities are not yet another categorisation of people and contexts, but analytics signaling the oeuvre at play in the production of marginal experiences (Desjarlais, 1997). From their discussion, the paper argues in favour of an alternative political imaginary, based on three antagonistic arts: (re)placement, (re)materialisation and (re)institutionalisation.
Privatising urban asylum: forced migration and the production of urban marginality
Jonathan Darling (The University of Manchester, UK)
In 2010, the UK Home Office announced that it would be passing contracts to provide dispersal accommodation and reception services for asylum seekers to a series of private providers. This meant the end of asylum accommodation through local authorities in many of the UK's largest cities. This paper seeks to explore the impact of this shift and consider what this means for the relation between cities and asylum seekers. The paper draws on fieldwork in four cities (Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Sunderland), including interviews with local authorities, politicians, asylum and refugee support services and asylum seekers themselves. In considering this empirical evidence base, the paper argues that we may see a troubling narrative of political neglect, shrinking accountability and the slow recession of support services and expertise. As the realities of 'austerity urbanism' have interacted with the privatisation of asylum support, so we are witnessing the emergence of new assemblages of authority and governance at the urban level. A limited concern with the social needs of asylum seekers, has been replaced with an increasingly revanchist agenda that removes those seeking asylum from political debate and maximises the economic gains to be made from dispersal. This does not, however, mean giving up on the city as a space for critical political practices. Rather, it demands a reorientation of how urban asylum is politicised. For whilst the revanchist practices of asylum urbanism gain ground, their margins still represent contested spaces in which the image of alternatives may be kept alive.
Tracing responsibility: The precarity of irregular migrants in the UK
Louise Waite (University of Leeds, UK)
This paper considers the state policies directed towards a group that is often constructed as being 'on edge' in urban places: 'undocumented' or 'irregular' migrants. The UK government has signalled its clear goal to 'create a hostile environment' for such precarious immigrants. This is not a new policy; hostility and discomfort already characterises the experience of many migrants with varying compliance with immigration regulations, particularly people seeking asylum. Principles of discomfort and hostility have been developed through more than a decade of restriction through successive policies. The Immigration Act 2014 and Immigration Bill 2015 appear to extend these principles to broader groups of migrants – but irregular migrants will feel the sharp end of policy changes. This paper will argue that the specific restrictions introduced or proposed in recent legislation will deepen experiences of labour exploitation and unfreedom for irregular migrants, particularly in urban areas where there is spatial clustering of labouring opportunities. These changes are likely therefore to generate an environment of even more hostility towards migrants in general and irregular migrants in particular, providing the context for labour exploitation to flourish. This outcome is quite contradictory with government claims to wish to rid the UK of the 'scourge of modern slavery' through the Modern Slavery Act, 2015.