RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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367 Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (2): Political Subjectivities & Spaces of Affect
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Samuel Burgum (University of Sheffield, UK)
Alex Vasudevan (University of Oxford, UK)
Chair(s) Samuel Burgum (University of Sheffield, UK)
Alex Vasudevan (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 201
Session abstract Cities in the global North have recently witnessed an upsurge in squatting, trespass and other forms of occupation. Ordinary citizens and activists have fought against intense displacement and marginality, increasingly criminalisation and repression, by providing shelter and refuge, creating alternative infrastructures and socialities, and developing new modes of endurance, resistance and survival. This session seeks to examine this latest cycle of urban occupations by tracing the spaces and practices produced by such actions and how, taken together, they might be understood as offering a new platform for re-thinking and inhabiting the city.

The main aim of the session is to extend and re-centre recent attempts to develop a critical geography of ‘occupation’. The session is organised around three broad orientations:

1. A critical historical perspective that examines how cities have been transformed by residents into living archives of alternative knowledges, materials, and resources;

2. An empirical focus that re-traces the generative micro-politics of squatting and urban occupation. This is an optic that places particular emphasis on the different practices adopted by squatters – improvised, makeshift and often uncertain –and the challenges that they face in composing alternative urban infrastructures.

3. A theoretical lens that highlights the emotional geographies of urban squatting. At stake here, is a recognition that squatted spaces are not only sources of intense conflict and struggle. They are equally sites of hope, liberation, and possibility.

This session seeks papers which touch on one or more of these orientations in diverse contexts, with the aim of developing a special issue on critical geographies of occupation, squatting and trespass. We particularly welcome papers which seek to interrogate and build on existing concepts – including autonomy, commoning, endurance, informality, prefiguration, and the ‘right to the city’ – as well as research that recognises and challenges existing theoretical commitments. We are especially interested in developing a more hopeful and speculative geography of theory that moves beyond North/South binaries and recognises the alliances, practices and resources that connect activists and residents living in the global North and South.
Linked Sessions Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (1): Shelter, Housing, Home
Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (3): Spaces of Possibility & Emergence
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
The Affective Geographies of the House of Brag
Milo Bettocchi (University of Nottingham, UK)
The House of Brag was a queer, anti-racist, feminist squatting collective active between 2012 and 2014. This paper considers its last project – JoyBrag, a squatted social centre in Brixton, south London, in the summer of 2014 – with a focus on its affective geographies. What Lauren Berlant has called “the desire for the political” (Berlant 2011, p.2) – “for intimacy, sociality, affective solidarity, and happiness” (Berlant 2011, p.252) – is impossible to disentangle from “instability, fragility, depression [and] dissociation” (Berlant 2011, p.2). Thus, while squatting can undoubtedly offer “an alternative vision of queer urban life” (Brown 2007, p.2686) and “an opportunity to reassert a degree of self-determination within the city” (Brown 2007, p.2696), the affective, often fraught collective work through which alternative visions and spaces of urban life are crafted must be attended to. JoyBrag, here, is presented as a collectively negotiated site of solidarity and conflict, depression and possibility, endurance and fragility.
Considerations about squats and their potential as common: a Brazilian perspective
Julia Caminha (PUC-Rio, Brazil)
The paper presented is a result of initial investigation for the author’s PhD. The objective is to understand urban squats as potentials to promote commons. Understanding that the struggle for the city must begin by the social appropriation of spaces and their transformation into common, squats can be a tool to do it. Based on the idea that squatting is the social appropriation of abandoned spaces as a solution to the most different needs and commons are relationships, not only as resources or equipment, being necessary the collective commitment to make it happen, both represent the action of resisting by collective appropriation. Therefore, they are an alternative form to the private property and open a possibility for a non-capitalist future. The paper is based on bibliographic research and experiences that the author has had in Brazilian and European squats, especially those explored in her master's research and the squats Solano Trindade and Izidora.
The eurythmisation and organisational rites of housing squats in Rome, Italy
Margherita Grazioli (Gran Sasso Science Institute, Italy)
Existing taxonomies of urban squatting tend to emphasize the squats’ political function on the basis of the squatters’ composition/previous activism in the moment of occupying. On the other hand, the imperceptible politics of everydayness deployed into housing squats’ for supporting their radical infrastructures prefigure a modality of urban living and political subjectivation which is at odds with what is produced within mainstream models of urban ‘legal dwelling’. The presentation explores the main modalities of daily living and organising investigated during an ongoing activist ethnography within the post-2008 crisis housing squats affiliated to the Movimento per il Diritto all’Abitare in Rome (Italy). It focuses in particular on: assembly-based decision making; cooperative management and defence of spaces; solidarity-based social reproduction. In so doing, it dwells upon the concepts of ‘eurythmisation’ and ‘organisational rites’, which are a further elaboration of the Lefebvrian ‘rhythmanalysis’ (2004) of urban everydayness.
Politics of Occupation in the Neoliberal City
Rowan Tallis Milligan (Independent)
Incorporating squatting into theories and practices of resistance helps to circumvent dominant binaries of successful or failed resistance and provides discursive and concrete locations for challenging the hegemony commonly afforded to capitalism. To demonstrate this, I combine two often theoretically disconnected modes of contemporary thought: radical democracy and affect. The antagonism inherent in squatting contributes to the recentering of “the urban political” in contemporary society (Swyngedouw 2007) by reconfiguring individual and collective consciousness as well as the use of the urban form. Beyond consciousness, the bodily and affective support that occurs through practices like breaking bread and breaking doors can generate new political subjectivities and return the political and the emotive to the urban sphere (Hemmings 2012). I support this argument with reference to the 2015 Aylesbury occupation in London which was notable for the occupiers’ militancy and claims for the reappropriation of space and antagonistic urban insurrection.