RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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397 Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (3): Spaces of Possibility & Emergence
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 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
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 (2): Political Subjectivities & Spaces of Affect
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
The micropolitics of border struggles: migrants’ housing squats and urban commons
Deanna Dadusc (University of Brighton, UK)
Drawing on literature on ‘acts of citizenship’ and ‘mobile commons’, this paper will discuss the criminalisation of migration in the Netherlands and the struggles of the We Are Here movement in Amsterdam as resistance to various technologies of enclosure. The paper argues that the creation of housing squats by the We Are Here movement, as opposed to the containment in emergency shelters, marks an important shift in migrants’ struggle that goes from acts of protest, to the performance of resistance at the level of the micro-politics of borders. The practice of squatting by illegalised migrants leads to the creation of urban commons where self-organization and the prefiguration of no-border spaces pose resistance to both the criminalisation of migration and humanitarian modes of control and subjection.
Occupations as Socio-Spatial Innovation? Reflections from São Paulo and Johannesburg inner-cities
Beatrice De Carli (University of Sheffield, UK)
Alexandre Frediani (University College London, UK)
This paper interrogates occupations in inner city areas of São Paulo and Johannesburg through the lens of social-spatial innovation, with the objective to examine its usefulness to current debates on civic-led processes of urban regeneration. While very different in terms of character, history and organisational structure, occupations in these cities have come about through collective processes of appropriation of vacant high-rise buildings. The analytical lens of socio-spatial innovation is approached as a conceptual entry point to establish linkages between the literature on ‘right to the city’, ‘social innovation’ and ‘feminist architecture’. The paper draws on previous ethnographic research undertaken in occupations in both cities and theoretical debates developed in a recent research proposal under review. This paper hopes to simultaneously capture the transformative potentials of everyday practices as well as reflect on the complexities and challenges embedded in the practice of occupations within and across these two geographies.
Welcome to the petit jungle: Primo-arrivants and fugitive spaces in Paris, 2016-2019
Melora Koepke (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
Since 2015, informal squatter camps inhabited by primo-arrivants (young, mostly male, mostly under-documented migrants from Africa and Afghanistan) have proliferated in the north of Paris. Though simultaneously framed as humanitarian crises and threats to public security, hygiene and order, the precariousness and ingenuity of these petits jungles or campements sauvages (as they are called) have also shaped hopeful alliances between local citizens, primo-arrivants, and others. Their enduring, intimate and highly visible occupation of Parisian public spaces actively enlivens the geopolitical abstractions of so-called “European migration crisis”, creating immanent possibilities for relation and transformation through proximity. Based on ethnographic research in the north of Paris from 2016-2018, this paper explores campements sauvages as activist, fugitive spaces primo-arrivants as code-shifting architects of an informal, lively infrastructure of occupation that challenges and exceeds the bureaucratic and institutional frameworks of “migration management” in Paris and beyond.
Meanings and connotations of ‘ZAD’ in contested urban spaces
Elise Lecomte (University of Leicester, UK)
The term ZAD is central to understanding occupations in a French context. It came into activist vocabulary during the occupation of the area intended for the construction of the new Nantes (Notre-Dame-des-Landes) airport in 2008, as a subversion of the regional planning jargon for this area “Zone d’Aménagement Différé” (deferred development zone), into the new meaning of “Zone À Défendre” (zone to be defended).
The term has since shifted again, both in meaning and space, covering a much broader range of situations, coming into urban space, and encompassing occupations as spaces of hope, liberation, possibility, and experimentation. It has become a synonym for protest camps and occupations in a broader sense, and almost acts as a token for a certain kind of protests.

This paper explores the history of the concepts, and how it has travelled, being reimagined and resignified in contested urban spaces.
Art + Squat = X
Alan W. Moore (Independent)
Occupation is avant-garde action, in the original military sense of the term. It is avant-garde politically, as in the Occupy waves of 2011, seeding a hydra of subsequent developments. But it is also avant-garde in art, aesthetically and especially as it enlarges the field of cultural production.

All kinds of art institutions arise from and serve the interests of the bourgeoisie and/or the state. Squatted and occupied spaces, when put to service of culture as “monster institutions”, serve working class, marginalized and insurgent cultural positions.

With crises in cities both large and small around housing and work itself, and macro-political crises around migration and climate change, the prerogatives of creative response and the freedom of the social laboratory must be extended to all peoples, not only educated specialists and those with capital.

A brief survey of aspects of cultural successes and innovations in the squatting movements is proposed from this perspective.