RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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405 Towards an autonomist economic geography: Rethinking the classed relations of work, housing and debt (2): Emergent urban resistance
Affiliation Economic Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Nick Clare (University of Nottingham, UK)
Shaun French (University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Nick Clare (University of Nottingham, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room 9
Session abstract The autonomist Marxist ideas of ‘class composition’ and ‘workers’ enquiry’, as well as political strategies such as autoreduction and accelerationism (Wright, 2017), provide a powerful framework with which to reanimate a whole host of contemporary economic and labour geography problematics, enabling a deep and more politicised engagement with, for instance: changing labour processes, housing precarity, everyday financialisation and the social relations of debt. Critical scholars have recently reengaged with autonomist thinking (Wright, 2017), with work looking at precarity and the gig economy (Woodcock, 2017), money and finance (Lucarelli, 2013), and migration (Campbell, 2018). Despite this, and a much welcome resurgence of interest in working class geographies (Stenning, 2008), autonomism remains comparatively and surprisingly underexplored in economic geography, and the geographical potential of these concepts is still to be realised. Research has begun to address this lacuna (Gray, 2018), adding clarity to implicitly spatial autonomist ideas like the ‘social factory’ (Clare, 2018), but autonomist thinking is also extremely well-placed to explore the contours of more contemporary disciplinary debates such as logistics and, given the importance of feminists to the autonomist project (see Federici, 2012; Toupin, 2018), social reproduction. Moreover, the political history of workerism and post-workerism offers important resources and insights that can critically inform urgent struggles against, for example, indebtedness, zero-hour contracts, and welfare reform. And in so doing, autonomist Marxism can contribute to a more hopeful and progressive geographical politics of the present.

The session aims to explore the synergies between economic geography and autonomist ideas, especially given the latter’s ‘exquisite’ yet inchoate spatiality (Toscano, 2004). Further, following recent debates about the state of UK economic geography, this session is intentionally interdisciplinary, drawing on, and engaging with, important work from business schools (e.g. Pitts, 2018) and beyond. An autonomist economic geography can breathe life into a whole host of contemporary ‘big issues’, and we seek to explore these radical possibilities, both in terms of theory and political praxis.
Linked Sessions Towards an autonomist economic geography: Rethinking the classed relations of work, housing and debt (1): New compositions, new struggles?
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Introduction
Jonathan Mears (Sheffield IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), UK)
Introduction
Class composition and financialized rental housing: a rent strike against a real estate investment trust
Bjarke Skærlund Risager (University of Toronto, Canada)
This paper aims to show how the autonomist Marxist framework of ‘class composition’, for historical and theoretical reasons, can be useful when analyzing financialized rental housing. In 2018, a group of working-class tenants in four high-rise buildings in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, waged a seven-month long rent strike against their landlord, a real estate investment trust (REIT). Withholding their rent and engaging in direct action, the tenants demanded that the landlord cancel a steep rent increase – part of the REIT’s ‘repositioning programme’ – and make necessary repairs to their homes. While repairs did get done, the tenants failed in preventing the rent increase, and this will have severe consequences for many of them. Based on militant research with the tenant solidarity network that helped organize the strike and on qualitative interviews with striking tenants, this paper shows how this ‘financialized landlord’ exploits and controls its tenants, and how the latter, in turn, organize and resist. In theoretical terms, it maps the ‘technical composition’ and the ‘political composition’ as these have unfolded before, through, and after the rent strike. This approach contributes to new geographical research on housing, space, and class composition. It also contributes to recent studies and arguments on gentrification that put the working class at the centre, not as a passive, displaced group – as it has often been conceived – but as a class that experiences and resists and, so I argue, is recomposed through struggle.
Crisis, austerity and new social protagonisms on the European periphery: developing synergies between autonomism and urban social movement theory
Josie Hooker (University of Bath, UK)
This paper presents the theoretical framework with which I will approach militant research with anti-austerity movements in Barcelona. Rather than a narrow affiliation to any one of autonomism’s legacies, I adopt Bailey et al.’s (2018) minor marxisms programme, which encompasses a number of heretical and libertarian marxisms, united by the prioritisation of struggle and by an interest in autonomy not restricted to the self-valorisation thesis, and thus open to traditions beyond the Anglo-American sphere, most notably Latin America (Dinerstein, 2015; Gago, 2017).

Mobilising this programme, I firstly offer a critique of the existing literature on anti-austerity movements in Spain post-2008. In its analysis, new social movement theory retains an overstated separation between outdated understandings of class and identity, thus failing to grasp the emergent class compositions evident in the 15M movements. Geographical scholarship on urban social movements avoids this trap. Reflecting its close synergies with the autonomist social factory, this literature’s sensitivity to contemporary capitalism’s decentred circulation grasps the 15M’s spatial politics of social reproduction in class terms. I secondly argue for the mutual benefits of further development of this synergy. The former literature focuses primarily on the expressly spatial and urban politics of the neighbourhood, urban development and housing, rendering important insights – for example into territoriality and the spatialities of indebted subjectivities – that would fortify autonomism’s implicit yet inchoate spatiality. By the same token, the urban movement literature would derive conceptual innovation from supplementing its existing empirical purview with autonomism’s emphasis on the politics of work. I explore the possibilities of this exchange through discussion of contemporary struggles in Spain, such as the 8M feminist strikes of 2018 and 2019, of which Spain has been a global leader; or the struggles around short-term rental platforms such as AirBnB.
Riot to buy: To what extent did political contestation influence and accelerate development of neoliberal urban policy in Britain?
Ben Beach (University of Cambridge, UK)
This paper will demonstrate that since 1979, incidences of political contestation have triggered and accelerated development of neoliberal urban policies in British cities, aimed at neutralising dissent through the comprehensive redevelopment of restive neighbourhoods. I
will argue that central to instituting neoliberal policies is a process of fragmentation and territorialisation of space; executed on local, national and international scales to effect economic restructuring and redraw boundaries of political power. I will explore how this process developed and extended into urban centres - with a transposed and highly authoritarian focus on social control - as a direct consequence of neoliberal governance encountering mass rioting. In particular, the Broadwater Farm Estate, North London, will form a unit of analysis for an exploratory case study in how disorder in 1985 and 2011 provoked spatial responses, with the principle aim of pacifying and dispersing populations hostile to state power. I will contend this demonstrates the arguments advanced by the Italian Autonomism movement – that capitalist development is fundamentally reactive to working class struggles – can be successfully applied to urban space; which is subjected to programmes of recomposition preceded and prefigured by the actions of urban social movements.