Cities, on the surface at least, seem stable. The imposing physical materiality of concrete, steel and glass projects an endurance that is ‘built to last‘. Yet decades of urban critique have elucidated the fluidity of cities. From Walter Benjamin’s Arcades, through Cedric Price’s Fun Palace to Nigel Coates’ Ecstacity, people have been envisioning cities that are mobile, mutable and malleable. These concepts of literature, art and architecture articulate cities that are far from static; they are fluid assemblages that wax and wane in response to cultural representations, economic global processes and social practices. And one only has to take a short walk through seemingly any city today before they encounter some construction or development of some kind. This affirms that the urban landscape is constantly changing in response to development pressures, policy tweaks and financial speculation. The ‘stability’ of cities is hence only an illusion; there is far more than meets the eye… Continue reading
Last Wednesday, a group of disabled people occupied the lobby of Parliament. This unprecedented action was taken in response to the immanent closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF). The responsibility of financially supporting those with disabilities will pass to local councils, who are already struggling with national austerity policies. The real fear for those reliant on ILF is that there funding will be reduced, if not cut altogether. The protestors’ stand was a critical one, and want to explain why.
Notwithstanding the heavy-handed police presence that forcibly removed many of the disabled people from the Westminster lobby with unreasonable force that highlights the contempt at which vulnerable people are treated by authority, the policy of removing the ILF is one of the most regressive and undemocratic moves that the current government have engaged in. This is for the simple fact that disability itself is something that enables society to envision different ways of living, alternative modes of being and other means of moving forward. Let me explain why. Continue reading
Jurassic World is a film about dinosaurs isn’t it? Well yes and no. Like all good films, the subtexts run rather differently to what we actually see on screen. So while we see giant dinosaurs taking chunks out of each other, we’re also witnessing a rather subtle commentary on social relations, and how this is mediated by technology. More specifically, the film reads (for me at least) as a rather stark allegory of the way in which personalised technology (smart phones, wearable tech etc.) is eroding the ways in which we relate to each other as a society. Allow me to explain. And yes, there will be spoilers. Continue reading
The exit poll that the BBC announced at 10:00:01pm on Thursday started it. By midnight it wasn’t really sinking in. By 3am it was becoming increasingly apparent. By 6.30am, it was all but confirmed. By 7.30am, I was on my way to RHUL Towers with an overbearing sense of an impending macabre future. The 2015 general election result was one of the most surprising, but also most harrowing of my short voting life, not because of any party political allegiance I (don’t) have; but because of the knowledge that the preceding five years of feelings of injustice, frustration and disgust at the current state governance was going to carry on, and indeed intensify for the next five. The carcass of the political system is being picked over by the social media and op-ed commentariat, while no more than 5 days after the event, the harbingers of an evermore neoliberalised society are already in place (not least with some of today’s cabinet appointments).
For a few hours then over the weekend, I was giving some thought to emigrating, jacking it all in, giving up. But a series of conversations with colleagues, a few inspiring tweets (yes, they do exist) and a stiff drink or two later, it became clear that such a defeatist attitude went completely against the grain of my
being becoming. In order to break the malaise and the lift the inner-pother that I certainly embodied over the last few days (and no doubt many other people from “across the political spectrum” (to use a horribly reductionist phrase)) – there needs to be a renewed vigour to encounter the oncoming deluge of marginalising and polarising policies and tests their limits of justice via empirical and theoretical contestation; there needs to be a groundswell of collective organising (of what Lefebvre has called autogestion) so that the formulation of predatory formations are not given the freedom to carry out their potentially domcidial tendencies; there needs to be unfettered rejection of the poisonous ideology of individualism; there needs to be a reclamation of civic life and the streets in which it is formed; there needs to be a realisation that it is those at the margins of society who most readily show us what future and progress looks and feels like, not those in the centre who champion more of the same; in sum, there needs to be a greater effort to enact radical democracy.
Easy to say of course, far more difficult to enact. Which is why, perhaps now, it is even more important to take that difficult decision to act, rather than to be passive. To go on that march, to join that collective, to help your neighbour, to question authoritarianism. So apologies if it all sounds a little preachy and ranty (maybe there’s an element of catharsis going on here), but ‘sticking your neck out’ is part and parcel of what needs to be done. So you may find me being slightly more vocal, active and yes, probably (even more) annoying in the next five years; and if you’re one my students reading this, I can only apologise…
The Annals of American Geographers annual conference this year was in Chicago, and as usual, was a hectic 5 days of sessions, networking, partying and pontificating. The ante seemed particularly high this year, there was a heightened sense of a complex mix of emotional states; excitement (perhaps a symptom of being in such a great city), enjoyment (plenty of people seemed to have beaming smiles), anger (name-calling was heard), insecurity (lots of discussions about academic precarity) and exhaustion (no-one I spoke to seemed well-rested). I targeted a route through the sessions that was focused on my current and future research plans, namely critical urbanism, activism and subversion, and so I found myself gravitating to sessions with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘activism’, ‘urban justice’ and ‘subversion’ in the title. Some were fantastic, others less so, but that is an inevitable consequence of the AAG’s policy of excepting all abstracts. One of the major themes though that I took home was that critical urban theoretical discussions are slightly laboured, a bit tail-chasing, and while important to provide a conceptual framework for activism, still seems not as connected to ‘on the ground’ experience, marginality and radical politics as it could be. Continue reading
There is a current wave of student occupations across London. KCL, LSE, UAL, Goldsmiths have all been targeted, and I’m sure more are brewing. The LSE occupation was the first (that I noticed anyway) and they are calling for a “Free University of London” and aiming to create an “open, creative and liberated space, where all are free to participate in the imagining of a new directly democratic, non-hierarchical and universally accessible education”. There has been plenty of coverage of these occupations in the relevant media outlets, not least UAL’s rather terse response in particular. Whatever the politics of these occupations and your views on the provisioning of higher education in this country (I happen to agree with their position), what I think is equally as important about these ‘events’ more broadly is that it is students as a cohort that are leading these protests.
At the same time that the nation tuned into the first TV debate of the 2015 general election, the Aylesbury Estate occupation reportedly ended. One event saw a bunch of lowlifes bickering about how to run a doomed institution, the other? Well….