Reclaiming the Commons | Critical art and translocality

Next week I will join a number of artists, activists and scholars at Hochschule Luzern – Design & Kunst to participate in the symposium ‘How critique becomes translocal – Reclaiming the commons’. Here is the presentation of the event:

In 2014, Mexican artist Teresa Margolles presented her installation La Búsqueda at Migrosmuseum in Zurich. The work probed a mysterious series of female homicides. La Búsqueda is a monument to the extreme violence in the northern Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez. The experience of seeing La Búsqueda in a Swiss art museum is the starting point for our conference, which explores the effects of art addressing topics that are situated in a specific local and cultural context and which use activist artistic or mediating strategies for reclaiming the ‘commons,’ as Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago defines it.

What happens with unique codes and knowledge when they cannot be deciphered in their full complexity elsewhere? How can activist strategies against ‘enclosures’ take place in public spheres—sites that constitute, after Ancenl/Girel, ‘new territories of art’—which grow at the city center as much as on the outskirts, and which question and re-define the place of the artist in the city and in people’s everyday life.

Does the transfer of artwork into a different context change its meaning and reception, and if so, what are the consequences? Are misunderstandings by the audience an inherent part of these negotiations, and can they therefore be productive in a critical way? Can a work still become political without an understanding of its specific translocal implications? Or can critique only work within a specific local constellation? How can we reclaim the commons in mediation and artistic practices taking into account that, on the one hand, every translation creates new meanings, and, on the other hand, it reflects one’s specific position?

The title of my presentation is ‘Art and the collective imagination of the commons’. This is part of an ongoing attempt to deal with the enclosure of popular imaginations—particularly urban imaginations—as a new frontier of dispossession related with Modernist design. Although my main focus is planning and urban policy, I am also exploring their connection to broader expressions with the capacity to visualize and disseminate a certain pattern of urbanity such as literature, art and advertising, especially during the interwar period. In Lucerne I will illustrate this integration of governmental/visualizing devices with the experience of Neue Sachlichkeit in painting, architecture, photography and literature. You can find more information about the event here.


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urbanHist | European Joint Doctorate Programme – Call for Applications

In the context of EU funded Joint PhD programs, a group of institutions from Germany, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden offer 15 positions to conduct research on the history of European planning and urbanism during the 20th century. The fellowships are part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie program and provide a very attractive path in diverse research centers for three years. Besides the core partners, a number of satellite institutions in France, Italy, Spain (including my department) and the UK serve as hosts for short stays related to the candidate’s dissertation. Applications are due on December 15. More information here. Please feel free to disseminate the call among your colleagues and networks.


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Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion

steadman-jonesGareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion is now out with Allen Lane and Belknap Press, a monumental biography and historical contextualization of Marx’s thinking. Stedman Jones, author of the superb Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society and Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, is also the editor of the Penguin edition of the The Communist Manifesto. Penguin will also publish a paperback edition of this new book in May 2017.

I haven’t read it yet, but recent presentations (here at the LSE and the video below at Queen Mary UL)  make it look terrific.

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Society and Space book series – first two volumes by Bulley and Klauser out soon

Stuart Elden announces Sage’s Society and Space book series.

Progressive Geographies

Over the past several years I’ve been working with Sage on a Society and Space book series, which is linked to the Environment and Planning D: Society and Space journal (now published by Sage). There are several books under contract or in discussion, with the first two volumes due to be published very soon. The series description is as follows:

The Society and Space series explores the fascinating relationship between the spatial and the social. Each title draws on a range of modern and historical theories to offer important insights into the key cultural and political topics of our times, including migration, globalisation, race, gender, sexuality and technology. These stimulating and provocative books combine high intellectual standards with contemporary appeal for students of politics, international relations, sociology, philosophy, and human geography.

Bulley.pngThe first book to be published will be Dan Bulley’s  Migration, Ethics and Power: Spaces Of Hospitality In International…

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Governing mobility through the EU | Society & Space Forum

The new Society and Space website launches a forum on ‘hotspot’ centers for the management of migrants and refugees in Italy and Greece, with a number of contributions coming soon.

This coincides with a heated debate in Spain about CIEs, the so-called ‘foreigner internment centers’ (actually detention centers), especially in Madrid and Barcelona in the wake of protests by migrants and activists, and institutional attempts to close them by mayors Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, both in coalitions with diverse local branches of Podemos. Last week, for instance, Carmena declared that some of them present worse conditions than prisons in Madrid metropolitan area. While CIEs are different in many aspects from the ‘hotspots’ discussed in the Society and Space forum, they belong to the same carceral approach to transnational mobility and provide an illustration of a longer and painful trajectory not only regarding national and EU strategies for processing migrants, but also of ongoing resistance, solidarity and collective response against them.

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World-Ecology Conference 2017 | Women, Nature and Colonies

The 2017 World-Ecology Conference will be held in Binghamton, the topic this time looks terrific. The call for papers has been active for a while here.

‘Women, Nature, & Colonies’

Power, Reproduction, and Unpaid Work/Energy in the Capitalist World-Ecology

Third annual conference of the World-Ecology Research Network

21-22 July, 2017, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY

We welcome proposals for individual papers as well as paper sessions, book sessions, and panel discussions. Inquiries and proposals may be sent to:

Deadline for proposals: 15 February, 2017:

Two important currents of critical thought have gained special prominence over the past decade: the Marxist critique of capitalist ecology, and the feminist critique of unpaid work and social reproduction in capitalist development. This conference explores how these perspectives are not only helpful – but necessary – to each other in the analysis of capitalism’s diverse forms of exploitation, appropriation, and domination. The observation that capitalism works simultaneously in and through bodies, landscapes, and the biosphere remains, however, undertheorized and inadequately historicized. Rather than consider gendered and ecological forms of violence and appropriation as discrete historical domains, the conference seeks to open questions concerning their mutual constitution. Especially important, in this light, is the centrality of unpaid work – delivered by “women, nature, and colonies” (Mies) – in the history of capitalism, including the 21st century’s conjuncture of climate change, financial instability, and a wildly expanding “surplus humanity.” We are especially interested in papers that open space for rethinking of capitalism and capital accumulation in the web of life, and in its manifold forms of colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. Papers may be regional or global, empirical or conceptual.

We invite established and younger scholars – as well as activists and others outside the university system – to contribute papers on these themes as well as broader questions posed by the world-ecology conversation.

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Modernism and the Right to the City | Talk at DO.CO.MO.MO Conference

image31Next week I will be giving a keynote speech at the DO.CO.MO.MO. Conference (Iberian section) in San Sebastián. My talk is entitled ‘Modernism and the Right to the City’, which will strike many as contradictory, since Lefebvre’s notion synthesized his decade-long criticism of Modernist-oriented urban development in postwar France—grands ensembles, ZUPs, etc. In my lecture, however, I intend to explore a number of alternative design experiences that partially prefigured some of the features that Lefebvre would later use in his formulation of the right to the city, such as the right to centrality and self-management, the nurturing of urban life and difference, the understanding of the city as an ouvre, and so forth. This is an opportunity to further explore two problematic tensions within both Modernist design and Lefebvre’s work that others such as Lukasz Stanek have extensively dealt with before. On the one hand, there is the contradiction between Modernist aspirations to promote equality and freedom through spatial investments and the perverse outcomes of massive social housing developments, urban renewal and so on. On the other hand, the fact that, for all his criticism of such interventions, Lefebvre remained faithful to an understanding of society, politics and cityness in the emancipatory tradition of Modernity.


Maubeuge, city rebuilt according to plan by André Lurçat

Interestingly, I find that architects and practices that a priori would be relevant in this regard, such as openly politically committed designers and organizations in the 1920s-1930s, are not always helpful when it comes to tracing right-to-the-city elements; in fact, more often than not they work as negative illustrations. In that sense, my work on Martin Wagner last Spring was painfully revealing about the limitations of the first generation of Modernist architects and planners, and their trajectories after the 1930s. But there are other postwar experiences in architecture and urban design that present a more promising contour to identify anticipatory forays in a realm that Lefebvre would later explore much more powerfully and coherently. My talk will focus on these less-known cases, which Lefebvre didn’t know or didn’t consider relevant enough to take to task, but which provide an opportunity for an alternative genealogy of the Modern Movement in design.

Posted in Architectural design, Arquitectura y crítica, Convocatorias, Derecho a la ciudad, Diseño urbano, Espacio social, Espacio y política, Henri Lefebvre, Modernism, Planning history, Sin categoría, Teoría urbana, Urban design, Urban studies, Urbanismo crítico, Vivienda social | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments