10/04/2014

Walling Roma in

The "Roma wall" Wikipedia page accounts for the apparently growing governance practice of walling Romani households in (or out). The page presents cases in Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. Two issues strike me here: the first is that apparently between 1999 and 2011 no wall was constructed; the second is that this kind of segregation seems to take place only in Eastern Europe.

One of the "walls". Kosice, Slovakia, 2013
The first issue is revealing of the trajectories of governance ideologies and practices, as well as of the recent and current economic situation in Europe. It would be too long to discuss this issue here; probably a journal article would be a better place. Any volunteering co-author? The second issue reveals I think a kind of growing conventional wisdom in the 'new Europe' (the 'East') concerning acceptable and 'clean' forms of (racial) domination. It may also mirror a renewed tendency in governing practices of walling Roma in, that started in the 1980s with Italian nomad camps, drawing on previous policy experiences of 'halting sites' in the UK and the Netherlands. At the same time, walling Western European stigmatized 'immigrant neighbourhoods' in, like the Via Anelli wall in Padua, might be a morphologically more similar example. In any case, enacting physical and symbolic exclusion with such a tremendous visual impact looks somehow more effective in perpetuating territorial stigmatization than risking hate speech and other more conventional violations.

27/03/2014

For a reflexive sociology of "nomadness"

When back in the early 1990s Loic Wacquant and Pierre Bourdieu chatted about the nature of Sociology, they digged out - and discussed at lenght - probably the most distinctive feature of social science, namely reflexivity. The dialogue resulted in a volume entitled An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (1992). One of the main points of the book is also one of the main epistemological assumptions of Wacquant's entire research entreprise, namely that categories of analysis (scholars' tools) should be different from categories of practice (everyday, policy and media idiom). This distinction is fundamental for social scientists, according to the two French scholars.

Ernst Lubitsch's movie 'Gypsy blood' (1921)
Inspired by this distinction, which I totally endorse, I recently co-authored an article in Identities with a brilliant political philosopher and sociologist, Dr. Roccheggiani. The article is an ethnographic-genealogical exploration into the genesis and development of authoritative ideas, policy, and practices addressing Roma/"Gypsies" in Italy. In the article we coin the concept of "nomadness" in order to describe the a-historical and quasi-mythical representation of Romani nomadism that is widespread among experts and policy makers. While nomadism is a socio-economic phenomenon historically dependent on labour market fluctuations, nomadness is an essentialising representation of that phenomenon that largely functions as a vector of stigmatization and ultimately exclusion. We then discuss how nomadness is one of the major reasons why many Romani families face enormous material constrains in contemporary Italian urban peripheries.

Nomadness is a category of analysis that I hope will be debated in further studies on the construction of (Romani) otherness across Europe and beyond. We are deeply convinced that adopting this theoretical tool will allow researchers to see the socio-economic repercussions of powerful and deep-rooted representations previously either underestimated or overlooked. We call for a reflexive sociology of "nomadness". I'm happy to share the article via email.

11/02/2014

The importance of Stuart Hall

Only a small sign of his importance, actually.

The very rare occasions in which I buy a newspaper occur when I am in Italy. I usually buy a daily called 'il Manifesto' of which the subtitle reads, 'Communist paper'. I have been reading Manifesto for the last fifteen years, but in the last five this has become a weird experience. While carrying or reading it in public spaces I have  increasingly been confronted with suspiscious gazing coming from my fellow city users. Part of the reason is that this has always taken place Milan, one of the most neoliberal Italian cities. Yet I always felt there were other and more significant reasons...

Stuart Hall died yesterday, February 10. He was 82.

The only Italian daily which covered the event was il Manifesto (thanks to Bertram for letting me know).

Stuart Hall, 1932-2014
Hall was among the first scholars who understood the importance of social forces other than and yet tightly linked to the economy. And how those forces were able to shape social hierarchies. Culture, ethnicity and race are the most relevant ones, as equally are gender and age. He was literally a pioneer of multidimensional analyses of social distance, stratification, cultural production, and later neoliberalism in times of massive structural changes (the late 1960s onwards). He was as far sighted as very few in his generation. His work was not 'intellectual' in the Weberian sense. It was intellectual-militant in the Saidian sense. It was not Professor Hall speaking. It was Dr-Stuart-Hall-a-black-citizen-of-this-world-and-this-specific-social-setting speaking. His reading of Gramsci granted him global popularity for one main reason, I think: oppressed by the dominant Marxian paradigm of the primacy of the macro-economic structure on social life, due to the current structural social changes, intellectuals needed a different approach in order to uncover contradditions and injustice from below. And this is exactely what Gramsci managed to do. Hall did not go to prison. He did not found and directed the most progressive and antagonistic daily of his time. He did not become a politician and social activist. However, he did what Gramsci but also Bourdieu did: he gave weapons, rather than lessons.

He would be able, I am more than sure, to understand why carrying 'il Manifesto' in Milan public space provokes such a suspiscious gazing. And to explain this, clearly and gently, to me and my fellow city users.


He'll be deeply missed.

05/02/2014

Archive of Expulsions

It's astonishing how many evictions, expulsions, destructions of houses, segregating policies and other oppressive measures on the poor are taking place.

I just launched the hashtag #ArchiveofExpulsions. In my twitter account I will document instances of expulsions, evictions, housing destructions, and similar actions across the world. My aim is to keep track of some of the ways in which, in neoliberal times, the poor and marginalized are addressed.

Some may be skeptical and even polemic regarding the unproblematic use of 'neoliberalism' as a category of analysis for looking at the current trend that policies on marginality are undergoing. And although there are reasons to think that 'neoliberalism' may be as plane and straightforward as the plethora of phenomena it describes - hence not sophisticated enough, I think it remains the most useful tool. However, it is useful as long as we agree that neoliberalism is not synonimous to capitalism nor to the free market. It's a peculiar doctrine, or - to put it differently - an ideology. An ideology which pervades all spheres of social life, not only the economy. As such, it can heuristically capture the conjunctures and connections of policy, civil society, political economy and politics.

27/01/2014

An Indefinite Marriage? Culture and/vs. Social Closure in a Romanian City

Those who work on power and its dimensional and disciplinary ramifications are the privileged audience of this post. Apologies to all others, but what I want to do here is to reflect on the study of group- and community- making.

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
Social science has long attempted to shed light on the ways in which groups come to being and being perceived the way they do. The family is probably the most common and classic subject on that matter. Regional communities, neighbourhood collectives and cultural and subcultural grouping are also widespread subjects among scholars. Recently, Loic Wacquant was asked to clarify the making of classes according to Pierre Bourdieu. Indeed, Bourdieu is one of the first authors whose theories come to mind when thinking about group making. The reason is that he was among the first who developed a rigorous analysis not only of what is 'out there' in the social world, but also how - and importantly, why - we analysts, and the people with whom we work, happen to perceive what is 'out there' the way we do. Reflexivity, and "reflex-reflexivity" - one of Bourdieu's ethnographic milestones.

I think one of the main reasons why Bourdieu could so well capture the nuances of the social world and the ways we perceive them - his always-bifocal analysis - is because he was fundamentally a Durkheimian. Durkheim was one of the first whose work was squarely defined by what was at that time anthropology, i.e. the explanation of various phenomena happening in small and categorically non-Western contexts, typically under colonial rule, based on a long and deeply immersed seujour in them. Without Durkheim's reflections on universality and religion, for instance, it would be hard to imagine Bourdieu problematizing our/his own perception of social worlds and phenomena. Of course Canguilhem and historical epistemology played a substantial role in shaping his ideas, but as far as his theories of identities- and class- making are concerned, Durkheim remains his main source.
    Pata Rat settlement built in 2010 by the city council ©  Adrian Nemeti

Looking through these lenses, I wrote an article drawing on my extended fieldwork in Cluj; the article has finally been published in Civilisations - here.  I don't engage with Bourdieu explicitly, let alone Durkheim, but I do connect theoretically 'culture' and social closure in the making of "The Roma" as a grouping in Cluj - sorting them, identifying them, classifying them, and ultimately having the city council relegating several low-income Romani families at the extreme urban periphery close to a landfill, without access to services of any kind (see photo)...

My main theoretical source for connecting 'culture' and social closure is Michael Herzfeld's concept of cultural intimacy (1997). I think the concept has too rarely been applied to sociological works on urban marginality, but it has an enourmous potential of explaining emerging dynamics of radical social closure. In general, the links between 'culture' and social closure do not seem to me to have been deeply scrutinized. So, their relationships is still indefinite (there are exceptions, like Andreas Wimmer's work in Mexico...) .

This recent municipal segregating policy is one of the many of this kind in contemporary Romania, and not only in Romania. Neoliberal governmentality (Foucault has extensively written and lectured on this, and Wacquant discusses it empirically) is today conventional wisdom when it comes to dispossessed Romani families (and clearly not only Romani). The state is undergoing deep changes in the ways it faces urban poverty, and looking at them from the case of the treatment of poor urban Roma sheds light on the ways in which the state in Europe is becoming a key producer of advanced forms of poverty and marginality.

What remains to be done, in my opinion, is to study the logic of production of this kind of emerging marginality. And one of the main references for doing this is to look at the ways in which, and the extent to which, race in neoliberal Europe became a key dimension within which resources and practical alternatives on which policy makers and state authorities in general draw become limited, sorted out and legitimized. This process of limitation, sorting out and legitimation seems to make those segregating policies and measures acceptable and "clean".




30/11/2013

The origins of the spatial segregation of Roma in contemporary Italy

[Qui in Italiano]

Why do nomad camps exist? One of this blog's initial goals was to account for my 2007-2008 ethnography of nomad camps in Florence. In fact, Florence was no national exception. About 40,000 Roma were and still are estimated to be living in segregated urban camps. Back then I was interested in how those camps functioned as sites of urban marginality. Later on I began to ask how in the capitalist 'West' that form of racial segregation and urban dispossession emerged. As there was no comprehensive historical account of the genesis of nomad camps, I decided to write one myself. The article is now out, exploring the main practices, ideas, ideologies, agencies, and representations behind the making, in the mid-1960s, of the first 'halting areas for nomads' (aree sosta per nomadi). Based on archive research and oral history, and ethnographically discussing local dynamics occurring in Florence and Turin between the mid 1960s and the mid 1990s, the article's argument is that
Florence. Olmatello camp (c.a. 1995)

'sedentarisation, in the form of an initial solidarity and a later response to public disorder, and "the right to nomadism", i.e. an enigmatic device allowing the juxtaposition of Italian and foreign migrants, were the two main apparatuses [dispositifs], practical and discursive respectively, whereby the urban encapsulation of variously defined people of Romani descent was initially enacted'. (p. 277)
Turin. The just-built Germagnano camp (2004)
Previous studies on the origins of nomad camps discussed institutional racism's trajectories and how it materialized in local racist policies. Yet they overlooked precise contingent local policy and civil society actions shaping that particular socio-spatial form of racial segregation. Discussing those contingent local dynamics is what I hope I have achieved. More research needs to be done, exploring the legacies and structural forces behind segregation policies and state practices in Europe and the Global North, connecting them to similar processes in the Global South.

04/11/2013

On racist racelessness in Europe

Consider these two scenes:

1) Recently talking to a graduate of a top-tier British university:
I [concerned]: "This summer an Italian Senator referred to the black Minister of Integration by saying 'Every time I see her, I cannot help thinking of an orangutang'".
HE [serious]: "And does she really look like an orangutang?"

2) A recent Facebook thread in Italian:
STATUS: The media accounts about the Romani girl in Greece that I'm reading these days are horrible! Can any of my friends write a good commentary or op-ed on the case?
COMMENT: The interesting thing is that the case was finally solved by a Greek journalist inquiry.
As if to say: when journalists get off their chair and do their job, they can be of help.

These two scenes can introduce what may be named racist racelessness in Europe. In the past few weeks the global media used the photo below to generate a massive case around that Romani girl. The girl was finally proved not to be the biological daughter of the two adults (in the photo) with whom she was living in Greece. Rather, investigations showed that her biological parents live in Bulgaria. The biological parents recognized her and explained that some time ago they left the child to that couple because they were extremely poor and had several other children to take care of. 

Persons
Left: [name unknown, age unknown]
Centre: Maria (?), or Mariya (Bulgarian), or Μαρία (Greek)
[age (real age unknown) between 4 and 6]
Right: [name unknown, age unknown]

 Location
Somewhere in 'Central Greece'/a few sources write 'Farsala'

Date
[unknown]  

The two main characterizations of this photo, the only photo picturing both the unofficial adoptive parents and the child, are particularly interesting. As the caption shows, the viewer knows nothing about the adults and very little about the girl. This decontextualization is stunning. What the viewer immediately notices, instead, is a chromatic contrast between the adults and the girl. This does not only concern their skin colour, the colour of their eyes, or of their hairs, but also the colour of their clothes and of the wall behind them. The second strong characterization of the photo are the three facial expressions. They all look either tired, or stressed, or concerned; moreover, the girl does not meet 'Western' standard of cleanliness and propriety. All this allows the 'Western' average viewer to 'legitimately' conclude that the adults are 'inapt parents'.

Different visual characterizations of one single object work simultaneously. Hence, the chromatic contrast gets immediately juxtaposed to the 'inapt parents' characterization, resulting in the black-inapt link. That photo, therefore, is a racist visual configuration, which is squarely framed within deep-rooted and popular anti-Roma and anti-Black discourses in Europe, at once instantiating and reinforcing them.

How could such a racist image circulate globally without raising almost any concern in Greece and Europe about race and racism? The European state(s), the media as their extensions, and sometimes the European Union, are able to reinforce racism without raising any opposition, because, as some scholars have been poiting out, they represent themselves as raceless, i.e. not historically and at present constructed on racial premises and domination. "Race? That's an American (Brazilian, South African...) thing!" - goes the refrain. I'm afraid that's not what the media coverage of that event shows. Race in Europe is actively ignored. This is what the two scenes I wrote as incipit, and specifically the two replies, show. This 'ignorance' allows race and racism to germinate wherever the terrain is fertile. That photo, and the huge anti-Roma consensus it raised in the past weeks, account exactely for that.

29/10/2013

Black Europe Summer School - my experience

I am a white, adult, Western middle-class man. These identifications mark constitutive features shaping my social and political life - in other words, my subjectivity. They are the privilege I have not earned. This is one of the most important things I have learnt and experienced last summer, when in Amsterdam I attended the two-week intensive course called Black Europe - Interrogating Citizenship, Race and Ethnic Relations (BESS - Black Europe Summer School).

I learnt much more - about racial states, the European history of slavery and citizenship, everyday racism and how gender and race usually interact. But primarily I learnt about my white privilege and how it is crystallized and crystallizing in multiple structures of inequalities.

Not that I did not know about this before, but the two-week intensive course did not give me the chance to increase only my knowledge, but also my consciousness, paving the way for more lucidity and maturity in life and work. I could go on, writing for example about great discussions and debates with professors and students - activists, young and senior scholars, one of whom a senior professor; or about the magnificient 3-hour march in the streets of Amsterdam celebrating the 150 years of legal abolition of Dutch slavery (see photo below); or more, about inspiring evening chats in amazing bars and cafes.

Keti Koti, Amsterdam, July 1, 2013
I am now BESS coordinator for Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. I am responsible for providing information to anyone from the region and beyond. BESS' 7th edition will run in Amsterdam from June 23 to July 4, 2014. Give it some thought. Email me for any question.



19/10/2013

A new analytical tool for looking at urban governance

I have not clearly understood yet what the difference is between self-promotion and the promotion of your own ideas and beleifs. There are a couple fixed boundary lines, though. For example: was Malcom X a self-promoter? No. Was Elvis a promoter of his own ideas and beleifs? Probably not.

Here I want to promote what I think is a valuable analytical tool for the study of urban governance. In a recent article entitled "That neighbourhood is an ethnic bomb!" The emergence of an urban governance apparatus in Western Europe (European Urban and Regional Studies) I propose 'urban governance apparatus' as an analytical tool for looking at local power dynamics revolving around the management of urban populations and neighbourhoods.

'Gypsies raus' ('out' in German) in Pescara city center

The article looks at the city of Pescara, Central-Southern Italy, where I have intermittently been doing fieldwork from 2007 to 2011. My focus is on the urban governance of  Rancitelli, the peripheral neighbourhood in which the majority of Pescarian Roma reside. The article ethnographically dissects the complex and mostly tacit ways in which Rancitelli is governed against the background of local authorities' complete silence about the conditions of marginality in which several Romani and non-Romani Rancitelli families live. So, it's an ethnogarphy of one single specific context. Yet it demonstrates that urban governance in general may occurr in unofficial ways, linking up media discourse, police actions, everyday (racial) stigmatization and public policy, all surreptitiously into the same regulatory circular process. I call this circular process 'urban governance apparatus', suggesting that it can help to analytically dissect urban governance in contexts where apparently nothing or very little goes on.

There is a (counter)tendency in social sciences of becoming more similar to artists than to activists. I just wonder whether this is not leading to an increased number of bohémienes and a decreased width of progressive social change.

06/08/2013

Teaching (through) the visual in Sociology

®Gabriele Galimberti - Toy Stories
What's the best way to teach? Inspired by my colleague Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova's research paper just published in The Anthropology of East Europe Review, I thought a lot about my teaching experience in Moscow this year. Elena's paper discusses the potentials of using visual methods as teaching tools in Russia. From November 2012 to January 2013 I taught two courses, on Public Sociology and on Ethnography. I am used to teach through a continuous conversation with students,  but I knew here in Moscow seminars and lectures tend to be more frontal rather than dialogical. In class I could involve students, but not as much as I wanted. Then I realized that many students were using tablets and smartphone very often, even in class, and so what I tried next was to employ visual methods. That was the answer I was looking for. I screened some short ethnographic documentaries and an entire ethnographic film, and got students following them with great interests, to the point that we managed to have the only real controversial discussion of the course. And when at the end I asked them to write an ethnographic account of two minutes of any movie they wanted, this resulted in some great essays.

Visuality is definitely a growing dimension in our learning experience. The internet and especially social networks seem to sanction an ever growing mode of interraction with visual media(tion) - photos are ubiquitos and videos definitely increasing in number (not necessarily in quality) through self-making facilities. And communicating knowledge is something that needs to get continually updated, also, but not only, because it involves those who are most sensitive and receptive to these changes.

The late Alberto Melucci in one of his classes that I had the chance to attend, said, 'we need to learn about the social world, but more importantly, I would say, we need to continually learn how to learn'. One of the things that we can - and probably should - learn today is how to produce and convey knowledge in such a way that communication keeps on being an engaging activity. Elena's article and my experience this year show one of the ways in which communication becomes engaging - adopting visual products in teaching and learning in higher education.

03/08/2013

Women are heroes

The photo of the header is taken from the renowned documentary project Women are heroes. I am happy to spread the word about the project. I looked for more photos but the movie trailer would probably give a better idea of what the project is about:






23/07/2013

Informality and Spatial Confinement across the Global Order. Another conference session

At the next ISA World Congress in Yokohama (July 14-19, 2014), I will be the co-organizer of this session. I'm excited about that, and I am looking forward to challenging discussions, which will contribute to further building up my reflections on informal policy-making and the local shaping of spaces of confinement across urban Europe. More news on the session will appear in due course.

The deadline for abstract submission is September 30, 2013.