All posts by Andriko Lozowy

The Question of Space: Interrogating the Spatial Turn between Disciplines. Book Review by Rishika Mukhopadhyay

The Question of Space: Interrogating the Spatial Turn between Disciplines
Edited by Marijn Nieuwenhuis and David Crouch
Part of the series Place, Memory, Affect
Rowman and Littlefield: 2017

The book, ‘Question of Space’ is a refreshing inquiry into the spatial turn that goes beyond disciplinary boundary. The editors have introduced the book through a prelude rather than a conventional introduction and ended it with a postlude. The use of a prelude and postlude is to establish the playful and fluid nature of ten innovative book chapters written by authors coming from different disciplinary backgrounds. Started off as an accidental book project, the book disrupts the hierarchies of knowledge, and disciplinary enshrinement regarding the subject nature of space. The book unravels the ‘different ways of ‘knowing’ space’ (P: X) and teases out, how spatial thinking, which is often implicit in our practice, process, and writing, is already embedded in our understanding of worlding. Influenced by French thinkers, they envisage ‘space as a practice (‘spacing’)rather than a noun (‘space’)’ (P: XI). Here, space is conceptualized as relational and subjective (following Massey, 2005, 1993). It is also expressed through difference (following Derrida, 2004: 337)and as folds (following Deleuze and Guattari in Doel, 1996: 436).

The prelude acts as a short introductory text for any beginners, new to spatial thought. Here the evolution of spatial thinking in Human Geography as well as in Anthropology, Sociology, Dance and Performance Studies are concisely elucidated. Readers can see the trajectory of spatial thought from Walter Christaller’ Central Place theory in 1933 where space was measured in positivist terms, through law and distance from centre, to its recent manifestation in literary geographies. The milestones of this journey are demonstrated by David Harvey’s Marxist understanding of inequality and justice in city-space, to Humanistic school of thought’s spatial understanding based on the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology. It also addresses Foucault’s theorization of everyday spaces of power and Lefebvre’s representational spaces. Thrift’s non-representational spaces focusing affective and performative spaces are also eloquently explained in relation to space and geography.

However, the inclusion of creative geographies, where space is innovatively reinvigorated, and feminist geographies, which challenges the hierarchies of spaces through the tropes of violence, safety, and access would have added another rich and essential layer to the analysis. Although the authors give a cursory glance at Haraway’s (1988)work, this is missing from the introduction.

The editors have given particular attention to Tim Ingold and Edward Casey’s scholarly work in anthropology, Sociologist John Urry’s work regarding the nuanced nature of Place and Space debate, and Ian Sinclair’s work involving memory, mapping, and language. New entanglement of humanities and space is also touched upon through the new journal of Geohumanities and Literary Geographies. In these discussions, the editors give reference how individual research chapters in the book have been influenced, referred, challenged, and in some cases reinvented these theoretical strands.

The first chapter by David Crouch takes an unusual combination of allotment garden and painting, to challenge the elitist nature of landscape studies. In a community allotment garden, space is intimately performed and experienced through multiple practices, affectivities, meanings, and values. In this chapter, artist Peter Lanyon’s work shows how human and non-human affective atmosphere commingles through memory and space making. He borrows from the theoretical canon of Deleuze and Guattari and Massey to explain this fairly complex occurrence of space, which is relational, multiple, abstract, political, embodied, and many more.

The second chapter by Awelani Moyo shows a unique blend of theoretically rich and ethnographically sound analysis of landscape both in and as performance. Through a study of Cape Town’s Infecting the City(ITC) festival in 2009, and through a homeless coloured woman’s transgressive figure, she has dealt with difficult questions of identity, belonging, citizenship, and mapping the cityscape. She merges Lefebvre’s concept of lived and conceived spaces with Tim Ingold’s work on landscape and dwelling to establish geography as an epistemic category which makes the public space inclusionary/ exclusionary.

George Revil’s chapter on sonic spatiality touches a rarely explored area of theorizing spatiality of voice/sound in social and cultural theory. He draws in materials from scholars working in interdisciplinary sound studies to argue for a mediated, embodied, and experiential understanding of space. He mentions how phenomenological approach by anthropologist and media theorist Carpenter and McLuhan in recognizing materiality of acoustic spaces can be influential. The work of Deleuze, Serres, Nancy, and Lefebvre in spatializing properties of sound and rhythm, Bor and LaBelle’s formulation on sonic mediation made the field of ‘vocalic space’ dynamic and imaginative.

Zivkovic’s chapter on the work of feminist and literary scholar bell hooks, as an affective spatial thinker, powerfully addresses the prelude’s lack of attention towards gender and space. She rightly points out that, for the majority of books on space, gender comes as an ‘afterthought or add-on’ (P: 63). Hook’s scathing critique of white feminist theorization, infused with her censure for imperialist capitalism, draws intimate and personal evocations around space. Her writing, much like taking a memory walk in her hometown of rural southern United States, unpacks the politics of location, aesthetics, belonging, and home in a nuanced way. The essay draws attention to Virginia Woolf and Sarah Ahmed, in relation to hook’s writing, which exemplifies a passionate and subjective politics. These works challenge boundaries, ask questions about spatial ownership, and retheorize ‘look’ and ‘wonder’ as methodological praxis.

Ghraowi’s chapter deftly deals with the subject of trauma, memory, and space through a literary reading of Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani’s novella ‘Returning to Haifa’. He brings together Freudian psychoanalysis, Bachelard’s poetics of space, Lefebvre’s lived space and rhythmanalysis to express the hypocrisy in humanitarian aid, use of testimony to justify psychiatric victim analysis, eradication of Palestinian subjecthood, and the blurring of past and present in the war-ridden city. The protagonist’s narrative experience, which binds these threads together, at times seems too ambitious but does shed light on these difficult conceptual terrains.

Watanabe’s chapter challenging the western epistemological idea of space and place makes the book truly attentive to the decolonization of knowledge. It is stimulating to see a completely inverted theorization of place by Japanese philosopher Nishida, as ‘nothingness, boundless and therefore universal and encompassing all spaces’ (P: 97). In the dominant academic norm where Western continental thinkers produce theory, and Eastern thought is noted as insignificant ‘experience’, ‘anomaly’ or ‘aberration’, Nisida’s ontology of becoming, barring its allegiance towards Japanese aggression on other Asian countries during the Second World War, requires serious attention from western scholars.

The chapter by Nieuwenhuis takes up the concept of territory in the discipline of International Relations. He questions how we have rationalized black lines on white paper as territories. The chapter grapples with the material basis of territory in relation to the formulation of State, its judiciary, and governance. He asserts, how our ‘cartographic gaze’ has established a connection between line, territory, and State saying ‘without lines there is no territory and without territory there can be no state’ (P: 119). But what happens when we think about territory beyond its horizontal spread but more in terms of its verticality? Can we envisage a relationship which is more ‘abstract, conceptual and ideal’ (P: 119)?

Belibou’s chapter on the materiality of internet cartography and emergence of a twinned reality or ’hyperreal’ nature of virtual, is a very timely piece during the moment of Geography’s digital turn. He tries to map internet through Google maps, as well as the through ‘darknet’, with its most popular browser The Onion Router. The chapter in its succinct way of writing highlights the reconfiguration of the conceptual domain of space and place in creating ‘neogeography’ with theoretical insights from Casey and Malpas.

Conway ventures to illustrate a quite familiar topic in geography, the relationality of space through the motif of films. His illustrious yet illusive writing style with short sections of philosophical underpinning gives spatial thought a textual reflexion.

The last chapter of the book breaks all conventional writing style where Earth exercises her Geo Agency and speaks directly to the geographers through a letter. Author Martin Gren takes the reader through geographies different historical traditions to remind the discipline to be more responsible in the era of Anthropocene.

Overall, the book effectively ushers towards an ontology of space, where space is a discipline in its own right. The way it brings together spatial thought in social sciences and humanities, it calls for a post-disciplinary perspective. It is a compelling read, gives voice to diverse writing styles, thematic genres, and analytical lenses that bring space fully into our epistemology.

Book Review by: Rishika Mukhopadhyay, University of Exeter.

Works Cited:

Derrida, Jacques. 2004. “Semiology and Grammatology”.” In Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 332–39. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Doel, Marcus A. 1996. “A Hundred Thousand Lines of Flight: A Machinic Introduction to the Nomad Thought and Scrumpled Geography of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space14 (4): 421–39. https://doi.org/10.1068/d140421.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies14 (3): 575–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066.

Massey, Doreen. 1993. “Power-Geometry and a Progressive Sense of Place.” In Mapping the Futures : Local Cultures, Global Changes, edited by John Bird, Barry Curtis, Tim Putnam, and Lisa Tickner. New York: Routledge.

———. 2005. For Space. London: SAGE Publications.

 

 

Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration. Book review by Gerhard Schönhofer

Lozanovska, Mirjana (ed.) (2016): Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration. London/New York: Routledge.

With a background of more than thirty years in teaching architectural theory and design, Mirjana Lozanovska – Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Built Environment at Deakin University, Australia – offers a collection of contributions from a wide field of disciplines such as geography, anthropology, environmental studies, history, sociology and of course architecture towards a deeper understanding of what Lozanoska labels as ethno-architecture. In the introductory chapter, she defines ethno-architecture as recognizing “ethnicity as a signifying marker in the context of globalizing processes of aesthetic taste, design and construction” (Lozanovska 2016: 4).

Instead of on conceptions of migration and integration that strongly rely on nation-state paradigms and assimilation into pre-existing sociocultural contexts, this edited volume aims to offer different perspectives on place-making, global networks, remittances spatial orders and materiality with a strong focus on interdisciplinarity, always drawing from the relation between migration and architecture. Considering architecture as an identity-category and not merely as material or aesthetic manifestation of housing practices is another aim stated by Lozanovska. Central questions of this volume focus on issues such as defining architecture when looked at through the lens of migration, or examining the kind of field one encounters when thinking architecture and migration together.

The volume is divided into three main sections, each featuring four chapters by different contributors. Notwithstanding the variety of methods and disciplinary diversity, the overall narrative and order of the contributions do offer a clear line of argumentation and epistemology. Starting from ethnographic fieldwork, photo-analysis, discourse analysis to qualitative and quantitative methods such as (semi-)structured interviews, this multi-disciplinary collection offers an equally varied selection of methodological approaches. Yet the assignment of the chapters to each section does not appear fully comprehensible, especially concerning section 1 and 3 – “Ethno-landscapes of migration” and “Temporalities of migrant constructions”.The reason for this may be found in the fluid boundaries between both sections and their guiding motives.

As stated in the introduction of her volume, Mirjana Lozanovska aims to take a poststructuralist approach towards ethno-architecture and identity construction. By rejecting a methodological nationalism, and by looking at migration as a global phenomenon, the typical host-guest paradigm with assimilation of the guest into the host-society as the overall aim of integration shall be overcome. As the different contributions focus on a wide range of varying regional and geographical contexts, migration flows towards cities and peripheral areas as well as cultural practices in connection with ethno-architecture, it may appear equivocal for the reader to end up at Lozanoska’s conclusions: Ethno-architecture should be understood as a “compelling evidence that these structures are neither temporary nor transient, nor that their migrant inhabitants, adaptors and makers lack belonging” (Lozanovska 2016: 217).

As Ayona Datta shows in her contribution “’Where is the global city?’ – Visual narratives of London among East European migrants” (chapter 1), the visual representations of the migratory experience in London produced by the subjects of her research mainly show disillusionment of migration, that is “produced from particular physical landscapes of the earlier ‘desired’ city […]” (Datta 2016: 17). Also chapter 3, “Indian-American landscapes in Queens, New York – Ethnic tension and place making” by John W. Frazier reaches contradictory conclusions on e.g. how “place remaking by ethnic groups incites protests from existing residents” (Frazier 2016: 43). Also the abandonment of existing plans for building so-called Indonesian villages in different parts of the Netherlands for the Indischcommunity of mixed Dutch and Indonesian origin due to a lack of financial investments, which Marcel Velinga has dealt with in chapter 8 “A comfortable home – Architecture, migration and old age in the Netherlands”, does offer a different perspective on place-making, belonging, architecture and migration – a perspective different to the one Lozanovska conveys in her conclusion. The multiple settings of each case study – e.g. urban and rural settings, which can differ significantly, as several contributions have shown – are also contributing to a somewhat very extended set of conclusions one could be confronted with.

All in all, this anthology offers a comprehensive overview of a wide range of topics connected to place-making, migration, urban landscapes, ethnicity and housing, as well as temporality and space. The selection of contributions definitely meets the variety of aspects that could be dealt with in the context of the overall topic of ethno-architecture and migration. The entire book is written in a well understandable and accessible language which guarantees that also non-native English speakers can make use of the contents for their work. Scholars from a wide range of fields – not only from architecture or migration studies – may gain profitable insights for topics such as globalization, remittances, the public sphere, security & surveillance, everyday life, materiality & the home, cuisine and multiculturalism in general.

Gerhard Schönhofer, KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt

Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics. Book Review by Karthik Harinath

Book Review of Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics. Routledge, 2017

By: Karthik Harinath (HDR)

Even as ‘informality’ has become a valuable point of study when it comes to the developing world, so much so that any study of the Global South is “inconceivable” without using the concept (Goodwood, 2016), street vendors haven’t exactly found favour as a point of analysis. Although the last couple of decades have triggered scholarly interest in street vending in India, very few studies have taken the form of a monograph. Even as Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria’s Slow Boil (2016) provides an ethnographic account of street vendors in India, it was limited in its scope because Shapiro chose to base it on the city of Mumbai alone. It is this lacuna in the sociological understanding of street vending in India that Debdulal Saha’s Informal Markets, Livelihood, and Politics: Street Vendors in Urban India aims to fill. As a scholar of development economics and labour studies, Saha’s extensive work covering 10 cities across India’s varied linguistic and cultural diversity offers a wealth of quantitative data collected from the ground, along with a reasonable amount of qualitative data, to provide unique insights into the lives of the most visible form of informality in India today.

In informal Markets…, Saha explores the lives of street vendors in urban India to study their “strategies of survival and sustenance” (Saha, 2017, p. 1). Several aspects of these strategies are explored, including the structure and characteristics of informal markets in India, the politics and survival strategies surrounding public space, the precarity and vulnerability of street vendors, the negotiations and collective bargaining that vendors undertake both successfully and in vain, and the challenges of legislating this domain of informality in contemporary India. Two heuristics that are prevalent throughout the book are the instrument of bribery – its modus operandi, uses, and flexibility – and vendors’ access to credit. Even as their use seems repetitive at some points in the text, Saha manages to add minute details at each instance in order to provide more insight to the tussle between the vendors’ informality and the state’s indifference to their struggles.

Saha’s stance on the debate between formality and informality, which he addresses in the introduction and the first chapter, sets the tone for the book. For Saha, it is the lack of employment opportunities in the formal sector that pushes people into undertaking informal jobs (Saha, 2017, p. 55). He points out on several occasions that the profession of vending needs little capital, education, and skill. Even as he cites copious data to suggest that the size of the informal sector in India outstrips that of the formal (almost to a ratio of 9:1), Saha argues that informality is a failure of formalization. It is no wonder then, that he is in favour of regulations from the state to reign in informality. However, Saha is also appreciative of the possibility that policies and regulations could be disconnected from ground realities. Taking the case of bribery, for instance, he documents how extensive the network of bribery is in several cities across in India. It cuts through several layers of bureaucracy and is a fact that is taken-for-granted by both the vendors and the officials they interact with on a daily basis. Looking into the Street Vendors Act (2014) and its provisions, Saha remains unconvinced that it could, even as it aims to provide licences to vendors at some cost, fully root out bribery. However, he provides no solution to fill this gap between the intent of the state to formalize and the potential issues in its enforcement.

Methodologically, Saha’s focus has been on collecting extensive data on various variables across 10 different cities in India. Data varies from basic parameters such as gender, religion, social group, marital status, age distribution etc. to more contextual ones such as the types of products sold, credit providers, storage conditions of unsold products, customers’ perspectives on vending. Around 2,000 vendors have been surveyed across 10 cities, making this body of data the first of its kind. While quantitatively robust, Saha’s analysis of this vast body of data falls short of expectations. For instance, when talking about the setup and composition of the Dadar market in Mumbai, Saha mentions how the market begins at 4 am daily as a wholesale market, mostly patronized by both brick-and-mortar retailers and vendors. He moves on to note how roughly four hours later, the impromptu wholesale market converts itself into a retailer’s market, welcoming regular officegoers and other individuals. Unfortunately, this routinized shift in practices of a working group is left under-analysed, with the continuities and discontinuities left unexplored.

Nevertheless, what Informal Markets…misses out on the sociological analysis of its extensive data, it makes up for in terms of its analysis of what Saha identifies as an inextricable and politically crucial aspect of street vending in urban India: the notion of public space. Saha’s discussion on public space, its links to both the everyday aspect of vending, and the more surreptitious links to bribery, and survival strategies of vendors with several actors are the strongest parts of the book. In a chapter dedicated to public space, its politics, and the survival strategies that vendors are forced to adopt, Saha develops the idea that the public space occupied by the vendor – be it legally or illegally – is her “capital” (p. 104). Siding with the long line of Marxist thought that associates social relations to public space, Saha argues that a vendor exercises two kinds of bargaining with the space she occupies – economic and social. Economic bargaining is defined as the capacity to negotiate over rates of interest on borrowing with credit providers and the rates of bribery on offer to civic authorities. Social bargaining, on the other hand, is also seen to be crucial, as it is the basis on which the vendor builds social relations with different actors such as customers, other vendors, and moneylenders. The sole consideration available to the vendor is the public space she occupies. Noting how the state denies the vendors any legal rights over the space they occupy, Saha also points out to the blatant corruption in practice, by citing an example of a market in Mumbai where civic officials have been charging unofficial rent from vendors, thereby indirectly legitimizing the vendors’ occupation of that space. At this juncture, he raises the crucial question of whether the state would do well to legalise vendors’ usurpation of public space in order to control their rapid growth and earn a legitimate income. Fieldwork across 10 cities, however, underpins Saha’s scepticism towards a solution, at the root of which is an extensive analysis of bribery as a socially networked phenomenon. Saha expands upon the types of bribes, the relationship between the products sold by the vendor and the nature of the bribe, the role of intermediaries (individuals, typically gang members used by state officials to collect bribes), and the demand-driven process of bribe payment. This leads him to conclude that the entire network of bribery acts under the radar of senior-level bureaucrats. The conclusion not only demonstrates that the ones working on policy measures are unaware of the way their own subordinates treat vendors, it also challenges Lipsky’s concept of “street-level bureaucrat” (Lipsky, 1980).

In summary, Debdulal Saha’s Informal Markets… stands tall as one of the foremost sources for data relating to street vendors in India. With 2,000 vendors interviewed, Saha manages to compile a source that is bound to be useful for researchers for several years to come. However, the book’s limitations include its lack of depth in analyzing certain well-identified phenomenon. Additionally, with the book being published just a few years after the promulgation of a landmark legislation relating to street vending, some of Saha’s access points to vendors have been negated. Nevertheless, Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics: Street Vending in Urban India is an invaluably important contribution to research on street vendors in urban India.

Bibliography

Anjaria, J. S. (2016). The Slow Boil: Street Food, Rights and Public Space in Mumbai.Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Goodwood, T. (2016). Urban Informality and the State: A Relationship of Perpetual Negotiation. In J. Grugel, & D. Hammett, The Palgrave Handbook of International Development(pp. 207-226). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service.New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Saha, D. (2017). Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics: Street Vendors in Urban India.New York: Routledge.

Karl Marx 200: I contemplate… Thoughts by Nihal Perera

He has made an immense contribution to our understanding of the world. He expected us to know him through his work; to worship him is to lose his teachings. I am glad that I too learned a lot from him.

He is immensely popular, perhaps more than John Lennon who claimed to be more popular than Jesus Christ. Yet there is no one Marxism; it is quite diverse. As I crossed several cultural boundaries, I was fortunate to get exposed to a few variations.

As one of the greatest critical thinkers of our time, he questioned everything. Perhaps, he expects us too to be critical of his own work; i.e., to critically build on it.

He was the greatest European anti-systemic thinker, who thought outside the box. Transcending the theory-practice duality, he approached his work from the standpoint of praxis; he learned history in order to change it because it was unjust. He saw that the society is not one, but made of classes and is in conflict (than consensus). His work laid the foundation for social history.

He probably does not expect us to remember what is in Das Capital, an examination of 19th c. European capitalism, but to further develop the synthesis of his work: The Communist Manifesto.

To learn from a great person is not to import that persons time-, space-, and culture-specific findings (the model or the diagram), but to learn from her/his process of investigation and thinking; i.e., to carry out investigations inspired by her/his work, but within our own culture, time, and space, and find avenues to make a difference.

Despite violence caused in his name, his work was perhaps driven by the kindness that opted to liberate the exploited (than an animosity towards capitalists). His thinking was not limited to the working class too. He talks about many classes, especially during the French Revolution.

Most useful for my own work (especially People’s Spaces) is his understanding that the working class people (and the subjects of society) are not victims of capitalism, but “survivors.” They produce value and could change the system. They are agents of change.
Maybe our historic role -according to him- is to be partners of the revolutions that people carry out than look for people to follow our revolution.

Seeing the ongoing transformations perhaps requires a new vision (intellectual glasses). The (broader) agents of social change may not wait for outside leadership (the vanguard) and self-appointed representatives.

Nihal Perera is Chair and Professor of Urban Planning at Ball State University and the founder and Director of CapAsia, an immersive learning-by-doing semester in Asia based on collaborative projects with Asian universities.

Further Reading: https://marx200.org/en