Cities Lost & Remade

An editorial from Steve Niva, the new editor of the indispensable Middle East Report introduing the new issue:

The merciless killing by Israeli snipers of over 100 mostly unarmed Palestinians approaching the militarized fence around the Gaza Strip in May of 2018 was significant not simply for what it says about Israel’s callous disregard for Palestinian human rights. Israel’s misleading attempt to legitimate its shoot-to-kill policy in terms of a right to defend its sovereign borders belies the fact that its self-proclaimed “border” around Gaza is simply the outer boundary of an open-air prison of barbed wire fences, fortified gates and no-go zones over which Israel retains full control as an occupying power. The Palestinians being killed at the fence area are not hostile invaders but rather displaced and stateless peoples protesting against the cage Israel has built to keep them both boxed in and out.

Israel’s violence against displaced and stateless Palestinians in Gaza is significant more broadly as a dark exemplar of an unfolding global future: the proliferation of militarized walls, fences, no-go areas and increasingly lethal actions that police the space between the “green zones” of wealth and privilege and the “red zones” of the poor, excluded and stateless around the world. Israel’s militarized population management systems, border security technologies and anti-civilian weapons that are “battle tested” against Palestinians and then sold on the global market have found willing buyers and emulators among those seeking to contain, deter or eliminate unwanted populations. Increasingly militarized systems whether “made in Israel” or not, can be found along the US-Mexico border, Europe’s southern facing border zones, India’s border zone around Bangladesh, as well as the zones outside of gated communities in various global locations.

The articles in this issue of Middle East Report take us beyond these fortified walls and zones to illuminate some of the sources of displacement, dispossession and loss found throughout urban areas in the contemporary Middle East, which often produce the very population outflows that militarized border zones seek to contain. In our age of “planetary urbanization” many cities have become battlegrounds where insurgents seek asymmetrical advantage against opponents who increasingly target cities as if civilians no longer exist—the way Israel labels the entire urban fabric of Gazan society a “terrorist infrastructure” or the urban destruction campaigns undertaken by Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US against ISIS. At the same time, global capitalist deregulation and privatization has given rise to what global sociologist Saskia Sassen terms “predatory formations” of investors, states and economic elites that target cities for speculative profit and nepotistic rewards, emptying them of their poor or rebellious inhabitants, whether in Amman, Istanbul or Morocco. Some urban inhabitants are forced to flee while others resist, remain and keep alive more just visions of their collective urban past and future whether in Gezi Park, Mosul or elsewhere.

 

Contents:

The Urbanization of Power and the Struggle for the City Deen Sharp

Globalized Authoritarianism and the New Moroccan City Koenraad Bogaert

“The Dubai of…” Yasser Elsheshtawy

Amman Eliana Abu-Hamdi

Alexandria, City of Dispossession Youssef El Chazli

The Destructive Dreams of AKP Urbanism Ayse Çavdar

Abadan Kaveh Ehsani and Rasmus Christian Elling

Generational Dislocations Joanne Randa Nucho

Jerusalem’s Colonial Landscapes of Loss Thomas Abowd

“Mosul Will Never Be the Same” Omar Mohammed

Sur Serra Hakyema

Peter Meusburger

My dear friend and colleague Peter Meusburger died early on Monday morning.

It was Peter who invited me to give the first Hettner Lecture in Heidelberg in 1997.  He met me at the airport in Frankfurt – a typically kind and thoughtful gesture – and we talked non-stop all the way down to Heidelberg, including a 90-minute wait while a crash on the Autobahn was cleared: we barely noticed the delay.  He had arranged a whirlwind programme, including a two-day seminar with graduate students from all over Germany, but with lots of time for informal walks and talks in the exquisite grounds of the Villa Bosch and elsewhere in the Neckar Valley.  At the end of my visit we were sitting with colleagues in the garden of one of Peter’s favourite inns in Handschuhsheim, when he asked me for my impressions.  He knew I’d never been to Germany before – I’d studied German in grammar school in the 1960s for three years, but my teacher had been a captain in the Tank Regiment during the war and when he shared photographs of German cities with us all you could see were piles of rubble (really)…  So I said I had been surprised by the lively informality of the whole event; I was still feeding on a diet of Jürgen Habermas, and it was this as much as anything that had prompted me to expect a much more abstract and, above all, I suppose hierarchical discussion.  Instead of which the whole week had been a series of wonderfully engaging conversations and debates.  As Peter pressed me for more, I recalled a remark of Heine – to the effect that when the world is falling apart, one should never worry because there would always be a German professor to put it back together again – another reference to Habermas’s architectonic schemes.  The more I elaborated my idiotically stereotypical view of German intellectual culture, the more Peter and his colleagues roared with laughter, until eventually even I realised I was missing something; wiping away his tears, Peter managed to say “We’re all Austrian…”

During the week I had come to know the old city of Heidelberg well, and every day I had passed an antiquarian bookshop.  At the very back of the shop I had found an English guidebook to Egypt, and every day I had debated with myself about buying it – at that time I was working on cultures of European and American travel to Egypt in the long nineteenth century from 1798 to 1914, a supplement to Edward Said‘s commentaries in Orientalism – and the issue was not so much getting the volume through Canada Customs as getting it past Angela’s scrutiny when I got home.  Eventually I had persuaded myself that I could afford both the price and the risk, but when I returned the book had gone.  I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, but that evening in Handschuhsheim Peter handed me a gift to thank me for my visit.  When I unwrapped it, I found that Egyptian guidebook.

That story is typical of not only of Peter’s kindness but also his attentiveness to people.  I have no idea how long he had searched for the perfect gift, but – as always – he found it.  He was one of the most generous, humane and modest scholars I’ve ever known – always keenly interested in ideas and their implications, and ever concerned to promote the work of everyone but himself.

He invited me back to Heidelberg on multiple occasions – one of them to receive an honorary degree, which I treasure – and these subsequent visits were directly responsible for  provoking two of the biggest changes to my research in recent years: the work on bombing and more recently the work on the wounded body.

When Peter first invited me to take part in one of his “Knowledge and Space” symposia, I knew I had to do something new, and something special, for Peter: he was that kind of man.  The subject of the meeting was “Cultural Memories”, about which I protested I knew next to nothing.  But then, remembering those German cities reduced to piles of rubble, I recalled Heinrich Böll saying that when, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, he saw his ‘first undestroyed city’ he broke out into a cold sweat: it was Heidelberg.  This prompted me to turn to W.G. Sebald, to A Natural History of Destruction, and to produce what eventually became “Doors into nowhere: Dead cities and the natural history of destruction” as a first attempt to understand the genealogy and geography of aerial violence.

That little word ‘eventually’ in that last sentence is a leitmotif of my work, as Peter knew very well. Two years later he invited me to another symposium in the series, on “Knowledge and Power”.  This time my presentation returned to the Middle East, but to one peopled not with tourists and travellers but with soldiers and canons (as Said once put it).  By the time it came to produce an essay for the edited volume, though, I wanted to do something completely different.  Would that be OK? I asked Peter.  His reply was immediate and encouraging, even though he knew it would take me even longer than usual to submit the essay.  Again, the inspiration was literary: a quotation from William Boyd‘s An Ice-Cream War:

Gabriel thought maps should be banned. They gave the world an order and reasonableness it didn’t possess.

This prompted me to return to the skies, but this time to the reconnaissance missions flown over the Western Front to produce the aerial photographs that were the basis for the trench maps of the First World War… and then to juxtapose this planar, bird’s eye view with the corporeal, glutinous slimescape through which troops on the ground struggled and died.  The result was “Gabriel’s Map: Cartography and corpography in modern war”, which set me off on what is a continuing exploration of bodies in conflict.

I’m certain that neither of these essays, let alone the projects they launched, would have happened had it not been for Peter.  He was always immensely supportive (not only in my research but in my responses to the serial inquisitions from his technical editor; that was no small thing – they prompted a besieged Steve Legg to flee to India on one occasion; I never had to do that, but it was a close call: in “Doors into nowhere” I had referred to urbicide, and noted its origins in the Bosnian conflict, only to be asked for a reference in the original Bosnian….).

For all of those seminars and symposia Peter gathered together an eclectic mix of scholars from all fields, most of them geographers but always with some inspired and inspiring additions from left field who often made the most creative contributions of all (my favourite, and I suspect Peter’s too, was Stefan Paul‘s ‘Telling the future: reflections on the status of divination in Ancient Near Easterm politics’, by turns achingly funny and stunningly serious, a tour de force of sustained scholarship and perfect performance).    Peter understood better than anyone that creative scholarship is also always irredeemably social: that it thrives on the trust that makes risk-taking possible, and on the good humour that enables genuine debate.  That too was one of his most precious gifts.

Peter’s love for Heidelberg, the University, his colleagues – and above all his family – shone through everything he did.  One of our last conversations was about his plans for “retirement” (which would always be in scare-quotes where Peter was concerned; not because he was scared of it at all, but because it obviously was never going to happen) and his plans for remodelling the family home in his beloved Austria.

One of the very good things about the academic life, even in these increasingly neo-liberal corporations in which we labour, is the capacity to make lasting friendships around the world.  Whenever I met Peter we resumed our last conversation; I can still hear his voice, see that twinkle in his eye, find myself grinning at that smile on his face.  I shall miss his generosity of spirit, his restless intellect – but above all his friendship.

Friction in a mobile world and the politics of escape

yazidi-refugees-flee-iraq

Joris Schapendonk is organizing the second Transmobilities Conference at Radboud University, Nijmegen in the Netherlands on 8-9 June 2017.  The theme is Friction in a mobile world: Transmigrants, contested citizenship and human in/security:

Human mobility does not occur without social and spatial friction. This is particularly articulated in the context of an increasing securisation of migration whereby states and supra-states tend to frame international migration as a homeland security problem, leading to enhanced border control and the combatting of human smuggling, normalized in the everyday of host societies through television reality programmes like Border Security (Australia), UK Border Force, etc. At the same time, human right organisations and critical scholars have emphasized the human insecurity involved with migration flows and point to the countless deaths of innocent people simply looking for better futures abroad (Ferrer-Gallardo and Van Houtum 2014) as well as the exploitative acts of corrupt border guards and smugglers that are hereby produced (e.g. Triulzi and McKenzie 2012; Van Reisen, Estefanos and Rijken 2014). Moreover, when we look at the dynamics in the destination countries, we see that migrants continue to find themselves in precarious social-economic conditions and legal situations (Schuster 2005; Lucht 2012) with a substantial number of migrants facing the risk of deportation every single day (De Genova and Preutz 2010). Other forms of friction exist in the transnational space between the country of origin and destination locations. The frictions produced concern, among others, contestations over dual citizenship versus senses of loyalty, and the political engagement of diaspora communities on site and elsewhere. Moreover, migrant investments may reproduce, or even exacerbate social inequalities and divisions in countries of origin, not least if they are based on persistent social and cultural obligations.

Yet, the notion of friction is not to be understood in a negative manner only. Frictions can also have profound effects, resulting in new societal directions, or in affirmations of particular social institutions, creating incentives that may be sustainable, because of the hard questions asked on their role and impact along the way. Yet in all cases it does require critical thinking, and analyses that take on various perspectives, are steeped in insights of more holistic developments (geo-political, economic or otherwise), and which maintain an open perspective to temporal and spatial dimensions. This conference consists of the following eight different panels.

  • Locating migrant trajectories: Experiences of displacement, emplacement, and migration industries (Drotbohm & Winters)
  • Active Asylum: Everyday tactics and relational actions contesting asylum regime(s) of EU states (Aparna)
  • Migration, land and contested claims of citizenship (Steel, Kaag & Zoomers)
  • The Politics of Escape: Rapid Mobility, Facilitation and Materiality (Jones & Schapendonk)
  • Education without borders? Frictions and boundary-crossing in the field of internationalised education (Ahrens & Leung)
  • Contested citizenship in urban spaces (Fauser, van Liempt & Nijenhuis)
  • Deportation as Friction (Kleist & Drotbohm)
  • Climate change, infrastructure and new mobilities: frictions in new settlement processes (Otsuki, Zoomers & Oates)

More details from Joris: j.schapendonk@fm.ru.nl

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As you can see, one of the panels is devoted to ‘the politics of escape’, in which I have a keen interest (think refugees; think casualty evacuation); I’ll be taking part during my tenure as Radboud Excellence Professor.

So here is the Call for Papers for that session (organised by Joris and Craig Jones):

The Politics of Escape: Rapid Mobility, Facilitation and Materiality

This panel discusses the politics and experiences attached to processes of escape. Escape may involve individual and collective evacuations from conflict situations and war zones and hence may refer to sudden life-or-death experiences (refugee movements, evacuation of wounded soldiers). From a very different angle, moments of escape may in fact reflect forms of transgressive mobility that frees the actor from stringent control regimes or entrapment. In the context of the latter, escape routes may create new rooms to manoeuvre and reflect political subversions (Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2008). For example, undocumented migrants often disappear from the radar in the period they encounter the risk of deportation and simply escape to other places. At both extreme ends, processes of escape profoundly reflect the politics of mobility as it articulates the questions of a) who is able to move, and who is not (see also Cresswell (2008) on the Katrina hurricane) b) how is the escape process facilitated, how is it planned or organised? and c) what materiality – i.e. means of transportation, communication, infrastructure – is involved and what kind of experiences does it produce?

This panel starts from William Walters’ notion of viapolitics that articulates the politics of mobility as well as the diverse ways materialities shape processes of movement (Walters 2015). It invites papers that enhance our empirical, methodological and conceptual understanding of processes of escape, we have a particular interest in papers that:

  • –  … relate the notion of escape to processes of mobility (mobilities studies, migration and refugee studies, etc.)
  • –  … discuss the methodological and ethical challenges of investigating processes of escape
  • –  … take a processual approach that follows, or historically reconstructs, processes of escape through time and space

References: 

  • Cresswell, T. (2008). Understanding mobility holistically: The case of Hurricane Katrina. The ethics of mobilities: Rethinking place, exclusion, freedom and environment, 129-140.
  • Papadopoulos, D., Stephenson, N., & Tsianos, V. (2008). Escape routes: Control and subversion in the 21st century. Pluto Press.

    Walters, W. (2015). Migration, vehicles, and politics: Three theses on viapolitics. European Journal of Social Theory, 18(4), 469-488.

If you are interested in participating, please send a title and 250-word abstract to Joris Schapendonk (j.schapendonk@fm.ru.nl) or Craig Jones (craig.jones@ncl.ac.uk) by 7 April 2017.

 

A guide for the lost

p022yr4r

I’ve been pleased to see how often old posts are consulted by readers: I never intended this to be a fleet of ships passing in the digital night.

But as the blog has grown, I realise it’s become increasingly difficult to navigate through the different themes and so I’ve added a GUIDE to the tabs at the head of the page.

This lists some of the key posts which will, I hope, supplement a judicious use of the search box (and the word clouds to the right) plus the publications available under the DOWNLOADS tabs.

It’s still under construction, but let me know if you think I’ve missed anything important.

The Long Silence

Virtually a month since my last post, the longest silence since I started: my dad died last month, and I’m only just back from the UK and still stumbling around trying to find words.  He left school at 14, like my mum; they met while she was working in a baker’s shop in Sidcup High Street and he parked his milk cart outside to buy some buns.  They married soon after the war ended and he had completed his national service with the Royal Artillery in India.  The post-war Britain in which I grew up was still indelibly marked by the war – from bomb-sites to prefabs, popular culture to kids’ comics. When I was a kid my dad worked as a van driver for the Ministry of Works, and one day he took me to one of the vast warehouses where the Imperial War Museum kept stuff for which it either didn’t have room or didn’t know what to do with; much of it still very recent.  It was a wonderland for a young boy to race around – and climb over – but back then I was oblivious to the possibility that these mute objects could be made to speak.

Dad never talked about his war, and it would be years before my thoughts turned back to war again. I heard that he had taken a turn for the worse while I was working in the research room at the IWM, reading diaries and letters from men and women who had been involved, in one capacity or another, in casualty evacuation during the First and Second World Wars.  In amongst the horror – of which there was no shortage – there was also extraordinary courage and bravery, black humour and beautiful images, and for some consolation and even redemption.

But this isn’t a prelude to talking about my dad ‘fighting a battle’ in his last months; those martial metaphors are utterly misplaced, particularly for such a gentle man.  To be sure, there was bravery and defiance – Dad insisted that all he wanted to do was leave hospital and go home to look after Mum – and there was beauty too: him and Mum holding hands across his bed, telling one another over and over again how much they loved one another.  And yet the experience – death, I insist, not a ‘passing’ –  is like war in at least one sense:  you think you’re prepared for it, but you never are and so you muddle through as best you can, helped immeasurably by the company of others.  All sorts of things suddenly leave you bereft; some you anticipate, others you don’t. When we arrived at the crematorium, my mum sitting between my brother and me, the hearse was at the foot of the long drive, idling by the side of the road – and I can’t get the sense of Dad quietly waiting for us out of my mind.

Dad

He died just two days before his ninetieth birthday, and I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s To my father on his birthday, which was written in 1826, exactly one hundred years before Dad was born:

‘There glides no day of gentle bliss

More soothing to the heart than this!

Repeating to the listening ear

The names that made our childhood dear

For parting Joy, like Echo kind,

Will leave her dulcet voice behind

To tell, amidst the magic air

How oft she smiled and lingered there.’

He was always there for all of us, quietly, unobtrusively there; he was a lovely, loving and much loved man, and I can’t imagine him not being there still.

John Urry

 

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY

I’ve just heard that John Urry died unexpectedly last Friday: I’m so desperately sad.  We first met when we edited Social relations and spatial structures together as part of Macmillan’s Critical Human Geography series; an invitation to extend the conversation between sociology and human geography, it appeared in 1985, but we kept in touch ever since.  He was a joy to work with.  I remember rattling up to Lancaster on a succession of small trains from Cambridge and receiving the warmest of welcomes: good beer, creative conversation and lots of laughter.  I last saw him two summers ago when I was in Lancaster for a conference on drones; one evening we sat in his gorgeous house sipping wine and having the loveliest and liveliest of times.

In between those book-ends (in fact before them and after them too) John produced some of the most imaginative work in the social sciences: books that were brimful of ideas – I never thought of it as Theory-with-a-capital-T and I doubt that he did either, though his grasp of classical and contemporary social theory was truly remarkable – that were drawn from an ever-expanding intellectual imagination fed by the widest of reading and reflection, but which never lost sight of the pressing substance of what he was thinking about.  These were wonderfully accessible, provocative, insightful books – his work with Scott Lash on disorganized capitalism and his own studies of tourist culture and the tourist gaze, mobilities, climate change, and most recently on off-shoring.   There was a tremendous clarity to John’s writing but also a humbling modesty; he was never strident, but it was impossible to put down one of his books – or reluctantly end a conversation with him – without thinking you had never seen it like that before and that you now had a lot more thinking of your own to do.

If you’ve never heard him, here he is in 2014:

John had an extraordinary gift for enlarging people’s political and intellectual horizons without lecturing or hectoring; his writing was splattered with references, but never in that showy, superficial ‘look how up-to-date I am’ way – instead they were generous acknowledgements of his debt to others and bibliographic gifts to his readers.

In (too) brief, he was a gorgeous man, the very model of a critical scholar and a generous human being.  We still have his words but the realisation that there will be no more of them fills me with a sense of rootless desolation.

Not One Direction

PWIAS

We are looking for a new Director for the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC in Vancouver; details below.

More information about the Institute at our website here.  If you want to know anything else, please feel free to contact me (in case anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m one of two Peter Wall Distinguished Professors, so this isn’t my job!).

The University of British Columbia seeks an exceptional scholar and leader to assume the role of Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS).

The goal of this internationally recognized Institute is to stimulate collaborative, creative, innovative and interdisciplinary research that makes important advances in knowledge. Established in 1991, PWIAS provides some 450 UBC scholars, as well as other distinguished national and international scholars, a sustained opportunity to exchange ideas through a variety of interdisciplinary initiatives including residential programs, global exchanges and partnerships. Learn more at pwias.ubc.ca/institute/

The preferred candidate will hold a PhD and be qualified for appointment as a full professor at UBC. The Director is expected to be a full professor of exceptional standing, possessing a broad scholarly vision for interdisciplinarity; a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and interdisciplinary, collaborative research as well as community engagement; and outstanding, proven leadership, administrative and personal skills. A position profile is available here.

In accordance with Government of Canada regulations, Canadians and permanent residents of Canada will be given priority. Distinguished national and international scholars are warmly encouraged to apply.

UBC hires on the basis of merit and is strongly committed to equity and diversity within its community. We especially welcome applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities, and others with the skills and knowledge to productively engage with diverse communities.

Please forward a letter of application and CV in confidence to: Ann Campbell, Director, Office of the Vice President Research & International, 111-6328 Memorial Road Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, ann.campbell@ubc.ca

Review of applications will begin December 1, 2015 and continue until the position is filled.