On Wednesday April 22nd, Vinay Gidwani will be presenting the 2015 Antipode AAG Lecture from 17:20 to 19:00 in Grand C/D North, Hyatt, East Tower, Gold Level. His lecture will be followed by a drinks reception–and the Antipode Groovefest!–sponsored by our publisher, Wiley. Vinay is a Professor of Geography, Environment, and Society at the University of Minnesota. From 2009 to 2014 he was an editor of Antipode, and he continues to serve as one of the Antipode Foundation’s trustees. He is a quintessential geographer. In his last editorial, Vinay described geography perfectly as an “undisciplined discipline”. It’s a field that, in David Harvey’s words, “rub[s] different conceptual blocks together to make an intellectual fire” (2001: 9). Arguably a risky enterprise–Harvey warns that those blocks are too easily lost in the heat; and too few collisions, too little friction, is of course as problematic–but when ideas catch, when they’re set against each other just so, thought through each other carefully, respectfully, it can be brilliantly creative.
Vinay tells us that he “navigated an uneven ideoscape consisting of Marxist geography, neoclassical economics, agrarian studies, and environmental science to arrive at my present home in geography”, and we think he arrived unscathed–the fire burning brightly, casting an uncommon light. His scholarship covers work, poverty, livelihoods, and agroecological change within the Indian context, drawing on insights from Africa, Latin American, and elsewhere in Asia. A major statement on all this is his book Capital, Interrupted: Agrarian Development and the Politics of Work in India. It opens with a metaphor not unrelated to ours above: “suture”. Consult the OED and to suture is to “sew or stitch”, it’s “the union of parts or sections”; but like the blocks in the fire, when we bring these things together something is preserved, there’s a remainder. The Dictionary’s definition “the joining of the lips of a wound” captures this; as Vinay argues, a suture “is always unstable, never seamless, and never able to erase the traces of its labours” (Gidwani 2008: xiv). Or, as Stuart Hall put it, a suturing is “a process of articulation … an over-determination not a subsumption” (2000: 17).
Vinay’s research is animated by such creative tension (conserving-yet-transcending that which it builds on; maintaining gains and, at the same time, putting an end to it), and his Antipode Lecture promises to be generative. Hall is well known to many geographers, but the words “people without property in jobs” were new to us. They are the sociologist Peter Worsley’s. In a remarkable essay, “Frantz Fanon and the ‘lumpenproletariat’”, Worsley discusses “victims of ‘urbanisation without industrialisation’ … immigrants … a stratum beneath those who may only have their labour-power to sell, but do at least succeed in selling it … the ‘non-working classes’” (1972: 208). They are cast off the land; move from the country to the city; and struggle to labour. Subject to violent dispossession, they move to cities that cannot absorb them, and make lives regardless, despite capital’s indifference and the state’s ongoing enclosures. These are people without “‘property’ in jobs” (1972: 209). It’s an awkward formulation; in Fanon’s (1967) words, they’re “the wretched of the earth”, les damnés de la terre, right? Worsley warns that “wretched” is too passive, “damned” too religious. “Condemned” might be better, he suggests: to be condemned is to be subject to power, but that’s not the whole story, merely the beginning…
People without property in jobs are in a precarious position, to be sure. But for Worsley that’s not a conclusion: “Governments of these countries … have been much more sensitive to these new populations than those revolutionaries who write them off as lumpenproletarian. They often send them back to the rural areas because they appreciate their revolutionary potential. The only groups they fear as much are the army, the trade unions, and the intelligentsia” (1972: 218). Now “revolutionary potential” might be too strong (and who’s afraid of the intelligentsia?!), though to be fair to Worsley he says: “There may well be as great a range of differences between shanty-towns as there is between one city and another. Settlements established at different points in time, within different political cultures, have different political connections” (1972: 217). So we are left with some interesting questions about precarity and politics in the modern city. How do we diagnose and explain this urban experience? Are our concepts fit for purpose? And what about utopian thought? Can we anticipate, and help struggle for, progressive change?
In recent decades the number of people without property in jobs has grown–Worsley discusses the “new Third World cities” (p.208) of Brazil and South Africa noting that India is among the “overwhelmingly peasant societies” (p.208); in recent years it has dominated the list of what Mike Davis calls “Third World megacities” (2006: 4) in his book, Planet of Slums–and this growth has been charted in the pages of Antipode. (Indeed, we might say that this growth has been one of the defining features of the journal’s lifetime.) Many of our authors offer answers to the questions Worsley’s idea poses, looking at what Vinay calls “the conundrums of contemporary urbanisation”–the lives of the not-quite-proletariat, thoroughly precarious but nonetheless political. This virtual issue of the journal pulls together some of these essays, focusing on India and elsewhere, to be read as a primer or further reading to Vinay’s Antipode AAG Lecture.
It opens with six papers on “waste” and the (de-/re-)valorisation of peoples and places; these hold out all manner of lessons for students of contemporary urbanisation, and the concepts and categories they offer should prove “good for thinking with” when reading the essays that follow. Almost all focused on India, these explore the myriad actors involved in the production of “people without property in jobs”. The first six are about “the condemned” coping with, and making themselves somehow at home in, what Marshall Berman might have called a “world in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction…in which all that is solid melts into air” (1983: 345), while the last four consider their interactions with power–how they’re increasingly interpellated by it, tendentially “included” in the modern city. All 16 papers will be freely available, without a subscription, for the next 12 months.
Many thanks from Andy to editor Tariq Jazeel for comments on the text, and from all at Antipode to Wiley’s Rhiannon Rees and Katherine Wheatley for their help with the lecture and virtual issue.
Andy Kent, April 2015
Wasting/Valuing Lands and Lives
Our point of departure is Vinay’s “The Afterlives of ‘Waste’: Notes from India for a Minor History of Capitalist Surplus” (co-authored with Raj Reddy, 2011). Focusing on contemporary Delhi and Bangalore, it sets the scene for us by considering “the things, places and lives that are cast outside the pale of ‘value’ at particular moments as superfluity, remnant, excess, or detritus; only to return at times in unexpected ways” (p.1625). To understand this, we’re offered the tripartite concept of “eviscerating urbanism”. It’s [i] “parasitic”–displacing populations at the urban periphery; [ii] “speculative”–transforming “underutilised” urban space (space used as commons, therefore “waste” not “value”) through what Capital, Interrupted describes as a “crusade against various forms of wasteful conduct that threatened order” (p.xxi); and [iii] “techno-ecological”–producing two urban ecologies, one for a population worthy of the state’s care, the other to which the state is largely indifferent, but which is nonetheless vital in dealing with the detritus of the former (p.1640, 1643).
Jesse Goldstein’s “Terra Economica: Waste and the Production of Enclosed Nature” (2013) comes next. Vinay makes connections between 21st century practices of eviscerating urbanism and 17th century theories of waste, value and enclosure. In his essay, Goldstein explores these Lockean ideas, developing the concept of “terra economica … a landscape of wasted potential, in which all of the world is potentially, or not yet, capital” (p.358), “available to be worked upon and made profitable by rational economic actors” (p.362). So-called primitive accumulation, Goldstein argues, had both a “bloody” and a “dirty” aspect: people were forced from the land, forced to wage-labour, through coercion; less well-documented, perhaps, is how a new kind of land was produced, land to be occupied and cultivated, or appropriated and exploited, by capitalists. In the practice of enclosure the law was mobilised and “fences and hedges besieged the landscape” (p.364), but “common wastes” also had to become wasted commons, land not-yet improved, “necessarily de-valued…its autonomous existence erased” (p.372) by enclosure’s advocates.
Tania Li’s “To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations” (2010) complicates the story, starting with Foucault on biopolitics–interventions in populations to enhance their health and wellbeing, i.e. the politics of “making live”–noting that he had little to say about the politics of letting die: “why governing authorities would elect not to intervene when they could, or select one subset of the population for life enhancement while abandoning another” (p.66). In Asia today we are witnessing what Li calls the production of “surplus populations” through enclosures in which “places (or their resources) are useful, but the people are not, so that dispossession is detached from any prospect of labour absorption” (p.69). Links are made to the English enclosure movements “driven by ‘improving’ landlords, a social group quite distinct from the manufacturers who would later profit from the availability of landless people desperate for waged work. The class that required proletarians was different from the one that evicted peasants, and separated in time by several centuries” (p.70). Dispossession and absorption are sometimes, oftentimes, fatally out of sync.
We re-focus on the scale of the body in Anna Stanley’s “Wasted Life: Labour, Liveliness, and the Production of Value” (2014). As enclosure separates people from their means of production and reproduction, often lethally abandoning them, so what she calls “wastage” separates them from life itself. The biochemical processes that sustain First Nation uranium ore transporters in Canada as living beings are appropriated and exploited by their employers: “living beings’ liveliness is put to the task of absorbing and metabolising toxic, radioactive materials” (p.9), and “[t]he labour life performs in ‘managing’ waste (as waste sink and temporary containment system) is valuable. It garners no wage, and its productive work incurs no cost to capital. There is no reproductive cost. It is recovered entirely as surplus value” (p.9). Just as enclosure reconfigures the relationship between land and labour, so too wastage reconfigures the relationship between life and the living beings it sustains; this rearrangement involves life becoming a means of producing value.
In “Race, Waste, and Space: Brownfield Redevelopment and Environmental Justice at the Hunters Point Shipyard” (2014), Lindsey Dillon investigates, like Stanley, workers’ “experience of being left to waste: exposed to the material forms of waste–without sufficient knowledge of or protection from its dangers–and left, or neglected, by the state…[to] health problems and premature death” (p.1206). In this case the bodies of colour marked by toxic, radioactive materials in the past become a surplus population in the present when “lands wasted through intensive degradation and over-use are now resignifed as ‘wasted’ in the Lockean sense–as under-utilised, economically unproductive lands, requiring proper forms of 21st century cultivation” (p.1214). New residential and commercial developments on “under-developed” land displace the workers, workers already abandoned to wastage. They’re put under erasure in narratives of “postindustrial” landscapes being “restored and repaired”, as if the projects don’t reproduce and renew injustices.
Following Stanley and Dillon we have “The Human-As-Waste, the Labour Theory of Value and Disposability in Contemporary Capitalism” (2011) by Michelle Yates. This is a more theoretical piece on waste as “an essential element of capitalist production”: “the valuation of capital is simultaneously a devaluation (a wasting away)…the wasting away of workers’ bodies [their ‘disposability’] is necessary for capital to accumulate as much profit as possible” (p.1686). In production–that is, in valorisation–workers become waste, are wasted, through both consumption–“workers waste their lives labouring for capital at the expense of their health”–and excretion (Yates’ word)–“[a]s production processes become more efficient…a certain portion of formerly active labour [is] being made into a kind of waste excreted from the system” (p.1689). In this sense workers are utterly disposable–not only too easily damaged, destroyed even, but also cast off and discarded.
Everyday Life in the Modern World
In “Disrupted Futures: Unpacking Metaphors of Marginalization in Eviction and Resettlement Narratives” (2014) Kavita Ramakrishnan presents an ethnography of forced eviction from Delhi slums and resettlement in colonies, examining the metaphors used by her respondents to understand contemporary marginality. Some, for example, spoke of resettlement colonies as “villages”: migrating to the city in search of prosperity only to be evicted and resettled, they see themselves as regressing, losing mobility, more secure tenure, resources, and employment opportunities. New certainties melt into air and aspirations become unrealistic; a future once struggled for, a future once deemed feasible, becomes something to wait for (with decreasing hope). Others spoke of colonies as “a jungle”–marginal land to be developed by the poor, “improved”, “cultivated”, etc. despite privation, only to be later appropriated by the state as people are again moved on. A third metaphor deployed was “disposal”. The state “throws away” the poor, intervening in their lives only to expel them, and shirking responsibility for the provision of services.
While Ramakrishnan focuses on the increasing distance between Delhi’s “new middle class” and poor, in “The Making of ‘World-Class’ Delhi: Relations Between Street Hawkers and the New Middle Class” (2014) Seth Schindler focuses on their interdependence. An “informal service sector” of wastepickers, all kinds of domestic workers, and street hawkers has grown, “pushed” by deindustrialisation and “pulled” by new elite demand. Zero-sum struggles over space are real enough; however, elite-poor interactions, Schindler argues, are more often struggles within space over the terms of its use. The new middle class strives not to exclude street hawkers, but rather to regulate them, their access to space and circulation (residents’ associations organise to issue licences to control who can enter estates and when). And rather than always engaging through the medium of the state, very often elite-poor interactions are direct. Schindler doesn’t deny the reality of anti-poor urbanisation, but rather highlights everyday interactions re/making the city–interactions which the poor participate in and meaningfully influence.
See also Risa Whitson’s “Negotiating Place and Value: Geographies of Waste and Scavenging in Buenos Aires” (2011), which considers what Gidwani and Reddy call “the proliferation of ‘survival’ jobs” (p.1641) such as informal scavenging and waste-picking. In 2002 the Argentinian state legalised it, recognising it as vital to the city. The economic crisis led to an increase in the number of waste-pickers–scavenging became a “livelihood strategy”. For the state, though, increased matter out of place, in the streets, during (trash-pickers themselves) and following (non-recyclable trash) scavenging, proved problematic. Debates around the place and value of waste ensued, and support for the pickers’ recycling work grew. The incorporation of recyclers–involving registration, the regulation of the time and place of scavenging, basic health and social provisions, even credit and grants for recycler cooperatives–was seen as a solution to growing urban waste problems, that is, a way of displacing trash-pickers, rendering their work invisible, and marginal, again.
In “The Politics of the Evicted: Redevelopment, Subjectivity, and Difference in Mumbai’s Slum Frontier” (2013) Sapana Doshi explores how slum dwellers negotiate accumulation by dispossession, or what she calls “accumulation by differentiated displacement” (p.845). Accumulation by dispossession often involves the “accumulation of differences and divisions” (p.862), she argues, quoting Silvia Federici. Hindu nationalist discourses of Muslim “strangers”, “invaders”, even “terrorists” were mobilised to justify exclusionary resettlement policies, dividing residents through notions of “legitimacy and belonging”. And those who were to be resettled became, wittingly or not, complicit in further displacement. The urban periphery emerged as the “ideal” location for resettlement; its extant population (mostly Muslim and extremely poor) was simply deemed illegal, illegitimate, out of place. The corporations who shirked responsibility for rehousing some, displaced others in resettling those judged to belong. And while some residents were complicit in all this division, others resisted, organising occupations, marches and sit-ins; drawing parallels between their struggle and earlier anti-colonial/independence ones; and re-mobilising state tropes such as “invasion”, “illegality” and “citizenship”.
Shifting our focus from movements between settlements to life in them, Ayona Datta’s “‘Mongrel City’: Cosmopolitan Neighbourliness in a Delhi Squatter Settlement” (2012) uses interviews to investigate the reality of life for “squatters” who, though officially “illegal”, have been tolerated by the state since the 1970s and 1980s while–and only while–the land they occupy is regarded as peripheral, undesirable, etc. She explores the development of “cosmopolitan neighbourliness”, that is, settlers’ construction of bonds across caste and religious differences, “a moral transformation in their everyday values and beliefs about the ‘other’…[producing] an alternative home in a city from which they were largely excluded” (p.747). Urban elites might represent them as “encroachers”–“peasants in the city” (p.749); a violent, pathological mob; criminal, feckless–what Datta finds, though, is tolerance and, what’s more, openness to difference. Settlers’ narratives don’t necessarily romanticise the slum as “convivial”–the “mongrel city” is fractured and fragile; difference isn’t always embraced and celebrated–but, rather, acknowledge that exclusion and parochialism are simply “defunct” (Datta’s word) there: openness to others is a necessity of life.
See also Renu Desai, Colin McFarlane and Stephen Graham’s “The Politics of Open Defecation: Informality, Body, and Infrastructure in Mumbai” (2015), which examines the infrastructure of the poor in settlements: “we take infrastructure to be, expansively, systems that enable urban life to collectively take place…the multiple ways in which systems have to be put in place to allow urban life to take place in precarious and marginalised neighbourhoods” (p.100). Open defecation was prohibited as a “public nuisance” in 2006; adequate toilets must be provided by the state, but what constitutes “adequate” is unclear and contested, and while some informal settlements are “notified slums”, entitled to sanitation provision, others aren’t. “These disruptions and the new improvisations that emerge often deepen vulnerabilities and inequalities in various ways” (p.116). Many women see public toilets as undignified and unsanitary, yet face threats when going elsewhere. And while some organise in response to the emergence of public toilets, the control of access, cleaning and maintenance too often reproduces gender, caste, class and religious divisions.
A Right to the City?
“Housing in the Urban Age: Inequality and Aspiration in Mumbai” (2011) by Nikhil Anand and Anne Rademacher continues the conversation started by Datta and Doshi. In the 1990s and 2000s, land previously (dis)regarded as peripheral and undesirable–and thus “abandoned” to informal settlements–was revalorised, and developers not only constructed ex situ settlements but also moved residents temporarily; constructed high-rise buildings; re-housed them; and in return received lucrative development rights. But those resettled in situ didn’t necessarily see themselves as victims of accumulation by dispossession; their experiences were more ambiguous and contradictory. A long history of struggles for recognition and suffrage, involving settler groups, political parties, NGOs and other social movements, meant some, that is, those who can prove longer-term residence, gained rights to the city from the state, and the growing value of land meant private developers were keen to re-house as many residents as possible and thus were willing to negotiate the terms of that re-housing. So rather than displacement, a threat simpliciter, some experienced resettlement as a real opportunity. Whither cosmopolitan neighbourliness, though, when the state recognises some but bulldozes others?
Ananya Roy’s “Civic Governmentality: The Politics of Inclusion in Beirut and Mumbai” (2009) develops the concept of “civic governmentality” (after Foucault) to capture this situation, i.e. “how subjects and spaces come to be ‘inside’ the project of citizenship” (p.161). One of Roy’s two cases is an NGO in Mumbai that does what Li calls “make live” work, providing a range of services to the city’s poor. It does more than provide services, though; it produces governable and self-governing subjects. As it sees things, “[t]o protest, to confront, is to stand outside the parameters of citizenship” (p.173), so it strives for inclusion. Its “technologies of governing” include “enumeration and exhibition” (p.166)–the creation of masses of knowledge by enabling squatters to count, categorise, map and plan their own communities, and through doing so understand themselves as communities. It also fosters an “ethics of the self” (p.166), cultivating norms of “civil” conduct–being “pragmatic” rather than “ideological”; “negotiating” and “accommodating”; having “will” and “desire” yet being “disciplined”–necessary to participate. In these ways the NGO plays a role as a “mediating institution” rather than representative, bridging the state and squatters in resettlement and compensation talks, enabling the latter to consent to displacement.
Rowan Ellis’ “‘A World Class City of Your Own!’: Civic Governmentality in Chennai, India” (2012) looks at how urban elites are enlisted (or enlist themselves) as “legitimate stakeholders”, “responsible citizens”, and so on. Her research examines the “technologies of inclusion” (p.1146), such as NGOs, residents’ associations and other civic groups, and “public” state- or developer-led consultations (often invitation-only events!), through which the new middle classes become participants in a political process that promotes not just “ordered, sanitary living spaces” but “cooperation and mediation over confrontation”(p.1146): “participation must be of the right sort, professional, civil, non-confrontational” (p.1150). To be a legitimate, responsible partner, a steward of the “world-class” city, requires access to places such as exclusive hotels, and normative ways of speaking, dressing, and generally comporting oneself; and it requires a commitment to dialogue, negotiation and, above all, the “givens” of the situation. Ellis recognises that these technologies of inclusion function imperfectly; nonetheless, they’re shaping the future of Chennai in significant ways, outlining the terms of the debate, defining what “the right to the city” there means.
Asher Ghertner’s “Nuisance Talk and the Propriety of Property: Middle Class Discourses of a Slum-Free Delhi” (2012) also looks at“India’s newly empowered middle classes” as forming a particular, and particularly active, civil society as important as state and market “in producing new models of the urban”. His subjects are much less inclusionary, though, and their “mundane, often place-specific constructions of civility gain traction in state policy and the popular urban imaginary” (p.1162). Through what he calls “nuisance talk”, slums are constructed as zones of incivility, as violating norms of order, conduct and appearance, as “out of place”. The delegitimisation of the urban poor’s land entitlements and slum displacement is presented as “environmental improvement”, as essential to the creation of a “clean”, “green” and “world-class” Delhi. Ghertner traces a cultural politics creating and maintaining a boundary between “inside” and “outside”, between the stable, the predictable and the ordered, on one side, and the abject, that which threatens this, on the other (and he traces this back to British rule). What he calls “the propriety of property” confronts all kinds of “encroachers” and “squatters”, i.e. non-citizens, “wasting” the city, as if the lives of urban elites weren’t constitutive of the very conditions they seek to escape.
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