Urban Futures Podcast – the Grounded City with Karel Williams

We are delighted to launch CURA’s “Urban Futures” podcast series with this edition on the “Grounded Citymanhattan-67474_960_720” with Karel Williams, Professor of Accounting and Political Economy at the University of Manchester.

If you use iTunes click here to listen and download the podcast, otherwise you can use soundcloud – and remember to leave a rating / comments!

Some more information below.

In his and his colleagues work on the “Grounded City” Karel argues that the dominance of theories of urban agglomeration in urban policy making reflect a belated recognition of “the urban” by neo-liberal economists. However, Karel and his colleagues argue that there are fundamental deficiencies in the agglomeration approach which rise from the imperialism, and hubris, of classical economics in social science. The “Grounded City” offers an alternative policy imaginary which is interdisciplinary in nature but draws principally on the urban historiography of Fernand Braudel and other scholars such as Charles Tilly – literatures which agglomeration theories simply fail to recognise.

 

Posted in Podcast | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

From Surge to Sensation: Corbynism and the Unexpected Renaissance of the British Left

CURA director Professor JonathJeremy_Corbyn_speaking_at_the_Labour_Party_General_Election_Launch_2017an Davies reflects on the implications of June’s general election result for the socialist left in the UK.

When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected in 2015, I argued that he would only be able to resist the establishment backlash, especially from his own perfidious MPs, if he could make the surge that propelled him to the Labour leadership infectious. When Theresa May called the General Election on 18th April 2017, there was precious little sign of this happening. Labour was polling in the 20s; the Tories seemed on course for a landslide and the left set for a historic defeat. The renaissance between then and the election of 8th June is staggering and of historic proportions. Corbyn’s election campaign, a simple left wing manifesto, mass rallies, positive media exposure and an appeal rooted in his quiet sense of personal authenticity, has transformed the prospects for the left in Britain.  The Corbyn surge has indeed become infectious.  In the process, it has shattered several myths.

It first shatters the myth of “unelectability” peddled by critics from the now-contrite Owen Jones rightwards. If a Corbyn led Labour Party can achieve more than 40%, only a month after polling 28%, there does not seem to be any inherent barrier to it winning 45% or 50% of the vote. Corbyn’s success is performative: as a Guardian columnist put it, “the more plausible he looks, the more support he will gather“.  This insight was borne out by an initial post-election Survation poll, showing Labour now in a 6% lead. Moreover, even before the surge got going Corbyn was more popular, not only than the toxic figure of Tony Blair, but also Ed Miliband, former leadership rival Yvette Cooper and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. The takeaway lesson from the election is simple: a left wing candidate can win on a left wing manifesto.

Second, and relatedly, the Corbyn campaign shatters the self-serving establishment delusion that we have entered an age of “post-truth” politics, where emotion and belief hold sway over reason and fact. Academia is notorious for making epochs out of fads, and “post-truth” politics is a case in point. Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the USA both tap into a fervent sense of possibility. There is a craving for authenticity, the hope that sincerely held beliefs can be rendered factual and truthful on the ground: that ordinary people can once again exercise influence, if not mastery, in the political world.

It thirdly shatters another self-serving establishment myth: that young people won’t vote. It rather confirms that abstention was not due to “apathy”, but reasonable and reasoned “antipathy”, or alienation. For decades, the mainstream political parties had nothing to offer people demoralised or repelled by neoliberal groupthink.  For a long time, there has been good in-depth research refuting the theory of “apathy”, ignored by psephologists and pundits (e.g. Marsh, O’Toole and Jones, 2007). The reprehensible Tory claim that Corbyn bribed younger people to vote for ‘free stuff’ is further refuted by evidence showing tuition fees were by no means top of their list of concerns.  Nonetheless, Corbynism resurrects the idea that  “free stuff” funded from progressive taxation is precisely the mark of a decent society and that burdening young people with £80 billion in tuition fee debt was a national disgrace.

Fourth, it shatters the conveniently anti-working class myth that Brexit and UKIP voters are one-dimensional racists. At the start of the election, it seemed that UKIP had done its job and the Tories were set to clean up in former Labour heartlands. To be sure, a large number of working class UKIP votes did go to the Tories, but many were convinced to vote Labour.  Surely, then, more still can be won back. It is worth recalling that until Cameron called his referendum, EU membership was a non-issue. A year later it seems to be a non-issue once again. To the consternation of both Leavers and Remainers, Brexit did not dominate the election. In good part thanks to the Corbyn campaign, nor did immigration. Ideological and everyday racism remains a huge issue in British politics and society. The Leave vote unleashed an appalling wave of hate crimes, as did the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.  Yet, Labour’s campaign on an optimistic anti-austerity, pro-public services platform has begun to change the narrative on both immigration and security. Given an alternative upbeat political focus, fear of foreigners began to slip down the list of voter concerns.

A fifth myth, now shattered, is that a supine and impotent left could do nothing about Brexit but seek to retain membership of the “single market” described by New Labour spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, as “Mrs Thatcher’s greatest achievement”. To cling to the single market under current rules is effectively to say that corporate interests must always dictate how the British economy is run.  Arch-Brexit Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan pointed out that “several trade union and Labour figures, including some Remainers, now see Brexit as an opportunity to withdraw from EU rules that hamper the nationalisation of industries, and encourage contracting out of public services to private firms”. During the EU referendum campaign, this so-called #Lexit position – for a left wing Brexit – was dismissed as fantasy politics, even by committed socialists. Today, it does not appear quite so fanciful. Labour will undoubtedly have to take a clearer position if it enters government and set out the economic and political parameters of what a progressive Brexit, including the idea of a “reformed” single market, might look like. The defence and extension of free movement remains an inviolable principle for the internationalist left, an issue Labour has fudged. But whatever this position might be, the left is now in a position to influence the debate.

What of the broader significance of the Corbyn surge? I have long been wary of using the word “crisis” to describe the drearily routine politics of the UK under austerity. While there has been enormous suffering for which the term “social crisis” is apt, in politics “crisis” is meant to convey a sense of upheaval conspicuously missing for much of David Cameron’s “age of austerity” (see Bayırbağ, Davies and Münch, 2017). However, in winning over nearly 13 million people, Corbyn may have provoked an incipient full-blown crisis of the British state, something that appeared until recently to have been averted in the aftermath of Brexit. This is partly a crisis of political legitimacy.  The prospect of a weak and divided Tory government propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party, a pre-historically bigoted organisation whose culture and politics are alien to the vast majority of Britons, looks like a recipe for instability and strife.  It is also partly, at last, a political crisis of neoliberalism. This is the authoritarian “free market” doctrine that Britain’s politicians managed to resuscitate after the 2008/9 economic crisis. Presented with an intelligible non-UKIP alternative to the debilitating free market austerity consensus, people were very quickly persuaded and voted for it. Most importantly this is, and has the potential to further become, a crisis of hegemony in which the left in all its forms can fight with renewed confidence for socialist alternatives.  A new wave of anti-austerity struggles is one possibility, linked to the refusal of Tory hard Brexit logics – notably Mrs May’s threat to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven.

From the standpoint of austerity, the revival of the British left through the improbable vehicle of Corbyn’s Labour Party is thus a cause for optimism.  But it certainly is not cause for complacency. Whether the notoriously fractious British left can seize the moment remains to be seen. Little has yet been won and the British ruling class in both its economic and political guises is a formidably ruthless force. The neoliberal Blairite wing is already on manoeuvres. In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Mandelson called for “moderate” Labour MPs to stand by Theresa May, provided she takes a more flexible approach. He enjoined that “mainstream Labour MPs, who worry about the impact of the continuing Corbyn revolution on centrist voters, should be prepared to stand by the wounded PM, and likewise she should welcome their approach in the national interest”. If nothing else, this shocking intervention lays bare the extraordinary lengths to which the Blairite right will go to sabotage the left. On the electoral front, voting preferences are extremely fluid. Since the 2015 election, a working class Labour voter might have migrated from Ed Miliband to UKIP via Brexit and then to the Tories, only to be won back at the last minute by Jeremy Corbyn. This fluidity shows that Labour can no longer rely on traditional working class affiliations: it can only win through building and sustaining political credibility. Nor should we overestimate the influence of socialist ideas. Moreover the battles Corbyn faced as Labour leader seem trivial compared with what he would endure as a socialist prime minster, presiding over an ailing 21st Century British capitalism – potentially severed from its European markets.

But with these necessary warnings this is, at last, a time for optimism among anti-austerity forces and the left. The new politics fits very well with our core research priority in CURA, to explore the parameters and potentialities of the emancipatory city. As his enormous election rallies attest the Corbyn surge is, if nothing else, an urban movement anchored in Britain’s cities. If it is to progress further, with the age of austerity finally brought to a close, urban politics will be crucial.

Jonathan Davies is Professor of Critical Policy Studies and Director of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University.

Posted in Policy & Politics | Tagged , | Comments Off on From Surge to Sensation: Corbynism and the Unexpected Renaissance of the British Left

Communities first? Hybridity helps understand governing neighbourhoods under austerity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Madeleine Pill and Valeria Guarneros-Mesa report on their research into hybridity and city governance in Cardiff, which was recently published in Policy and Politics.

Welsh Government is phasing out its (former flagship) Communities First tackling poverty programme from 2017/18.  The Bevan Foundation, a think tank, has stressed that subsequent local action should be led by ‘community anchors’ – community-based organisations with a good track-record and strong community engagement.  Our research using the conceptual framework of hybridity – conducted as part of the Transgob project in Cardiff, Wales – supports this recommendation, and highlights the need for local government to relinquish its former levels of control to give these organisations space to develop approaches which work for their communities.

The research explored what austerity means for participation in city governance.  The optimistic view is that making governance more participatory can help overcome the hurdles of bureaucracy, with government ceding control to enable capacity to address complex problems.  The pessimistic view is that city governance remains dominated by state elites, with third sector and community partners co-opted to compensate for the decline in state provision, compromising their ability to advocate for and ensure that communities get decent services.  In Cardiff we uncovered attitudes and practices somewhere in between these two views.

We found that austerity had accelerated the city council’s use of its city governance structure, the Cardiff Partnership, to share the risk and responsibility of service delivery with other public organisations, but also with third sector organisations and neighbourhood-level community groups.  Communities were certainly having to take more responsibility for delivering their own (formerly public) services, such as play and youth services and the maintenance of parks, sports grounds and streets.  Those at the neighbourhood frontline faced tensions and power conflicts in trying to develop workable practice.  But we did find that community-based organisations had some room for manoeuvre in developing forms of co-production that were rooted in communities as well as responding to the strictures of funding cuts.  One example was time-banking, championed by a deprived community-based organisation in south Cardiff.  The approach means that volunteers can exchange equivalent hours of providing a service such as kids’ school holiday activities for other services.  The scheme was underpinned by the council offering access to facilities such as swimming pools, but the opportunities to spend credits earned within the community were expanding, indicating potential for it to become self-sustaining (and thus definitively community-led).  But it was too early in our research to tell whether attempts to replicate it will be successful.

The city council was also seeking to transfer assets such as libraries and community centres to communities.  The frustrations of this process – such as the need for willing community groups to become formalised organisations – showed the need for change in the council’s attitudes to risk.  In the words of a Welsh Government officer, government needs to ‘recognise that the cheapest and best way to achieve real things is to spot what people are doing for themselves and support them’.

When the Communities First programme was reshaped in 2011, Cardiff Council innovated by contracting community-based organisations to manage the four deprived neighbourhood ‘clusters’ eligible for programme support. In so doing, the council downloaded risk and offloaded staff costs as the organisations took on responsibility for finance, HR and evaluation – thus becoming hybrid third-public sector organisations.  Their staff had to navigate the tensions and dilemmas of implementing a (national) programme, engaging in the (city-wide) strategy overseen by the Cardiff Partnership, and the needs and demands of their communities.  Doing this aligned with the demands of austerity, enrolling these community organisations into service delivery in ways that included voluntarism, thus increasing community self-reliance.  But we also found, to an extent, that community organisation staff were able to innovate (such as with timebanking) – and in ways that maintained their community-focused mission.

Therefore our Cardiff research shows how the ‘devolution, decentralisation and downloading’ of Peck’s (2012) ‘austerity urbanism’ encourages hybridity at a scalar, organisational and individual level.  But our research also reinforces the need to understand local practices to provide insight beyond the dualism of empowerment or incorporation.  The Cardiff experience of participatory governance demonstrates the potential for transformative alternatives in the everyday and the small-scale – and also highlights the need for state supports rather than constraints in these processes.   In the case of Wales, the need to sustain the work of community anchors should be a priority.

The ‘Transgob’ project analysed the discourse and practice of participatory urban governance under austerity in two British (Cardiff and Leicester) and four Spanish cities.  It was funded by the Spanish government’s National Research and Development Plan (reference CSO2012-32817).

Madeleine Pill is Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Sydney, and Valeria Guarneros-Mesa is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at De Montfort University, as well as a core member of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity

 

Posted in Policy & Politics, Publications by CURA Members | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Communities first? Hybridity helps understand governing neighbourhoods under austerity

Nantes and Collaborative Governance: ‘Participation? It’s in our DNA!’

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderIn this post Andrés Feandeiro, Steven Griggs and David Howarth  report the findings from a second round of research in Nantes, carried out as part of the collaborative governance under austerity project, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Urban Transformations Network.

When endeavouring to describe the style of governance in Nantes, it is commonplace to compare its form of collaboration to the passing game of the city’s famous football team. The team’s so-called ‘jeu à la Nantaise’, in which the ball moves quickly back and forth between players as they move up the field, seemingly fits for many of those key politicians and officials who aspire to encourage and embed citizen and community participation in the city. In the process of forging new urban development projects in Nantes, as one local senior policy planner typically informed us, ‘the ball circulates a lot between different actors, for a project that is a collective one.’ Or in the words of a policy officer, ‘participation: it’s in our DNA!’

In fact, the current Mayor, Johanna Rolland, has made the practices of co-construction and citizen dialogue one of the priorities for her first term in office. The city council has committed itself to renew participatory governance, which promises a ‘constant dialogue’ between local councillors and citizens. Framed in political terms, the commitments of the city council to co-production are best viewed as a response to the multiple crises facing Nantes and other cities in France, Europe and beyond. On the one hand, citizen dialogue is viewed as a means of countering the broader crisis of politics and social exclusion within communities. On the other hand, it is claimed that participation offers a better way of capturing the expertise of citizens as service-users, thus offsetting the deficiencies of traditional models of public service delivery.

But how are we to make sense of such participatory engagements? How does such political rhetoric translate into practice? Who participates, over what issues, and who decides? What, for example, is the representative legitimacy of civil society actors? And how, ultimately, are we to critically characterise the everyday practices of collaborative governance across Nantes? Though these are necessary and crucial questions, which go to the heart of current debates about urban governance and collaboration, especially during conditions of fiscal tightening, our research exhibits the difficulties of answering them. We thus begin by problematizing the complexities of the Nantes model.

Problematizing participation and collaboration

It is worth noting from the outset that such exercises in participatory governance are not without their tensions and contradictions. Nantes seems unable to escape the charges that have dogged attempts to engage citizens and communities across numerous cities, whether they take the form of labelling participation a new mode of incorporation, or as little more than top-down information giving, or ultimately as an exercise in failed representation. Commenting on the analogy of Nantes’ governance with the passing game of its football team, one of our respondents thus suggested that ‘the question asked is: who do you look for when building a team, and when [do] you pass the ball? […] You may pass the ball, but in the final instance you are obliged to follow […] because the project is too advanced.’

Such criticisms were mirrored in other assessments, which characterised neighbourhood forums as an ‘inconsistent [form of] democracy’, which ‘do not change fundamental decisions’, or which ‘too often… put [communities] in front of things’ that have already been decided. It was claimed, for example, that practices of engagement often remained far too concerned with information-giving, thus becoming little more than ‘pedagogy’, that is, ‘an attempt to explain the project.’ And perhaps more importantly, it was argued that such forums were said not to engage with those people most in need, challenging efforts to combat social exclusion; for ‘people who are truly in vulnerable positions are not in the know, or do not keep themselves in the know, or are not free, for these types of things… they do not go to these meetings…’

Indeed, questions were repeatedly asked about the legitimacy of civil society actors involved in participatory forums and their capacity to represent communities across Nantes. Civil society actors were charged with being ‘apolitical’, non-contestatory and deeply embedded in practices of ‘top-down’ urban governance. One neighbourhood officer commented that ‘we don’t invite organizations (such as unions) that we don’t know, but they don’t come knocking on the door either…. The associations involved in citizen’s dialogue are generally socio-cultural (ones) without an advocacy role… there are none which seize on these occasions to re-orientate urban policy.’

Criticisms, messiness and marginal voices

Yet counter-narratives are also evident and have been readily voiced in our encounters across Nantes. Criticisms of the inability of communities to exercise powers of decision-making were repeatedly countered by the value of keeping such powers in the hands of locally elected politicians. The Nantes model clearly embeds decision-making in the hands of locally elected representatives, while downplaying claims for participatory decision-making below those of representative democracy. In other words, councillor or politically-led decision-making is deemed to be no ‘bad thing’ as ‘it is their [local politicians] job after all.’ Indeed, the basis for judgements on the governance of the city quickly shifted ground, moving from input to output forms of legitimacy, validating practices of coproduction with the assertion that in any case ‘most people are happy with what has been done.’

Such judgements bring out the messiness of practices of participation, co-production and the politics of urban collaboration. They contrast the top-down governance of coproduction with the capacity of communities to challenge dominant policy framings and transform such arenas. It was repeatedly argued by key actors that there are no neat readings of such participatory initiatives in Nantes, for ‘each time that you put a debate into the public arena, there are always those people who seize it and manage to construct some counter-power.’ Forms of resistance were thus deemed to be part and parcel of the governance of participatory forums across the city.

But it is difficult to ignore that much of the resistance and challenge to socio-economic crisis and austerity within civil society tend to exist in parallel to the formal participatory apparatus of urban governance. Civil society actors who advance counter-hegemonic, anti-austerity projects have, on the whole, chosen not to engage in the formal structures of citizen dialogue across the city, especially in relation to the crisis of available and affordable housing in the city. Indeed, these actors see little strategic value in investing in such arenas: ‘Because we have a very militant position, they do not want to see us everywhere. There is … a roadblock… We always have this dialogue where they (the city council) do not want to hear certain things. So (the dialogue) becomes completely stuck in these meetings’. At the same time, their legitimacy and ‘political’ motives are questioned by elected representatives and urban policymakers. As one such policy actor explained: ‘you know the people… (and) unfortunately behind (them), there is often a political party or a political opinion or ideologies… So the guy says ‘I’m a citizen’, but in fact behind (him) there is also a political party that expresses itself…’

Characterizing governance in Nantes

What does this mean for the characterisation of the governance of Nantes? In many ways, our field research has encountered the ‘messy realities’, contradictory readings, and ill-fitting narratives that typically characterise urban regimes. Arguably, parallel forms of ‘dialogue’ appear to be one of the defining contradictions of the Nantes model of participation and these idiosyncrasies of urban governance ‘à la Nantaise’. As if to sum up such difficulties, one of our respondents argued resolutely that while community participation across Nantes could not be dismissed as ‘mere communication’ and ‘display’ – it was not ‘just illusion or propaganda!’ He was, however, quick to add that this did not mean that it had ‘the value of an exemplar, as it is often said.’ At least for this respondent, the truth, sat somewhere in the ‘messy’ middle.

Of course, countless interventions have grappled with the dangers of subsumption, or of forcing complex differences across cities into the constraining frameworks of national, city, or even neighbourhood regimes. Urban theory is replete with references to convergence and divergence, spaces of hybridisation and adaptation, and how local traditions mediate national programmes and broader forces. Do we thus conclude, rather simply, that collaborative governance is in a rather ‘messy’ state of flux? Although tempting, such judgements, like those that either summarily dismiss or endorse practices of governance in Nantes, do not get us very far. In fact, they beg a further set of questions. More precisely, our fieldwork has led us to recognise how collaborative governance under austerity requires a careful deconstruction that exposes the tensions and contradictions of the underlying assumptions of the dominant regime across cities, while enabling their critical evaluation and re-inscription.

Put differently, we need to understand the conditions that over time make possible specific hegemonic coalitions across cities like Nantes, as well as the forms of resistance to dominant coalitions and the potential for the construction of ‘counter-powers’. In so doing, we avoid the temptation to squeeze collaborative governance into pre-determined or over-simplistic categories, while foregrounding the situated judgements of researchers engaged in the field. In short, in claiming that collaborative governance in Nantes is ‘messy’ and in a state of flux, further questions have to be raised. Why does the ‘mess’ take this form? And what alternative spaces and prospects for ‘bottom-up’ change does such a ‘moving target’ offer? It is the answers to such questions that will ultimately shed further light on how ‘metropolitisation’, multi-level governance, and political instability in France impact on urban ‘participation’, citizen dialogue and co-production across Nantes.

Andrés Feandeiro is a research assistant on the Collaborative Governance under Austerity project at De Montfort University, Steven Griggs is Professor of Public Policy at De Montfort University and David Howarth is Professor in Social and Political Theory at the University of Essex.

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Nantes and Collaborative Governance: ‘Participation? It’s in our DNA!’

Introducing Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System

CanningIn today’s blog post, Victoria Canning introduces her new book Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System.

Recognising structural violence is no easy feat. In his seminal essay, Violence, Peace and Peace Research, Johan Galtung argued that, ‘Violence is here defined as the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could have been and what is’ (1969: 168). This sets up a tricky task as far as research goes: how can we practicably and empirically evidence the difference between the potential and the actual, if we can never know what the potential could have been?

This is precisely what the book Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System has aimed to do. By drawing together analyses of policy with domestic and international legislation relating to refugee status and torture, alongside the lived experience of women seeking asylum, my research has addressed what is supposed to exist with regard to sanctuary and support, and what actually exists in reality. Using activist participation over a ten year period in the North West of England, alongside scores of interviews, multiple focus groups, and an oral history project, this book challenges the myth that Britain is a  broadly ‘friendly’ or supportive environment for people seeking asylum.

Using Social Harm as Social Evidence

As the title suggests, a central argument I am making is that the structural conditions set for people seeking asylum create a harmful environment, and this environment has gendered implications. Hillyard and Tombs argued social harm can be divided into a number of categories – physical harms, emotional harms and economic harms to name but three. As the book argues, these can come in many guises for people seeking asylum and range from a lack of medical or psychological support, specifically for survivors of violence or torture; extreme hunger or malnutrition; or illness induced from poor housing conditions. People seeking asylum receive around £36 per week to buy food, clothes, transport. Every week in a group I work with, women and children seem to arrive worse off – food prices have increased significantly in Britain due to inflation, but welfare allowance remains a pittance. Travel can be a no-go since a bus ticket eats around 2/3rds of the daily allowance, which affects women’s capacity to engage in sexual or domestic violence services. Women regularly walk miles to shop for groceries, prams and children in tow, to make sure their financial scraps can stretch to basics.

For people whose application has been refused and are submitting an appeal and do not receive Legal Aid, this is supposed to cover extortionate legal fees. The most recent quote I have seen for a solicitor to appeal a negative decision was £1600 – around 44 weeks of saving, if you opt out of eating altogether. Whilst this might seem an exaggerated comment to make, it is actually happening – I recently asked a woman awaiting an appeal how she planned to pay her legal fees. She told me, ‘you just eat less’. The alternative option is illegalised and precarious work (people seeking asylum have no right to employment, so are forcibly dependent on state welfare) which, for women, is often sexualised. Housing – one of the biggest problems people face – is usually in the poorest areas of the most deprived cities in the UK (as I have also argued elsewhere). As this book shows quite clearly, xenophobic and Islamophobic abuse is common place and housing conditions range from acceptable to dire, with heating problems, infestation (rats, slugs and cockroaches), and chronic damp being the most common problems research participants faced.

Autonomy harms, relational harms and temporal harms

Whilst these forms of harm are quite visible, they are not all necessarily experiences which are confined to life in asylum. Similar aspects have long been the staple diet of many of the poorest people in the poorest areas of the UK and as Cooper argues, the violent financial decisions taken in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis have compounded many people’s experiences of hunger, destitution and housing. To consider the peculiarities of asylum, the book expands this lens to include three further harms: autonomy harm, relational harm (see Pemberton) and temporal harm.

Autonomy Harm

The first of these, autonomy harms, affect a person’s self-worth or esteem, and can result from role deprivation and the absence of available opportunities to engage in productive activities. People seeking asylum are structurally limited on what they can do with their lives for the period of time in which they seek asylum.  From the offset, people are dispersed to areas of the UK over which they have no choice. Working is legally prohibited, Higher Education is not affordable and the limitations on welfare allowance – half of that of Jobseekers Allowance – means options for most social activities are not actually an option. More insidiously, the threat of detention – a proliferating confinement estate in the UK – or further dispersal hang like a spectre of social control, increasing fear and anxiety amongst people at every Home Office signing.

Relational harm

The second example, relational harms, include enforced exclusion from social relationships, and harms of misrecognition (such as misrepresentations of particular social groups in society, as Pemberton also showed). When women, men or unaccompanied minors leave their countries of origin, many of their relationships and friendships are affected or dissolved completely. Other relational harms are, however, directly the result of policy and practice. Within Britain and the UK more generally, the impact of spatialised controls outlined above is perhaps the most obvious form of relational harm, since the climate of such controls has the capacity to limit an individual’s relationships, friendships or support networks outside of their immediate living vicinity. Relational harms are also strongly connected to emotional harms: support networks, friendships and activist involvement are impeded by some of the many barriers women seeking asylum face and yet each of these can be particularly important for women’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Deportation – a unique aspect of life for immigrants, and one which is central to the control of people seeking asylum – is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of relational harm, holding the potential to pull people from families, networks and communities on a permanent basis.

Temporal Harm

The final focus relates to the impacts of control over time. Applying for asylum the UK can be an incredibly complex and daunting process. At a port or airport, it is deciding to who or where to tell a uniformed guard that you require refugee status, or – if you are in the country already – knowing where to even go. For survivors of sexual or domestic abuse or torture – disproportionality women – add to that the requirement to disclose instances of abuse. To a stranger. The odds can be stacked from the offset. As the diagram below shows (please click on the image to download a larger, clearer file), it can also be an incredibly long process, regularly taking years:

diagram2

To give an idea of just how long this can take, in one focus group with five women from four countries in 2014, I asked how long each had been awaiting a final asylum decision. One had been in the asylum system since 2013, one since 2012, one since 2009, one since 2010 and one since 2002. That is an accumulation of 24 years of waiting in only one small group.

It is perhaps then the issue of time which is most difficult for people seeking asylum. Years of life can go by – as one woman told me, ‘the best years of my life are gone’ – and what sits in place of autonomy and rights is restriction and unknowing. The terms ‘languish’ and ‘limbo’ can seem over-used in this context, but the fact is that this is how asylum is experienced. Whilst emotional and physical harms might be experienced by broader groups in society, temporal harm can compound such problems for people in the asylum process: physical and mental illnesses are exacerbated by the constant sense of unknowing, and the multiple structural conditions which limit people’s quality of life can also increase feelings of isolation, fear and even suicidality.

It is between the structural conditions of asylum and the lived realities of those facing it that structural violence and social harm therefore join. To draw from the books’ preface by Mary Bosworth, Current policies are not inevitable, nor are they just.  They are instead political choices that could be made otherwise. 

Victoria Canning is a Lecturer in Criminology at The Open University. At present she is leading an ESRC Future Research Leaders project examining harmful social practices in asylum processes in Britain, Denmark and Sweden. She is an activist in Merseyside, and is also currently working with Migrant Artists Mutual Aid to develop a collaboratively produced book (with women seeking asylum) relating to mutual aid and resistance.

Her new book Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System, (2017) published by Routledge is available to buy in Hardback or ebook: https://www.routledge.com/Gendered-Harm-and-Structural-Violence-in-the-British-Asylum-System/Canning/p/book/9781138854659

Preview available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Gendered-Structural-Violence-Routledge-Citizenship/1138854654/ref=sr_1_2/261-3207680-5391316?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491289959&sr=1-2

Posted in Book Debates | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Introducing Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System

Montreal: In search of a new approach for defining social solidarity

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderPierre Hamel, Roger Keil and Grégoire Autin report on findings from a second round of research in Montreal carried out as part of the collaborative governance under austerity project, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Urban Transformations Network.

Montreal is renowned for its social and cultural dynamism. It is an important point to underscore as the city continues to struggle to improve its performance in terms of job creation and support for innovation in a variety of sectors, renewing hope in the improvement of working and living conditions for all citizens. It is necessary to remember that structural problems remain at the scale of the city-region. For example, the system of post-secondary education is less successful than elsewhere in turning out university graduates and Montreal’s labour market continues to struggle to integrate immigrants more than in comparable North American cities, as noted in a report released by the ‘Institut du Québec’ (IQ) in November 2015.

In some respect, a discrepancy has always prevailed within Montreal’s neighbourhoods, at least if we go back to the beginning of the 1960s, between, on the one hand, the dynamism of civil society – and more specifically community and voluntary sector organisations – and, on the other hand, the difficulty of the economy to offer well-paying jobs, especially for retaining new immigrants. Furthermore, this situation is no longer exclusively a major concern for new immigrants. Precarious working conditions have been rising almost in all sectors of activity since the beginning of the new Millennium. Nonetheless, among Canadian metropolitan regions, Montreal remains characterized by the quality of overall living standards due to the low social polarization and reasonable housing affordability.

In that respect, the city is demonstrating a dual character. This is due to a tension between social innovation and efficient economic activity. This challenge is anything but new. To some extent, all metropolitan regions are torn between, on the one hand, favoring adjustments to the international market place through, for example, promoting competitive clusters, and on the other, sustaining social solidarity. While those two strategies do not necessarily need to be incompatible, in capitalist economies they mostly are. What can a city do to overcome those contradictions? The answer can be found in local culture and political choices made by the local state and civil society alike.

Like in other urban jurisdictions in this research project and beyond, austerity has been on the agenda in Montreal. But, as we noted in our earlier blog post hard austerity policies have traditionally not been favoured by governments of the city, the province of Quebec and the recent federal government of Canada. Still there is repeated reference to rigeur in the policy landscape, the French term most often used when referring to austerity measures at all levels of government. The overall social consequences of austerity policies remain difficult to assess. But a large consensus prevails among the respondents to our investigation that those policies have been affecting the most vulnerable population groups.  In this respect, an ambiguity exists regarding the time period of reference.

Since their return to power at the provincial level, the Liberals adopted a series of austerity measures in order to reduce the Quebec public debt, the most significant one among Canadian provinces after Newfoundland and Labrador. This has been used as a the main rationale by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, elected in April 2014, to go forward with drastic measures: cutting expenses in health care and education systems, welfare programs and salaries of government employees. Severe damages in service provision in those areas for some specific social groups have resulted from that. The children living in deprived areas and/or in need of specific educational support, poor people waiting for access to social housing, or recipients of social assistance are among the groups who have been the most affected by those measures.

This said, austerity policies are not an invention created by Premier Couillard in 2014. As a number of our respondents mentioned, this goes back to the Fordist crisis of the 1970s and its repercussion on welfare policies. From this moment onwards, the social compromise between economic elites and workers as managed by the state was put aside. In its place, social policies were managed increasingly through contracts with the private sector and/or community-based groups.

In that respect, above all, austerity has become a public issue that necessarily involves a rebalancing of relations between the various internal components of the state, and new relations between state and society. From a sociological perspective, the question of social cohesion is expressed in different terms compared to the Fordist era.  As public action gains legitimacy from expertise, and proposes diverse partnership mechanisms for managing public services, the democratic deficit is growing.  Henceforth, solidarity among citizens cannot rely exclusively on a blind faith in state capacity to manage solidarity and reduce inequalities. Democratic crisis and the legitimacy deficit of the state (at all levels) are necessarily on the agenda again.

This is why the coalition ‘Main rouge’ – opposed to pricing and privatisation of public services – supported by several groups active in the community sector but also by some trade unions, student and women movements, organized rallies to oppose the Couillard’s government austerity policies.  In November 2016, 1200 community groups even organized a two day strike in order to contest the chronic underfunding of their activities while serving a continuously increasing clientele..

Building a coalition against policies and programs managed by the state has proved to be a difficult task in Montreal for two reasons. First, the vast majority of community groups continue to rely mainly on the state for financing their internal operations. For that matter, mobilization against the state cannot be taken for granted. In addition, when governmental specific resources are available for dedicated projects, a competition over subsidies can occur among groups.  Second, the collaboration between the community sector and the trade union world is not self evident. This is not new, of course. The objectives of those two categories of actors are not always on the same page. Sometimes, it can be the case – one can recall, for example, the political project of the trade union left in the 1960s and 1970s in Quebec when, among other things, political action around urban and municipal issues was encouraged and supported by major labour federations in the Montreal region. But divergent interests also exist. In the past, as it is still the case nowadays, the community sector is concerned about the most vulnerable populations that are confronted with social exclusion, which is normally not the case for the members of trade unions. Constructing a politics of solidarity is difficult under these circumstances.

In regards to the crisis of democracy and the definition of new paths for overcoming this crisis, fighting against poverty and exclusion remains a central issue in OECD countries. For that matter, initiatives coming from civil society provided a source of innovation and a played a forerunner role in coping with a lack of social cohesion. The case of Community Development Corporations (CDCs) is a good example. At the beginning of the 1980s, these corporations were introduced by community-based groups in Montreal’s old working class neighborhoods in response to de-industrialising processes underway since the 1970s. Not only did these actors promote a social vision of economic and urban development, they also defended an integrated vision of the urban, so to speak, a vision that can be associated with the idea of a just city or with the spirit of the urban as conceived by Henri Lefebvre. On the terrain of Montreal neighborhoods, what they have achieved has paved the way for the project of social economy (Chantier de l’économie sociale) launched by the Quebec government through the Chantier de l’économie et de l’emploi in 1995. The activities underway with the Neighborhood Tables as well as the experiments with local programs of urban revitalisation (Revitalisation Urbaine Intégrée) initiated by the municipal administration in cooperation with community groups are also indebted to their action.

However, if these initiatives are welcome for overcoming sectoral biases ingrained in traditional governmental programs, their visibility and the support received by the state remain very weak. They are lacking resources and institutional support to cope with the contradictions underneath social and economic exclusion.

In Montreal, the picture of socioeonomic poverty is far from the key element when we are trying to grasp the city image. Nonetheless, social movements and community actors cannot forget that dimension. As they mobilised against the neo-liberal vision of social policies management, or struggled over economic and social issues, they explored new avenues for building social solidarity. Without all the answers to improve the living conditions of the general population, they revealed however being essential stakeholders. In many ways, fighting against austerity measures was also an occasion for exploring a new approach in defining social solidarity.

Pierre Hamel is Professor of Sociology at the Université de Montréal; Roger Keil is Professor and York Chair in Global Sub/Urban Studies at York University, Toronto; and Gregoire Autin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the Université de Montréal.

 

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Montreal: In search of a new approach for defining social solidarity

Workshop: Governance and conflict in urban/peri-urban infrastructures in Europe and Latin America

workshopSince mid-2000s theories of network governance in public policy have been criticised for overlooking power relations and conflict in everyday practice. The workshop seeks to build upon these criticisms through the discussion on urban/peri-urban infrastructures. This topic is timely as several world regions are facing continuous pressure generated from clashes between global capitalism and the environment across urban and quasi-urban localities and which involve continuous relationships between state and non-state actors throughout several stages of the policymaking process. However, local specificities have rendered these relationships diverse despite the first impressions of similarity that global contextual factors portray.

Building upon debates from an interdisciplinary perspective (public policy, geography, anthropology, law, sociology), the discussion of the workshop will depart from a methodological framework that touches upon issues on participation and human rights, conflict, social movements, expertise-depoliticization and the role of the state. The workshop aims to bring together academics who study these topics in Latin America and Europe.

The workshop has two main objectives, to:

  1. Analyse critically the current practices of governance in contexts of infrastructural investment in Europe (urban infrastructures) and Latin America (peri-urban, neo-extractivist infrastructures).
  2. Exchange methodologies and methods of data collection which could tease out the study of the complexities, scales and dimensions involved in participation and conflict that may result from, or are comparable to, the implementation of infrastructures.

The workshop’s speakers aim to create a novel dialogue based not on the comparison of similarity but on the potential learning from comparing difference. Some questions which may be guiding discussion are:

  • How are (large) infrastructures coexisting alongside inequality and conflict/ violence?
  • How do types/scales of conflict between state, businesses and community groups develop?
  • Through what practices, connections or bridges are the urban and peri-urban (semi-rural) interweaving? Are these characterised by multi-scalarity?
  • Are ideas and meanings the way forward to understand why states in the global south and north favour a corporatist agenda?
  • Is situated agency the way forward to address the problems or working solutions that infrastructural investment underline across the north-south and urban-rural divides? What are its limitations?
  • What are the meanings and values that frame environmental governance alongside (large) infrastructures?

To book a place please contact Valeria Guarneros-Meza valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk by 1 May 2017. Catering will be provided on both days.

WORKSHOP PROGRAMME
Thursday 11th May Location: Hugh Aston 2.32 & 2.33, DMU
2.30pm – 2.45pm Welcome/Registration

 

2.45pm – 4.45pm Session 1: Knowledge creation and infrastructures
Discursive constructions of noise and air:  the environmental politics of airport expansion in France and the UK Prof. David Howarth (University of Essex) and Prof. Stephen Griggs (De Montfort University)
Energy landscapes in peri-urban areas: notes on Concepción, Chile Dr. Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London)

 

4.45pm – 5.30 Wine reception
Friday 12th May Location: Hugh Aston 2.32 & 2.33, DMU
9.30am – 11.00am Session 2: Re-politicisation and citizen participation in urban infrastructures
Re-politicisation and civil society expertise in the UK’s high speed rail megaproject, HS2  Dr Dan Durrant (University College London)
Impact of citizen participation on drinking water and basic sanitation governance and management: Regional Analysis of Four Case Studies in Latin America Dr Ernesto Isunza Vera (CIESAS-Mexico/Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona)
11:.30am – 1.00pm Session 3: Disobedience, conflict and violence (Chair: TBC)
Performing democratic engagement in climate disobedience actions in Europe Dr. Graeme Hays (Aston University)
Conversing with Goliath: Participation, mobilisation and repression in neo-extractivist infrastructures, Mexico Dr.Gisela Zaremberg and team (Facultad Lationoamericana de Ciensas Sociales, Mexico)
1.00pm – 2.00pm Lunch

 

 

Posted in Events | Tagged , | Comments Off on Workshop: Governance and conflict in urban/peri-urban infrastructures in Europe and Latin America

From Protest to Resistance: Fighting Back in Hard Times

4742984963_af87fbac31_bOn Wednesday 3rd May 2017, the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity will be hosting a public roundtable entitled ‘From Protest to Resistance: Fighting Back in Hard Times’. This builds on our successful workshop last year – ‘Resistance and Alternatives to Austerity’ – bringing together speakers and contributors to our forthcoming volume, From Protest to Resistance: Fighting Back in Hard Times, with Rowman and Littlefield International.

There is a seemingly unstoppable consolidation of austerity, intensification of surveillance and exploitation at work, and creeping authoritarianism in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. In this roundtable, we observe new, radical forms of mobilisation directly confronting these new trends. It will bring together research from across a range of sites and spaces, including workplace occupations in Argentina and Spain, grassroots mobilisation in the UK and Ireland, migrant workers in trade unions in France and Italy, and new spaces of digital and virtual work. The aim is to draw out possible links across this range of sites, to identify the innovations emerging from a range of ostensibly ‘new’ actors and movements, and to ask what can be learned collectively from these diverse practices of protest and resistance.

Focusing on local, micro-level, and often hidden forms of resistance, this roundtable is an attempt to understand and to show how the new actors, sites, and struggles of resistance we have identified are central to constructing not only new ways of organising and of mobilising, but also of surviving and creating new ways of living in the face of what we identify as these ‘hard times’. In exploring new forms of workplace resistance and alternative workplace organisation, the role of migrant workers in resisting their exploitation, the significance of new and innovative forms of digitalised resistance, and alternative forms of grassroots mobilisation, our contributors aim to place the agency of the marginalised and the actions of the oppressed at the forefront of understanding the (re)construction of the world around us.

The roundtable will be held in Hugh Aston 3.95 from 14.00 – 17.00 and speakers include: Lisa McKenzie (LSE), David Bailey (Birmingham), Saori Shibata (Leiden), Nicholas Kiersey (Ohio), Phoebe Moore (Middlesex), Sylvie Contrepois (London Met); Rossana Cillo (Venice), Adam Fishwick (DMU), Heather Connolly (DMU)

All welcome please register in advance with Nisha Solanki (nisha.solanki@dmu.ac.uk).

For more information contact Dr Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk) or Dr Heather Connolly (hconnolly@dmu.ac.uk).

Posted in Events | Tagged , , | Comments Off on From Protest to Resistance: Fighting Back in Hard Times

Austerity and grassroots mobilization in Athens: The emergence of an urban governance divide?

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderIoannis Chorianopoulos and Nayia Tselepi report on findings from a second round of research in Melbourne carried out as part of our collaborative governance under austerity project, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Urban Transformations Network.

In our last posting we discussed the collaborative governance shift noted in the government of the City of Athens by reason of funding cutbacks and reduced revenue raising capacities.  In this light, the City administration turned to the private sector and NGOs, creating a wide range of joined up schemes that exist by virtue of their ability to generate or attract resources.  Our focus here is ‘civil society’, and its responses to austerity and municipal collaboration.  Civil society is the sum total of a wide range of social actors that operate outside the realm of the state apparatus and the private market.  In order to align and position our research in relation to this heterogeneous domain of associations, we drew from the Gramscian standpoint.  Civil society was explored in respect of its role in urban governance and its stances on the changing matrices of Athenian urban politics.

The proliferation of grassroots initiatives

Economic crisis, whether in the form of a cyclical contraction or a severe long lasting recession, is seen as triggering particular civil society responses, driven by welfare need. Such mobilisation, in turn, is perceived as an incipient ‘social movement’ to the extent that it involves a campaign that extends beyond any single event, and a collective effort that frames key issues and claims alternative world views.

According to various research accounts, more than 2.500 grassroots schemes have emerged in Greek cities during the crisis, signifying a discernable social movement with a prominent presence in Athens.  For “Omikron Project”, an informal group of 40 volunteers mapping grassroots initiatives in an attempt to address the stereotypes of ‘idleness’ and ‘helplessness’ projected to the country:

“During the last three years [2013-2016], grassroots initiatives in Athens more than doubled, while a total of 70 per cent of the networks that existed prior to 2013, do remain active.  These are groups that operate informally on principle, and only a few turn into NGOs. They don’t want to have any dealings with the state or with handling funds. They just want to offer a way out to the crisis.  That means a lot as we see a different civil society emerging; different from the one that surfaced in the 1990s because of EU funds”.

Informality in practice

The sheer diversity of goals and practices that characterize Athenian grassroots initiatives renders their classification an unfruitful exercise.  However, a number of key common traits were noted, referring primarily to their informal features and their contrariety to prescribed structures and institutions associated with austerity.  Informality is underscored by the absence of any legal status in the majority of cases, and by the voluntary nature of their activities.   Even groups that decided to acquire a legal form in order to participate in a wider range of formal fundraising bids, they also operate along self-organised and voluntary-based lines.  Voluntarism is facilitated by the social media and the presence of dedicated web platforms, such as “volunteer4Greece” and “solidarity4all”, which communicate grassroots activities and needs to an increasingly receptive public.  More than that, however, ‘volunteerism’ complements ‘informality’ as a key trait of grassroots’ mobilization, shaping a contentious political stance that draws from a growing frustration with formal structures and institutions.

“Volunteerism is a form of resistance. It’s a statement, exposing the absence of the authorities from where they are needed; it’s a way to show and deal with the problems the city is facing”.

The second common trait that grassroots initiatives share is their opposition to austerity, the socio-economic impacts of which is the key reason behind their mobilization.  In this light, agents, practices and institutions associated with austerity are purposefully avoided, even by the less radical sides of this movement.

Relations with the City

‘Collaboration’ in the Athenian civil society realm refers to a markedly different process than the one observed in the City administration.  Voluntarism suggests a firm attempt to create ‘self-managed’ spaces of encounters amongst citizens, forming collective solidarity efforts that avoid hierarchies.  It doesn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that relations between the grassroots and the City of Athens are virtually nonexistent.

The views of civil society networks regarding the collaborative governance policies launched by the City range from the guarded to the outright contentious.  In the first case we see groups that use municipal resources in order to promote their goals.  The example of the “One Stop” initiative sheds light on this standpoint.  Two NGOs together with two informal social solidarity networks and a number of individuals, gather twice a week in a municipal building offering food and a variety of services (legal advice, first aid, laundry, haircut, showers, etc.) to the homeless population.  “One stop” is also using a municipal web platform, called “synAthina”, that’s facilitating unofficial groups and individual initiatives to make its actions and events known. None of the groups involved in this scheme, however, is willing to invest further in any type of relations with the City administration.

“No, we don’t collaborate with any state institutions.  Yes, we’re an NGO, but we don’t want to be seen as yet another organization that’s funded by the state to return a fraction of what it gets to the people in need.  This view might not do justice to many NGOs, but it’s a strong one and we hear it all the time;  “…ah, you’re there, so you get a piece of the pie as well”, so to speak”.

The more outspoken and drastic viewpoints reject outright any association with the City, accusing the current municipal administration for endorsing the framework of austerity policies.  The culmination of an already thorny relation, however, appears to be the 2015 national referendum.  Voters were asked on whether to approve of the austerity-laden bailout conditions in the country’s government-debt crisis proposed jointly by the EC, the IMF and the ECB.  The Mayor’s leading role in the national campaign for accepting the proposal, broke any remaining links with the more radical of grassroots’ networks.  As stated:

“The referendum wasn’t about the Euro or Grexit. It was about austerity. You can’t stand out as the main proponent of the “yes” vote, as the mayor did, knowing that what we stand for is negated by the “yes” vote.  That’s why very many solidarity networks have pulled out from synAthina ever since.  The networks don’t trust the City any more”.

At first hand, the apparent distance between the City and the grassroots reflects the decades’ long trajectories of hierarchical municipal administration, restricting the emergence of avenues of communication.   Institutional legacies aside, the City’s current compliant role in administering austerity policies fuzzed local relations further.  As municipal collaborative policies didn’t allow any room for contesting austerity, a series of counter-hegemonic voices surfaced and asserted their presence in the civil society realm, primarily in the form of social solidarity networks.   The anti-austerity origins of this movement shaped its political orientation, arresting relations with the City.  What is unfolding in Athenian politics, is an austerity-driven governance divide.

Ioannis Chorianopoulos is an Associate Professor at the Dept. of Geography, University of the Aegean.

Naya Tselepi is Ph.D. holder in Geography.  Naya is currently a Research Fellow at the Dept. of Geography, University of the Aegean.

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Austerity and grassroots mobilization in Athens: The emergence of an urban governance divide?

Cultural Diversity and Collaboration in Dandenong, Melbourne.

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderHelen Sullivan, Hayley Henderson and Brendan Gleeson report on findings from a second round of research in Melbourne carried out as part of our collaborative governance under austerity project, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Urban Transformations Network.

Our selection of Dandenong as the site of our Melbourne case study reflects our concern with the long term impacts of economic restructuring on a locality reliant on manufacturing and with significant levels of disadvantage amongst its communities. The ‘Revitalising Central Dandenong’ program was a state led attempt to intervene in this process, through physical, economic and social development.  Our research undertaken more than a decade on from this program, examines how Dandenong is faring post the 2008 financial crisis and its likely resilience to further economic instability and welfare reform. We have examined the ways in which social forces are configured in the locality and with what effect. In particular, our focus has been on the different forms of collaboration that exist in relation to the revitalisation process.

Our study of how different actors have become involved and interrelated in Dandenong’s urban revitalisation process led us to uncover many details about the evolving landscape of collaboration in urban governance. We discovered how changes to government administrations affected the resilience of collaborative structures through shifts in funding but also, and more importantly, through political and policy repriotisation. We gained greater insight into how different levels and areas of government interact and we observed how collaboration between tiers of government and across sectors relies heavily on informal and personal interactions. Some of these findings may have been expected by those familiar with governance practices locally, and they are certainly in keeping with the relevant literature.

What we didn’t know at the outset but which has stood out stubbornly throughout the study is the way that cultural diversity acts as a centrepiece for collaboration and revitalisation and plays a major role in the configuration and mobilisation of resources and actors: Dandenong is a community defined by its capacity to absorb, accept and integrate different waves of migrants, and this strength has been capitalised on in local practices of urban governance. Cultural diversity may be typical of many Australian cities since World War Two, where scholarship has long noted the dynamism, fluidity and positivity of new cultural inflows within expansive urbanisation. There is, of course, no reason to suppose that such relations hold true forever, and we are mindful that in recent years news urban cultural tensions have emerged around Islam and asylum seeking communities.

But, in what ways is cultural diversity supported and perceived to succeed in the Dandenong case?

And how is this made use of in collaborative modes of governance for urban revitalisation?

Some observations from our empirical work. The main pillar that supports cultural diversity and what in turn enables it to be used as a backbone for collaboration in urban revitalisation is widespread validation of multiculturalism in the community, by businesses and government. Both State and local government policies embrace cultural diversity. As explained by a local government representative, “diversity is not seen as a threat; it’s a great thing and we want to praise it and celebrate it and remove any stigma of it: it is a very clear message.” This validation of cultural diversity is translated into action through government-funded services that support integration, for example from settlement services, English language classes, libraries with specific programs, services and resources, police training (i.e. through multicultural liaison officers), targeted anti-racism or domestic violence campaigns and programs, a general public education and health services. The business community sees cultural diversity as important in offering and sustaining a diverse and resilient retail market. The community sector values cultural diversity in Dandenong as an element of community building. For example, a representative from the local interfaith network described Dandenong as a place where there is “freedom to go wherever you want” and you will find “diversity and cohesion” with “no fear,” only an “openness, trust and invitation” to interact. People are very proud of the diversity and want to preserve it. They see it as healthy.” We encountered these sentiments repeatedly.

Before the revitalisation process began in 2005, Dandenong already had a culturally diverse community. As a local government representative explained, “…diversity is not something that exists in pockets (in Dandenong). It is a piece of margarine that’s spread across the entire geographic area of the municipality.” The scholar Michele Lobo commented from her own work in 2010 that this ‘everyday multiculturalism’ in Dandenong “provides the potential to blur fixed ethnic boundaries and contribute to interethnic understanding and a sense of belonging”. For many people we interviewed, the existing geographic mixing in neighbourhoods of cultural groups provided a basis for mutual understanding and acceptance of difference. As related to us by representatives from the State government’s lead renewal agency, the urban revitalisation process “built off the success of the cultural diversity” (local government representative) to change perceptions about Dandenong from a place suffering economic decline to be seen as “a multicultural mecca”. A State planning manager explained:

… I think it comes back to that point of understanding what the essence of the place is…you could see 27 cultures that worked together regularly and respect one another. It’s the cultures and the background that those communities bring that makes it a unique place. And that’s what actually creates the outcomes.

It is from this basis that the strategy for revitalisation and ‘place-making’ drew on cultural diversity as a theme, according to a representative from the renewal agency, to “give people a voice, engender pride in place and enable businesses to succeed.”

Food emerged as a central theme for understanding how cultural diversity was used as a basis for collaboration and also for revitalisation during the period of our observation. First, it is used by government as a medium to bring people of different cultures together, support interaction and build understanding. “If you make some flat bread, you all get sit around and talk. And so, we’ve used it as a mechanism of engagement. In other words, food is recognised as a…social unifier to bring together” (local government representative). Next, it is also used as a way to respond to social needs in diverse communities and provide a link between government, non-government organisations and people in the community, for example through organised food alliances. Lastly, food has been used in place ‘marketing’ and in creating and growing a local tourism industry through collaboration between the local, State Governments and different cultural groups, creating places that offer specific cultural precincts or activities, such as the Afghan Bazaar or Little India. These public realm assets act both as familiar sites for gathering by cultural groups and draw in other members of the public:

“…not only are they fantastic from a social cohesion point of view, they’re also destination drivers to Dandenong…to celebrate the diversity of the place, the diversity of the food offering” (past Place Manager, State Government renewal agency).

In turn, the success experienced by migrants in business, from food, retail and commercial activities such as land development, contributes to local economic prosperity and community cohesion in Dandenong. From this basis of strong integration, cultural groups are increasingly well organised and able to influence urban policy through political means. For example, specific traders or community groups have flourished and are able to influence local policy through “advocacy, lobby and engagement” (local government representative). “They’ve grouped up and they have a strength that was unimagined in the 1980s when the Indo-Chinese groups came. By grouping up, they have developed a voice in the community” (local Federal Member of Parliament). Another feature of government that reflects the success of multiculturalism locally is the diversity in local political representation. For example, at the local level “Dandenong has had in the last five years a Buddhist mayor, a Muslim mayor, a Jewish mayor, a Christian mayor, and an atheist mayor.” A notable theme emerging from the Dandenong case study is of multi-cultural fluidity and peaceful co-existence. Whilst the degree of inter-community integration, however, remains an open question, it does appear that public programs and civic structures have allowed for and encouraged socio-spatial co-existence and formal dialogue. We note, however, new strains in social discourse, in Dandenong and more widely in urban Australia, around Islam and asylum seekers.

Overall, a recipe for different modes of collaboration between actors has emerged in Dandenong that rests on the particular value of cultural diversity. Beginning from a position of widespread support for multiculturalism and mutual understanding in the community linked to the distinctive morphology and socio-ethnic functioning of the city, multiple forms of engagement and collaboration between actors is an important part of the revitalisation effort in Dandenong. These have included collaboration between government and non-government actors in the design of cultural precincts, as well as in the evolution of political action led by cultural groups to influence the trajectory of urban policy. Our research suggests that not only has cultural diversity been a useful theme for collaborative efforts in urban revitalisation, but that the recognition of cultural diversity and the different forms of collaboration that exist have supported an inclusive and culturally responsive form of urban revitalisation.

Helen Sullivan is Professor and Director of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.

Hayley Henderson is a PhD candidate in Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne.

Brendan Gleeson is Professor of Urban Policy Studies and Director of the Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne.

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Cultural Diversity and Collaboration in Dandenong, Melbourne.