‘Both sides-ism’, centrism, and the electoral politics of terror

In this blog, Dr Ben Whitham comments on how a centrist discourse coupled with a misguided representation of threat that different political movements pose is enabling the rise of the far right in the UK, and internationally. 

In light of the events in London last Friday, people are talking about terrorism again. But this conversation is tightly embedded in the context of the imminent general election. Right wingers, including current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were quick to exploit the attack – against the explicit wishes of one victim’s grieving parents – to justify more draconian counter-terrorism sentencing measures. It is a febrile political climate as we approach what the ruling Conservative Party would like us to think of as a ‘Brexit election’, and in a context where, just prior to the Brexit referendum in 2016, a sitting MP – Jo Cox – was assassinated in a terrorist attack. The authorities are, understandably, taking care to warn prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) of potential dangers.

In their Joint Guidance for Candidates in Elections: When it goes too far, sent to all PPCs last week, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Electoral Commission, Crown Prosecution Service, and the College of Policing point out that the current national security ‘threat level’, set by the security services, is ‘SUBSTANTIAL’. They go on to explain to PPCs that this ‘reflects the threat from Islamist, Right and Left Wing Terrorism’.

While the terminology may be problematic, there have been many major terrorist attacks in the UK, prior to last week’s, that are deemed ‘Islamist’. In 2017 alone, 35 people were killed and hundreds injured – many of whom sustained serious, life-changing injuries – in the Westminster, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks. The latter two attacks were both claimed by the ‘Islamic State’ militant group. The threat of right wing terrorism has a similarly clear evidential basis. Thomas Mair assassinated Jo Cox, a sitting, pro-remain Labour MP, during the Brexit referendum campaign, shouting ‘this is for Britain!’, ‘keep Britain independent!’, and ‘Britain first!’ as he murdered her. His home was ‘stuffed with far-right books and Nazi memorabilia’, and the CPS declared the attack political terrorism. Furthermore, Mair was not – despite media representations to the contrary – a ‘lone wolf’. He is one person is a large, emboldened, and fast-growing transnational movement of right wing terrorists. In the last few months alone, far right terrorists including Jack Renshaw, David Parnhamand Vincent Fuller have been jailed in the UK for attempted, hoaxed, or actual white supremacist terrorist attacks. This is not to mention their comrades’ bloody attacks on churches, synagogues, mosques and shops in the US and New Zealand. In September, the head of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, Neil Basu, described right wing terrorism as the ‘fastest-growing problem’ he faced.

But what of the ‘Left Wing Terrorism’ that the Joint Guidanceputs on a par with Islamist and right wing terror threats? I have tried to think of a single example of an attack, and have to say I am coming up blank. It could be that the authors are privy to specific intelligence about a secret lefty plot – a sort of UK Red Brigades. But I suspect it is actually an example of a toxic ‘centrist’ political imaginary that pervades many of our institutions, drawing false political and moral equivalences as a facile expression of ‘neutrality’. This simplistic ‘both sides-ism’ is a level of political discourse so degenerate that even Donald Trump knows how to effectively exploit it, but its most dangerous proponents are the well-intentioned liberal establishment individuals and organisations who think that their overriding duty is to provide ‘balance’ when they make pronouncements on politics.

Both sides-ism is dangerous because it minimises the very real threat posed by the rise of the far right, in the name of balance. We are supposed to consider what, milkshaking, to be ‘Left Wing Terrorism’ equivalent to the far right’s mass murders and assassinations? The messaging in the Joint Guidance downplays the singular threat posed by an insurgent, transnational far right movement that has developed strong links with ‘mainstream’ right-wing governments, through figures like Steve Bannon, in the UK, the US, and elsewhere. It also suggests an obscene and offensive moral equivalence between those who want a more equal society, and those who want genocide.

The BBC, of course, has become Both Sides Central in recent years – a process exacerbated by the Brexit referendum and subsequent political ‘debate’ – obliviously drawing an identical equivalence between antifa and neo-fascists to Trump’s famous ‘both sides’ remark on Charlottesville. If they interview a prominent climate scientist, they’ll scour the land for a climate change denier. If they interview an anti-racist commentator, campaigner or columnist, they’ll be sure to find an openly Islamophobic racist to ‘balance’ those views. This is a lamentable trajectory for journalism and leads to a situation in which, as Tory journalist Peter Oborne has pointed out, the Prime Minister can openly and repeatedly lie without real challenge. What’s more, political issues don’t have only ‘two sides’ (Brexit is perhaps the multi-faceted issue par excellence, splitting views within and between political parties, spawning new parties, floor-crossings and expulsions), and amplifying obscure, hateful voices is not a path to ‘neutrality’ or a sensible response to ‘bias’.

Centrism has enabled and continues to enable the rise of the far right. The far right knows that centrist liberal discourse can be exploited, as is evident from the openly white supremacist social media users who use ‘classical liberal’ in their bio, and from the endless stream of Islamophobic and alt-right columns on ‘free speech’. That the centrist imaginary shapes how the police think about their responsibilities to protect political actors from terrorism during an election campaign is deeply troubling, and like all ‘both sides-ism’ today, actually plays specifically into the hands of the political right. As Boris Johnson, whose extensive racist, sexist and homophobic comments are a matter of public record, plays for far right votes – especially through Islamophobia, the unifying hatred of the new far right – he knows he can rely on such portrayals of his left wing enemies as somehow equally morally bankrupt.

Dr Ben Whitham is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at De Montfort University and a member of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity. His current CURA-supported research project explores the intersectional politics of austerity and Islamophobia.

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Unpicking municipal governance in mining policy in Mexico

 

Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza presents in CURA’s final seminar of 2019:

“Unpicking municipal governance in mining policy in Mexico”

Date and time

Wednesday 4 December 2019, 2-3pm

Venue

Hugh Aston Building HU5.12, DeMontfort University

Abstract

The presentation summarises the findings of the British Academy funded research “Conversing with Goliath” which assesses the relationship between citizen participation and extractivism in Mexico. Drawing on the findings, Valeria will outline different scenarios that work as gateways to examine and uncover municipal governance within mining. Focusing on the scenario of disasters caused by mining, the presentation will provide a very first attempt at building a conceptual framework that interweaves debates on municipalism and local public value.

RSVP and more details from jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk.

CURA seminars will continue in 2020, opening with a talk on informality on 29th January 2020, with Dr Adriana Massidda, Early Career Academic Fellow in Architecture, DMU. 

 

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An Anti-homeless Public Space By Simon Stevens, DeMontfort University

In this post, Dr Simon Stevens exposes the strategies used by local authorities and managers of pseudo-public spaces in English cities, to disperse, deter and dehumanise homeless residents. Seen through the eyes of a detective searching for a homeless witness of an alleged crime, the narrator exposes how our cities are responding to the ongoing crisis of homelessness following a decade of austerity. 

It is a grey morning. A man is looking for a witness to an alleged crime. Normally, he would have an address and could simply pay a visit. However, this time it is more complicated. The witness is homeless. He has a description of her but he must find where she is. This is why he is up and about very early. He is hoping to catch her still sleeping somewhere. Last night there was rain – he can still feel the ghost of it in the air. So, he is going to look for places that would provide shelter.

Stereotypically, he thinks of the park. There are benches and bus shelters there. As he arrives a council worker is just unlocking it – apparently they close it overnight now. This would mean she could not have slept here. He decides to look anyway, in case she managed to climb over the gate railings. But, when he approaches the benches he notices something new about them. They have been modified in a way that makes them a lot harder to sleep on.

Figure 1: Granby Street in Leicester (image source author)

He heads towards the train station. The second wave of commuters are arriving to the calming sound of classical music played over the station tannoy. It is only when he comes across a discarded newspaper that he learns that during the night, from midnight to 6.30am, the soothing strains of Mozart are replaced by bagpipe recordings, played loudly, on a constant loop (Durkin, 2015). The detective glances across the story, picking out the key points: ‘Earlier this year the Echo reported how commuters felt intimidated by the growing numbers of rough sleepers congregating at the travel interchange’. Then, further down the article: ‘One coach station worker, who asked not to be named, said: “Basically, the council has been playing bagpipe music through the night and it seems to be doing the job. They just cannot stand it, you try getting any sleep with that going on”. He continues to read, noticing with some interest, a local MP had been interviewed for the article. ‘Rough sleepers have rights’ he is reported to have said, ‘so do the other citizens, workers and businesses’: they ‘have the right not to be intimidated or to have to face the daily ordeal of belongings left in doorways when they arrive for work’ (Exeter City Council, 2015). Sighing, he remembers that nearby there is a multi-storey car park with a bridge-like entrance. He investigates but finds only cement spikes. So, no rough sleepers here.

 

Figure 2: Bournemouth: under a bridge, outside the multi-storey car park connected to ASDA, opposite the train station (image source author)

He decides to change tack. The street homeless also need access to hygiene facilities. He heads to the public toilets, only to find them locked – seemingly permanently. A sign informs him that there are pay-as-you-use toilets nearby. On his way to those ones, he comes across a community support officer. The detective is getting increasingly anxious at not finding the witness, because of these dispersal tactics. He approaches the officer who, he realises when he gets closer, is actually moving on some rough sleepers from a crevasse outside a shop, for being too close to an ATM machine. The detective asks why. The officer explains. She tells him a Public Spaces Protection Order has recently been implemented in this area to prevent anti-social behaviour, and she is simply carrying out her duty to disperse and confiscate(Home Office, 2014, pp. 32-38)(Hackney Borough Council, 2015, p. 1), as well as prevent ‘aggressive begging’ (Chelmsford City Council, 2015). Thinking of the closed toilets, replaced by pay-as-you-use loos, he worries about begging being legislated against.

Figure 3: Legislation takes on a physical visibility (image source  https://hackneyrenters.org/2015/06/05/hackney-council-back-down-on-plans-to-fine-rough-sleepers/)

The officer continues, only last week she was moving someone on for chalking the pavement, because ‘peddling’ and ‘marking surfaces’ has been added to the list of prohibited behaviours (Swindon Borough Council, 2015)after a man was drawing on the pavement for money, with the phrase ‘homeless art beats begging’.She tells the detective that PSPOs are ‘set by the local council’ (Home Office, 2014, p. 46). They enable council boroughs to introduce penalties to forms of behaviour they deem to have a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ and are ‘persistent’ (Crown Court, 2014, p. 33). Once in place the PSPO can have its jurisdiction range ‘increased’ (Crown Court, 2014, p. 33)to cover a wider or previously unaffected area. A PSPO can be brought in if ‘it is likely that such activities will be carried on’ and that ‘they will have such an effect’ (emphasis added): it is therefore able to impede someone on the premise that they may cause a disturbance in the affected area. The detective frowns. This means that at any given point during the day, the homeless are always potentially about to commit anti-social behaviour. It is anti-social behaviour that presumably disqualifies the homeless from being seen as part of the ‘locality’, instead being seeing as something that causes a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’ of those who are.

The officer shrugs almost apologetically. She tells the detective of other restrictions: the rise of privately-owned public spaces. These‘Pseudo-public spaces – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public’ are ‘actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers’. Such spaces are ‘on the increase, as ‘local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves’. They are therefore regulated by the companies that own them, meaning they ‘are allowed to draw up their own rules for “acceptable behaviour” on their sites and alter them at will’. People can be moved on by private security guards for ‘protesting, taking photos … or just looking scruffy’ (Shenker, 2017).

The detective is now a little aghast. He understands that the homeless somewhat disrupt the image of prosperity commercial areas of town centres need to promote, but this just seems to be a harsh targeting. His anxiety increases. Time is getting on and he has to find the witness before nightfall. He decides to walk further into the commercial part of the high street. Shoppers and tourists are where homeless people need to be, if they are going to ask for money, albeit without attracting the attention of the community support officers. However, when he arrives he is a little shocked to see a collection of anti-begging posters. It is the way the homeless people are portrayed in them. Turned into a generalised, and threatening, stereotype. A deviant, anti-social other. The posters seem to justify the rest of the hostile architecture. It is at this point he realises that these dispersal tactics are not just about physically removing the homeless from view, but ensuring we awkwardly overlook their suffering when they are present. Invisibilising their visibility. Suddenly he wonders: perhaps he has already passed his witness. He just did not notice her. He only saw what he was told from the messages in the architecture around him: an anti-social nuisance. He decides there and then he will not look at a park bench in the same way again. Should you?

Figure 4: Nottingham Council put these posters in bus shelters (image source https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/sep/28/anti-begging-posters-banned-nottingham-city-council )

 

About the author

Simon completed his PhD at Loughborough University this year. His thesis investigated hostile architecture and its effects on the street homeless, and also involved a deep discussion on storytelling methods for political theory. During his doctoral research, Simon cultivated an interest in alternative modes of delivery and epistemologies, such as moral sentimentalism, genealogy, and Black feminist thought. Simon teaches at DeMontfort University where he is the module lead for the Political Theory and Power, Politics and Morality courses.  He is currently writing a book about the history of hostile architecture with Vernon Publishers and have articles under review with Social Theory and Practice and Contemporary Political Theory.

This blog post is based Simon’s publication about homelessness in the peer-reviewed Sage journal Organization Studies. This was a result of an international essay competition run by the Independent Social Research Foundation. The paper is accessible via https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0170840616686130

 

References

Chelmsford City Council, 2015. www.chelmsford.gov.uk. [Online]
Available at: https://www.chelmsford.gov.uk/communities/community-safety/pspos/
[Accessed Wednesday November 2015].

Crown Court, 2014. www.legislation.gov.uk. [Online]
Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/12/section/2/enacted
[Accessed Tuesday May 2018].

Durkin, J., 2015. Council bosses tackle antisocial behaviour with bagpipe music to deter rough sleepers – www.bournemouthecho.co.uk. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/14030597.Bournemouth_council_s_latest_scheme_to_deter_the_homeless__bagpipe_music/?ref=fbpg
[Accessed Sunday November 2015].

Exeter City Council, 2015. www.change.org.uk. [Online]
Available at: https://www.change.org/p/exeter-city-council-don-t-criminalise-exeter-s-rough-sleepers-or-destroy-their-belongings/responses/32234
[Accessed Wednesday January 2016].

Foucault, M., 2009. Security, Territory, Population. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hackney Borough Council, 2015. news.hackney.gov.uk. [Online]
Available at: http://news.hackney.gov.uk/update-on-hackneys-public-space-protection-order
[Accessed Monday June 2015].

Home Office, 2014. Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014: Reform of anti-social behaviour powers Statutory guidance for frontline professionals, London: Crown.

Parkinson, J. R., 2012. Democracy and Public Space. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shenker, J., 2017. Revealed: the insidious creep of pseudo-public space in London – www.theguardian.com. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jul/24/revealed-pseudo-public-space-pops-london-investigation-map
[Accessed Friday December 2018].

Swindon Borough Council, 2015. www.swindon-csp.org.uk/. [Online]
Available at: http://www.swindon-csp.org.uk/asb/Pages/pspo.aspx
[Accessed Wednesday August 2016].

 

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Informal Working Practices and the Governance of Everyday Life

In this blog, CURA’s Adam Fishwick (@Adam_Fishwick) and Valeria Guarneros-Meza (@valguarn) develop three avenues of enquiry relating to urban informality, following a one day workshop held in June 2019.

Informality, although a contested concept, has been considered relevant by interdisciplinary approaches to studying urban and rural environments as it has helped to unpick rapid transitions, change and resilience in periods of economic, political and social crises, while also helping to challenge injustices. For a recent debate see Acuto et al. (2019) 

Urban environments provide dynamic sites for understanding the ways in which the state – intentionally or otherwise – produces and reproduces the informal practices enacted by individuals and communities. The state has played an important role in manufacturing forms of informality, in housing, planning, infrastructure and the other areas of life, as well as in managing, containing or co-opting the everyday practices of local populations, albeit in complex and contradictory ways.

Similarly, informal work plays a central role in political economies across localities in the Global South and, increasingly, Global North. Myriad forms of informal work cut across formal labour markets, contributing to capital accumulation as a cheap and disposable source of labour power, with the state being complicit in its spread and consolidation, again, in complex and contradictory ways.

Informal work provides a means of survival for poorer communities, particularly in the absence and decline of social provision, but, more importantly, it also engenders new dynamics of class formation and reproduction, with opportunities for new forms of collective organisation.

With this preamble in mind, new questions have risen that aim to unpick how different dimensions (economic, institutional/legal and social) of informality intersect with new understandings of work and class formation. Although the rural context is increasingly experiencing drastic changes as a result of capital accumulation and its associated technology, financialisation and precarity, the preference of the workshop upon the urban was justified as a result of austerity policies affecting social policies even deeper than previous decades and of increasing international migration rates that have been putting pressure to urban problems already accentuated by austerity in both global South and North.

These questions formed part of the agenda of a CURA-sponsored one-day workshop in June 2019, co-sponsored by LGRC and POWI. Here we set out three avenues of inquiry that emerged in the course of the discussions among participants and which we believe can guide innovative research, which will be fruitful to achieve through comparative and interdisciplinary collaboration:

Avenue 1: value and commodity chains

Informal work and labour are central to value chains and the production of value across cities. Reflections in the workshop on waste collection across Argentina and Nigeria illustrated the centrality of informal workers to the production of value through their incorporation into existing production networks coordinated by the state and private companies.

Discussions drew out the complexity of value production at the intersection of boundaries between state regulation, private sector accumulation and everyday practices of social reproduction. In particular, these exposed the intensification of exploitation that occurred with the incorporation of informal workers into the “formal” sphere – from state-subsidised waste collectors in Buenos Aires to the navigation of state repression and corruption in Lagos.

Theoretical discussion based on extensive field research in sub-Saharan Africa also focused on the limits of the concept of informality by asking not only how value is produced, but also how different practices are valued. This opened further debate around how we understand what counts within different informal practices, how these reproduce life, and how state actors’ interpretations contribute to their value formation.

Avenue 2: social reproduction and resistance

The spaces that are (re)produced by informal urban practices can enable marginalised populations to survive while, at the same, provide possibilities for new collective action and resistance. This was one of the key discussions throughout the workshop, drawing on diverse cases in Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria and the UK to explain how shared experiences of informality, exploitation and marginalisation enabled novel forms of collective organisation.

Contributions showed how sites of social reproduction were as significant to collective organisation as sites of production, demonstrating how the reproduction of life at the margins of cities can provide resources for resistance. Informal workers in waste collection, for example, pressured local government in Buenos Aires for formal recognition, while migrant workers in hostels in the UK developed new forms of sociality and solidarity as they navigated the “formal” means for their own reproduction.

This blurring of boundaries between production and reproduction was particularly clear when unpacking the working of informal practices of governance. For example, in examining the processes of land tenure and housing in Brazil and London, respectively, discussion centred on how contested processes of formalisation and informal agreements between elites and marginalised populations simultaneously addressed challenges of informal living while heightening the possibility of exploitation through private renting and state policy.

Avenue 3: state reproducing informality

It is widely recognised that the state is a main contributor to informal procedures that build differences in power relations. The discussions unpicked this aspect about the role of the state and the ways it influences the organising possibilities amongst precarious workers whose labour spans between the public (government) sector and informal markets. This was particularly observed in waste management in Argentina, Nigeria and Mexico. 

These cities illustrated how the public sector provides a window for individuals to join the formal labour market, while individuals continue to draw on dynamics that interweave with social struggles based on self-governance to cope with the exploitation that the public sector increasingly applies. The latter contributes to the invisibilisation of waste workers through the beliefs of senior bureaucrats that were consequently reflected in government documents, all of which fed the concealment of informality within the state. 

Concealment extends to areas of state violence, for example, in London and Madrid the cleansing activities that the state uses to eradicate stigmatised communities of immigrants in housing and the increasing coordination with policing and immigration enforcement agencies.  However, the informality of the state can produce positive results. For example, during the period Barcelona was ruled by Barcelona em Comú, bureaucrats were closely involved in the social struggle aiming to change government’s informal practice in the fight against the austerity of social policies.   

The authors are grateful to the workshop speakers and other participants for the ideas developed in this post. The speakers include:

  • Dr Begoña Aramayona (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
  • Dr Maurizio Atzeni (Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones Laborales, Argentina)
  • Dr Precious Akponah (University of Leicester)
  • Raphael Bishof (De Montfort University/ Universidade Federal do ABC, Brasil)
  • Theodor Born (Queen Mary, UoL)
  • Dr Adam Fishwick (De Montfort University)
  • Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza (De Montfort University)
  • Dr Louise Guibrunet (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
  • Prof. Vivien Lowndes (University of Birmingham)
  • Dr. Colin Marx (Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL)
  • Jacob Nielsen (University of Liverpool)

 

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CURA’s Visiting Fellowship Scheme Open

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University is pleased to advertise its 2019-2020 call for short-visit fellowships. Proposals are welcomed in any area of research expertise identified by CURA including:  impacts of austerity, retrenchment and neoliberalisation on urban living  and alternatives that enable and empower grassroots democratic participation.

Deadline: 2 December 2019.

For further details, please see the guidance for applicants below, or contact valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk for an informal discussion.

 

CURA SHORT-VISITING FELLOWSHIP SCHEME

GUIDANCE FOR APPLICANTS

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, De Montfort University, is pleased to announce its Short-Visiting Fellowship scheme for the academic year 2019-20

About The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)

Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) explores the impact of austerity. This includes examining variegated impacts of austerity, retrenchment and neoliberalisation on urban living; the responses of those subjects to effects, and identifies ways that research can help support truly sustainable development, including eliminating poverty and inequality and giving voice to the marginalised and dispossessed. We seek to contribute to a radically new research-informed policy landscape, which will enable and empower grassroots democratic participation, and foster discussions on, and solutions to, intersecting inequalities in urban contexts.

About the Visiting Fellowship Scheme

The scheme aims to:

  • Provide support to early career scholars from across the globe with relevant subject expertise to pursue innovative and interdisciplinary research
  • Develop networks with outstanding early career researchers
  • Facilitate collaboration with senior academic staff and early career researchers

The scheme is open to early career researchers (with a PhD award letter). Applications are welcome from outstanding candidates wishing to develop a project of empirical research and conceptual innovation in CURA’s areas of interest. Particularly we welcome candidates who have peer-reviewed journal publications or/and can demonstrate a significant engagement in knowledge exchange activities relating to their research.

The scheme offers funding for a short visit to CURA (ca. 2 weeks or equivalent) and applicants may request funding for up to £1,500 to support travel and subsistence expenses for the duration of the visit. Fellows shall comply with DMU staff travel policies (https://demontfortuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/DMUHome/org/SIPS/Pages/Staff-Travel-Guidance.aspx

 Responsibilities of CURA Short-Visiting Fellows

  • To explore avenues for further research collaborations with CURA (idea for post-doctoral proposal or another academic activity)
  • To deliver a seminar to academic staff and research students
  • To write a blogpost for CURA website on the applicant’s research
  • To observe the policies, procedures and processes of CURA and De Montfort University, including but not limited health and safety, travel, equality and diversity. Copies of such policies and appropriate guidance will be available to Fellows upon arrival to CURA.

Facilities available to Fellows

Fellows will have access to shared office space (including: email/internet, stationary, printing, photocopying for research-related purposes) and a mentor to work alongside the visit.

Entry to the UK

DMU will provide a letter of invitation to successful candidates on request. Successful candidates are responsible for fulfilling UK entry visa requirements.

Method of application

Applicants must submit their following documents to valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk by 2 December 2019:

  • Short CV – including information about qualifications, stand-out academic achievements, publications, current or recent funded research and/or knowledge exchange activities undertaken.
  • Application form including an outline proposal for the fellowship that could also form the basis for longer-term collaborations (max. 600 words)
  • One Reference – normally from PhD supervisor

Assessment criteria

  • Academic excellence and research potential of the applicant
  • Fit with research excellence and expertise within CURA
  • Extent to which the applicant can demonstrate ideas to contribute to the development of CURA

Applications will be considered by an Internal Selection Panel. Applicants will be notified of the outcome within 2 weeks of submission. Informal queries can be directed to valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk 

 

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CURA Seminar “On Public-Commons Partnerships and a new commons sense” with Keir Milburn on 20 November

Keir Milburn (@KeirMilburn) kicks off CURA’s 2019-2020 seminars with his latest work on the broad theme of New Municipalism entitled

On Public-Commons Partnerships and a new commons sense

Date: Wednesday 20 November 2019

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, DeMontfort University, room HU3.96,

Time: 2-3.30pm. 

Attendance is free, please RSVP to jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk.

Abstract

The collapse of Carillion, and more recently Interserve, have underlined the bankruptcy of the neoliberal model of public procurement and service provision. Public-Private Partnerships, along with the Private Finance Initiative, became key instruments in the roll out of that model. In this paper, I examine the idea of Public-Commons Partnerships as a model that can usher in a quite different model of governance and provision. Building on the debates around the ‘New Municipalism’ and the ‘Institutional Turn’ in British left political economy I suggest the commons as a new direction of travel for institutional change while addressing the problem of how we might construct a self-expansive dynamic in the circuit of the commons to counter the self-expansive dynamic of capital.

Biography

Keir Milburn is a longtime political activist, as well as a lecturer in Political Economy and Organisation at the University of Leicester. He is the co-author, along with Bertie Russell, of the recent report for Common wealth, Public-Common Partnerships. Building New Circuits of Collective Ownership: https://common-wealth.co.uk/Public-common-partnerships.html

His latest book, Generation Left, is now available from Polity: http://politybooks.com/bookdetail/?isbn=9781509532230

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Leon Reichle’s “3 minute PhD” wins top DMU award

In April 2019, CURA PhD researcher Leon Reichle entered the “3 Minute Thesis” competition at DeMontfort University.

The format requires participants to record a 3 minute summary of their PhD project (or a part of it), that would be comprehensible and interesting for a general audience. With a slide in the background, Leon’s presentation was made into a short video, which came first in the University-wide PhD competition.

Leon describes her research as follows:

“My PhD entitled ‘Housing relations: the disruption and emergence of tenants’ relationships in the process of displacement’ explores displacement from rental housing in the post socialist city of Leipzig, east Germany. With an ethnographic approach I am trying to define physical, affective and social notions of displacement and analyse tenants’ potential role within a changing city.”

Follow Leon on Twitter: @leonrrei 

Watch the 3 minute video here:  

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CURA’s Adam Fishwick awarded prestigious International Academic Fellowship by Leverhulme Trust to continue his research on Latin America

CURA’s Latin American research networks are expanded further as  Dr Adam Fishwick is awarded the prestigious International Academic Fellowship by Leverhulme Trust. 
 
Adam’s Fellowship is due to commence in February 2020, when he will be working at CEIL-Conicet in Argentina and OHL-COES in Chile on a project entitled
 
Methodological innovation for comparative labour research in Argentina and Chile”. 
 
The project summary describes the interdisciplinary aims of the six month Fellowship working across the disciplines of political economy, sociology and anthropology:
 
“The aim of my Fellowship is to engage in six months of learning across the boundaries of my own academic discipline of political economy with researchers at two leading international centres in Argentina and Chile. I will observe and acquire novel methodological tools and techniques developed locally in the sociology and anthropology of work and labour, advancing my own research agenda. The intention is to utilise these close collaborations to develop a unique and distinctive comparative methodological approach for working with labour activists to understand the impact of austerity and workplace transformation on labour organisation and mobilisation in these countries.”
 
Talking about his Fellowship application, Adam reflected on the particulars of his personal life as a father of young twins, which means that his fieldwork in Latin America is sequenced to allow him to spend time with family. 
 
To learn more about Adam’s research, you can follow him on Twitter @Adam_Fishwick or visit his blog.
 
 
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Student essay winner: A Transport Solution for Congested Leicester – That’s right, Monorail!

By Chris Whiting / @ChrisRWhiting

CURA is proud to publish outstanding student contributions pertaining to pressing issues facing cities today. In today’s blog, @DMUPolitics MA student Chris Whiting discusses an innovative solution to transport problems in Leicester, asking whether a monorail system, based on the city’s forgotten tram network, could address a wide range of issues in the city.

Leicester’s Urban Transport Problems

If you have anything to do with Leicester, you will know one thing; being beaten by Nottingham at literally anything is totally unacceptable – yet it is the reality on transport.

The seven miles from the outskirts of the Leicester urban area (UA) to the city centre takes around 58 minutes by bus. In Nottingham, where public transport is more readily provided by an extensive tram network, the same journey will take just 32 minutes. As well as this, Nottingham-dwellers can use these service roughly every 10 minutes whereas those in places like Cosby are forced to wait up to 45 minutes between journeys.  

In fact, it isn’t just Leicester’s regional rival having an easier time with transport. Of the thirteen major urban areas in the UK, Leicester is one of only two to not have an urban rail system, with the other being the incongruously centred Southampton-Portsmouth UA. This deprivation in reliable public transport means Leicester is the 9th most congested city in the UK and in the top 100 worldwide[1].

With this lack of available transport comes a myriad of issues for Leicesterians; little affordable housing, even less suitable housing stock, a disassociation with the urban community and concentrations of wealth and deprivation. As the city council ploughs ahead with its flagship waterfront redevelopment project, concerns over working class displacement and detachment with the city centre have mounted, as was warned in 2017[2].

Worse yet, with other transport solutions, such as the new A46 expressway connecting Hinckley with Charnwood via Eastern Leicestershire, there are concerns that green space on the urban fringe could be sacrificed to accommodate for lazy solutions to transport capacity problems[3]. This problem alone should encourage the city to look to less environmentally destructive, and more innovative transport solutions.

Monorail – solution and challenges?

With these things in mind, it is crucial that the city addresses the issue of poor connectivity to its urban centre, without limiting urban space or undoing the council’s admirable push for pedestrianisation – but how? Simply, Leicester should reconsider the visionary idea of 1960s city planner Konrad Smigielski and construct an urban monorail system.

The benefits of this specific type of urban rail system compared to others are two-fold; one, its elevated operation means that already limited street space does not have to be surrendered to install it and, less importantly, its uniqueness among UK UAs would make it marketable from a touristic perspective.

More generally, however, A 2007 ESPON report gave Leicester score of 3.33 (out of 10) for transport, embarrassingly less than much smaller towns like Ipswich, Newbury and Rugby[4]. In fact, Leicester’s transport rating was the joint-worst of the aforementioned ‘big thirteen’ UAs, and third-worst among the country’s 16 largest metropolitan areas (see Figure 1).






Figure 1 – Transport Score of the 16 Largest UK Metro Areas
Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20150924002318/http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.

Whilst increasing the road capacity of Leicester’s metropolitan area may be the most conventional response and recovering the forgotten Leicester tram network (see Figure 2) would be the easiest, the installation of a monorail system would address more of the multi-faceted problems of modern Leicester where the other two ‘solutions’ cannot. For instance, a monorail would be less disruptive to the preservation and future expansion of Leicester’s limited green space.

Better yet, Leicester and Leicestershire’s Transport Board only scores two out of ten points for providing choice in modes of transportation, and 4.4 out of 10 for sustainability. An electrified rail system would make great strides to addressing both of these shortcomings. However, what is the most debilitating hindrance to such a project is the lack of funding for local transport. In the 2015-19 period, the central Department for Transport budgeted just £16.1m for Leicester and Leicestershire’s transport schemes, a tenth of Greater Manchester’s budget[5].

Of course, the confidence to pursue such a radical re-imagination of a city’s transport network is contingent on examples of success in other cities. In the pacific north-west of the United States, Seattle has reaped tremendous rewards from the introduction of its own monorail system. The rail’s newest line generates an 8% economic return, is more than twice as fast at peak times than the bus, and because of its elevated status reduces disruption to road users, and costs less in land acquisition than other forms of urban rail, like a tram[6].

The cost-effectiveness of their scheme even expands to reductions in costs associated with road accidents, parking charges and returning more time for users to be economically active elsewhere. Given, it would be a huge public investment, Seattle’s success was contingent on winning public support for the project, as the report showed. Leicester would need a similar seal of approval from its citizens but examples of monorails in similar sized urban areas like Wuppertal and Dresden indicate that it is achievable.

After all, Leicester’s city centre population has risen by 145% between 2002 and 2015 – the sixth highest rate of growth in the country[7] – and is now home to 14,700 people. This has several substantial effects; namely, the reduced capacity in the city centre means many residents are either pushed away from the urban centre or, to accommodate for them, space in the city is severely restricted instead.



Figure 2 – A Map of Leicester’s former Tram system
Source: Wikimedia Commons (2012). File:Leicester Corporation Tramways.jpg. [image] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leicester_Corporation_Tramways.jpg [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

And as city centre living becomes the only viable choice for those making their lives in Leicester, the price of housing booms and displaces those on low incomes – a monorail would go some way to lessening those impacts[8] by making the idea of commuting from outside the UA far more viable than it is currently[9].

Whilst, Leicester itself is locally infamous for its often frustrating design, a monorail would promote the formation of an integrated hub of intelligently designed towns, suburbs, and the city itself. This radical congestion solution is exactly the sort of innovation that encompasses the thinking behind 1993’s Congress of New Urbanism.

The theory of New Urbanism is premised on the idea that amenities and culture be almost immediately accessible to all urbanites no matter their income bracket[10]. The resurrection of Leicester’s urban rail system would offer that and even provide incentives for greater cohesion between the city’s often fragmented points of interest instead of digressing with the ‘geographies of nowhere’ that have informed Leicester’s urban sprawl[11].

Where amenities are not immediately accessible to the urban population and commuting in and out of the city centre to access them is considered too much of a chore, Leicester begins to fail on several metrics. A monorail system is not a one-size fits all solution for Leicester’s extensive issues, but would be far from a marketing gimmick in turn.

New Urbanist thinking calls for cities to reform as ‘regionally important’, ‘culturally diverse’ and ‘transit-oriented’ – Leicester is only lacking in the latter category[12].

Of course, in the age of austerity, a new urban rail system will be hard for local authorities to devise but should financing arrangements be made by a purportedly supportive central government[13], Leicester could make real progress in alleviating some of its crucial problems with a single word – that’s right, monorail! 


[1] Traffic Index 2018. 2018. Ebook. TomTom. https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/?country=UK.

[2] “Leicester Has An Opportunity ‘To Do Regeneration Differently’ — University Of Leicester”. 2017. Www2.Le.Ac.Uk. https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2017/march/leicester-has-an-opportunity-2018to-do-regeneration-differently2019.

[3] “‘A46 Expressway – The Road To Ruin’ Says CPRE – CPRE Leicestershire”. 2019. Cpreleicestershire.Org.Uk. http://www.cpreleicestershire.org.uk/campaigns/strategic-growth-and-a46-expressway/item/2299-a46-expressway-the-road-to-ruin-says-cpre.

[4] EPSON. 2007. “ESPON Project 1.4.3 Study On Urban Functions”. EPSON. https://web.archive.org/web/20150924002318/http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.

[5] Where The Money’S Going: Are The New Local Transport Bodies Heading In The Right Direction?. 2013. Ebook. Campaign to Protect Rural England. https://bettertransport.org.uk/sites/default/files/research-files/LTB_report_250913_web_FINAL.pdf.

[6] Bisers, Dan. 2010. “Monorail – Transportation Benefit-Cost Analysis”. Bca.Transportationeconomics.Org. http://bca.transportationeconomics.org/case-studies/monorail.

[7] Mukadam, Ash. 2018. “Leicester Has Sixth Fastest Growing City Centre Population In UK”. Leicester Updates. http://leicesterupdates.com/leicester-sixth-fastest-growing-city-centre.

[8] Pegden, Tom. 2017. “Why House Prices Have ROCKETED In Leicester”. Leicester Mercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/business/leicester-house-prices-rocketing-75-944285.

[9] Martin, Dan. 2017. “‘Eye-Watering’ Numbers Of New Homes Needed Across County Revealed”. Leicestermercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/revealed-eye-watering-numbers-new-753730.

[10] Carswell, A. (2012). The encyclopedia of housing. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, pp.513-516.

[11] MacLeod, Gordon. 2013. “New Urbanism/Smart Growth In The Scottish Highlands: Mobile Policies And Post-Politics In Local Development Planning”. Urban Studies 50 (11): 2196-2221. doi:10.1177/0042098013491164.

[12] González, Erualdo Romero, and Raul P Lejano. 2009. “New Urbanism And The Barrio”. Environment And Planning A: Economy And Space 41 (12): 2946-2963. doi:10.1068/a41360.

[13] Martin, Dan. 2018. “Plan Unveiled To Build City Tram Network – If Tories Win Election”. Leicestermercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/plan-unveiled-build-tram-network-1478321.

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Student essay winner: The Cost of the Jewels in Crown Heights

How the sharing economy hollowed out Brooklyn?

By @DMUpolitics student Michaela Cracknell /@kyliecracknell

CURA is proud to publish outstanding student contributions pertaining to pressing issues facing cities today. In this blog, MA Politics student Michaela Cracknell explores the relationship between gentrification, Airbnb and tenant displacement, in an historic neirbourhood known as Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

Tenant union activists demonstrating in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for affordable housing.

Image from: https://www.bsdcorp.org/2016/03/bridge-street-is-at-the-forefront-of-preventing-tenant-displacement/

“I’ve seen it when nobody wanted to live here,” she said. “As soon as I started to rent an apartment, the rents went up, and now it’s like we’re not even good enough to stay in the neighborhood anymore.” These are the words of long-time Crown Heights resident Angelique Coward from an opinion piece interview in the New York Times.

Ms. Coward is one of many residents from the Crown Heights community that was forced out of her home by rising rents (a 39% increase from 2010 to 2018[1])[2] and pressure from landlords to make room for those with deeper pockets.  

Gentrification in this historic Brooklyn neighborhood has made it a desirable location for further investment into the tourism industry including a spike in ‘AirBnB’ rental properties. However the increases in this sector of tourism has had a negative effect on the amount of affordable housing in the area.

Gentrification in Crown Heights

The gentrification issue is effecting formerly low income neighborhoods all over the world, Crown Heights is just one example of the issue at its worst. But what do we mean we say the “gentrification issue”? Clinical Psychologist David Ley simply defines it as “a transition of inner-city neighborhoods from a status of relative poverty and limited property investment to a state of commodification and reinvestment.” [1]

In Crown Heights we can see this transition by looking at the rise of expensive bars and restaurants, art galleries, and coffee shops that are replacing food markets and affordable corner stores.  We can also look the aforementioned rising rent costs in the area. According to an MNS market report, from 2015 to 2016, Crown Heights saw the largest increase in rent of any Brooklyn neighborhood (7.6% increase).[2] But is gentrification a bad thing? Urban theorist Loretta Lees would say yes, citing that gentrification leads to deeper social segregation and displacement[3].

For Crown Heights, that has become reality with poorer minority groups being forced out of the inner city to make room for a growing affluent presence. This displacement of these groups in larger cities contributes to an acute friction in social and racial relations that already runs deep in the United States.  This tension can be even further amplified when areas that once served as havens for those surviving on lower incomes are turned into profitable epicenters for wealthy investors and developers.

The Role of Airbnb

 Gentrification also often leads to an area becoming more popular to tourists and this can open the door for in investors in different sectors of tourism industry like for example the hospitality/accommodation sector of the ‘sharing’ economy.

This new ‘sharing’ economy can be defined as a sharing, exchanging or renting of goods, services and properties by individuals. Meaning individuals are able to share what they own or a service they can provide with others for a profit. This could be something as simple as washing someone’s car or renting your home out to tourists.

Some economists, like Martin Weitzman, argue that this new economy could end stagflation effect and create an equilibrium among wages[1]. While we can‘t ignore the positive benefits of this new system on the microeconomics of the urban area, what are the costs? In the case of Crown Heights, it’s displacement due to a lack of affordable housing.

‘AirBnB’ is just one of many popular platforms for the sharing of individual’s properties as temporary holiday rentals for tourists and travelers. These types of accommodation are becoming increasingly popular in desirable global cities like New York. AirDNA has compiled extensive data on ‘AirBnB’ properties in Crown Heights. Their data reveals that since 2010 there has been a nearly a 25,000% increase in AirBnB rentals in the neighborhood. With rental properties exploding and rents rising in Crown Heights, it leads one to ask, where can people actually live, affordably?


According to AirDNA, there are currently 1,090 active ‘AirBnB’ rentals in Crown Heights
https://www.airdna.co/vacation-rental-data/app/us/new-york/new-york/crown-heights/overview

Challenges to Gentrification

The answer to that question, unfortunately, is nowhere. Of the 1,090 active Airbnb rental properties in Crown Heights over 50% of them are entire home rentals. Meaning that properties that could serve as much needed affordable housing, are being used as strictly for-profit holiday rentals. This is where we see the correlation between Airbnb and displacement.

 People who have grown up and lived their whole lives in Crown Heights are being forced into other boroughs, out of New York all together, or on the streets due to lack of affordable housing. A report from New York’s Independent Budget Office found that from 2002-2012 families entering homeless shelters came in largest numbers from East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant Heights and Crown Heights.[1]

But the community is beginning to fight back against this inequality of housing. The Crown Heights Tenant Union, founded in 2014, has become active in protesting to demand protection for low-income tenants, fair rent prices and rights to repairs. They currently have over 40 member buildings and continue to hold peaceful demonstrations to fight against rampant gentrification, displacement, and illegal rental overcharges.[2]

The urban has always been the epicenter of progress and not many would argue that progress is a bad thing. However, often there are those who get left behind as the world marches forward. Crown Heights is becoming gentrified as New York progresses to a more global city attracting people and investments from all over the world. Though these investments, specifically those is the Airbnb market, are causing residents to be displaced due to a lack of affordable housing.


[1] New York City Independent Budget Office (2014). Fisical Report. [online] New York. Available at: https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/2014dhs.pdf [Accessed 23 Feb. 2019].

[2] Crown Heights Tenant Union. (2015). Crown Heights Tenant Union – About Us. [online] Available at: https://www.crownheightstenantunion.org/about-us [Accessed 23 Feb. 2019].


[1] Weitzman, M. L. (1986) ‘The Share Economy: Conquering Stagflation’, ILR Review, 39(2), pp. 285–290. doi: 10.1177/001979398603900210.


[1] Ley, D. (2003) ‘Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification’, Urban Studies, 40(12), pp. 2527–2544. doi: 10.1080/0042098032000136192.

[2] MNS. 2016. “Brooklyn Rental Market Report”. MNS. http://www.mns.com/pdf/brooklyn_market_report_feb_16.pdf.

[3] Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. Gentrification. Routledge, 2013.


[1] “Uneven Burdens: How Rising Rents Impact Families And Low-Income New Yorkers”. 2018. Blog. Trends & Data. https://streeteasy.com/blog/nyc-rent-affordability-2018/.

[2] Yee, V. (2015). Gentrification in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Forces Residents to Move On. The New York Times.

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