Social Mixing and the London East Village: Exclusion, Habitus and Belonging in a Post-Olympics Neighbourhood

Dr. Piero Corcillo

This research is based on fieldwork conducted in the London 2012 Athletes’ Village – now East Village – in Stratford (a Newham Borough’s district located in East London). The thesis argues that various processes, practices and actors come together to produce an environment that prioritises and valorises the perceptions and preferences of white middle-class individuals. East Village, which was presented as a key element of the Olympic Legacy objective “Homes for All”, is a space that actively reproduces the exclusion of working-class and BAME individuals who make up the majority of Stratford and Newham population. Therefore, the intentions of social mixing are not met in practice.

 

The Landlords

In 2009, Triathlon Homes (TH) – a consortium between East Thames, Southern housing Group housing associations, and developer First Base – purchased 1,379 flats that were set to be affordable and social housing. In 2011, Qatari Royal family’s sovereign fund Qatari Diar, and British developer Delancey (QDD) purchased the remaining 1,439 properties, together with the public and retail space, as well as the freehold. QDD have set up Get Living London (GLL) as their housing management arm to let their luxury apartments on the Private Rented Sector. 

TH is a private provider. Nevertheless, it was able to obtain a £110 million public grant from the UK government’s Home and Community Agency (HCA), and purchase socially rented apartments at the East Village. 675 of TH’s properties are available for social rent, while the remaining 704 are a mix of so-called affordable housing: shared ownership and intermediate market rent. Shelter charity and authors such as Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock have raised concerns about the effective affordability of these properties, which are not affordable for East London low to middle-income households. Concerns have emerged even with respect to social rent. In fact, TH’s social housing allocation policy is to prioritise in-work applicants and disabled people. TH also reserves the right to reject an application for affordability reasons, if a prospective tenant has got insufficient financial means to afford the rent and service charge. Triathlon also reserves the right to terminate a tenancy for antisocial behaviour. A private entity such as TH acts like a judge that questions prospective tenants about their financial capacity, entitlements and attitudes to demonstrate their fit in the neighbourhood. The result is that the most marginal applicants are rejected.

When a new social tenancy starts, the combination between rent and service charge is capped at the maximum social rent level allowable by the HCA. However, after the first year, rent and service charge increase annually, such that social rent levels become higher than what is prescribed by the HCA for registered landlords in receipt of public grants. Being privately owned, TH’s social housing units become subject to market logics, and they are no longer a form of welfare support for those who experience housing need.

 

 Tenure Mix, Security and Design

Despite policy-makers claims, there is a sense that a real mix of tenures within East Village was not a genuine part of the plan, given that QDD and TH blocks are separated. Moreover, socially rented flats tend to be concentrated in different blocks. Even in the buildings where there is a mix of shared ownership, intermediate rent and social housing, the various tenures are often located in different floors, and socially rented flats tend to be concentrated on the lower levels. One is therefore left with the impression that the aim was to set the tenure distribution in a way that kept the most affluent residents separated from the least affluent ones. Such a separation has not facilitated social interaction between neighbours with different socio-economic backgrounds. On the contrary, it has fostered the identification of “us”, the hardworking and well behaving home owners, and “them”, the lazy and unruly social renters; with housing tenure becoming a synonymous of class and ethnic divisions. While Triathlon claims that it would be “near impossible” to know which flat is for social housing and which one is not, the residents know very well where social housing is. “The people who live downstairs” to point to social renters’ “antisocial behaviour” was a recurrent expression in the interviews with shared owners. 

East Village’s design has been elaborated in collaboration with Secured by Design, a police initiative that specialises in security features and crime prevention projects. The various plots are equipped with secured entry doors and gates.

 

 

East Village’s Secured Doors and Gates

–(Source: Piero Corcillo)

Moreover, the landlords have set up the East Village Management Company (EVML), which operates 24/7 CCTV, and employs security guards to patrol the public ground. Building gated communities serves the need to capture and defend social space, especially when white middle-class enclaves like East Village are built near lower-end areas. This vicinity fosters fear of crime and Mixophobia, which, according to Bauman means anxiety and discomfort about diversity.

EVML employs private security to protect residents from real and perceived external threats. However, the security also “protects” them from each other. The East Villagers are encouraged to refer to EVML if there is an issue with some neighbours. This could be viewed as an interference with the private sphere of interpersonal relationships. However, affluent residents approve this policy and they are happy to minimise contact with the neighbours, especially with social renters.

 

Residential Space and Lifestyle

The spatial dimension of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory suggests that the Habitus of white middle-class individuals influences their residential trajectory. As Michaels Benson has attested, they look for neighbourhoods congruent with their lifestyle, preferences and perceptions. QDD’s branding strategy is to stimulate affluent home seekers’ pre-existing dispositions. Words and photos representing local parks, gardens, waterscapes and local shops are very frequent in their advertising material. The area is branded as a green island that offers a healthy retreat from the chaos of London.

The Village’s environment requires high levels of maintenance. QDD understands the importance of living near nature and in an aesthetically pleasing environment for the white middle classes. They reproduce glimpses of wildlife, and EVML employs gardeners and streetcleaners to work on a daily basis to maintain the East Village public realm on a high standard of aesthetically pleasing, tidy and clean space. Contact with nature becomes a product for visual consumption. Residents interiorise the landlord’s branding strategy. The idea of East Village as a holiday place, a retreat from the stress of urban life is a recurrent theme in the interviews.

 

East Village Greenery

(Source: Piero Corcillo)                                                                                      

Moreover, with an awareness of the importance that local sport classes and events, such as markets and outdoor cinemas, have for affluent individuals, QDD organises these activities as part of the complete East Village package that they offer. Residents are not permitted to organise events independently. Everything that happens in the neighbourhood’s public realm must be planned and supervised by QDD. When events take place, seldom they foster active participation or interactions between neighbours. Yet, they convey a sense of belonging and localness. 

 

East Village Events

(Source: Piero Corcillo)                                                                                      

However, the processes described above, happen in contrast to an outside world – the Stratford area and its residents. The residents’ narratives of belonging draw clear socio-spatial boundaries between the cleanliness, vibrancy and beautiful landscapes of East Village, and the dirt, disorder and ugliness of the wider Stratford area. A sense of Mixophobia emerges in relation to the “other” that lives in Stratford.  Residents highlight that East Village has a totally different atmosphere from the rest of East London. These feelings demonstrate the fallacy of the promise to deliver an Olympic Legacy “for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there” as the London 2012 bidding team claimed. Even the presence of Stratford children in the Chobham Academy – the East Village public primary and secondary school – generates animosity. They are held responsible for the problems that the East Village children experience at school.

 

The Retail Infrastructure

For middle-class individuals, artisanal products and locally-produced goods have a high cultural value. The East Villagers describe the shops in the neighbourhood as independent, in the sense that there are no chains. They are tailor-made for young, white middle-class residents. The shops are mostly food-based and they are there to complete the environment that the greenery and aesthetics of community have created, and that is intentionally cultivated by GLL on behalf of QDD. In reality, these shops are not independent. They are purposely selected to comply with QDD’s aspirations for the area.

The retail infrastructure becomes a symbol of the middle-class character of the place. The shop keepers act as social and cultural entrepreneurs. When I spent time in one of the Village’s cafés, I saw the managers and staff systematically building relationships with customers. They offer free bread to new customers, so that they come back, they talk to them, and babysit their children. This goes beyond the average staff-customer relationship. However, this is another product for the consumption of an idea of community that QDD offers.

The working-class and BAME residents who do not possess sufficient amounts of economic and cultural capital to afford and frequent the East Village shops are alienated from their middle classed and westernised eateries and atmosphere. QDD pushes back ethnically diverse and low-cost shops, by requiring unaffordable financial conditions to those who would like to open them. They are deemed to threaten public order and the place’s respectability. The affluent East Villagers develop a sense of moral ownership over the neighbourhood’s retail infrastructure. The healthy food restaurants and trendy shops belong “here”, in the Village; downscale shops and unhealthy restaurants as well as their BAME and working-class customers – belong “over there” in the Stratford area.

Despite being unable to afford the prices, several social renters agree with the landlord and their affluent neighbours. They become unconsciously complicit with the unequal power relations, norms and values that become hegemonic in the area, and perceive them as fair and just; a process that Pierre Bourdieu describes as symbolic violence. They claim that East Village is meant to be an upper-class area of Stratford, where they feel privileged to live. Again, this goes to the heart of the Olympic promise. The residents experience the neighbourhood as something very different from what was supposed to be: a 50-50 affordable-private, socially mixed development. Particularly damning is the fact that QDD and TH allowed the East Village’s community café – arguably the only place designed to be truly inclusive of all socio-ethnic groups in the space – to be shut down due to lack of funds to keep it running.

 

Policy implications

Despite the presence of many master-planned communities in London, seldom can we observe this level of micromanagement. QDD captures part of the sovereignty that public authorities exercise over urban space, and uses its authority to tell residents how to behave, as well as deciding who belongs and who does not. A state that aims at delivering socially mixed neighbourhoods and affordable housing through mega-events and partnerships with large housing corporations legitimises instead the logics of social inequalities. 



The Urban Political Economy of ‘Austerity Islamophobia’

In this post, Dr Ben Whitham (De Montfort University) and Dr Nadya Ali (University of Sussex) discuss their article ‘Racial Capitalism, Islamophobia, and Austerity’, recently published in International Political Sociology (available in online early-view here). The primary research underpinning the article was funded by CURA grants from 2017-2019.

“A guy called my wife a letterbox, because she wears the Niqab”

Research participant, May 2018

“[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like

letter boxes … If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured I

should feel fully entitled … to ask her to remove it”

Former UK Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London (now Prime Minister) Boris Johnson,

August 2018

“And a bunch of drunks came by and start shouting at my wife, calling her a ninja,

calling her the “n”-word, calling her—they’re both “n”-words, but the other “n”-word”

Research participant, May 2018

Person A: “Look at all the little ninjas, getting it at the minute!” Person B: “That’s

what happens when they don’t pay their rent!” All: [laughter]

Unidentified men narrating the video of a Grenfell Tower effigy-burning, November

2018

Over the last few years, we have been engaged in a research project exploring ‘The Intersectional Politics of Austerity and Islamophobia’ in London, with generous support from the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) at DMU. We had previously collaborated on an analysis of media and political discourse involved in the construction of a so-called ‘Muslim Problem’ in the UK, highlighting the role of ‘ideological fantasies’ in the multi-faceted demonisation of British Muslims, and how this has exceeded the narrower framings of ‘securitisation’ and ‘suspect communities’ theses. In that research, we touched upon the political-economic dimensions of contemporary Islamophobia – a subject CURA’s funding allowed us to explore more fully. In this blog we present an outline of our approach and findings.

Aims and approach of the project

The aim of our CURA project was to further explore and understand how Islamophobia might be understood through the lens of political economy. Our primary research consisted of interviews and a focus group with Muslim participants resident in and around East London. The three boroughs that we initially focused on to recruit participants – Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest – had some of the highest proportions of Muslim residents at the last census, but also high levels of poverty. Research suggests that cities in general, and deprived London boroughs like these in particular, were subject to some of the deepest impacts from the austerity policies that followed the global financial crisis. Drastic cuts to local public services tend to have more severe effects on racially minoritised and lower-income individuals and families, since they are more likely to rely on these services and infrastructures in everyday life. Our aim was to understand the relationship between two dominant trends of the 2010s – the political economy of austerity, and the rising tide of Islamophobia – in the urban context of East London.

We also stated at the outset of the project that the purpose and ethics of exploring lived experiences of Islamophobia and austerity must be not only to increase academic knowledge or understanding of intersectional inequalities, but also to ‘give more of a voice’ to the socially marginalised survivors of abuse and discrimination who would be sharing their (often traumatic) stories with us. During the course of the research, we were able to address this in part by feeding into the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia. Like most of the academic submissions to the inquiry, ours pressed especially hard for any definition to state that Islamophobia is a form of racism, rather than simply ‘religious discrimination’, discussed here. The inquiry’s final report defined Islamophobia as ‘a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’, and cited the evidence we had submitted based on findings from our primary and secondary research. The definition was subsequently voted on and adopted by a wide range of public institutions and organisations, from all major political parties in Westminster and the devolved assemblies of Scotland and Wales (with the notable exception of the governing Westminster Conservatives, though their Scottish counterparts did adopt the definition), to local authorities from London to Manchester, and universities, to name but a few. 

Racial capitalism and the disentitlements of austerity

In our recently published article, ‘Racial Capitalism, Islamophobia, and Austerity’, we situate the findings from our primary research in a theoretical and historical field structured by the concepts of intersectionality and racial capitalism. Influenced by the pioneering work of scholars including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cedric J. Robinson, Robbie Shilliam, Gargi Bhattacharya, Salman Sayyid, and others, we sought to explore lived experiences of Islamophobia in terms of the ways in which they intersect with the policies and politics of austerity, and post-crash Western capitalism. Specifically, the work of these scholars allowed us to understand recent trends in Islamophobia in the UK, and the wider ‘West’, as rooted in much older historical practices of racialisation and racialised ‘disentitlement’ that are central to the development of capitalism. We argue that the rising tide of Islamophobia is not merely a consequence or epiphenomenon of the political economy of austerity, but rather is constitutive of it, with the violent targeting and disentitlement of British Muslims being a central feature of austerity in practice. 

Our findings: everyday Islamophobia, austerity gentrification, and gendered racist violence

The key findings from our primary research are presented in the article as tripartite. First, we note that Islamophobia is often experienced and articulated through the same ‘everyday’ social planes as austerity. Participants spoke of harassment on public transport, of profiling by agents of the state, and of everyday journeys through urban political economy that are marred by Islamophobic racism, in both structural and direct forms. One participant spoke about the pervasive nature of Islamophobia, “Now … it’s like a part of life, you know, as sad as it sounds. It’s just, OK, I’m going to anticipate it in my journey. It’s not like a conscious thing, it’s just, OK, it might happen today.” 

Second, we found that the process of ‘austerity gentrification’ has affected Muslims in particular ways, with our London-based participants noting that the trend for house prices and rents to rise in highly diverse boroughs in East London was pushing Muslims to the outskirts of the city, and beyond, where they felt an intensification of Islamophobic violence. As one participant noted, “We moved out because we couldn’t afford to live in that borough anymore. We were priced out, you know, rents were unaffordable. So since I’ve moved into this new borough I’ve, like I said, on the street I’ve been spat at, I’ve been called a fucking terrorist, a man and a woman barged me in the shopping centre when I was with my kids and called me a terrorist.” The ‘whitening’  (and increasingly middle-class make-up) of formerly diverse inner-London boroughs through austerity gentrification made for experiences of increased exclusion and marginalisation.

Third, and finally, we explored the anti-Black and gendered nature of Islamophobic abuse our participants experienced, and the specific targeting of Muslim women who were with their children. Dehumanising colonial and postcolonial discourses that urban colonised / diasporic populations were / are responsible for ‘breeding’ feeds into a narrative that Muslim families take more than their ‘fair share’ of national resources, at the expense of more ‘deserving’ white Britons. As one participant said, “Because we sisters, it’s the women that get the flak for it … the sister that’s going to school or going to the shopping center with a couple of kids, and mothers…You’ve got young children that could possibly—and do, and have—suffered mental health issues, as a result of watching their mothers being abused, whether it’s verbal, children pick up—they have a sixth sense.” The type of Islamophobic abuse experienced by participants was coextensive with whether they were racialised as Black and Muslim, Brown and Muslim, or White and Muslim. 

In addition to these three core findings, our research participants also highlighted the ways in which elite political discourse emanating from Westminster and from the UK’s media was directly implicated in their everyday experiences of anti-Muslim racism, and including the austerity framing of Islamophobia as an economic imperative.

We hope to be able to further develop this research through an exploration of the connections between the political economy of Islamophobia and the ‘libidinal economies’ of the same. That is to say, through future research we want to better understand, and challenge, the range of narratives that have centred Muslims, ‘Muslimness’, and Islam in explanations of social antagonisms, and have mobilised the psychosocial forces of desire, fantasy, and enjoyment, to do so.

The full article ‘Racial Capitalism, Islamophobia, and Austerity’ is available here.

Muslim Women’s Political Participation in France and Belgium: Ever Shrinking Spaces

Muslim Women’s Political Participation in France and Belgium: Ever Shrinking Spaces.

Dr. Amina Easat-Daas

Macron and his government’s recent crackdowns on Muslimness in France signal the further shrinkage of viable spaces for the public and visible presence of Muslimness in the nation. In early October 2020 Macron outlined plans to legislate prevention of ‘Islamist separatism’, but for many this recalled the French colonialist project the ‘code de l’indigénat’, which regulated the indigenous Muslim populations and in particular the nature of Islam in the colonies. Macron’s speech was soon followed by murder of French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, which sparked national (and arguably international) debate around Charlie Hebdo, the freedom of speech, and the place of Muslimness in France. As is often the case in French politics, such debates took place with a distinct absence of Muslim voice and representation.

In late October 2020 controversy continued further with the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin’s calls for the dissolution of prominent Muslim organisations in France. Among these were the humanitarian organisation, BarakaCity and the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France – the Counter Islamophobia Collective in France, an awareness and advocacy group who are among, if not the principal actor in combatting Islamophobia in France. French political officials appeared somewhat oblivious to the fact that the call to dissolve these French Muslim organisations without any substantiated evidence to legitimise the action clearly contradicted the 1901 French Freedom of Association law, which guarantees French citizens the right to engage and even develop their own associative politics. On the other hand, perhaps this move underlines the extent to which the French political elite do not see French Muslims as French citizens and as such French Muslims remain the perpetual incomplete citizen.

This clear example of the shrinking of spaces for political participation by and representation of French Muslims is not the only measure that limits the presence of Muslimness in France. For example, the implementation of the 2004 Loi Stasi limits the presence ‘ostentatious faith symbols’ in French schools and the 2010 Loi anti-niqab (Burka ban) These legislative measures disproportionately impact gendered Muslimness in France and are framed on the grounds of an arguably ‘falsified’ laïcité (French secularism).

Similar narratives are increasingly evoked in Belgium, a nation which officially recognises and supports faith groups, including Islam. In June 2020, the Belgian Constitutional Court ruled to implement a ban on philosophical, political and religious symbols in higher education on the grounds of ‘neutrality’. This ban was met with strong condemnation, particularly by Belgian Muslim women since they would be disproportionately impacted by the measure. On 5th July 2020 thousands assembled in Brussels to protest the ban, bearing placards with slogans such as “Stop telling women what to do with their bodies”, “I cover my hair not my brain” and “Belgium your Islamophobia is showing.” Given its federal constitution, the ban has since been overturned in Wallonia, but remains in place in Flanders. Such limitations in Belgium and in neighbouring France limit both the short-term educational engagement opportunities for Muslim women in the two cases, but also limit these women’s future engagement and insertion into society. This exclusion disadvantages Muslim women but also perpetuates their outsider status and the perception of their being unassimilable.

Against this backdrop of distinct Islamophobia, and particularly gendered Islamophobia in France and Belgium, my recently published book, entitled “Muslim Women’s Political Participation in France and Belgium” examines the nature of participation in politics – across a range of levels from supranational, national regional, local politics and grassroots activism by self-identified Muslim women in the two cases. Statistical evidence by Sinno (2009) points to Belgium having proportionally the highest rates of Muslim political representation in the West, but conversely this proportionally lowest in France.

My book is based on data derived from semi-structured interviews with Muslim women who participate in politics in France and francophone Belgium. The analysis of this data was divided into three principal sections; firstly the examination of the factors that motivated Muslim women to participate in politics, secondly the nature of the opportunities encountered by the women in France and Belgium and finally, the study examines the reported barriers to participation in politics experienced by French and Belgian Muslim women.

Muslim women’s expressed motivations to participate in politics were as diverse as the interviewees themselves. In France, primary Participate in politics was shaped by key catalysts in political sphere of France. For example the 2002 presidential second round run off run off which saw Jacques Chirac pitted against the far-right party presidential candidate, Jean Marine Le Pen, respondents in the study sample felt motivated by these events and their strong anti-racist ideals to become engaged in politics, this was very much reflective of the French culture of protest. Although post-data collection, the events described above are similarly likely to have motivated Muslim women in France and Belgium to become active in politics. For example, in discussion of the state regulation of Islam, an interviewee stated: “When I hear ‘French Islam’ it makes me cringe a little or [if I hear about the] Conseil Français du Culte Musulman, the thing that Nicolas Sarkozy created with the [Grande] Mosquée de Paris etc. He created it to regulate Muslims…” In sum, the consistent need to defend and fight for one’s right to exist as a French or Belgian Muslim and to practice one’s own interpretation of Islam is a key catalyst in motivating Muslim women’s political participation.

Additionally, further motivators included their hybrid Muslim and European identities and the central emphasis on social justice apparent in the two, for example the women cited being compelled by local rates of homelessness, racialised police brutality or sustainability among other issues. However, particularly in France, the women noted that they could not publicly express that Islamic values around social justice had inspired their activism and doing so would constitute career suicide.

Opportunities to participate in politics in the two cases was shaped by the political opportunity structures in each country. In short, in spite of legislated gender parity measures the majoritarian French political opportunity limited Muslim women’s participation in representative politics, thus following the pattern of reduced minority representation as typically seen in majoritarian systems. Contrastingly, the proportional system in Belgium coupled with compulsory voting and legislated parity measures, lent itself to increased political representation by Muslim women. However Muslim women’s participation in Belgian party politics was not straightforward, often Muslim women were sought out by parties, as one respondent notes “Political parties approach me [to be a candidate], in spite of the fact that I am a woman, in spite of my headscarf, they [political parties] still approach me.” However once these women have been elected to office, they begin to face issues, as this interviewee points out: “Oh yes, there are loads of examples, there are loads of political parties that invite Muslim women who wear the headscarf to stand as candidates and they let them whilst maintaining their headscarf. But, when the time comes for her to assume her political responsibilities, to carry out her role, they will say yes, but without the headscarf.” The book discusses the way in which Muslim women fulfil gender parity requirements, can serve to secure the ethnic vote and present an outward image of diversity in the party, but regrettably face barriers once in office.

Barriers to Muslim women’s political participation were numerous and diverse in both cases. Like women globally, Muslim women faced barriers to participation stemming from their gendered roles in society, including homemaking for example. Similarly, women reported a lack of time being a key limiting factor in their politics. Specific to their Muslimness, the weaponization of laïcité and neutrality posed a significant barrier to Muslim women’s political participation. For example, regarding the headscarf in French politics, this interviewee notes: “You will never see a headscarf wearing women in the National Assembly. It is now impossible. Even among the most progressive parties … the headscarf halts political participation.”

Against a backdrop of growing political discourse and legislation surrounding their gendered Muslimness and Islam more generally in the two cases, Muslim women’s political participation in France and Belgium is both central to their citizenship, a means of contesting their ‘otherisation’ and foregrounding their voices in the political and social arenas, but as the findings presented in book highlight, the road is long but not impossible.

To read more, you can purchase Dr Amina Easat-Daas’ book Muslim Women’s Political Participation in France and Belgium here.

CURA invites expressions of interest from outstanding prospective PhD students

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) invites expressions of interest from outstanding prospective PhD students, who would like to apply with us for an AHRC Midland 4 Cities PhD Scholarship. We welcome applications from students developing innovative, interdisciplinary and internationally relevant research ideas, which intersect area-based and urban studies, humanities, arts and culture. Potential themes include but are not limited to arts and urban politics, urban cultures, the creative and social value of cities and urban political-economic narratives. Given the competitiveness of this scheme, applicants should have both a first class honours degree and a masters degree with distinction (or international equivalent).

In the first instance, prospective applicants are invited to submit an outline proposal of around 750 words, outlining the project and explaining its fit with both CURA and the Midlands 4 Cities scheme. Successful candidates will be invited to develop the outline proposal for a full application. The outline proposal should include the following:

– Overview of project and research questions

– Explanation of intellectual positioning, originality and M4C relevance

– Likely research methodology and methods,

– Brief explanation of why you want to study with CURA and your preferred supervisor(s)

The outline proposal should be submitted, with a CV, to the CURA Institute Head of Research Students, Dr Mercè Cortina Oriol at merce.cortina-oriol@dmu.ac.uk by Monday 2nd November. Further information about the Midlands 4 Cities Doctoral Training Programme, including eligibility and timelines, can be found at https://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/midlands4cities-dtp/m4c.aspx.

For more information about CURA, our 2020-21 research brochure can be downloaded from here.

Please email Dr Mercè Cortina Oriol if you have any queries.

The Clandestine Hand of the State: a Workshop

By Dr Adriana Massidda and Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza

In this blog, Adriana Massidda (Early Career Academic Fellow in Architecture, DMU) and Valeria Guarneros-Meza (Reader in Public Policy and Politics, DMU) reflect on an international workshop that took place in Leicester, UK, in March 2020.

The presence and role of the state in spaces of urban poverty has been widely discussed for decades, and yet each question asked opens up a myriad new ones. Multifaceted, ubiquitous, and concrete while almost ungraspable, the state can be said to hold a promise of social redistribution yet at the same time it perpetuates inequalities.

In fact, on the one hand, the state may materialise itself in low-income neighbourhoods in the form of a school, housing built with council funding, a day care centre for the elderly, or (sometimes mediated) cash-transfer programmes. On the other hand, in its ambivalent monopoly of the legitimate use of violence, the state also emerges in low-income areas through the presence of the police that enforce the law as often as they depart from it, co-creating chains of illegal markets that are observed in drug trade, social and domestic abuse, and interpersonal violence.

Cutting across these issues, the work of Argentine sociologist Javier Auyero, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor in Latin American Sociology, University of Texas-Austin and a key name in the sociology of urban marginality globally, addresses and articulates crucial questions when it comes to understanding why and how a certain community interacts with the state the way it does. Javier considers how communities make sense of state-induced domination, by immersing himself in the place and collaborating with local residents.


On the 3rd March 2020 a small but wide-ranging group of researchers and community activists gathered together in the Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Centre in Leicester to discuss the inter-connected themes of urban informality, environmental vulnerability/toxic uncertainty, and the ambivalent presence of the state in spaces of urban marginality. Besides Javier, the group included staff members and doctoral students from De Montfort University (full list at the end) and Neil Hodgkin, director of the Neighbourhood Centre and our host. The event was supported by the DMU Centre for Urban Research on Austerity.


Celebrating the event in Saffron Lane gave us the perfect environment to discuss urban poverty, politics and environmental design since, as highlighted by several of the attendees, the neighbourhood stands amongst one of the most deprived areas in the UK, has been strongly hit by government austerity cuts, and yet it is site of an innovative exploration of passive housing construction and the ways in which it can help residents sustain their cost of living.


In its multiple manifestations, the presence of the state in spaces of urban deprivation is ambivalent and contradictory. In the UK, central government’s grants to local government have been in decline since the 1980s and local authorities faced severe cuts after the 2008/2010 financial crisis, leaving a void that local government initiatives struggle to fill in. The decline of the manufacturing industry, combined with these austerity politics and the reluctance of city councils such as Leicester’s to openly contest this trend, have created a dire situation in areas like Saffron Lane. ‘We are looking at increasing fuel poverty, water poverty; inability to pay the rent’ explained Neil; ‘we’ve got to a point where having a washing machine and a fridge in your house is a luxury’.


In Argentina, poverty is also pressing, though it manifests itself in different ways. The recurrent problems that affect residents deeply in the peri-urban areas of the capital city, Buenos Aires, are related to interpersonal violence, drug addictions, illicit trade, and more pressingly the complicity of the police in many of these issues. ‘What if’, asked Javier, ‘violence at the urban margins is not what urban sociology is telling me – it’s not simply about rich retaliation and retribution but it takes more of the form of concatenations of violence? What if contamination is one of those aspects of durable inequality that we have not scrutinized in the way in which we should?


A counterpoint between the case of Buenos Aires , site of many of Javier’s works, and the UK, was present implicitly in our discussions as we sought to make sense of the paradoxical role of the state in the simultaneous mitigation and co-production of inequalities. Relevant questions to the British case included: to what extent the state in the UK participates in illicit markets? Is it the case in the UK that violence concentrates where the urban poor dwell? What types of violences can be found in the UK? What is the role of the state in the lowest-income neighbourhoods? To what extent does urban marginality change the parameters of legitimacy of the state?


‘The state [in both global north and south] has played an important role in manufacturing forms of informality, in housing, planning, infrastructure and the other areas of life […] albeit in complex and contradictory ways’ argue Valeria Guarneros-Meza and Adam Fishwick in an earlier post. The same could be said of unemployment, illicit trade networks, resource depletion and modern slavery addressed by the presenters throughout this workshop. Cities like Leicester struggle with poverty. The discourse on multiculturalism has been part of an official narrative where the City Council seeks to adapt to a pressing scenario of austerity by highlighting people’s entrepreneurship. In spite of the obvious differences, this position is not that far off in its neoliberal underpinnings from what writers like Hernando de Soto recommended, back in the 1990s, for Peruvian shantytowns: promote residents’ enterprise so that the state does not need to intervene. The twofold problem is that the structural differences faced by the residents are unchallenged; and that with little support, political power, and perhaps even knowledge, individuals left alone to resolve such large issues remain in an extremely vulnerable situation.


This constructed vulnerability sets the conditions for what Laura described as modern slavery, and for the ghastly working situations and social demobilisation analysed by Jonathan Davies. Building upon his research on austerity and the work of Nik Hammer on the fashion industry in Leicester, Jonathan at the start of his talk said, ‘This presentation is not so much about the clandestine hand of the state as it is about how deregulation creates illicit markets’. His presentation provided a thorough contextualisation of how local state policy ultimately creates a clandestine economy in Leicester through fiscal austerity and deregulation of employment practices. In the aggregate the city’s policies envelope practices of modern slavery, while depoliticising (organised) work and informalising the city’s economy.


In a city such as Leicester, poverty is arguably less visible than in Buenos Aires, yet it leaves residents with enormous problems. ‘Even though [Saffron Lane] has the most affordable homes in the city’ stated Neil ‘95% have rent arrears. It does not look like a poverty-stricken place, but most people here have less income than they have outgoings. But what if a house could pay you to live in it?’ he continued; ‘it’s quite futuristic but this is the biggest issue for people here.’ In Mark Lemon’s words: ‘What are the possibilities for scaling up? If you over-spec a house, you should be able to have excess energy, excess heat, excess food.’


The Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Centre partnered with DMU IESD since 2018 to design the Living Labs; a pilot attempt to create a community able to overcome state-induced inequalities. In addition to social concerns, the interest of DMU in the project stems from its multipartnered nature: ‘Living Labs seem to be the flavour of the year’ explained Mark Lemon, ‘but most of them are located in campuses. Our intention, with Neil, has always been that this Lab is located within, and merges with, the community. We’re working beyond the household level.’ In working off campus and beyond the household level, the Living Lab is opening opportunities to explore the questions that Javier’s work has provocatively posed during the workshop. We intend to begin materialising some of these ideas in the next couple of years.

About the contributors:


Adriana Laura Massidda is an architect and academic researcher currently based at the Institute of Architecture, De Montfort University. Her previous work looked at the spatial, social and ecological history of southwest Buenos Aires, Argentina, a landscape of wetlands with rich wild vegetation which was transformed into urban space through the contested actions of shantytown communities and municipal departments (1956-1972). Her most recent work looked at female leaderships in Lima’s pueblos jóvenes in the context of internal violence and rising neoliberalism. She is currently outlining a new research project to explore the potentialities and limitations of phyto- and bio-remediation to mitigate contamination through co-design with low-income communities.

Valeria Guarneros-Meza is Deputy Director of CURA and has an interest in exploring the term ‘informality’ as an analytical tool for understanding local governance under contexts of violence, securitisation and extractivism.

Workshop Participants

Javier Auyero, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin
Jonathan Davies, Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, De Montfort University
Valeria Guarneros Meza, Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, De Montfort University
Ibrahim Has, Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, De Montfort University
Neil Hodgkin, Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Centre
Daniel Kerr, Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montfort University
Mark Lemon, Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montfort University
Adriana Laura Massidda, Institute of Architecture, De Montfort University
Birgit Painter, Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montfort University
Laura Pajón, De Montfort University Leicester and Leicestershire and Rutland Modern Slavery Action Group
Mahnoor Shoaib, Institute of Architecture, De Montfort University

Researching tenants’ relations in a state of emergency – relational polarization and its challenges for research

By Leon Rosa Reichle

PhD Candidate, Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, DeMontfort University, Leicester UK

My PhD research was interrupted by a pandemic. In this blogpost, I reflect on how my fieldwork in Leipzig, Eastern Germany, is changing due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and according social and political restrictions in April 2020.

The third research phase of my project dedicated to understanding how tenants’ relations change in a restructuring city, happened to be interrupted by a pandemic, that disrupts not just global economic production, but also the entire modes of social reproduction (in homes and communities) (Harvey, 2020; Mezzadra, 2020). The respective state of emergency with curfews, strict rules on social distancing, the stopping of entire industries and daily shift of discourses and emotions towards the spreading pandemic, affects not only my practical fieldwork, but also my subject of analysis. Observers from different places in the world witness different relational manifestations of the disease; economic polarization, the stratification of safety, fear and egoism as well as smiles and new ways of socializing, caring and expressing community (Bude, 2020; Harvey 2020; Mezzadra, 2020; Sennett, 2020). Witnessing a historical and completely unplannable moment in time, I am dedicating this research phase to witnessing how tenants’ relations change in a restructuring city in pandemic times.


Departing from my previous research on a restructuring neighbourhood in which current developments exacerbate post-shrinkage processes of the post-socialist city of Leipzig, this research phase should explore existing and emerging tenants’ relations in a state of emergency. I use my preliminary analysis of Post-Shrinkage-Dialectics as a description of economic and geo-political patterns of urban restructuring in Leipzig before the outbreak of COVID-19. In this context of departure, I have gathered initial findings on tenants’ experiences of urban restructuring in daily life, both within the own home, and within the neighbourhood. My understanding tenants’ perception of their role in the process of restructuring, is so far quite limited. The pre-COVID-19 data gives some glimpses at tenants’ self-perception through reactions to experiences within the home and indicates that the perception of their role in restructuring in the wider neighbourhood is strongly mediated by emerging and existing relations.


The current research phase was initially intended to provide an in-depth analysis of tenants’ perception of their role in urban restructuring – in their flats and in their neighbourhood; defining and analysing existing and emerging tenants’ relations in this context of restructuring and illuminating how existing relations of solidarity and divisions/exclusions between tenants mediate their experience of and relational reaction to urban restructuring and urban society. What changes now, is that another independent variable, an external influence has made its appearance: the outbreak and spreading of COVID-19 and the respective regulations of all social interaction. This requires a revisiting of a previous analysis of experiences of urban restructuring: How are experiences of urban restructuring manifesting under a state of pandemic exception? Furthermore, all following research questions will be adapted: How do tenants perceive their role in urban restructuring during pandemic times? What types of tenants’ solidarities and divisions are existent and emerging on a micro- and meso level in a politically polarized city during pandemic times? Why and how do relations emerge in this moment? How do existing relations change with polarized and selective physical proximity during the pandemic? And: How do existing relations and divisions (before COVID-19) mediate their pre-COVID-19 and current experience of (and relational reaction to) urban restructuring?


Experiences of Urban Restructuring

Most experiences of urban restructuring that have come up in my research so far, have been related to different forms of displacement: few cases of direct displacement, exclusionary displacement either causing people to either be stuck in (partly unfavourable) conditions, or leading to segregation and polarization, related anxieties and pressure caused often by neglect. Whereas direct displacements are officially paused by the German Government currently, and tenants are legally enabled to postpone their rent payments (tagesschau 2020), this will undoubtedly lead to piling up of rental debt for some tenants. How does this affect feelings of security versus anxiety and pressure? How does it affect relations to landlords and other tenants?


The consequences of exclusionary displacement might materialize to a more drastic extent now, that leaving the house is highly regulated and limited. What are the consequences of a quasi-curfew for families in overcrowded flats? For seniors in too large flats? How do tendencies of segregation mediate the experience of the curfew? To what extent are distancing, isolation, shielding and quarantine feasible, and for whom? And lastly, living in (strategically) neglected housing could become much more noticeable in times, where more time than ever is spent at home. How do quarantine and curfew influence the experience of neglected housing?


Tenants’ solidarities and divisions


An open-ended list of existing and emerging relational goods and evils (Donati, Archer, 2015) so far entails: friendly encounters; friendships; a dense network of institutional neighbourliness; Hausgemeinschaften (house-communities); mutual help networks on the side of relational goods; the analogy with a village somewhere between a relational good and evil, and an increasing lack of time and space; territorial stigma and racism; competitive racism; language barriers between tenants; shame; a history of denunciation; generational changes hand in hand with fluctuation and anonymization; (resulting) loneliness; conflicts between long-term tenants and newcomers and competing economic interests of different tenants on the side of relational evils.

Some of these might be directly mediated by the outbreak and spreading of COVID-19 and/or the resulting restrictions of social life. How does a network of institutional neighbourliness react to a pandemic and with what effects? How do house-communities change? Which mutual help networks change, break or emerge? Does territorial stigma and different forms of racism interplay with the disease at all? How are language barriers reinforced or overcome? How is the lack of time and space changing? What role does shame play these days? Does a history of denunciation mediate people’s response to the pandemic? Which role do generational changes in the neighbourhood play now and are the divisions resulting from fluctuation and anonymization exacerbated, continued or overcome? How is loneliness changing, increasing or interrupted and with what consequences? How do conflicts between long-term tenants and newcomers mediate relations in the neighbourhood now? How do they influence the efficiency of self-help networks? Can they be overcome? And lastly: how do different economic interests play out in the entire scenario? This is just an incipient list of questions resulting from the current material, but it will be inductively sorted, tidied out and complemented with the messy material that is bound to come up in the following weeks.


My research project has a strong focus on temporality defined by its main question on change, disruption and emergence. Now it is complemented with an unexpected, very distinct temporal marker, which might turn out to indicate radical change, continuity, reinforcement or breaks – for the world and for housing relationships in a restructuring city.


Methods


Methodologically, my research project is based on the critical realist principle of retroduction (Belfrage, Hauf, 2017), which indicates both a research motivation of producing critical knowledge on an observed social problem, and a specific practice of research. The practice describes a spiral from de- to induction and back and forth again, hence from theoretical deskwork and initial critical sensitizing theories to open-minded fieldwork and from there on back and forth between fallible existing theories, inductive analysis and theory building. As a supportive friend in my feminist colloquium reminded me in a state of slight panic over the consequences of COVID-19 for the world and my research, this research practice is ideal for my situation, as it permits me to embrace the changing priorities in the field and analyse them critically to complement existing theories.

Yet whereas my research design usually envisages a careful planning of each following state of fieldwork following the analysis of the previous one, this historical moment of potential constant change and unforeseeable consequences demands a certain flexibility and messiness. The following outlines a brief research design which is likely to undergo changes every day. Initially, this research phase designed to conduct interviews and focus group discussions with different types of tenants rendered socially or economically vulnerable. I have classified these so far into financially precarious students or young academics (a); unemployed or working poor long-term residents – of which many are or are becoming “key workers” (b); elderly or retired tenants (c); and tenants with a biography marked by international migration (d).


The biggest challenge of my research under a pandemic state of exception, besides not being able to physically meet people, is just an exacerbation of a general challenge: a lack of existing relationships, which now is much harder to overcome, as physical spaces of encounter are minimized. This permits two practical consequences: using existing relations for research and finding creative methods to build new ones.


Building on existing relations…


… Permits me to reschedule planned interviews as phone interviews and have casual conversations over the phone. This will be my first method. Considering the relations, I already have, this permits me access to tenants of different groups:
(a) financially precarious students and young academics – through my personal friend- and activist networks in the neighbourhood, the access to students is quite easy.
(c) elderly or retired tenants – luckily, a time-line focus group with retired tenants physically took place just before the outbreak of COVID-19. I am now in direct contact with social workers in a seniors’ social centre and have put up a small notification on the website of the centre with my phone number and some lines on my research. Additionally, I have been included on a phone-chain initiated by the centre, meaning that I might be called once or twice per week by an unknown senior tenant informing me on their physical and emotional situation and needs and passing the call on to another elderly tenant. This could be a promising example of emerging neighbourhood relations. Outside of this network, I am planning to ask other future interview partners for contacts to elderly tenants in their houses.
(d) tenants with a biography marked by international migration – potentially, after rescheduling a group interview with three social workers working in different neighbourhood centres from and for international girls and women into a video-call group interview, I could find ways to talk to tenants with a migration-biography. Yet here, I imagine language to be an even bigger barrier, then in person. I will keep this open thread in mind.


… Has encouraged phone conversations with befriended activists in a variety of neighbourhood-initiatives, which then in turn have tilted my intention to not engage in activist scholarship during my PhD. As a result of the current state of exception, I have organized a video conference to discuss the political implications, consequences and chances of the current moment for neighbourhood organizing. A second meeting is about to follow.

… Permits me to engage in virtual spaces, that I already have access to. This mainly centres around chat groups in my neighbourhood. An existing one is “sharing is caring East”, where currently 5765 people are discussing and sharing random stuff. Furthermore, several self-help groups and channels have emerged. I believe, that in terms of groups of interest, these are mainly used by (a) students and young academics. I am already engaging and in a process of participant observation in these groups and have used one of them to advertise the video conference. They can be both spaces to find new interview partners and potential connecting points for further discussion and organizing.

… Has, so far, permitted me to talk to my neighbours both just before and right after my recent move. In both houses many tenants are (b) unemployed or working poor long-term residents, with whom I have had and still have chats (with safe distance) when we meet in the hallways, or when I offered them support for shopping. In my old house I put up my phone number, in case somebody gets quarantined and needs help. So far, I have engaged in informal conversations with old and new neighbours and it is uncertain how these will continue.


Finding creative methods to build new relations…


… Is something I have started diving into, as my contact to (b) unemployed or working poor long-term residents is limited. A means of communication that is currently spreading quickly in the neighbourhood is written communication. Little posters, notes and signs, on doors of supermarkets, residential houses, lanterns complement posters by the city, online adverts for governmental information on COVID-19 and newspapers releasing daily updates. They contain advice, help-offers, cheery messages, translations of the new legal restrictions, scientific information and so on. I have decided to join into this method of communicating, hence also testing how well it works, through posting 100 letters with an invitation to a phone call in randomized letter boxes. My current knowledge on the neighbourhood permitted me to make a rough selection of houses worth considering within certain areas, based on rent prices (and landlords), the state of buildings, previous statements of interviewees and everyday observations. This selection raises the probability of reaching tenants that rely on transfer-incomes, as this determines where people can still afford to live (KDU-segregation). So far, I have received 3 calls from tenants, resulting in short semi-structured interviews, roughly following a previously prepared schedule. In one case this interview permitted me to snowball to another interviewee.


Ethnography


As before, all these methods will be complemented by a critical ethnography of neighbourhood life. This can contain walks, excursions to the supermarkets and online (chat group) observations. Probably the best way to keep track of the constantly shifting circumstances, and maintaining a distance to the field, is a continuous dedication to writing field notes.

Literature

Bude, H. (2020) Die Leute passen aufeinander auf. Frankfurter Rundschau, 18 Mar.
Donati, P. and Archer, M.S. (2015) The Relational Subject. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Harvey, D. (2020) ANTI-CAPITALIST POLITICS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 (Revised version, March 22, 2020). [Online] Urban Front. Available from : https://www.urban-front.com/articles [Accessed 23/03/20].


Mezzadra, S. (2020) Eine Politik der Kämpfe in Zeiten der Pandemie. [Online] de.indymedia.org. Available from : https://de.indymedia.org/node/72570 [Accessed 25/03/20].


Sennett, R. (2020) „Wir müssen wachsam sein“. tagesspiegel, 19 Mar.
tagesschau (2020) Corona-Krise: Regierung plant Schutzmaßnahmen für Mieter. [Online] tagesschau.de. Available from : https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/miete-corona-101.html.

Methodologies for Housing Justice Resource Guide: A new, open tool for movements fighting for housing justice

By Leon Rosa Reichle, PhD Researcher at the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA), DeMontfort University. Twitter: @leonrrei

Introduction

The Methodologies for Housing Justice Resource Guide is published online in English and Spanish. The Resource Guide is an outcome of the 2019 Summer Institute on Methodologies for Housing Justice, convened by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin (part of the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Network). During the Summer Institute, we, a group of movement and university-based scholars from different cities around the world, collectively learned about, worked on and exchanged experiences with methodologies as political tools.

Instructors from different cities

In a row of inspiring sessions, we heard from different (activist) scholars from around the world: From Raquel Rolnik (University of São Paulo) on São Paulo’s Eviction Observatory, from Melissa García-Lamarca (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) on debt diaries in Barcelona and Athens, from Terra Graziani, Elana Eden, and Erin McElroy on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project on the US west and east coast, from Pete White (LA Community Action Network, LA CAN) and Hamid Khan (Stop LAPD Spying) on people’s audits in Los Angeles, from Shayla Myers (Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles) on mapping and analyzing court records, from Amy Ritterbusch (UCLA) on participatory action research and the dangers of extractivist activism and scholarship, from Yusef Omowale (Southern California Library) on dominant discourses in dangerous methods (that serve to justify displacement, and create historical frames that blame local residents for harm), from Andrea Roberts (Texas A&M University) on participatory memory work and from Benjamin Dulchin (Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development) on displacement alert maps and speculation watch lists in New York.

What is the Guide about?

Based on our respective experiences in different movements and with different kinds of research, we formed working groups, to disseminate outcomes of our productive discussions and open up the collectively built spaces of knowledge in the Methodologies for Housing Justice Resource Guide. The guide is intended as an inspiration and open tool for movements fighting for housing justice. At its heart is the question: “can the “master’s tools” – Lorde’s famous phrasing – be used for purposes of building another world?” (Lorde in Rolnik, Roy, 2020 – introduction to the Guide). As critical housing and urban scholars inside and outside of academia we have tried to assemble a resource that proposes not just methods, but methodologies that take a partisan standpoint against hegemonic knowledge production.

“From and for movements, this guide is based on a political conception of methodology for housing justice, and not only criticizes but proposes tools to fight dominant methodologies which legitimize the violence of housing financialization, banishment and many other housing injustices of the outgrowths of racial capitalism.

Acknowledgements

It was incredibly inspiring to work on this, all my thanks goes to everyone who made this possible, the editors Ananya Roy, Raquel Rolnik, Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson, all the wonderful colleagues, comrades and friends I met in the process and the great team I worked with: Amee Chew, Lauren Ilano, Tolu Lanrewaju-Kadri and Albert Lowe.

You find the guide here in English:

https://escholarship.org/uc/item/41g6f5cj

And here in Spanish:

https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3v76q8q5

Local government and Covid-19: addressing the looming youth unemployment crisis

Jonathan Payne, Professor of Work, Employment and Skills, and Director of the People, Organisations and Work Institute (POWI) at DMU[i]

The fall-out from the coronavirus crisis is likely to be devastating and long lasting, and will have a major impact on local economies. The worst-case scenario is of something akin to a ‘Great Depression’, but even if that is avoided we can still expect a long-term negative hit to the economy which, on one recent estimate, could last 7 years.[ii] When the economy does bounce back, there is also a good chance that it will do so in a particular way. There is a very real danger that in a ‘flexible’ (weakly regulated) labour market, many employers will respond by cost minimisation and look to rapidly scale down labour costs. This could lead to an explosion in casual and precarious work, including gig work, agency work and hourly paid forms of employment. There is already evidence that for many young people these are often the only jobs they can get access to, in terms of a springboard into the labour market, as employers use ‘precarity’ as a ‘screening mechanism’ to select for more secure positions.[iii]

Much of course depends on how central government responds. However, we can anticipate that one of the most pressing challenges will be rising unemployment. At present, with central government in immediate ‘crisis-response’ mode, it is unclear how much thought the DWP and DfE have given to this. Much of the detail surrounding the UK’s ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ (designed to replace European Structural and Investment Funds) is also lacking in terms of how much funding will be available for local actors, and how this will be devolved.[iv] So the big question for local government is: ‘what resources will we have to work with?’ While this makes planning difficult for local government, it cannot simply wait on central government to work out what it is going to do, before considering how it might respond.

The first point to be clear on is that if a future of large-scale unemployment does beckon, then this a problem on the ‘demand-side’ of the labour market, or, put simply, too few jobs. ‘Supply-side’ re-skilling and re-training measures have only limited traction in dealing with such problems. However, tackling demand-side issues (i.e. job creation) is going to be very difficult for local government without concerted action from central government. So how should local government respond? Or what might it practically do in a very difficult situation?

A useful starting point would be to track which groups in the labour market are going to be hardest hit. There are already strong indications that certain areas such as retailing and hospitality will be among them, and that young people without a university education will also suffer disproportionately (although this is not to say that some graduates will not also be adversely affected). One possible scenario is that apprenticeships for young people quickly start to dry up as employers think how they can recoup the costs of the government’s apprenticeship levy in ‘hard times’ by focusing provision on training their existing adult workforce. If that happens, the old problem of ‘deadweight’ and the state subsidising employers’ training grows ever bigger, with young people losing out. We could see a drying up of apprenticeships at the same time as youth unemployment goes through the roof.

While supply-side measures have their limitations, it may, however, be one of the few areas where local government can do something practicable in a context where there are no snap-the-fingers, game changing interventions available locally. A key question therefore is: how can Leicester help prepare its young people for a challenging labour market going forwards? The group to focus on here is NEETs, young people ‘not in employment, education or training’, a group which the DWP tends not to deal with as it lacks the infrastructure. Tracking young people who become NEET will therefore be extremely important. There is a lot of evidence from research on NEETs over many years that indicates they can benefit from tailored and bespoke, one-to-one coaching and support from dedicated ‘key workers’. Indeed, Leicester already has some useful third sector provision in this area.[v] Much of this is currently underpinned by European Social Funding, and there are clearly capacity issues in terms of the number of key workers who could provide such assistance beyond existing levels. The question would be whether this could be supported and ramped up. Thought could also be given to the role of local FE colleges in terms of providing decent and relevant special training options for NEETs. Good quality ‘information, advice and guidance’ on local training and employment opportunities has always been important and will become even more so.

It will also be critical to provide young people with good quality work experience opportunities that can strengthen their position in the labour market. Employer engagement in this arena has been a perennial challenge but some employers have always been, and are, willing to contribute. Proactively working with employers to develop this ‘offer’ would also be really important. At a time of crisis when business groups are talking about a new ‘social contract’ for business[vi], which embraces corporate social responsibilities (‘what can we now give back for state/taxpayer support?’), there may be scope to pull more employers into this kind of an agenda. There are suggestions that local government could lead on developing local ‘Back to Work’ partnerships involving local stakeholders, building on existing local partnerships where possible (e.g. Skills Advisory Panels).[vii] Employers could be asked to sign up to local ‘Back to Work Charters’ setting out clear expectations around supporting people into work [viii] and notions of ‘fair work’.

Equally important is developing support mechanisms to help young people who find work to stay in work. Again, ‘key workers’ who are part of the support journey into work can also be part of this by providing in-work guidance and support.

Given the economic challenges and financial constraints that are likely to exist, it may be that local councils are faced with some very hard choices in terms of where to prioritise resources and provision. Ideally, support should also be ramped up for the long-term unemployed.[ix] Moving the long-term unemployed into work is often a really tough, although important, task. However, this is difficult enough in a tight labour market, and will become only harder still as unemployment rises. Tough decisions may have to be made about what can be done to help young people at risk of becoming long-term unemployed so that they can avoid the well-documented ‘scarring effects’ of unemployment on future employability.


[i] I am grateful to my conversations with Professor Ewart Keep, Director of SKOPE at Oxford University, and his thoughts around these challenges which have helped to formulate this blog.

[ii] See the IES 2020 report, ‘Getting Back to Work; Dealing with the labour market impacts of the Covid-19 recession’, https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/getting-back-work-0

[iii] See Purcell et al (2017), https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ier/research/pathways/presenttensefutureimperfect__final.pdf

[iv] https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/2019-07-09%20-%20LGA%20briefing%20-%20UKSPF-%20HoC%20110719.pdf

[v] See Leicester’s Yes project, https://yesproject.org/who-we-are/

[vi] See http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/returning-favour/

[vii] https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/getting-back-work-0

[viii] https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/getting-back-work-0

[ix] https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/getting-back-work-0

Researching organisations and work in and beyond coronavirus


By Jonathan Payne

Director of the People, Organisations and Work Institute (POWI) at DeMontfort University, UK

Introduction

The coronavirus pandemic is an event of truly historical proportions. It is difficult to predict how this will eventually play out, but there can be little doubt that even when the ‘war’ on the Covid-19 is finally won, its implications will be far reaching and will be with us for some considerable time. This will be no short-lived, ‘re-run of SARS’ as some might initially have hoped for, and, from a public health perspective, the big question will no doubt be: ‘did government act promptly and did it do enough?’ But the same question does not just apply to controlling the spread of the virus but also to dealing with its socio-economic ‘fall out’. The impact on politics, the economy, organisations, work, employment and society are already profound, and we are only at the beginning.

Research centres within DMU and BAL are starting to reflect on how research can help to address these manifold challenges from their different perspectives. POWI has specific expertise in key areas such as political economy, leadership and management, and the ‘Global South’, which make it ideally positioned to make a significant contribution to this agenda and link directly to BAL’s research theme of ‘urban living’.(i) Members of the Institute are already thinking about new projects related to Covid-19; the aim of this document then is to stimulate further reflection on how this might inform and shape research and debate going forwards.(ii)

Background

To say that coronavirus has dealt a hammer blow to the economy is something of an understatement. Whole sectors have virtually shut down, hotels, pubs, clubs, gyms and restaurants have closed, flights are grounded (as airlines look to government bail outs to avoid bankruptcy), high streets and shopping centres have become deserted overnight, now we are in ‘lockdown mode’. Financial markets have nose-dived, with global stock market values initially plummeting by nearly a third. Globalisation has come to a standstill. As it happened, it was not (as some believed) a robot that came to ‘steal your job’, but an invisible virus from somewhere called Wuhan.

Some states have responded with financial firepower. The US and European governments have pumped vast sums of money into the system through the policy-of-choice, namely ‘quantitative easing’ or, in layperson’s terms, printing money, even taking the unprecedented step in the UK of underwriting workers’ wages while large parts of capitalism ‘press pause’.

The current crisis arrives in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crash that had already exposed weaknesses in the system. However, while that was a crisis in the financial circuits of capital which threatened to spill over into the ‘real economy’, this time it’s the other way around.(iii) Western economies have become increasingly dependent upon consumption-led demand, and are already underwritten by huge sums of debt needed to keep this afloat.(iv) And this is precisely where the hammer blow has fallen, and fallen hard.(v)

The strategy is to try to support viable businesses through the crisis, ensure that consumption demand does not completely collapse, and is ready and waiting when the economy eventually ‘bounces back’. But no one knows when that might be, or how far it will rebound, with concerns that economies could be heading into a ‘slump’ and that unemployment could reach levels not seen since the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s.(vi) For sure, some sectors will not make up lost ground when things go back to ‘normal’ – customers who use to dine out once a month, don’t suddenly dine out more. Economies are also so heavily ‘financialised’ today that the ‘contagion’ between the real economy and financial markets runs both ways. When pubs and clubs close and airlines go bust, these effects have deep and wide ripple effects in the financial system.(vii)

To stave off such a scenario, western governments may need to contemplate even bigger measures to support their economies than those that have been attempted so far. However, pumping more money into the system can create problems, storing up debt, threatening currency stability, and ‘capital flight’. This normally calls for yet more government action and controls to deal with these problems. Indeed, when confronted with crises of such proportions, government has little choice but to step in and then step up. There is even talk in the UK of the state part-nationalising industries until such time as they might be returned to the private sector, as happened with some banks in the previous financial crisis.(viii) There is, however, an irony here – in many countries, those in political power are also those steeped in decades of neo-liberal ideology for whom state action is a last resort and grates against the political DNA.

Following the 2008-09 financial crisis, the European Central Bank and the UK responded by following up quantitative easing with austerity.(ix) The Covid-19 crises emerged at a time when that period in countries like the UK looked as if it might be drawing to a close and government was at least getting ready to spend more. Will we see another return to austerity ‘down the line’? At the European level, this looks far more difficult. The widespread nature of the pandemic means that it will not be possible to draw a cordon sanitaire around certain countries this time, as was the case before with Greece for example.(x) There may also be a ‘public reckoning’ with austerity, especially where countries are seen to have run down public health systems in ways which left them particularly exposed to the pandemic in order to fund tax cuts for the rich.(xi)

In terms of labour markets, the virus has exposed the gaps and holes in systems of regulation and social protection that are the legacy of neo-liberalism, extending far beyond the ‘gig’ economy, and which governments (even of neo-liberal persuasion) have had to try and patch up. The virus has also played out in highly unequal ways. A new term, ‘furlough’, has been imported into British employment law from the US. The government will provide an important safety net, paying 80 per cent of people’s wages, up to a maximum of £2,500. The aim is to encourage struggling organizations to ‘furlough rather than fire’. Similarly, some of those still
in employment have had the luxury of ‘home working’, avoiding the slog of the daily commute and have more time freed up in the working day. However, other ‘key’ workers (many of the them low-paid) are directly exposed to the virus, with questions over the protections that government or employers have put in place for them.(xii) For some, quarantining themselves and their families from the virus is either not an option or a luxury they cannot afford. Others have lost their livelihoods – in the UK, some self-employed have failed to qualify for assistance, and have had to fall back on a creaking welfare state. Some small businesses are staring ruin in the face as government loans appear too risky to take out. The pandemic does not discriminate but social and economic systems do.

The big debates in western countries are likely to be around whether the pandemic represents an existential threat to capitalism or a neo-liberal version, or versions, thereof. However, capitalism has proven incredibly adept at weathering even bigger threats in the past, and predictions of the imminent death of neo-liberalism in the aftermath of the financial crash proved premature. Anti-capitalist alternatives are vaguely specified and also have their own internal contradictions to deal with which may be no less profound, and some might argue, even more so. Furthermore, workers have ‘multiple interests’, and interests have to be researched at ‘the level of the real’ rather than merely imputed from theory.(xiii)

A ‘new politics’ or ‘new way of doing capitalism’(xiv), therefore, is likely to require immense intellectual resources. In the UK, the CBI and TUC now join one another on TV news programmes and seem to reach common ground in what almost smacks of ‘social partnership’ (as happened during the ‘Brexit debate’), and even a Conservative government ‘consults’ with the unions on next steps.(xv) It is possible that a more consensual politics might emerge – one that might coalesce around a more regulated, ‘stakeholder’ capitalism, which sees restraints on the market not as rigidities but as ‘beneficial’, identifies state investment as key for innovation, or even moves closer to a more socialised economy. Fixing ‘market failures’, which governments have got used to, now looks like small beer, and space may be opened up to think about a new role for government as an investment state and market-shaper.(xvi) That, or we go back to base. Meanwhile, darker forces lurk everywhere in the wings, with the virus likely to add to calls for more ‘nationalist’ constraints on labour mobility and tougher border restrictions(xvii )which would play into the hands of the populist Far Right.(xviii) Mobility is set to become an even greater battleground than before.

One can also add that the search for any ‘new growth model’ is no longer enough, even a progressive one based on principles of social justice that puts inequality into reverse and ratchets up social and labour rights.(xix) No longer enough because the real existential threat of climate change means that, notwithstanding technological advancement and ‘fixes’, continued growth and planetary sustainability are no longer reconcilable.xx If you cannot decarbonise fast enough, the only answer is to grow less (‘de-growth’). Transfers of wealth to those on lower incomes tend to boost consumption demand, as any Keynesian economics primer tells us, but now consumption is the bête-noir for any progressive politics. Indeed, if there is one positive to come out of the crisis, it is that the planet has had something of a breather for now. Witness, for example, the sharp decline in the Chinese emission of greenhouse gases.(xxi)

There is no doubt that this crisis will, for the foreseeable future, change the relationship between state, markets and civil society in ways which will certainly be important to map but which are hard to predict with any certainty. It is also vital that this debate does not fixate on developed economies as so often happens. The pandemic is global, as are its implications. Developing countries in the ‘Global South’, with much higher poverty, weaker public health systems, few social protections, and massive informal economies, will not escape and are likely to face even bigger challenges.(xxii)

Questions

The aforementioned issues are far reaching and beyond any single research project, but provide a background to engaging with questions generated by the coronavirus for those of us who research political economy, labour markets, organisations, management, work and leadership. Some examples are presented below as starters for discussion. These might apply at different levels (global, national, regional, local, the individual organisation), including comparative dimensions along similar lines, and will undoubtedly be elaborated upon.

· What does the future of work look like in ‘post-corona political economies’ given their different starting points? Do we see new ways of working and how far do they endure?

· What are the implications for national and local industrial strategies in the new era that can align with sustainable and inclusive economies? How does a city like Leicester respond for example?

· Will austerity return as governments with a depleted tax base try to pay off the costs of government ‘bail outs’?

· How do organisations respond to the crisis? What supports did they put in place for workers during and after the crisis, for example in dealing with mental health impacts? What contingency plans did they put in place, and how has contingency planning changed going forwards?

· Has the crisis served to re-energise the CSR debate? Will consumers reward those organisations that have acted responsibly and punish i.e. boycott well publicized acts of malfeasance e.g. Sports Direct?

· Which ‘business models’ prove most resilient – e.g. do low wage models wither or thrive?

· What impact has the coronavirus had on the HR function and HR professionals? What have organisations learnt about managing people at work through the epidemic?

· Has the widespread government and media use of the nebulous phrase ‘key worker’ altered the value society places on hitherto under-valued work e.g. cleaners, care workers and checkout operators? Does this change the policy discourse around ‘inequality’, ‘low pay’ and ‘job quality’? Does ‘work fit for heroes’ have any resonance and will it endure? Can these groups of workers use these narratives?

· What will be the long-term impact on ‘furloughed’ workers? Will the loss of organisational revenue spawn work downsizing and/or work intensification as organisations seek to rebuild their balance sheets?

· How did the coronavirus impact on leadership within organisations? Did some organisations deal with this better, and what role did leadership play, if any?

· How do organisations address feelings of insecurity and trust going forwards?

· If, as some predict, mass unemployment emerges, how do governments respond and how does the welfare system cope? Does a ‘universal basic income’ come back on to the agenda and would it work?

· How are different social groups affected by the crisis considering race, gender, and class, as well as economic migrants, gig workers and the self-employed?

· Does the crisis stimulate new ‘institution-building’ and, if so, what form does this take? How is it achieved and which social actors are involved?

· What forms of protest and resistance emerge in response to the economic impact of the pandemic, whether at work or through community-based action?

· How do these issues play out in ‘the Global South’ e.g. can you afford to stop working in the ‘informal economy’ even when a lockdown is imposed?

· any many more!

NOTES

i https://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/centres-institutes/powi/index.aspx

ii The focus here reflects my own expertise and limitations as a researcher of the UK and Western Europe, and I hope others will ‘bring in’ a more global perspective, particularly on the ‘Global South’.

iii See P. Mason, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2020/03/coronavirus-crisis-economic-collapse-capitalism

iv See ‘The seeds of the next debt crisis’, https://www.ft.com/content/27cf0690-5c9d-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4

v See D. Harvey’s blog, http://davidharvey.org/2020/03/anti-capitalist-politics-in-the-time-of-covid-19/

vi https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/coronavirus-putting-world-on-track-for-new-great-depression-says-who

vii See P. Mason: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2020/03/coronavirus-crisis-economic-collapse-capitalism

viii See ‘UK government draws up plans to buy into airlines’ https://www.ft.com/content/1a52f686-6b00-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3

ix On European governments rescue packages, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/europes-economic-rescue-packages-worth-combined-17tn. On special assistance for hard hit European countries, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52238932. On the UK’s rescue package, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51935467. On the US rescue package, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/senate-passes-coronavirus-stimulus-package .

x As Jonathan Davies (CURA) pointed out to me.

xi See D. Harvey’s blog, http://davidharvey.org/2020/03/anti-capitalist-politics-in-the-time-of-covid-19/

xii See https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/02/royal-mail-staff-lack-sufficient-protection-from-coronavirus; and ‘Royal Mail is “putting profits before safety” say staff’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52243179 xiii See P.K. Edwards, https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/197743/1/1048200574.pdf

xiv See M. Mazzucato, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/18/the-covid-19-crisis-is-a-chance-to-do-capitalism-differently

xv See: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-jobs-workers-support-chancellor-rishi-sunak-boris-johnson-a9412821.html, and the TUC’s General Secretary, Francis O’Grady’s comments in: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/apr/04/coronavirus-business-finance-work-property#maincontent.

xvi See M. Mazzucato, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/18/the-covid-19-crisis-is-a-chance-to-do-capitalism-differently xvii See ‘US-Mexico border: Thousands of migrants expelled under coronavirus powers’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52244039

xviii See: https://mg.co.za/article/2020-03-22-far-right-uses-coronavirus-to-scapegoat-refugees/ ; also: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/america-far-right-coronavirus-outbreak-trump-alex-jones ; also: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/05/police-investigate-uk-far-right-groups-over-anti-muslim-coronavirus-claims

xix For an excellent discussion of both the need for a new model in the UK and US and the challenges facing it, see the discussions by D. Coates in two SPERI papers: http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/SPERI-Paper-25-Building-Growth-Strategy-on-New-Social-Settlement-UK.pdf, http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/SPERI-Paper-32-Riding-the-Tiger.pdf

xx See A. Sayer, http://renewal.org.uk/files/Burton_Degrowth.pdf#page=40; also I. Gough (2017) Heat, Greed and Human Need: Climate Change, Capitalism and Sustainable Wellbeing (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing).

xxi See: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/coronavirus-china-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change-a9384346.html

xxii See: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/09/coronavirus-could-turn-back-the-clock-30-years-on-global-poverty

Apply for a full PhD bursary with CURA (deadline 24 Feb)

There is still time to apply for a full PhD bursary with CURA!

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) invites outstanding prospective PhD students to apply with us for a De Montfort University (DMU) Full Bursary Scholarship.

We welcome applications from students capable of developing innovative, interdisciplinary and internationally relevant research in any field related to cities, urban living and austerity. We particularly welcome proposals focusing on urban dimensions of austerity governance and resistance, urban labour movements, revitalising cities and racialised urban inequalities.

Applicants interested in joining CURA should, in the first instance, submit a research proposal of up to 750 words with a CV to CURA Institute Head of Research Students, Dr Mercè Cortina Oriol (merce.cortina-oriol@dmu.ac.uk) by Monday 24th February 2020.

The proposal should include:  

– Overview and research questions

– Explanation of the intellectual positioning of the project and its originality

– Likely research methodology and methods

– What makes you want to study at CURA and your preferred supervisor(s)

– Curriculum Vitae as separate attachment

The application process has two stages. The second stage comes after initial approval by a potential CURA supervisor, prospective candidates will be invited to submit a full application to pgrscholarships@dmu.ac.uk no later than 9th March 2020.

Further details about the bursary and the DMU scholarship application form can be accessed at https://www.dmu.ac.uk/doctoral-college/study/scholarships.aspx.