Reflecting on power economies and the production of research space

by acaskeyg

“It is not easy to define a supportable ethical or political position that takes into consideration the way in which precariousness and possibility can be thoroughly entangled and the way in which things do work but are hardly just”. This quote from Abdoulmaliq Simone’s work on urban economies in Kinshasa has stayed with me throughout the past few day and throughout the other readings and class work. There seems to be something said and not said. Though Simone is a wonderful writer and brings each of the subject group he profiles to life in clear and intricate ways. A complex political economy that produces enormously high real estate prices in Kinshasa but de-valorizes the ingenuity and (dare I say) innovation of the Bloods in the marketplace.

What does Simone’s analysis say about research in precarious areas, like slums and other informal landscapes? Could the Bloods and also the urban cultivators Simone profiles and interviews be considered as participants in a tactical urbanism? This last question is not something Simone proposes, nor do I think his article makes the claim that the residents of Kinshasa are seeking to subvert neoliberal economic processes and power through their actions.

In thinking about the way researchers study places I came across a piece by Neil Brenner about an exhibit at MOMA last spring. I think his work his helpful, especially as it is grounded in analyzing neoliberalism. Which, as we saw today, is an economic system constantly adapting and manipulating our perspectives on gender, race and consumption. His urban critique might be valuable:

Tactical urbanism could counteract neoliberal urbanism. Especially in light of the stridently anti-planning rhetoric that pervades many tactical urban interventions and their tendency to privilege informal, incremental, and ad hoc mobilizations over larger-scale, longer-term, publicly financed reform programs, it seems reasonable to ask in what ways they do, in actuality, engender any serious friction against the neoliberal order, much less subvert it. In some cases, tactical urbanisms appear more likely to bolster neoliberal urbanisms by temporarily alleviating (or perhaps merely displacing) some of their disruptive social and spatial effects, but without interrupting the basic rule-regimes associated with market-oriented, growth-first urban development, and without challenging the foundational mistrust of governmental institutions that underpins the neoliberal project.

It is true that Brenner is assuming a position wherein today’s urban human condition is largely unjust, asymmetric and “environmental insane”. Which is a condition that Simone also hints at through his writing of people in Kinshasa dealing with the “grinding boredom” of working and hustling through precarious daily uncertainty.

The envied position of the intellectual observer, of the flâneur, is made possible through a certain amount of economic certainty. Stability and free-time, as was pointed out in today’s lecture, allows for a contemplated wandering in the city. And it also might create the conditions for a de-coding of our economic market system. The market may not have a consciousness, but conscious people drive it, manipulate it and profit from it. Does intellectual analysis give us tools to de-code these human constructed systems?

On that note, I turn sometimes to art and performance. Not for answers but for a different analysis. Alexandre Paulikevitch is Lebanese dancer who inhabits an interesting space. He is male, is a professional raq’s baladi dancer, creates original choreography using a traditional form and continue to work and practice in Beirut. His piece Tajwal, is about his wanders in the city.