"Artificial urbanity"

10 October 2006
Only in en
Esprit returns to the suburbs; dérive investigates control and public space; Reset sketches a history of fanaticism; Osteuropa confronts the democratic deficit in the post-Soviet space; Greek Political Science Review debates contentious politics; Dialogi presents the future of Slovenian drama; and du drafts Rebecca Horn's "fine mechanics of the soul".

Esprit 10/2006

The start of the French presidential campaign has shown that when it comes to the problems of the banlieues, an analysis of causes doesn’t get past a general discourse about “youth”, the “suburbs”, or “values”. Less evident in the debate is the responsibility of the state towards its institutions – schools, the police force, the judiciary. Any attempt to pacify social relations and reduce territorial inequalities would have to start there. What’s more, outrage from abroad at the “civil war” in France has contributed to the real problem being downplayed at home. “However, the entire issue cannot be exempted just by citing the foreign press’s exaggeration of the fragility of the French model,” comments Esprit in an introduction to a dossier on urban segregation and violence.

In a long study entitled, “France confronts its Muslims. Riots, jihadism, and depoliticization”, political scientist and Islam expert Patrick Haenni points out a fundamental misunderstanding in the analysis of the riots. It is not “communitization” – communal activism on the basis of faith – that is the problem, but the failure of communal organization that has left populations unable to make themselves heard by the state authorities. While radicalism is present in France in groups such as the “Union des organisations islamiques en France” (UOIF), the critique of communitization confuses the territorial segregation imposed upon populations with a non-existent capacity for self-organization.

Envisaging the channels of expression for populations whose expectations are not met by the current institutional framework would mean taking political representation seriously. Cynthia Ghorra-Gobin, research director at the CNRS, writes that the riots have shown the need for the representation of neglected sectors of the population on the electoral register. The way the rioting in Los Angeles in 1965 and in 1992 was dealt with politically demonstrates the crucial role of representing those who have resorted to violence, writes Ghorra-Gobin.

In 1964, journalist Marc Bernard was commissioned by le Figaro to live in and write about the newly built estates of Sarcelles outside Paris. Initially impressed by the comforts of the housing, Bernard began to sense a malaise inherent in an era that produced this “artificial urbanity”. Rereading “Sarcellopolis”, urban geographer Catherine Bernié-Boissard finds that Bernard takes a useful distance compared to the repetitive “explanations” offered today.

Also to look out for: “Lebanon after the war” by Joseph Maïla; “Hungary fifty years after the revolution” by François Fejtö; and “Budapest in flames” by Jean Magnard.

The full table of contents of Esprit 10/2006.

dérive 24 (2006)

“New York has become a city of control”, writes Peter Marcuse in the latest issue of dérive, an Austrian magazine devoted to urban research and a new addition to the Eurozine network. “The political authorities, rather than the people, determine how the city and its public spaces are used. In the controlled city, rights can best be exercised at home, in private, and not in public.”

This is a result of “the use of the threat of terrorism to promote a sense of insecurity, its formulation as an issue of security rather than safety,” which “not only undergirds a particular political agenda but limits freedom and restricts the right to the city in general.”

To better illustrate his point, Marcuse, professor of urban planning at Columbia University, differentiates between un-safety and insecurity: the former involves taking risks that are recognized and accepted, such as drunk driving; the latter involves fear about risk, where risk cannot be measured because it is assumed to be unknowable and unavoidable, beyond human control. The responses to terrorism, he says, “are manipulated to produce an atmosphere of insecurity, one that goes far beyond a concern for public safety. And the threat is pushed as an issue of security for a specific political purpose: control.”

Marcuse’s article leads dérive‘s focus on “Security: Ideology and commodity”. Moving to the West Coast of the US and to the topic of entrepreneurial urban politics, Henrik Lebuhn looks at the struggle for urban farmland in South Central Los Angeles. The South Central Gardens are probably the largest community garden in the US, with 14 acres used by local low-income families to cover about one third of their food demand.

In 2003, the previous owner of the land bought it back from the city in order to develop it. Since then, there has been an ongoing conflict between the farmers and the developers. The gardens have become an example of “insurgent civil society”, says Lebuhn. “It’s a place where Angelinos collectively resist the privatization of public space, and defend a communal project against business interests: through debates and discussions, organized protests, through lobbying city hall and civil disobedience. […] The South Central Farmers are (or better: initiated) a very modern and flexible urban social movement, relying on a broad mix of supporters, techniques, and tactics.”

The full table of contents of dérive 24 (2006).

Reset 97 (2006)

In the latest Reset, sociologist Alberto Toscano traces the origins of the term “fanaticism”. Although it is used more and more often to “to identify present dangers, in particular the aggravation of religious politics and terrorism, it is rarely accompanied by a reflection on the genealogy of the term and the variety of its uses.”

Toscano begins with Martin Luther’s era: Thomas Münzer and the Peasants’ War, where the label of “fanaticism” was used as a “justification for the most cruel political and military repression”. For Kant, “fanaticism is always a transgression of the limits of human reason, a metaphysical delirium”, notes Toscano. It is connected with obsession, as in the nationalist fanaticism that Kant counters with cosmopolitanism, and it continues to be used to show the necessity for authority.

This changes with Hegel, who sees fanaticism as a necessary part of the progressive universalization of humanity. But again anti-communist thinkers in the twentieth century saw things differently: rather than fanaticism being an effect of social evils, they saw it as the cause. This, says Toscano, created the existing, purely ideological dichotomy between a liberalism of scepticism and compromise, and fanaticism.

In a section on intercultural dialogue, Stefano Allievi writes that pluralization of society has two effects. On one hand, there is mixing and formation of complex cultures and social situations. On the other, there is a return to closed identities, leading to religious and other fundamentalisms, racism, and various “tribalisms”.

“Reactive identities” – adopting a collective identity in the presence of people who have a different one – are a result of the second phenomenon. This is visible in cases like the crucifix controversy in Italy or the hijab debate in France. “We may have learned to regulate political and social conflict, but we still do not have a stable, widely accepted system for regulating cultural and religious conflict. And for this reason what could be a physiology of social conflict is at risk of becoming a pathology.”

Also to look out for: Danny Postel‘s interview with Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo before his arrest in April.

The full table of contents of Reset 97 (2006).

Osteuropa 9/2006

With the murder of Anna Politkovskaya delivering the latest reminder of the vulnerability of civil society in the post-Soviet space, Osteuropa‘s issue on the democratic deficit in Russia and other former Soviet countries appears especially necessary. A framework for understanding the rise, persistence, and inevitable downfall of one-man regimes is provided by Moscow historian Dimitrij Furman’s study of the “Origins and elements of imitated democracies” – a comparison of political systems in the eastern Slavic space and Central Asia.

In these “imitated democracies”, writes Furman, people are nostalgic for the orderliness of the era before the collapse of the Soviet system, though they do not necessarily desire the restoration of the latter. While the basis of imitated democracies is the manipulation of public opinion and the faking of popular will, such systems cannot exist without a society’s approval. Therefore, democratization of the these countries must arise from internal processes: democratic states’ greatest influence lies in their exemplary function.

Hans-Georg Wieck, writing on Europe’s failure to implement charters for democratic reform in Belarus, takes a very different view. The former director of the OSCE in Belarus holds that the mistake of the EU and individual member states has been to attempt to negotiate with Aleksander Lukashenko rather than taking the US route of direct promotion of opposition forces in Belarusian civil society.

“While eastern European states are obliged to implement democratic reforms, Western institutions hesitate to directly promote opposition forces in countries where these develop in a contrary direction.” The EU, says Wieck, must shake off its fear of annoying Russia and not wait sceptically to see whether US efforts prove successful. “Europe has lost its reputation in Belarus – the promise to actively engage for democratic reform in all parts of Europe, as was jointly declared in the charters of Paris in 1990 and at the summit in Istanbul in 1999. Opinion has it that this reputation needs to be won back.”

Hungary 1956: Stefan Auer on Hanna Arendt and revolution behind the Iron Curtain. Arendt wrote about the Hungarian revolution of 1956 as if anticipating the Velvet Revolution of 1989; her diagnosis of the relation between power and violence is central to understanding 1956 as well as the political meaning of the collective memory of those events in 1989.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 9/2006.

Greek Political Science Review 27 (2006)

New to the Eurozine network is the Greek Political Science Review. The Athens-based journal, published biannually by the Hellenic Political Science Association, features theoretical and empirical articles from all fields of political science and international relations as well as book reviews.

Editor Seraphim Seferiades examines major theoretical developments in contentious politics, collective action, and social movements. By means of a cognitive collage, he explores the historical prerequisites of social movement and the thorny problem of assessing the movement’s outcomes. Sociologists Charles Tilly (Columbia) and Sidney Tarrow (Cornell) look into how political identities work: how political actors form, change, and disappear; how they acquire their collective identities; and how they interact with other actors, including those in power.

Iossif Botetzagias investigates the problematic relationship of environmental NGOs (ENGOs) and civil society in Greece. Major ENGOs in Greece, he argues, see themselves as mere public service groups; as a result, their activities do not necessarily strengthen civil society. Yannis Balampanidis compares the public discourse generated by the Greek Communist Party and the Orthodox Church of Greece and finds they have a nationalist-populist argument in common. He sees an emerging conservatism responsible for this, a traditionalist turn that rivals the governmental programme of modernization.

Also to look out for: Eftichia Teperoglou and Stavros Skrinis on the 2004 European elections in Greece as second-order elections.

The full table of contents of Greek Political Science Review 27 (2006).

Dialogi 7-8/2006

“It seems that the only things that excite young people are to be found somewhere in the triangle of simplified sexual pathology, outdated daily politics, and café philosophizing on the two subjects.”

Theatre editor Primoz Jesenko, quoting from the concluding statement of the jury of the 2002 New Drama competition that criticized the paltry selection of dramatic themes and motifs, does not endorse this sense of crisis in contemporary Slovenian drama.

In his editorial to Dialogi‘s latest issue, Jesenko points to the way forward. For example, by introducing PrejGlej, the first stage-reading laboratory and initiative of the Glej Theatre, which has led to a boom in Slovenian drama writing. For Jesenko, Slovenian drama is shaped by a national habitus in which provocation and confrontation are avoided. The reluctance to shock and experiment stems from the most fertile Slovenian drama period of the 1960s.

“Modern drama in Slovenia does not typically grab the viewer by the neck and shake him.” Rather, “The highest regard is given to the conviction that indirectness can capture reality more fully.” More on PrejGlej can be read in an interview with its coordinator and participant Simona Semenic.

Five vital authors and their writings are presented – though none have been staged yet, all are “potential architects of the future of Slovenian drama”.

The full table of contents of Dialogi 7-8/2006.

du 9/2006

“I have contemplated how one might capture the structures of the soul; how to bring them onto a two-dimensional level.” For those who know the works of Rebecca Horn, her description of her art captures its essence in the best possible way. “Rebecca Horn’s works draw their magic from the exquisite union of dream-darkness and precision mechanics”, writes art critic Hans-Joachim Müller in a fine edition of du devoted to an exceptional German artist.

Rebecca Horn’s works of art are called “Peacock Machine”, “High Moon”, or “Lotus Shadow”. Who can forget her “Concert for Anarchy” (1990), the grand piano hanging upside down from the ceiling with the keyboard falling out like a bunch of French fries?

“The interaction of her own imagination with that of others plays a major role in Rebecca Horn’s work”; thus art historian Ursula Sinnreich, who points out that her art is often connected with sound. “It is the bridge that those must cross who want to enter into the visual and experiential world of her art.”

Joachim Sartorius dedicates a poem to the artist; Wolfgang Ullrich writes about overcoming the barriers between the audience and the work of art (“art is the experience that one has”); and Kristin Seebeck and Andreas Kläui speak to Rebecca Horn about her art works and their spaces, and about the drawings that she made for du: “Maps of the soul – the wounded camel is carried across the desert by a shower of light.” Between it all, Theodor Barth’s photographs of the artist’s studio.

Also to look out for: Barbara Frey, percussionist and one of the most interesting young theatre directors, in an interview on the art of staging a show and her lust for the transient. And for all those who suffered at last week’s Frankfurt Book Fair, a field report from the “terrain of waffling publishers, swollen feet, and fading senses” by Christine Richard, cultural editor at the Baseler Zeitung, who never wants to go again – or does she?

The full table of contents of du 9/2006.

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Published 10 October 2006

Original in English
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