J. Chapter 10 Discussion



We began our paper with a question about the relationship between the neoliberal city and the ‘proposed’ neoliberal subject. We reflected throughout the paper on the case for the ‘neoliberal’ subject as a more useful term than the city was using for the ‘good’, ‘civic’, and ‘participatory’ citizen. In this way we worked to tie Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’, as an overarching logic of the multiple levels of government to the consideration of the neoliberal citizen. If this proves to be a useful strategy it would be so because it would give us a tool for critical inquiry into how experts ‘in our midst’ (including our own knowledge practices and identities) are reproducing the privatization of our lives and relations.

Two particular subject ‘positions’ the ‘participatory subject’ and the ‘civic subject’.

The ‘participatory’ citizen The ‘participatory citizen’ is associated with the personal characteristics of mature, responsible, educated, informed and positive in terms of knowing how to create positive and cooperative futures for themselves and their communities. They associate politics with the ability to officially complain and register their opinions in reaction to options that the city planners have designed in ordered and regulated city meetings. The ‘participatory citizen’ trusts and gives the authority to the city to define and design the urban plans for their neighborhood. The city is also the trusted agent to manage conflicts of interest with the private sector. The private sector is a potential threat to the citizen, but with the citizens cooperation they can be managed by the city in such a way as to work together to forward the best interests of the residents. The city even forms public and private development corporations so that private sector funds are used to forward urban restructuring plans which are in the best interest of the residents. The ‘participatory citizen’ does ‘not worry’ and trusts that supporting the city’s plans are the secure way to protect themselves from private interests taking over their neighborhoods. In the cities move to hire a ‘mediator’ to help calm and move forward the debates in la Barceloneta, the sophistication of the dialogue became more complex and subtle. The cities move to hire the mediator itself was a strategy to position themselves as ‘mediators’, which was a way of further distanced themselves from being associated with self interests. The mediator agreed that the city had moved to abruptly and had designed a grossly overgeneralizing plan which needed to be more specifically designed building by building. The mediator spoke as an independent party in many ways from the city even, and declared that ‘participation’ was her only method of intervention with elaborate plans for a year long intensive educational process for the ‘immature’ and ‘unprepared’ residents of the neighborhood. The mediator declared admittedly that: one, they would not tolerate the attitude that the city and private sectors interests were the same and that these two bodies were clearly separate; and two, that she would fight the private sector and protect the residents from having their neighborhood exploited. They also admitted though that they city government was limited around how much control they had over the private sector. So the ‘participatory citizen’ is to see themselves as a student, to be given the chance to become politically ‘mature’ and capable of politically participating with the education provided by the city. Yet they must never question the intentions of the city in relation to self interests and collaboration with the private sector. The private sector for the ‘participating citizen’ is a type of institutional form which they are to have no direct relationship nor ability to question or confront, that task is delegated to the city itself. The production of the city of the ‘participatory citizen’ as a viable political position and discourse for the residents is indicative of what we would consider fundamental to the subject position of the neoliberal citizen. The position that is created in this discourse mirrors a kind of infantalization of the residential population in relation to the city, and creates a spector out of the private sector, like a monster who only the city can tame. The theatrics would be entertaining but the politics are very real for those that are expected to accept that these are the options they have for political involvement in their own neighborhoods development. The bind for the resident who wishes to take the status of an ‘adult’ who has the right, intelligence and capability to make decisions about how their neighborhood develops is that there is not subject position which offers this type of authority. The way out of a double-bind such as this is to ‘meta-communicate’ and make the debate about the subject position itself in relation to other subject positions and power. In official meetings with the city, these attempts were shut down and refused. City representatives even in private commented about the immaturity and ‘empty’ complaints of the poorly informed activists in the neighborhood. The alternative in terms of mounting a subject position with actual political power to speak freely and expect to have real decision making power around the urban development of their neighborhoods was to speak outside of the cities political theatre and as they did; take to the streets. The civic citizen The ‘civic citizen’ as another subjective position produces a regulatory dimension to city governance; both as a part of the personal self/governing subject and the legal punitive functions of the city and the police. The civic citizen is to follow the norms of the city in regards to public space and to see the city and the police as the rightful authorities to enforce these norms. The civic citizen see’s public space as the cities rather than theirs, in that they can use it, but do not decide its use. The punitive measures of the civic law are accepted as ‘ethical’ by the civic citizen, but more importantly is the sense of ownership that it declares. Public spaces can be used for consumer activity; ‘peaceful’ moments of socializing, and official city sanctioned events. Public space is not for politics or political gatherings, it is not for community meetings to discuss issues nor is it a place where neighbors can mount freely their own public exhibitions. The space is controlled and regulated by the city, and the resident is a user. The civic citizen is a ‘good user’ and also has a responsibility to inform the police when others are not being ‘civic’ in public spaces. The private system has a separate set of norms with the city and the residents must adapt to these norms. Poverty, politics, homelessness, youth sports, and prostitution are illegal, not allowed in public spaces and are punishable by fines. The civic citizen helps makes public space septic. The city as mediator The city government claims that the best solution is to work together with the private system taking into consideration what the residents want. Yet this sets the limits for what the resident’s rights are. Discourses are telling as much in what they don’t say as much as what they say. What if we ask ourselves what is not being considered in the cities discourses? This then gets more at David Harvey continues to raise with his questioning who has the ‘right to the city’. Who has the right to do what, when and where? What can’t be considered in the discourse for instance is that the residents should have first rights to the power to decide how their neighbourhood is developed. This is beyond the possible because it upsets the power of the private sector and the invested relationship that the city government has with this system. This is not to say that the city government is only interested in profit, but the system operates under particular rules, the rules of the market are the key to the neoliberal system and the priority of the market over the state of the people ‘welfare’. So the question we are interested in is how the activists who are battling with the city over the ‘elevator’ plan are potentially speaking for an alternative social logic to the neoliberal capitalist colonial system. Our study We consider our study to be an exploration, both theoretical and in terms of critical research practice. We tried as much as possible to enter the questions which appeared as relevant in relation to the material we gathered and the observations we made. Yet as important we were impacted by the relationships in which we made and kept throughout the four years we were involved with our research. This defined in many ways how are research developed and in a sense brought us into the quandaries of ‘relational politics’ itself. We believed in the right for residents to decide how their neighborhoods developed, and the right to form community collectives that should be given the power to decide amongst themselves what needs they have. In this sense we were interested in conceptual tools that made more visible the way in which power was being exercised, not to argue for any particular version of the urban environment, but to argue for the ‘right to decide’, as the communities right. More systematized studies will reveal more detailed analysis of how urban subjectivities function in theory and practice. What we lost by not sticking to a predetermined methodology we felt like we gained by engaging ourselves with the context and the people who were involved in the power relations we were studying. Future directions for critical social psychological urban research Our study indicated that the following areas may be useful directions for further critical research: 1. The continued interdisciplinary work between critical geography and critical studies on ‘governmentality’ has the potential to move academic and political debates out of the ‘mist’ of neoliberal rhetoric and into more located debates surrounding rights and responsibilities in urban contexts. Foucault’s theorizations of ‘governmentality, apparatuses of security’ and ‘techniques of self’ all provide useful starting points for these types of analysis. 2. Although our paper was not a more limited systematic discourse analysis, this approach in its more strict form (for example as Wetherall and Potter (1982) work on racism) and might be explored in future research on themes like neoliberalism, urban politics, and urban subjectivities examining issues of discursive legitimization and power relations. 3. Further theoretical work could be done on the conceptualization of urban ‘subjectivity’ looking more at the way in which subjective positions are interlinked both with other subjective positions, other discourses embedded within institutional systems of power. 4. We consider Massey’s proposals about spatialization central to critical social research directions. We agree that with her that ‘relational politics’ needs to be explored in terms of theory and practice. If neoliberalism tends to ‘break’ collectives, then the focus on relationship geographies and the issues surrounding power and space can be a counter-force. Critical research could work to outline and contrast relational politics with the politics of hegemony and ‘universalisms’ that tend to work toward the types of totalization which Foucault warned against. If neoliberalization is characterized by the privatization of city relations and spaces, then power relations are also privatized. The neoliberal city protects and permits the normalization of the private sector as a body with rights to be ‘private’ in terms of information, activity and movement while having little social responsibility. In terms of power relations this effectively makes power relations inaccessible for analysis and/or invisible to the general public, essentially depoliticizing cityspace and making the neoliberal citydweller a subject of consumption and accumulation searching for security in the unstable and increasing inequality of economic and social life. Collectivity is formulated in cultural events and celebrations, tourist attractions and self interest. Political collectives are either channelled into political parties or exist in the margins with no city funding for their activities nor tolerance for them disrupting city business other than occasionally being allowed (by permit) to walk in their own streets. Geographies of Responsibility The city of Barcelona rather than create critical political forms of knowledge, tries to persuade residents that the city is on the correct path to prosperity and the ‘good life’ in terms of quality lifestyle, and it is their responsibility to participate in the cities type of politics, regulate themselves and their fellow residents according to the cities civic codes, and help forward the cities goals and objectives of growth and economic competitiveness in the new globalized (neoliberalized) economy. In looking at these city texts they seem to produce a type of ‘bubble like’ world in which a continuity and unity is established between the past, present and future that read like a fairy tale in which difference and conflicts can be smoothed through the citizen joining the city in the march to a ‘better world’. Responsibility implies a sense of ‘taking care’ of, relating to, and having to account for how one bodies actions affect others. Thus, subjectivities are constructed around discourses of responsibility. What we can see is that discourses of power relations structure themselves within dimensions of relations and responsibilities which directly ties into spatial and temporal contingencies. As we mentioned in discussing the colonial system of power, careful attention should be given to the historical constructs of space and distance in relation to the issues surrounding responsibility , as many forms of resistance are directed toward these area of concern. In this we take from Roman Grosfoguels notion of ‘pluri-versal’ societies in which there is mutual respect and fresh debate from a multitude of epistemological perspectives. Thus the traditional hierarchies of political power would be shifted toward an collective process in which the priorities are the sharing of resources and sustainable means of production. This idealism provides at least a contrast to the competitive strategies that capitalist systems thrive on. Epilogue: La Barceloneta I returned to la Barceloneta in early September to begin the administrative process to complete the thesis, discuss the paper with my director, and to see my friends who lived there. At 8:30am the first morning after I arrived I awoke to voices and drilling in the interior open space in the building. I was warned that this was to happen and surprised in some ways to here that this unrequested ‘wake up call’ was due to the fact that the construction was to place an elevator in the building. They had put one in the next building also with little fanfare. After five years of conflicts surrounding the city’s plan to put elevators in the older buildings, it seemed somehow like the end and the beginning of a book. I understood later from one of the activists in the neighbourhood that the city was not organizing these reformations, but individual property owners were taking on the projects themselves, when they could afford it. These buildings had space in the stairwells to do this. It was not clear still what would happen to the buildings with less space. Yet it seemed like a quiet drama was taking place, the actual instalment of the elevators was happening in a form that appeared to be relatively non-disruptive to all involved. What then was the political drama that the city created by declaring they were going to make this sweeping urban intervention and turn the neighbourhood upside down to ‘upgrade it’? It all seemed to have been a kind of political theatre that had little to do with the project in which they supposedly were concerned with. I was told by the man who was now the president of the association opposed to the city’s Elevator Plan that he was sorry to see the women who was now the ex-regidora of the neigborhood go. He felt that she was to ‘radical’ for the city government so things were difficult for her, and she eventually left. She opposed a tourist hotel in the old ‘Born’ district and wanted to see the Elevator Plan modified to work individually with the needs for each building. When I told him that the ‘barrio’ every year had more and more tourists, he laughed and said that ‘his generation’ was the last of its kind, referring to the working class popular generation of la Barceloneta. His living room was filled with colourful decorated water bottles waiting to be strung all across the street creating the classic ceiling for the ‘Feste Mejor’ which occurred every September. Every year less streets participated, but he association continued every year with strings decorations and concerts for three days, local musicians and a bar/eatery to raise money for their work. There was more than a bit of nostalgia in the tone of our conversation, even as an outsider who had known the neighbourhood for only a few years I couldn’t help but feel that like I was in a village that had been taken over. Only the older neighbors remember now. But much more disturbing than what was over was what was replacing the village. I awoke one morning at daybreak (around 5am) to the familiar street voices of drunken passersby in the street. They are the only voices to be heard in a pretty much vacant street with no car traffic. They yell at each other and stop for frequent bouts of arguments or laughing, it’s a Friday morning so it’s a working day for the residents. I suppose the older residents can go back to sleep. But as I fantasize about what I would throw down on their heads if I had it available, I sensed that the loudness is a kind of expression that symbolizes a victory for the private sector; they are not worried that someone will shoot them, or come to the street and confront them; they will pass like every night at any hour doing whatever loudly and no one will do anything. Maybe it’s like having your village ‘occupied’ during the war; the drunk soldiers exhibit there power and lack of fear by taunting those that can’t react. Since when did adults lose the power to speak up in their own community’s to drunken tourists who can do whatever they like; pissing and screaming at all hours? It is an inversion of community, the private sector consumer dominates the social space and the residents adapt. My friend is right, something is over, but what replaces it seems to be a place where community relations are slowly occupied by the norms of consumption and privatization. The city is occupied by consumption and based on consumerism. Public space becomes private space oriented around business exchange and increasingly regulated by the city as mediator. It has a colonial feel to it, placing the city in-between the resident and the consumer, so that everything is mediated by the city. The resident is supposed to call the police (who usually are not interested) rather than be able to manage and negotiate the relationships in their neighbourhoods. This creates the docile citizen, the complainer, and a subject dependent on the very power that has been part of creating the situation. I left the neighbourhood disappointed I wouldn’t be at the ‘Feste Major’, but also a bit relieved to be out of the stream of tourists passing. The activists continue going to the meetings of the city, speaking to the restaurant owners who take over the sidewalks illegally, and handing out leaflets every Saturday at the market. Some younger activists will carry on the ‘fight’, not in the spirit of sustaining the historical culture, but in the spirit of speaking back to the heist of the city by thieves that take over space for profit and politicians who, without hesitation, ‘lie in the guise of truth’. Elevator updates In 2010 activists associations opposing the cities Elevator Plan received a declaration from the city mediator that the original form of the Elevator Plan is on hold. This means that perhaps a modification will occur that will amount to a more specific assessment of what is needed and how best to accomplish particular types of renovations in the older buildings. Was this decision largely a result of the efforts of the activists associations and the residents of Miles de Viviendas who interrupted the political process and never stopped protesting, organizing, and taking to the streets to demand their right to speak rather than be ‘participated’? The city mediator who was hired specifically as a ‘mediator’ rather than a career politician resigned a few months later among rumours that she was in conflict with the city officials as to how to manage her position. The former city representative was fired for an embarrassing public voting campaign to reform another area of the city, thus falling from the mayor’s assistant to the margins of the political arena for the moment. Without a major shift, the challenges for maintaining a collectively based community in la Barcelonta will be great. The city will not counter balance the private sector; rather will likely increasingly look for ways to co-partner in making the neighbourhood profitable. The ‘city’ as an institutional and political body seems lacks any serious critical reflection outside of academic forums and books which clearly call for a shift in urban politics, but nothing happens structurally. It appears that neoliberalism for now is the future for social relations and spaces in the city. The city promotes the rational that they maintain a good balance between making a liveable city for its residents (all included) as well as competing successfully in the demands of the contemporary neoliberal economy; they are in fact, an innovator. It claims to understand the needs and desires of the residents as well as practical realities that the residents must consider. For those in the upper classes of Barcelona perhaps the city has developed in ways that make life more secure and profitable. For those in the increasing margins the city may become more and more inaccessible, regulated and exclusive. Some urban spaces acquire over generations a ‘sense of community’ and this, rather than the multitudes of demographic statistics which we can site about an urban space is what makes a certain sense of ‘place’ in terms of living experience. This sense and culture of community is unique when it occurs and develops into a type of character, an organizing force and spirit at the heart of the relationships of those that live there. Economic or efficiency models of urban relations will break down in terms of grasping community, as it is not something to order, restructure, upgrade or remodel, it is something to learn from, listen to, and trust that it has its own wisdom if you believe in it and take care of it. What is interesting to consider is that the character of an urban environment can never be ‘defined’ from any one perspective, it is an ongoing object of dialogue, something everybody shares yet in spite of this apparent immaterial nature, it is usually considered the most valued aspect of an urban space. The rational models of city planners or the greed of real estate developers hold little promise for communities like la Barceloneta. They will have to refuse and take control of what they can.