Urban conflicts

Convenors: Federico Rahola & Massimiliano Guareschi (Università di Genova)

As recent political events demonstrate, current conflicts are mainly urban. This goes for military conflicts (within the framework of that process some scholars refer to as the new “military urbanism”) as well as for political and social conflicts (as those recently occurred in Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, or Istanbul). Yet, these conflicts are urban not only because of their increasing occurrence within an urban context, but primarily because they arise within – and are also the material friction produced by – the huge process of urbanization that characterizes both the contemporary logics of capital differential accumulation and valorisation and the contemporary forms of life and labor. In this respect, it is important to stress how “urban” is far from indicating both a homogeneous space and a clear or univocal concept. On the contrary, by assuming expanding urbanization as the overall process of violent transformation of territories and sites caused by capital extractive logics, it consequently entails the blurring of any clear distinction between urban and non-urban and thus the slippery and irregular dimension which characterizes the current “urban at large” landscape. Far from being peaceful, this process reveals itself to be defined by struggles and frictions amongst different spatial and temporal scales and logics. From this perspective, “urban” is primarily a battle-space, that is, a context wherein space is simultaneously the stake, object, medium and tool of conflict. In other terms, urban conflicts are “for space” and “through space”, and they also inherently produce new types of space and new spatial lives.

This workshop panel will focus on the different dimensions and forms of recent urban conflicts, by addressing both their topographic dimension and their specific topology, whereby it is conflict that plies space. To the extent that the process of urbanization triggers a whole series of frictions (within scales, among scales and between urban and non-urban dimensions and actors), those frictions represent in turn as many specific ethnographic sites. On this regard, ethnography can provide an insightful prism through which those frictions can be observed and interpreted, by placing the gaze inside the rich texture of the conflict zone and by observing the incipient and emergent configurations of actions and interactions that eventually breed major spatial outcomes.

Accordingly, the aim of the workshop is to bring together researchers who use ethnographic methods to address urban conflicts on behalf of their socio-spatial articulations. A number of broad questions arise here. Among these: how does urban space turn into the stake of conflict? How to describe the urban strategies and tactics deployed by the actors involved in conflicts? How are urban territories turned into a resource for conflict, or, conversely, into spatial apparatuses that preempt and neutralize conflict? How do economic, political, military and security factors intertwine and interact in contemporary urban conflicts? How does conflict destabilize previous spatial matrixes and lead to the establishment of new urban patterns?

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