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Geographies of Justice: experiences from three continents, 3 June

Speakers: Amanda Huron, Amanda Thomas and Victoria Habermehl
Date: Monday, 3 June 2013
Time: 12:30-14:00
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College

The Antipode Institute for the Geographies of Justice spent a week in Durban hosted by CCS and our allies. Three participants describe their current research.
1) Work, self-governance and the urban commons: limited-equity housing cooperatives in Washington, D.C. (Amanda Huron)
Is an urban commons possible? A commons may be understood as a non-commodified resource that is collectively owned and/or regulated, operating outside the realms of “public” and “private.” A commons is not a fixed geographical entity, but rather is defined by the way it is socially constituted – as Peter Linebaugh notes, through acts of commoning. The pioneering work of scholars like Elinor Ostrom has focused primarily on commons that have been developed by tight-knit populations of people in relatively rural areas. Maintenance of commons, Ostrom argues, relies on communities of people who “share a past and expect to share a future” – that is, people with much in common, operating in a long-term time frame. Cities, following Ostrom, may seem like poor groundings for commons: cities are quickly changing places with relatively diverse populations of people who may not have much in common. But the world is rapidly urbanizing, and if the commons is to have real meaning for human relations, it must work within the landscape of cities. Here, I theorize the urban commons, taking up Silvia Federici’s call to ground theorization of the commons in everyday practices by studying how members of a set of de-commodified housing cooperatives in Washington, D.C. engage in collective ownership. My research shows that the commons can be practiced in cities, and that the urban commons has much to offer its members – but that the commons must be understood in terms of the substantial time and work that commoning requires.
2) Post-politicising processes in environmental governance: collaboration and consensus in Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand (Amanda Thomas)
As Aotearoa New Zealand faces ever-mounting pressures on freshwater allocation, I will engage with critical questions about how democracy is enacted in environmental governance and what this means for natures. Since the 1990s environmental decision making processes have been increasingly devolved, based on the promise of enhanced local democracy. This trend towards local collaboration and deliberation has developed out of questions about formal, state-centric democracy and the place of ideology in decision making, as analysed by Chantal Mouffe. Yet the realities of devolution have been complicated and have not necessarily strengthened democracy. Indeed claims have been levelled that deliberative processes provide an effective means to maintain neoliberal hegemony as resistance is enrolled into outwardly democratic processes and effectively silenced. Radical democratic literature has, therefore, argued that collaborative and consensus based planning have aided post-politicising processes that disavow conflict and channel outcomes that fit with neoliberalisms, as critiqued by Erik Swyngedouw. In this brief presentation I will draw radical democratic theories into conversation with political ecology to examine an example of collaborative decision making about freshwater in Canterbury, a region of Aotearoa New Zealand. I will focus on the ways in which communicative planning tools were utilised within a terrain of unaddressed power relations to consolidate particular environmental rationalities. Yet I will also examine the ways these processes were contested and complicated in productive and hopeful ways.
3) Within, against and beyond ‘ruins’ in Buenos Aires: urban resistance, privatisation and occupation (Victoria Habermehl)

My project aim is to look at the practices of social reproduction and resistance from within spaces described or organized to become 'ruins' in the city. These spaces of organized abandonment are created in order to justify regeneration schemes, urban gentrification, and displacement. Critics include David Harvey, Neil Smith and Ruthie Gilmore. Currently undertaking fieldwork for my PhD, I will discuss briefly several examples of urban resistance, occupation or subversion within spaces of ruins that are taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I find this context particularly interesting as more than 12 years after a profound financial crisis of 2001 Buenos Aires demonstrates processes of transformation both by capital and social movements. By studying crisis as a long-term process, rather than moment- I hope to understand how during times of austerity and crisis resistances in the city can create new spaces for transformation and increase in gains for social movements.

Speakers: Amanda Huron is an assistant professor at the University of the District of Columbia, USA; Amanda Thomas is a doctoral student at Victoria University of Wellington; and Victoria Habermehl is a doctoral student at the University of Leeds, UK.

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