Urban vacancy, in/visibility and politics at the margins of the city

Authors: Alain Malherbe*, Université catholique de Louvain
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: Urban vacancy, margins, in/visibility, Brussels
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon B1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper we intend to explore the complex relation between urban vacancy and the in/visibility of the margins, arguing that a reconnaissance (Honneth 2004; Ricoeur 2004) of the pivotal role that the margins play within urban transformation processes is urgent. Abandoned places, vacant lots and buildings, urban wastelands: these mis-used spaces and the people who live there –homeless, refugees, and other precarious groups and individuals– are often interpreted by dominant discourses and representations as an extreme example of invisibility or on the contrary as the hyper-visible Otherness that is scaring and unsettling. In both cases, the constant becoming that links together these two dimensions is denied, which results in the reification of the margins themselves, worsening prejudices, exacerbating conflicts and re-establishing unequal power relations (Allen 2004).Evictions and other eradication strategies become therefore the ideological legitimation for urban transformations according to neoliberal logics. Against this dystopic perspective, we consider the margins as spaces of possibility, where alternative configurations to the way contemporary city is imagined and lived can appear.We are therefore convinced that the margins should be rethought (Lancione 2016) in order to take some distance from fixed and prejudiced representations and open up new perspectives both at the academic and political level. Relying on our ethnographic work with-in urban margins and homeless people in Brussels (2017-ongoing), we will explore the margins through the articulation between visibility and invisibility: how can we recognise and then reveal the spaces of micro-politics where new futures are possible far removed from current dystopias?

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