book reviews and summer research

Quick self-promoting updates, my review of Japonica Brown-Saracino’s A Neighborhood That Never Changes was published in Urban Geography, and now if I can just get that last revise and resubmit out of the door I’ll be able to check everything off my summer to-do list.

dusk over the assiniboine river

Speaking of, I’m also finishing up a particularly productive summer of research in Winnipeg filled with loads of interviews, and organizational observations that took the form of everything from helping to analyze housing markets, to hanging out with some really fun kids, to learning more about bedbugs than any one person should know. Thanks again to Understanding Canada the Canadian Studies Program of the Government of Canada for support through the Doctoral Student Research Award that helped make this summer of research possible.

book reviews and summer research

this is what multiculturalism (actually) looks like

Sometimes a project just sums up everything you’ve been trying to think about in one amazing, elegant action. And the Non C’est Non -No Means No art action in  Parc-Extension in Montreal is one of those for me right now. So I am going to gush about it for a second.

It’s the work of a group of young women who live in Parc-X, which is actually similar in many ways to the neighbourhoods that I am working in for my current research project, a working class urban neighbourhood that is increasingly also a diverse immigrant-community neighbourhood.

In their own words:
Whoa!! Qu’est-ce qui arrive dans Parc-Extension?!
Early last Friday morning, shop keepers, workers, residents and passers-by of Parc-Extension neighbourhood (in Montreal) woke up to fierce feminist posters with pointed messaging in Bangla, English, French, Mandarin, Tamil, and Urdu, by anti-racist feminists in order to denounce sexist behavior and street harassment, and to build safe, dignified and healthy communities for all.

From what I can gather from these images, and from their descriptions, this project comes out of their own embodied spatial experiences –what you see, feel and know when you live, work and play in a place in the body you’ve got. It’s a simple, but radical, vision of a new kind of home space, one produced through collective action and where everyone experiences safety. It’s also a reminder of how a lot of the academic and political debates around immigration, integration and multiculturalism — which still circle around measuring how much ‘they’ have become like ‘us’ — are totally detached from real life.

These ongoing debates completely ignore the interactions between different ‘theys,’ as well as the ways in which people create their own diverse and changing ‘us’-groups moving through everyday life. You get a taste of this through these posters addressed to publics made up of the members of the various communities these artists/activists occupy: a neighbourhood community, various national, ethnic and colour communities, different language communities, an immigrant community, an urban community, an arts community, gender communities, different religious communities and feminist communities, for example.

It’s these types of simultaneities that seem to confound policy makers, and often planning practitioners, who still tend to want to control, or regulate what participation looks like, and tend to only promote the types of participation that can take place when we each come to the table bracketing our multiplicities.

For those of us “in the academy” these are the types of actions we need to find ways to support, incorporating the simple, but again radical, visions these actions present into our own work and advocacy!

this is what multiculturalism (actually) looks like

visbility 3 – underexposure

So what do you do when your community is only made visible in the media as a problem, and when the realities of your everyday life – the good and the not so good  – are sorely underexposed?

For two different groups of youth in Copenhagen the answer was to become the media.

Ethniqa Magizine is a online lifestyle publication that started in the living room of one of the editors, and has grown into a network of women writing in their own voices about the experience of living in Denmark.  Articles range from discussions of homelessness, and youth navigating the difficult terrain of sexuality, culture and religion, to lighter fashion and beauty articles.

The editors are proud that the articles in Ethniqa are tied together by writing that always endevours to simply speak in the author’s own voice, without feeling obligated to play any of the roles they see women of colour are often asked to play in the Danish media – for example, representative of their community, hero, or victim.

Ethniqa also features a range of fashion photo shoots, which the editors see as the other great success of the magazine. These are photos featuring Danish women (and some men) with various styles, tastes and ethnic backgrounds, and as the editors describe it “These are photos that could be in any Danish magazine, but they are not.” The editors of Ethinqa want to change that, and in the process change the image that pops into someone’s mind when they think of a Danish woman.

While magasinet Mjølnerparken is a very different project, its goals are not dissimilar to Ethniqa’s. Mjølnerparken is a social housing neighbourhood in the north end of Copenhagen, which the media, and some politicians, have made synonymous with crime and disorder in the city, and more specifically with “immigrant” crime and disorder. The magazine presents a very different view, and one that comes straight from a group of youth who call Mjølnerparken home.

The magazine started as part of a community development project in the neighbourhood, and features … well it features pretty much whatever the youth editorial board what it to. This usually includes updates on events in the neighbourhood, and more general arts and politics updates. When I visited they were working on an issue based on a recent whirlwind trip to Palestine.

The Mjølnerparkens in the general media, and in this magazine are two very different places, and as the youth describe they don’t really recognize the mainstream media version. There are challenges in their community, they know that, but they still feel these are misrepresented. Plus, as we joked what would the news look like if someone filed a report every time a kid did drugs in the tony Østerbro neighbourhood?

For the most part Mjølnerparken is a safe home for these youth, and a space where they feel free to create their own version of Danishness, by combining the best of the many cultures in which they are immersed.

visbility 3 – underexposure

visibility 2 – overexposure

Immigration continues to be described as a problem in need of solution, and people identified as immigrants are in many ways the key problem. But who exactly are these immigrants? The obvious answer might seem to be people that moved from another country, but in both popular and official discussions immigrant is an increasingly raced and classed term used synonymously with ideas of disorder, radicalization, lack of achievement and criminalization.

But the flip-side is that international migration is also a part of economic globalization, and attracting economic elites to your cities is an important part of selling them to international capital. So there is a need for a whole other set of words and stories to describe this group of people who might have immigrated, but are certainly not immigrants. The idea of ex-pats, or immigrants from Western countries are the terms I’ve seen in Denmark. And in Canada there is an increasing differentiation between entrepreneurial or economic class immigrants as opposed to say family reunion or refugee classes.

As is so often the case, these more abstract and structural questions come together to impact the everyday lives of real people. The disproportionate amount of attention given to the supposed immigrant problem leads to a situation where everyone who fits the image of an immigrant gets treated as though they are part of a problem.

We see this in the Toronto police disproportionately stopping Black and Brown youth for questioning. We see this when majority residents decide to avoid moving into certain neighbourhoods. We see it in the difficulties of ethnic minority residents in gaining employment. And we even see it in the murder of a woman in her own home. Artist and sociologist Nabaz Anwars articulates this challenge in his own job seeking campaign including posters plastered over the city asking potential employers “Tør du … ansætte mig?” –  “Do you dare … hire me?”

While this kind of othering  – creating us-them categories with real social, political and economic consequences – is certainly not new, there is a lot of energy being expended right now to make access to receiving societies more difficult, while simultaneously promoting and publicizing the notion that immigrants are simply unwilling to join in.

visibility 2 – overexposure

visibility 1 – the state

Pop quiz. Who can draw the logo of their city, province/state/canton etc, or country off the top of their heads? Your answer will depend in large part on where you are and how visible governments make themselves in your everyday life.

In Denmark no matter who you are you’d be hard pressed to go through a day without some interaction with the state, even if it’s just seeing your Kommunes (city government’s) logo on a couple of buildings. Esping-Andersen argued that the visibility and active nature of governments tied Danes together with middle class residents as invested in the welfare state as working class or poor residents.

On the other hand Suzanne Mettler refers to the US situation as that of a submerged state, particularly with reference to the reliance on providing benefits and services through tax expenditures and various private organizations. She makes the argument that the invisibility of the state in many people’s lives weakens American democracy, because it weakens people’s connection and commitment to the welfare state.

As I plug along with dissertation research I’m starting see that commitment to the welfare state and membership strategies are defined as much by variety in visibility as by average levels.

For example, in Canada, the visibility of the state in ones life is dependent on both where you are, and who you are. In Winnipeg the province is everywhere, reminding you to get a flu shot or take some exercise, and letting you know that it’s supporting the construction of new hospitals, apartment buildings and food coops. While in Toronto all eyes are on the mayor’s recent proposals to slash services. But many of these services were, until recently, provincial responsibilities downloaded to cities in a larger retreat of the state in the late 90s and early 00s. Additionally, where programs remain they are increasingly segmented, moving away from a comprehensive focus on social and political centeration, and towards limited projects built around state-defined notions of difference.

In many ways multiple states are emerging in Canada, and each resident is left to their own devises, competing to be governed by the most generous. This has the potential to create, simultaneously clientelism, and competition between groups of residents. Tensions, for example, between New Canadian and Urban Aboriginal residents in Winnipeg are at least partially fueled by the ways in which these communities increasingly interact with segregated states, distinctly different in their levels of paternalism, support and visibility.

visibility 1 – the state

National Housing Day

November 22 is National Housing Day in Canada, and while a handful of governments acknowledged the day, the government in Ottawa was definitely not one of them. Canada has the dubious distinction of being the only industrialized country without a national housing strategy. Increasingly this lack of engagement is leading to a patchworked housing landscape in Canada with other levels of government variously trying to fill in the gap, or racing to follow the fed’s example and distance themselves from housing.

The result is general underfunding of housing as compared to need, particularly in the by-definition less-profitable sector of social housing. Housing is undoubtedly a need and necessity, and the fact of the matter is that in places like the Nordic region, where governments have been heavily engaged in housing production, maintenance, and support for residents, that engagement secured a wider range of choice in housing for a larger range of residents.

Jim Silver’s new book Good Places to Live: Poverty and Public Housing in Canada, looks at four examples of how this patchwork of policy is working in the public housing sector, helping to dispel myths about public housing, and highlight the possibilities that come out of community-led, government-supported development. A great choice for your National Housing Day celebrations.

National Housing Day

surprising Europe

Surprising Europe is a new series exploring the lives of African immigrants in Europe, giving voice to their successes and challenges.

So far what’s fascinating is exactly how everyday the reports seem to be, featuring thick descriptions of everything from harrowing stories of travel by boat, to the food and car preferences of an exceptionally wealthy entrepreneur.

Also interesting is the fact that the series seems primarily aimed at Africans in Africa. While it aired on Dutch television, and Al Jazeera English, there is a distinct sense that this is a private conversation that you are being permitted to listen in on. And so this is a very different narrative of immigration; one that is much less clear-cut and academic — in the worst sense of that word — instead this series constructs a multiple and messy story. You know something like real life. I’m looking forward to finding the time to watch all of these.

surprising Europe