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Caring for the endurance of a collective struggle

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This paper is part of a review Forum of my film A Inceput Ploaia/It Started Raining, on forced evictions in Romania, organized and published by Dialogues in Human Geography. All contributions can be found here: https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/dhga/9/2
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Author response
Caring for the endurance
of a collective struggle
Michele Lancione
University of Sheffield, UK
When I arrived in Vulturilor Street for the first time,
I didn’t know anything of restitutions, anything of
video making, and very little about the fight for the
right to housing in Romania or Eastern Europe.
I landed in Bucharest with the idea of exploring a
specific set of issues – to do with homelessness
and drug use (see Lancione, 2019, for an initial
account) – but quite immediately I found myself
dealing with something rather different and unex-
pected. By serendipity, my body was projected into
the aftermath of a massive eviction: right at the edge
of a new resistance-in-the-making.Duringthose
early days, in mid-September 2014, I still had no
idea of what drove me to return to Vulturilor.
I simply kept going back there, every late afternoon,
either alone or with some friends from Carusel, a
local NGO, to help with the distribution of food or
second-hand clothes. However, I lacked a clear
sense of direction. Compared to the local grass-
roots activists of the Common Front for the Right
to Housing (FCDL), who were engaged in organiz-
ing the resistance camp in its politics and direct
actions, I was out-of-place. I was attracted to the
community’s uncanny resistance, but at the end of
the day, I did not know what to do. No one really
needed me there. The help I provided was limited,
the camera I always carried with me almost useless
and my Westernized persona (male, White, PhD-
carrying ethnographer) was insignificant.
Perhaps thanks to my ethnographic sensibility –
which essentially pushes me to hang around inter-
esting affections as much as Maliq’s ‘gypsy driver’
hangs onto the street – I persisted in showing up at
the camp, entertaining kids, bringing new friends
home to do their washing, as well as taking and
sharing pictures. By being there, I became somehow
part of the scenery and of its uncanny atmosphere,
and finally, one day of November 2014, something
powerful happened. Nicoleta Vis¸an, a working
mother who emerged as the informal leader of the
community’s resistance, approached me and said
she wanted to talk. More or less, this is how the
conversation unfolded
1
:
Nicoleta: You took many pictures, from the
beginning, right?
Me: Yes, I have a lot!
Nicoleta: And you have also video as well?
Me: Some, but I can make more.
Nicoleta: Here things are not moving. All it’s
the same. And we need people to
know. We need the media to know.
We need to create some noise, or
nothing will change!
Me: What do you have in mind, Nico?
Nicoleta: I don’t know. Why don’t you put
these pictures online? Why don’t you
send them to the media, the TV?
Me: Because they won’t publish them.
They are not interested in this stuff.
Corresponding author:
Michele Lancione, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield, UK.
Email: m.lancione@sheffield.ac.uk
Dialogues in Human Geography
2019, Vol. 9(2) 216–219
ªThe Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/2043820619850362
journals.sagepub.com/home/dhg
Nicoleta: So let’s do a Facebook page!Let’s do
a page where we write about life here,
and you put your pictures, and we’ll
tell everyone how we are living!
Me: This is a great idea!Let’s do a blog.
Nicoleta: Un jurnal?
Me: Da, un jurnal!
The first blog post was published just a few days
later at www.jurnaldinvulturilor50.org, where it can
still be read. It is because of the blog that I became
more systematic in my recollection of the visual
material that then made it into the film, filtered
through the collaborative approach to editing and
storytelling that I’ve tried to establish with Nicoleta
and the larger community. But Nico’s idea about the
blog did something more profound and important
for me: it gave my presence and my activism a scope
that I hadn’t been able to find on my own. Nicoleta
oriented me in the field of action and, by doing that,
she provided me with a way to be relevant – to be of
use in and for the struggle.
2
Embracing that proposi-
tion required effort and time, which were scarce
resources as I was simultaneously undertaking a
completely different fieldwork with drug users in
a different part of the city. But despite the stress it
generated and the essential burnout to which it led –
due to over-working and the emotional cost associ-
ated with engaged grass-roots activism – that
engagement is the most important thing that I ever
did as an activist and an ethnographer.
For the community members, myself and many
other comrades, the Vulturilor action-protest
became a ground where a collective transformative
political experience was forged, in everyday meet-
ings, public rallies, bureaucratic entanglements and
mundane chats and coffees’ around the camp’s fire.
During the 2 years of that resistance, and thanks to
that sustained and shared engagement, my way of
thinking and doing politics changed – and for the
better. The camp and its collective subject forced me
to explore and then embrace my anarchist, feminist
and anti-racist ethos in ways previously unknown to
me, by means of dialectical confrontations and col-
lective solidarities that came to define who I am, also
as a scholar, today.
A key element in this whole process was played
by the comrades of the FCDL, of which Nicoleta is
part. When they asked me to join the movement and
contribute to their fight through projects and actions
that still continue today, I realized what being part
of a movement truly means. It is about caring for the
endurance of a collective struggle. Such endurance
is not easy to undertake and it is not accommodat-
ing. It needs to be cultivated in ways that sometimes
require enormous energies and shared efforts. But
its meaning and impact are profound and lasting. I
am grateful to my comrade Ana Vilenica, with
whom I share another horizontally made project (the
newly launched Radical Housing Journal
3
), for
pointing to the notion of ‘accompliceship’ to
describe the radical nature of the ground upon which
the camp, the online blog, the film and many other
FCDL’s initiatives were (and are) assembled. That
shared orientation, as Ana so poignantly highlights
in her review, is the most important aspect of the
film and of my personal involvement with Vultur-
ilor and with similar struggles in Bucharest and
elsewhere.
To understand the origins of evictions like that of
Vulturilor, one has to dig through a complex history,
which is rendered clear and accessible by the won-
derful scholarship of friends like Chelcea (2006,
2012) and Vincze (2017). In his review of the film,
Liviu clarifies where these evictions are coming
from: it is not simply a matter of privatization but
of racial histories and powerful cultural doxas. As
he so brilliantly explains, it would be a mistake to
essentialize this processastheoutcomeofsome
strange, exotic, Eastern-European backdrop (see
also Popovici and Pop, 2016). What happened in
Vulturilor is no exception, but defines the current
urban condition for the many, globally. As Kather-
ine Brickell reminds us in her contribution to this
debate – and also as shown by her crucial work
(Brickell, 2014; Brickell et al., 2017) – evictions are
a lived and embodied matter defining the experience
of home for millions of urbanites worldwide. This is a
global urban context where displacement becomes
the modality through which the urban itself – and city
life – become assembled, in ways that encompass
usual tales of capitalist accumulation by disposses-
sion. This doesn’t mean that those tales, logics and
Lancione 217
processes aren’t at play, but it means that the experi-
ence and meaning of both evictions and related forms
of resistance are complex matter encompassing racia-
lized histories, patriarchal modalities of homing and
forms of everyday endurance that exceeds narratives
of annihilation or accounts pivoted around mere resi-
lience. As AbdouMaliq Simone shows in his scholar-
ship (Simone, 2004, 2018), it is only in paying
attention to the everyday (un)makings of dwelling
that one is be able to grasp what it means to live in
the displaced and displacing city, and what that por-
tends for the contemporary urban.
These notions already made sense to my scholar
self before going back to Romania, but I was able to
access them in full only through the lessons that I’ve
learned on the grounds of Vulturilor: by seeing what
the (un)making of home means when it is lived and
felt; by grasping the affective charge that can spark
from mundane acts of resistance; as well as by appre-
ciating how all these processes have genealogies that
cannot be taken for granted but need to be understood
contextually in order to be contested. The academic
work that I was able to produce through my involve-
ment with the community of Vulturilor (Lancione,
2017b, 2018) is fundamentally indebted to their fight
and to what I’ve exchanged with my FCDL com-
rades. In a sense, that work, the blog, the film, the
dozens of community screenings that we have been
organizing across Europe,
4
and the book that we are
now producing with the support of the Antipode
Foundation,
5
are not separated from the sharing of
the food on the pavement, or the long conversations
within the shacks, or on the open air of the street
(Figure 1). All together they form an ‘accomplice-
ship’, as Ana puts it, which takes different individual
forms and intensities, but in its collective expression
remains true to its shared politics.
That politics is the ‘undercommons’ that I would
like to occupy more and more in my academic prac-
tice (Moten and Harney, 2004), exploiting its privi-
leges and adapting them to the issue at stake. This
does not mean to diminish the importance of the
academic practice in itself but to truly embrace and
cultivate it as a political and intellectual praxis. The
latter is not an institutional given. Being a ‘public
intellectual’, in this sense, is more than simply
‘bringing the research back to the public’. If one is
serious about the academic work as a political and
intellectual praxis, being a public intellectual is
about the constitution of the public through the
research engagement: it is about, in other words, the
use of intellectual labour and privileges to work
with others in the making of a shared ground of
action, a public domain of struggle. In that making,
Figure 1. Nicoleta writing a blog post on my laptop, January 2015 (Photo by Michele Lancione).
218 Dialogues in Human Geography 9(2)
the academic needs to allow for his/her displace-
ment: as much as the struggle is transformative for
the other, it needs to be for oneself and related insti-
tutional backing. I am thankful to my comrades and
to the work of colleagues like Ana, Katherine, Liviu
and Maliq for providing a constant source of inspira-
tion to move this whole assemblage forward.
Notes
1. Account reconstructed from my diary entry of that day.
2. I discuss some of this in Lancione (2017a).
3. A new open-source, peer-reviewed, collectively man-
aged journal available at www.radicalhousingjournal.
org.
4. A constantly updated list is available at www.
ainceputploaia.com, where the film can also be seen.
5. Info at https://antipodefoundation.org/scholar-
activist-project-awards/201718-recipients/sapa-
1718-lancione/.
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Lancione 219
... More recent work outlines the ways in which groups that are termed 'marginal' or 'off the grid' are, in fact, intricately connected to the state (Chatterjee, 2006;Evans, 2002;Rolnik, 2019) and that, in some instances, it is these very connections that produce marginality (Nunzio, 2017). Simultaneously, others (Lancione, 2019a(Lancione, , 2019bSimone, 2016) -including in this special issue -urge us to think of endurance in marginal spaces as a form of dwelling, of inhabiting and being in the world, that often goes unnoticed in dominant narratives of political change but offers new possibilities for conceptualising politics and building horizontal solidarities. Similarly, others (Bayat, 2013: 80) view activities in the urban margins as the 'quiet encroachment of the ordinary', referring to 'the discreet and prolonged ways in which the poor struggle to survive and to better their lives by quietly impinging on the propertied and powerful'. ...
... We highlight the unique and particular ways in which evictions are lived and inhabited in different contexts. As Lancione (2019b) reminds us that although displacement has become 'the modality through which the urban itself -and city life -become assembled, in ways that encompass usual tales of capitalist accumulation by dispossession, the experience and meaning of eviction is more complex' (p. 218). ...
... 218). Both evictions and resistance take on colours and forms that encompass local histories, patriarchal modalities of homing and forms of everyday endurance (Lancione, 2019b). ...
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