Beyond Pain Narratives? Representing Loss and Practising Refusal at the Astoria Hotel

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Recent scholarship that contends with the ethical and political difficulty of representing loss has emphasized the importance of Indigenous, racialized, urban, and/or otherwise oppressed communities’ refusal to recite “pain narratives”. According to these formulations of refusal, there are some things about which the academy does not need to know. Not as much scholarship has considered that there may be some pain about which we do need to know. Drawing on archival records, nine months of ethnographic embeddedness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), and conversations with two DTES organizers, this article responds to this question by arguing for representations of loss that cut against the spectacularity of pain narratives by rendering visible how loss manifests in the everyday. By way of example, this article contextualizes loss at a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel called the Astoria Hotel. Tracing the history of the Astoria from the early 1900s to the present-day, this article shows how ongoing death, loss, and incumbent remembrance at the Astoria was not—and is still not—inevitable. It shows how DTES organizers, including those connected with the DTES SRO Collaborative and the Tenant Overdose Response Organizers, are working against violent forces which threaten the neighbourhood and community. In doing so, this article brings together studies of urban history, ethnography, and public memory to take seriously the notion that some pain does matter, while at the same time, inviting critique and further discussion of what it means to subvert pain narratives and what constitutes the work of refusal.

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See also Amber Dean, “Space, Temporality, History: Encountering Hauntings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside
  • Frank Leonard
Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside” (report
  • See Amber Dean
  • Toronto
Town Tall: Fourth of July Event Squeaked in Ahead of France’s Bastille Day
  • Malcom Perry
They thought I was going to back down and leave”: DTES Tenant’s Court Case Shines Light on Practices of Sahota Landlords
  • John Colebourn
Gender, Ethnicity, and Hybrid Forms of Community-based Urban Activism in Vancouver
  • See Martin
Research 101: A Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside” (guide
  • See Louise Boilevin
Balmoral, Regent Hotel Owners Fight City’s $1 Expropriation in Court
  • Jen St
  • Denis
On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity
  • Audra Simpson
Obvious but Invisible: Ways of Knowing Health, Environment, and Colonialism in a West Coast Indigenous Community
  • See Nicholas Blomley
R-Words,” 244; Simpson, “On Ethnographic Refusal
  • Yang Tuck