Revitalising the Uncanny: Challenging Inertia in the Struggle against Forced Evictions

By Lancione, Michele | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Revitalising the Uncanny: Challenging Inertia in the Struggle against Forced Evictions


Lancione, Michele, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


In September 2014, when I arrived for the first time at 50 Vulturilor Street, located not far from the centre of Bucharest, I had the vivid impression of being catapulted into the middle of a post-calamitous event. Stuff was everywhere. Bags, tables, chairs, furniture and pieces of furniture, boxes and scrap materials, old TVs and stereo sets, a toothbrush poking out from a white toiletry bag resting on a broken suitcase, which was lying on a sofa alongside a number of other bags, covers, shoes, umbrellas and, of course, people. Human bodies were standing, moving, chatting around all that mess, right in the middle of two sidewalks delimiting the course of the street. What I had encountered that day was the aftermath of a massive eviction in which 20 families (around 100 individuals) had been thrown out onto the street after having lived for many years--for some up to 20--in the house they were now only able to see from the pavement. That day on September 2014, things and people were all soaked in the densely potent atmosphere of having become, all of a sudden, home-less (Figure 1).

As a consequence of wider processes of gentrification, neoliberal urban agendas and precarious dwelling conditions, evictions like that of Vulturilor are all but an exception in Europe and in many other parts of the world too (Desmond, 2012; Hartman and Robinson, 2003; Porteous and Smith, 2001). Although there are specificities to the Romanian context--such as the fact that many of these evictions relate to Roma people and originate within a particular history of housing policy (Amnesty International, 2011, 2013; Chelcea, 2012; Lancione, 2015, 2017; Zamfirescu, 2015)--at a more general level, they can be understood as part of a so-called 'planetary process of gentrification' (Lees et al., 2016). In short, with all due specificities, from Dhaka to Boston, passing through Shanghai and Sao Paolo, a vast array of people lose their homes in the name of making the 1% incrementally richer and more powerful. Bucharest is no different. In recent years, the city has been the setting of a play already performed in other cities as well: purification and commercialisation of the old city centre under the keywords of 'culture' and 'entertainment'; international investments in real estate and speculation; 'scandals' of corruption related to public building permissions; contested forms of citizenships; and more (Chelcea and Pulay, 2015; Marcinczak et al., 2014; Nae and Turnock, 2011; Stoiculescu, 2012).

Framing Bucharest, and the Vulturilor's eviction, as yet another case of neoliberal 'urban restructuring' (Brenner and Theodore, 2005) is possible--but this generalist reading does not tell us much about how accumulation, dispossession and other urban phenomena are lived and embodied by the ones experiencing them. Attention to such details does not lead, as some scholars seem to contend, to an a-critical, 'anecdotal and notably indiscriminate approach to urban investigation' (Storper and Scott, 2016: 16). As this article aims to show, it is perhaps only within that 'how'--within the everyday makings of accumulation, dispossession, eviction, expulsion, bordering, marginalisation and more--that something potentially new can be learnt to critically (re)imagine urban political praxis and theory (Amin, 2014; McFarlane, 2011; Simone, 2010).

Since the day of the eviction until July 2016, when the camp was forcibly dismantled and the families divided and placed into homeless shelters, the community lived on the street, in tents and improvised shacks, claiming their right to social housing. This makes Vulturilor one of the longest and most visible protests for housing rights in the history of contemporary Romania. It is important to note that the Vulturilor people were unjustly evicted - after their house was sold by its owner to a foreign investor - and the State did not intervene to provide them with social housing, to which they are entitled by law (Zamfirescu, 2015). …

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