City at a Time of Crisis

 

 

Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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Yet apart from the self-evident importance of the aforementioned uses of martial metaphors for the legitimisation of more totalitarian policies of public order, it is worth dwelling for a while on another two points that appear to hold centre place in the production of this discourse –– and which cooperate exceptionally with one another. First, even the most cursory of readings of relevant articles makes clear that the discourse produced today in relation to the migration phenomenon is ever-increasingly interwoven with discussions over criminality –– and therefore, with issues of public security. The cries by Dendias for undertaking immediate action in regard to the management of what he calls “illegal migration”, and the doom-like tone with which he talks about the presence of migrants in the country’s interior are typical examples of such a connection between migration and national security. This relationship, however, does not comprise a Greek novelty. Stephen Graham argues that “in all western nations, it is the postcolonial diasporas, and their neighbourhoods, that are the main targets of the new, internal and often highly racialised security politics” [1]. Graham concerns himself, at this point, primarily with the ways in which the contemporary neo-conservative discourse connects the migration phenomenon with global terrorism networks; and he stresses that “such is the conflation of terrorism and migration these days amongst the right that simple acts of migration are now often being deemed acts of warfare within contemporary military doctrine” [2]. The difference that one could spot in the Greek example derives from the content of the connections themselves. Because the conservative and far-right rhetoric in Greece, even if making a wide use of the same orientalist tools, does not see (at least, not quite yet) terrorist networks behind the migrant communities –– but instead, some more archetypal “natural dangers” and the more blatant “cultural threats” against the orderly function of the national body; elements that this rhetoric claims to be able to certify through the ambiguous conclusions of the criminological discourse. Even so, the matter of national security is still brought up. The “invasion” that the minister invokes translates into an act (and therefore, a declaration) of war.

The use of such a hygienic discourse by the state officials in question is far from coincidental. Utilising the legacy of at times popular theories of degeneration [1] and relying upon the promotion of a stricter dogma of security –– in face of the risk of social deregulation caused by the economic crisis [2] –– they attempt to rejuvenate the mechanisms of national meaning-assignment on the basis of an abstract public security threat while they utilise, at the same time, the concrete characteristics and dynamics of familiar, stereotypical approaches. The historical importance of the hygienic discourse is, after all, unquestionable: both for the purpose of self-cognition and representation of the “inseparable and healthy” national body and for the legitimisation of policies of control and technologies of security [3]. It is in this cognitive environment that one ought to seek some basic interpretations of the explosion of the racist phenomenon, which has been observed on a national level, primarily during 2012. The hygienic metaphors and the introduction of nosology in the sphere of the production of politics comprise the penultimate field for the legalisation of violence, as Susan Sontag explains in the context of the military metaphors of cancer [4] –– regardless of whether the axis for the articulation of such violence is developed vertically (see: the state) or horizontally (see: the society). They have the unique capacity to act parallel, at two different levels: first at the physical-material level, which is where the illness appears and inhabits, where one can observe its materialities and its transmissibilities, and where the material results of the historically tried and tested techniques of exclusion and control are inscribed. Second, and at the same time, at a symbolic-political level –– at the heart of which one can rightfully introduce its weighty “truth”; utilising the unquestionable evidence that the clinical perception of the illness carries with it and assigning essentialist content to the forms of politics, therefore articulating them through the well-known catastrophic syntax of emergency.

état de siege [1]: public space user manual (1 of 3)

We shall reoccupy our cities and our neighbourhoods. We shall treat humanely all those who are in need. But Law shall return to the cities. And the feeling of security shall be reinstated among their residents. We shall, lastly, satisfy the common conception of Justice” [2]. On April 7th, 2012 the current prime minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras, used this ambivalent if explicitly martial declaration in order to demonstrate one of the main axes of his political agenda during the closing act of his most recent pre-electoral campaign.

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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...