City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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The 7th November was the night the Greek government passed the next round of deeply unpopular austerity measures. Thousands took to the streets to vent their anger. As the crowds grew, the rain hammered down, and the police were soon to violently disperse the crowds. The security forces for the first time in Athens, used water cannons on old and young people alike. Both sides are becoming increasingly prone to violence, as outside forces continue to dictate Greece's sovereignty.




The street is one of the key ethnographic sites since the birth of urban anthropology. At the same time the street and  the rest of the urban routes/passages (arcades, boulevards, squares etc.)  have been recognized as spatial-material entities formidable of modern urbanisation. The routes of central Athens combined dialectically with the spontaneous or unspontaneous public socialities and social practices are today the entities that give material and social shape and significance to the Athenian version of crisis. In this project the materiality and ontology of urban passages are not examined only from an elevated viewpoint but down from the street level, both as spatial-material expressions of the social and financial crisis, but also as infrastructures/socio-material agents of these crises.    


by Dimitris Dalakoglou


Etymologically, the word memorandum shares the same root with memory. It stands for a note or record outlining what should be remembered. But as anthropologists of memory know well, stating what things one should remember simultaneously implies what things are not worth remembering. For example, the phrase “public expenses for health care should be cut, because we have to rationalise the system”, additionally (if mutedly) “states” that people will die because they will no longer afford the medical treatment necessary for their condition.


It is impossible to predict exactly when history is about to take one of its turns, but it is entirely possible to feel swivels prior. For such change to actually happen, a critical mass is required; a mass of people convinced that change is necessary or — perhaps more often so — convinced or coerced to believe the existent is insufficient, therefore prepared to allow for such change to take place.


Shape of the State in Crisis is a series of visualisations attempting to capture some of the ruptures taking place in the relationship between the Greek state, the population and the international political and financial pressures as materialised in the space of Athens. In the first instance this will comprise a timeline of the crisis from 2008 until the present moment listing, among others, large demonstrations and protests, new policies and austerity packages and major financial events. Related to and informed by the ethnographic fieldwork in the other research strands, it will then focus on data in the areas of the changing everyday experiences in public spaces, governance, policing and violence in the city and the privatisation of infrastructure.




“The space that remains” comprises an attempt to explore the transformations of the public space of Athens at the time of crisis. But it will grasp at incomprehensible remnants. It wishes to ponder over the most devalued of lives and to seek out those whose horizon had always been the one set by the current crisis. Or those who originate from the crisis’ darkest corner. It will walk along “devalued” streets and it will attempt to eavesdrop unheard screams. And it will wonder about the toll of a stroll within this space’s confined limits. “The space that remains” appears little in face of all hopes and all dreams. It would wish to be a transit stop. But it stands there, harsh and literal. Tight and forced to “host”. This space will tell us about the authority of meaning. And how this can only be articulated through lines on the ground; lines that are invisible, yet strict. And then again, it will tell us about some bodies that learned to avoid those lines and for others that love to draw them. But this space has its time, too. It will probably avoid telling us about the future. And it will nostalgically bend over its past. But more than anything, it will tie itself onto its somber present, cramped and nerveless; unable to comprehend how so little of it remained. Sometimes it will find solace and other times it will shine in its foibles. At its best, it will dress up with carefree trails. At its bleak, it will dress into winter. And winter is like a curfew that has never been declared...




Mass transient is an ethnographic study of spaces of mass transit in Athens — and beyond: it is a study that seeks to reveal and to understand the ever-growing antagonisms and tensions in these quintessential spaces of the everyday as the crisis deepens. At this historical conjuncture, buses, trolleys and metro carriages become the primary public spaces: on the one hand moving around the ‘fallen angels’ of the bourgeois dream, and on the other, those swirling through the city undocumented, seeking survival. And on top of both, the drivers and inspectors, the ever-watching authority. Mass transient is an ethnographic study that aspires to trace the transition of society across the entire Greek territory as inscribed in the confines of the bus, the tram, the metro carriage. A close, meticulous reading of these spaces that will help us understand how the transitory flux of a society in turmoil becomes a galvanised reality; how a transient mass becomes critical.



Νέο ντοκιμαντέρ - Αθήνα: Κοινωνική κατάρρευση - Ελληνική υπότιτλοι

In this film, shot by Ross Domoney between May 2010 and June 2012, Dr. Dimitris Dalakoglou explains the ongoing social meltdown taking place in Greece as a consequence of the crisis.

Containing video clips and photos shot on the streets of Athens it paints a portrait of widespread economic hardship endured by a city's inhabitants.

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About Us

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...