City and Space

6 March 2013
17:00to19:30

This is the third seminar in our Culture & Polity series in which our invited speakers will be examining the city both as a concept and as a space marked by social and cultural divisions and in which conflicting notions of community emerge. Has the economic downturn restructured the suburb from paradise to pressure cooker, making it the new inner city precariously perched on the edge? What are the political consequences of the impact of privatisation on city space? The award-winning film-maker John Smith will also present his film ‘Blight’ which revolves around the building of the M11 Link Road in East London, which provoked a long and bitter campaign by local residents to protect their homes from demolition.

Room EB.G.10, Docklands Campus

Rupa Huq: ‘On the Edge: Rethinking Suburbia in the Downturn’

Suburbs and the relationships that sustain them have been subject to tremendous changes in the last fifty years, with changing work patterns, changing family lives, changing patterns of home ownership and a massive shift in the structural relationships between inner cities and their surrounding urban environment. But this transformation has been largely overlooked, and the suburbs have lived on in the collective imagination as places that are homogenous and/or boring. Yet suburbs have always come in many shapes and sizes with widely varying forms of suburban life encompassing diversity and variety. This paper takes the stereotypical image of suburbs as site of stifling conformism and stagnation to consider re-imagining of the suburbs taking concepts such as gender, ethnicity, class, religion, lifestyle, consumerism, family life, gentrification, property relations, political representation, city life and globalisation and argues for the need to radically rethink the way we understand contemporary suburban life. Has the downturn reconstructured the suburb from paradise to pressure cooker making it the new inner city precariously perched on the edge?

Rupa Huq is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University. She both lives and works in suburbia, having previously served as Deputy Mayoress of London Borough of Ealing (2010-11) Her publications include “Beyond Subculture” (2006, Routledge) and “On the Edge” (2013, Lawrence and Wishart).

Mike Raco: ‘State-led Privatisation and the Demise of the Democratic State: Welfare Reform and Localism in an Era of Regulatory Capitalism’

This paper focuses on the impacts that privatisation is having on local democratic processes in the UK. It argues that we are witnessing the emerge of a new mode of regulatory capitalism, accompanied by: the judicialisation of public policy; the mobilisation of new private sector elites; and the rolling out of new contractual landscapes. This reality is far removed from the neo-liberal utopian imaginaries of policy-makers and some critical academics. States have become bigger, not smaller. They spend more money than ever before and regulate expanding fields of social life. Drawing on examples from London the discussion contends that the principles of accountability that underpinned the post-war settlement are being systematically eroded at the same time, paradoxically, as modernising governments promise greater community empowerment and localism. The implications for community politics are profound. Traditional forms of representation and protest are becoming increasingly ineffective in a context where the boundaries between the state and private sector are becoming increasingly blurred. New skills and resources are now required to contest and influence policy-making processes, particularly at the local scale. Those best able to adapt to these changing realities are more likely to influence policy decisions than those who are not.

Mike Raco is Professor of Urban Governance and Development in the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. He has published widely on the topics of urban governance, regeneration, sustainability, and the politics of urban economic development. Recent books include: State-led Privatisation and the Demise of the Democratic State: Welfare Reform and Localism in an Era of Regulatory Capitalism (Ashgate, Hants.); Regenerating London: Governance, Sustainability and Community in a Global City (with Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees, Routledge, London); and The Future of Sustainable Cities: Critical Reflections (with John Flint, Policy Press, Bristol). 

John Smith: ‘Blight’ (film presentation and discussion)

Blight was made in collaboration with the composer Jocelyn Pook. It revolves around the building of the M11 Link Road in East London, which provoked a long and bitter campaign by local residents to protect their homes from demolition. The images in the film record some of the changes which occurred in the area over a two-year period, from the demolition of houses through to the start of motorway building work. The soundtrack incorporates natural sounds associated with these events together with speech fragments taken from recorded conversations with local people.

Although it is entirely constructed from records of real events, Blight is not a straightforward documentary. The film exploits the ambiguities of its material to produce new meanings and metaphors, frequently fictionalizing reality through framing and editing strategies. The emotive power of music is used in the film to overtly aid this invention.

John Smith lives and works in London. He teaches part-time at the University of East London where he is Professor of Fine Art. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin. Since 1972 he has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been shown in cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals. He regularly presents his work in person and in recent years it has been profiled through retrospectives at film festivals in Oberhausen, Tampere, St. Petersburg, La Rochelle, Mexico City, Uppsala, Cork, Bristol, Hull and Glasgow.

Chair: Ashwani Sharma, School of Arts & Digital Industries, University of East London