Friday, 13 December 2013, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House
Despite its historical contingency, the concept of a public space remains a powerful utopia that is strongly connected to the idea of a political space and to individual citizenship. As empty signifier a dichotomy of public and private continues to be the frame of reference for politicians, urban planners, and city dwellers. Every concrete meaning and manifestation of this dichotomy has an immediate impact on the lived, built, and imagined city, which is necessarily contentious and a dystopia for many of the individuals affected. How do moral norms (whether imposed by society or the state) affect the delineation of public and private space, and how do diverse concepts coexist or clash? How do (changing) gender relations define public and private space and how are they formed by the structural design of urban space? How do alternative public spaces influence cultural production and how do manners of cultural production alter space? What influence does virtual public space have on real space?
Nazanin Shahrokni: A Gender-Divided City? An inquiry into the spatial politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Mathew Gagné: Expanding Queer Spaces in Beirut: Mobile communications technologies and contestations to heteronormative space
Nahid Siamdoust: Tehran’s Soundscape and the Public Sphere
Mazen Haidar and Akram Rayess: Public Sounds, Private Spaces: Towards a Fairouz Museum in Zoukak el-Blat
Discussant: Robert Saliba (American University of Beirut)
Since the 2011 revolution we are witnessing a powerful growth of urban activism in Egypt, especially in Cairo. This paper will examine conditions for the emergence of this particular form of activism at the political, social and territorial levels. These conditions include the opening of the scope of activism, the diversification and ‘pluralisation’ of civil society, and the urban roots of the revolutionary moment. A typology will be established according to the interests pursued by the stakeholders, that can be divided into three main categories: general organizations for human rights working towards improving the city’s living conditions; individuals and/or organizations whose actions relate to a long-term struggle for the ‘right to the city’; individuals and/or organizations whose actions aim to protect the living environment and the common good. This paper will show that Egyptian urban activists are the authors of changes that are already visible on the urban scene.
Roman Stadnicki holds a PhD in Geography. He is a Research Fellow and Head of the Urban Studies Department at CEDEJ (Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales) in Cairo.
This paper discusses how Beirut’s post civil war peripheries, previously conceived as poor and informal, have been transformed through contested planning exercises by religious political organizations into frontiers of violence and growth. The paper focuses on two contested southern peripheries of Beirut, Sahra Choueifat and Doha Aramoun, that provide possibilities for those who cannot afford living in the city, while being simultaneously spaces where the contours of the futures of violent engagements, militarization, and displacements are being drawn and redrawn every day. The paper shows how the spatial practices of religious political organisations have transformed Beirut’s southern peripheries into frontiers of sectarian conflict through these actors’ territorial battles governed by their anticipated roles in local and regional wars that are ‘yet to come’. Reflecting on how sectarianism is constructed, lived and reproduced in contemporary Beirut, the aim is to understand how the everyday spatiality of the sectarian order is produced and negotiated.Within the spatial logics of the ‘war yet to come’, the paper illustrates how the articulation of sectarianism, capitalism, urbanization, geo-political interests, and violence produces and reproduces Beirut’s geographies of the sectarian order.
Hiba Bou Akar is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Urban Planning at Hampshire College. She holds a PhD in City and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley.
We explore the interrelations between law and space, focusing on urban space generated in Tehran under the Urban Density Sales Law. Endorsed by Tehran Municipality in 1990, the law overturned construction density restrictions put in place by ratified urban plans for the city of Tehran, thus making the market mechanism the only determinant in all future developments. The rationale of sales price took over the rationale of planning. The sudden change, apparent everywhere around the city and affecting the lives of its populace in every walk of life was so dramatic that it divided the post-revolution era into ‘before’ and ‘after’ the Density Law. The revolutionary ideals of equality and justice that had previously led to a drive to nationalise land and control the real estate market gave way to a new paradigm of justification of selling off hitherto undeveloped urban space, changing the fabric of built-up areas and delivering huge chunks of landoutside the city zone for hasty urban development.It will be shown how by selling density Tehran Municipality created an ‘abstract space’ (Lefebvre), in which citizens are deprived of their say in how their habitat is developed, while urban planning as a civil rationality is side-tracked, the consequence of which is that the citizenry loses its fundamental ‘Right to the City’.
Maryam Amiri graduated with an MA in urban planning from the University of Tehran. She is a journalist at Shargh newspaper and works as an urban planner at rehabilitation projects in urban vulnerable areas.
Esmaeil Izadi is an MA student in economics at the University of Tehran.
One key debate during the reconstruction of Beirut’s city centre after the civil war revolved around the ‘privatization’ of this process and the contradictions emerging from the expropriation of private lands, in the name of public utility, by a private real-estate company, Solidere. While the bulk of the critical commentary echoes common warnings about the consequences of the privatization of public space under neoliberal regimes for citizenship and the democratic process, this formulation leaves unexplored the possibilities of contestations around the notion of the public, particularly as based on religious affiliation. Indeed, among the very few who could escape systematic expropriation was the Directorate General of Islamic Waqfs [DGIW]. In a nation-state where public utility forms the only constitutional limit to the right of property, how was the DGIW able to negotiate such an exception? This talk analyses how, when, and by whom the concept of public utility was marshalled, and the concepts forwarded in counter-arguments for these expropriations, namely ‘the interest of the waqf’. How did public interest and religious interest intersect? What types of spatial possibilities did appeals to religious interest create and foreclose? In this case of urban reconstruction, while religious interest allowed the various religious communities not to be dispossessed, this paper argues that it subjected religious interest to the law of capital.
Nada Moumtaz is Assistant Professor in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the Ohio State University, having completed a PhD in Cultural Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, with a dissertation entitled ‘Modernizing Charity: Remaking Islamic Law’.
This study examines the spatial dynamics of gender-segregated spaces and what these dynamics register about the transformations of state power in post-revolutionary Iran. In doing so, this work links everyday practices of traversing the city with macro-level dynamics of power and politics. It addresses the following questions: What can shifting gender segregation practices show us about the Iranian state and its shifting strategies of governing and maintaining legitimacy? How do local and global politics condition the production of gender-segregated spaces?I examine three illustrative cases of gender segregation in Tehran – women-only parks, gender-segregated buses, and men-only sports stadiums – in an effort to better theorise gender segregation as a state policy, in its multiple incarnations across time and space.First, I offer a ‘progressive sense’ of gender-segregated spacesby treating them not as enclosed and static entities but as the products of social processes. These spaces and the meanings associated with them are never set. Second, adopting a Foucauldian approach to power as productive and not merely prohibitive, and building on Lefebvre’s notion of space as a political product, I explore the ways in which gender-segregated spaces are interwoven with politics and relations of power. Finally, I argue that it is necessary to situate the Iranian state within the web of state-society relations and the larger context of interstate relations.
Nazanin Shahrokni is a Postdoctoral Academy Scholar at Harvard University, Weatherhead Center for International and Area Studies. She holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley.
Recent histories of neo-liberal governance and reconstruction in Beirut have created new types of public, commercial, and virtual spaces that have opened up to new forms of queer sexualities. Emergent forms of queer practices and socialities enabled through new Internet technologies render public spaces semi-private queer spaces, including commercial bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as queered public areas. Appropriations and contestations of public spaces are expanding due to the growing popularity of mobile communications technologies. Smartphone applications, like Grindr and Scruff, disrupt the binaries of private and public, virtual and real by enabling men to connect, flirt, and enjoy intimacies woven between stratified urban spaces and virtual and physical worlds. This paper explores this process by looking at how these technologies imbue public space with private queer intimacies as well as new modes of recognition of queer others in the movements between online and offline social worlds. The suturing of ordinary activities and these technologies produces an expansion of queer spaces and visibilities that mounts contestations to heteronormative space while producing new types of politicized queer subjects. The conditions of heteronormative public space in Beirut are disrupted as these semi-private intimacies and forms of queer recognition take hold in spaces around the city.
Mathew Gagné is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His work focuses on the ways queer dating technologies impact the formation of queer subjectivities and socialities in Beirut.
Downtown Cairo means many things to many people. To some, its large avenues lined with neoclassical buildings stand as symbols of colonial domination; to others, they represent a bygone era of a cosmopolitan Paradise Lost, a Belle Époque that has long disappeared under the heavy hand of authoritarian nationalism and religious parochialism. To many brought up in a succession of new neighbourhoods, Downtownis a dirty and dangerous place. The sense of danger is epitomized in the phenomenon of Eid harassment, as well as through urban battles following the January Revolution, of which especially the battle of Muhammad Mahmoud stands as an example of how competing claims on social order play out in public space. Most recently, Downtown Cairo has been the object of interest from two important power actors: government agencies’ efforts to ‘heritize’ the area, and private developers keen on gentrifying it. This paper will present a historical analysis of the many diverse functions, usages, and meanings of Downtown Cairo through the 20th century. It will also focus on one particular spatial practice most associated with the area: loitering, formerly known as ‘strolling’. It will present Downtown Cairo as a heterogenous space predicated on drawing in audiences from all over the city, a zone of contingent autonomy where the boundaries of both class and gender are porous and elastic.
Lucie Ryzova is a social and cultural historian of modern Egypt, based at the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. Her current research includes the social history of photography and visual practices in modern Egypt.