Call for Participation in Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK) Workshop

KRAX 2008 (39)

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION

International workshop on “SQUATTING HOUSES, SOCIAL CENTRES AND WORKPLACES: A WORKSHOP ON SELF- MANAGED ALTERNATIVES ”

Barcelona, IGOP, Autonomous University of Barcelona, May 21st-23rd 2015

The meeting will join, for the first time to the extent of our knowledge, squatting experiences from the three spheres of housing, social centres and workplaces.

We understand squatting as a broad and dynamic movement, with new forms emerging no longer limited to the counter-cultural and political movements that have characterized squatting in Europe in the past decades. As a reaction to the enduring crisis in Europe, in fact, squatting for housing takes the form of a massive movement constituted, for the first time, by ordinary middle-class families. Even workplaces are being occupied by former employees or abandoned land by willing farmers. The workshop, centered on European and North-American cases, will also include experiences from other parts of the world where similar manifestations of squatting are occurring.

The occupation of places for meeting human needs is more than a protest tactic. When applied to housing, social centers and workplaces, it has enhanced the development of self- managed and autonomous initiatives, and cooperative networks and has contributed substantively to political struggles. Challenging unjust distributions of property, the establishment of squatted places gives birth to concrete alternatives to capitalism by furthering a long-standing tradition of autonomist anti-capitalist movements, whose aims go far beyond particular everyday life contestation.

Scholarship related to squatting is an emerging field. In particular, what is being studied are the relationship between squatting and autonomous practices of self-management and squatting as a response to capitalism and the crisis. Comparative analyses between different cities have also been developed over the past few years thanks to the formation of SqEK (Squatting Europe Kollective). SqEK is an interdisciplinary activist- research network with its own research agenda comprised by more than 100 members from Western Europe and North America. It serves as a forum of information exchange through an email list and holds gatherings once or twice per year. SqEK has already held nine meetings: Madrid, 2009; Milan, 2009; London, 2010; Berlin, 2011; Copenhagen, 2011; Amsterdam, 2011; New York City, 2012; Paris, 2013. Last year, we met in Rome, in May 2014.

SqEK meetings represent the occasion where SqEK participants encounter local activists, gather knowledge and exchange information about the experiences of different movements across Europe and North America. Local hosts also have the possibility of learning about different European squatting experiences. Visits to squats and neighbourhoods are organised together with public debates, using both social centres and academic institutions as venues.

The plan for the workshop is to establish wider activist-research networks of international cooperation about squatting and self-management that go beyond SqEK reach, and to include researchers and activists that, although not part of SqEK, share similar interests.

Although we focus on squatting as a highly contentious and potential tool to scale up protests and defiance to the power elites, the meeting will serve also to work collectively on the issue of proactive self-management. Thus, we are open to exploring how to organise squatted places beyond their occupation to build up alternative ways of living, cooperative networking and radical politics. The financial crisis has resulted in the acceleration of squatting initiatives in many of the most affected urban areas, especially in Southern Europe. The event will create an opportunity to gather researchers, activists and the interested public to discuss the most recent developments in squatting and self-management.

Barcelona is the city where the Spanish organisation PAH (People Affected by Mortgages) was born five years ago (2009) and is increasingly more active.

Although squatting has been common in most European countries over more than four decades, the present crisis has raised the legitimacy of squatting among groups previously alien to such a movement. PAH’s mobilisations, for example, have found support beyond current and former squatters and have seen support from the wider M15 movement, a popular protest movement against corruption, unemployment and neoliberal policies .

We also aim to bridge present-day housing-rights activists with the emerging workplace self-management initiatives, a relatively recent phenomenon in Europe and that resemble those in Latin America since 2002. Finally, we aim to convene people directly involved in these new practices of occupation with more experienced activists involved in establishing autonomous social centres or counter-cultural housing projects.

As diverse as the experiences of squatting for housing, work-place occupations and counter- cultural social centers might appear, they all share the practices of self-management and the explicit desire to constitute alternatives to capitalism. In fact decision and production processes, strategic visions, social campaigns and political actions among housing activists and self-managed workers have much in common with the praxis of autonomous movements.

The workshop will bring together different generations of activists and activist- scholars and to bring into dialogue political struggles from a variety of places. This will also be a chance to debate and overcome divisions between, for example, squatted and legalised (but widely autonomous) social centers. Another gap the workshop will bridge is that between establishment and continuity in cases where occupation succeeds and leads to a viable project of self-management. While bonds are beginning to form between housing rights activists and autonomous movements, most of the occupied workplaces remain isolated. The meeting will also address this relative isolation by contributing to the formation of networks crossing these three fields of squatting, social centres and occupied workplaces.

Proposals for the advancement of integrating research, theory and practice through discussions about decision-making processes, the organisation of production, the development of strategies, the formulation and carrying out of campaigns, among other facets are welcome.

We call for posters that would answer the following research questions:

Affordable rents, public housing, adverse possession: what possible futures for the squatted houses?

What political and legal strategies have the occupied factories and land followed?

What should be the principles of a campaign to defend all kind of autonomous and self-managed social centres as urban commons?

Which common grounds in the three lines of struggles? How to articulate these three urban struggles?

If you are interested in participating, please send an email to: barcelonasquatting@gmail.com

There will be limited funding for meals and accommodation.

Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! is Released

Barcelonan Okupas book cover

Sept.13, 2013

Are you interested in the complex nature of political action, protest and social transformation in the twenty-first century? In Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! (202 pp., $70), Stephen Luis Vilaseca explores the creative activism of Spanish squatters known as okupas and how they are modeling a positive social vision based on cooperation and sharing. It is the first book to combine close-readings of the representations of okupas with the study of everyday life, built environment, and city planning in Barcelona.

Because Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! brings together diverse fields of inquiry—urban cultural studies, cultural geography, literary studies, film studies, communication studies, affect theory, anarchism, autonomist Marxism, and affinity groups—as well as an interdisciplinary framework, it will appeal to both scholars and students working in these fields. In addition, it will be of interest to general readers because it contains a concluding chapter on the influence of the okupas in the United States.

ISBN 978-1-61147-628-6

Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

For orders please contact

Rowman & Littlefield

800-462-6420 • http://www.rowman.com

To arrange an interview or guest lecture, please contact Stephen Luis Vilaseca at vila616@yahoo.com.


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INVITATION for the guests from abroad for the revindication week (23 May – 02 June 2013)

Help continue social transformation through art and support La Nave Espacial!!

C.S.O.A. La Nave Espacial - Barcelona

La Nave Espacial, the artistic collective that leads self-run social center in the heart of Barcelona is inviting squatters, street artists, acrobats to join in the forces for the REVINDICATION WEEK ( 23 may – 02 June 2013).

After 5 years of successful occupation of the abandoned warehouse in the Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood, it is now facing the threat of eviction.

We have received a summons to a court hearing on 28 of May, the notice comes with an eviction order, fixed for the month of July 2013. The denunciation was presented by the construction company which owns the property, Sacyr Vallehermoso.

We are told to have little ground in the face of this trial. We would like however reclaim our work and its social value. For such we plan massive series of artistic events in the days preceding and following the court hearing. If any fellow artists…

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Are Okupas (Spanish Squatters) Good Savages?

Els bons salvatges

Els bons salvatges [The Good Savages] (2008) by Ferran Sáez Mateu, a Professor of Communication Sciences at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, is definitely worth a read.

The subtitle of Sáez Mateu’s book, El fracàs inevitable de les utopies polítiques modernes [The Inevitable Failure of Modern Political Utopias], reveals the true focus of the investigation’s critical examination: political utopias. He argues that the construction of political utopias is “el fet d’imaginar i descriure un determinat canvi social” [the act of imagining and describing a particular social change] and that the imagination “acostuma a tenir ben poc a veure amb la seva materialització efectiva” [usually has little to do with its actual materialization] (20). The instigators of the imagined social transformation are also figures of the imagination. Through these invented subjects, what Sáez Mateu terms the good savages, methods to attain a political revolution can be theorized or specific political problems can be identified without having to supply real-world solutions. For example, Sáez Mateu asserts that Marx, through his writings, invents a fictional, theoretical counterpart of the exploited proletariat of the nineteenth century, and it is this chimerical being, not the actual worker, who particicpates in the revolutionary struggle. These good savages imagine “paradís terrenal” (19) [earthly paradise], “la redempció de l’esser humà” (19) [the redemption of human beings], “la felicitat universal” (19) [universal happiness], “la salvació del planeta” (20) [the planet’s salvation], and “la fin de les guerres” (20) [the end of war]. In other words, all grand narratives claim that by changing one thing (in the case of Marxism, by eliminating private property) the world will become a perfect place. However, Sáez Mateu maintains that the imagination that these good savages provide does not actualize the dream for a perfect world. On the contrary, it often times devolves into totalitarian nightmares. Sáez Mateu is critical of revolutionary struggles on both the left and the right that seek totalizing utopias. I agree with Sáez Mateu, as do many critics, that the belief in grand narratives is no longer viable.[i] However, I disagree with Sáez Mateu that the failure of political utopias invalidates the power of imagination, especially in the present context of post-fordism and cognitive capitalism. At the root of Sáez Mateu’s disdain for the socialists’ treatment of the okupas as the good urban savage as well as his contempt for the okupas themselves is his materialist stance vis-à-vis the materialist/symbolic divide. That is, his particular critique of the good savages is really a pretext to defend on a more universal scale analytical philosophy, logic, and the Welfare State.

Sáez Mateu correctly locates the okupas within the anarchist tradition, but mistakenly (or in a calculated move) equates them solely with the Bakunin strand of anarchism because Bakunin fits neatly with his project. As Richard J.F. Day observes, Bakunin was both utopic and guilty of authoritarian politics (116). That is, Bakunin advocated a non-statist social revolution that would lead to the complete emancipation of society, a utopia. However, he believed that the revolution could only be achieved through the totalizing guidance of secret societies consisting of professional revolutionaries. In contrast with Sáez Mateu’s categorization, the okupas’s goal is not utopian. They do not pretend to completely and definitively defeat capitalism in the future, but to create a better life in the present. They identify with anarchist Petr Kropotkin’s notion of constructing alternatives here and now instead of waiting for some future revolution as well as with anarchist Gustav Landauer’s argument, as explained by Day, that “new institutions must be created […] alongside, rather than inside, existing modes of social organization” (123). As a result, okupas reject traditional anarchism’s belief that institutions of domination and exploitation have to be destroyed. Instead, okupas embrace the post-anarchist notions of no-future in conjunction with the construction of affinity groups like squatted social centers alongside corporate and state forms.

I would argue that Sáez Mateu’s criticism of the okupas’s imagination is well founded from his point of view, but misplaced. It is not because they are utopian, but, precisely, because they are dystopian. His intolerance of their imagination is not because it leads to a utopia that will never occur, but because it defies the fixed relations of representational thinking in the here and now and, in so doing, frees bodies to act in new, unforeseen ways as in the squatting of abandoned buildings. His criticism is an attempt to reterritorialize a line of thought shared by Spinoza, Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, and, now, by the okupas. On the one hand, Sáez Mateu condemns totalizing ideologies like Marxism, anarchism, Nazism, and Stalinism among others, but, on the other, is blind to the fact that analytical philosophy is a totalizing system in which words signify because of a predetermined structure of constant relations between signified and signifier. He cannot recognize the okupas because they are faceless to him. He cannot “see” them or “understand” them because they organize themselves not according to the hegemony of the signifier but according to constantly changing relations. In order to demonstrate Sáez Mateu’s blindness, I would like to quote at length the following passage:

Per deixar clar tot això potser cal recórrer a la nitidesa argumentativa de la filosofia analítica. Jo – i crec que tothom – estic en disposició de determinar què significa el terme <<dona>> i què significa el terme <<enginyera>>; o què significa l’expressió <<home de raça negra>> i l’expressió <<secretari de defense dels Estats Units d’Amèrica>>. Doncs bé: no sembla haver-hi cap impediment racional per enllaçar aquests termes en una frase coherent, amb subjecte, verb i predicat […] En canvi, jo no sé què vol dir exactament l’expressió <<experiència d’alliberament psicoperceptiu>> […] ni tampoc entenc l’abast semàntic del segment lingüístic <<castració neocapitalista>> o <<neofatxes globals>>. En conseqüència, no crec que puguin arribar a donar lloc ni a una descripció ni a una prescripció. Ni tan sols a una frase amb sentit. (47-48)

[In order to make all of this clear it may be necessary to resort to the argumentative clarity of analytical philosophy. I am able- and I think everyone is- to determine what is meant by the term “women” and what the term “engineer” means, or what the expression “black man” means and the expression “secretary of defense of the United States of America.” Well: there does not seem to be any rational impediment linking these terms in a coherent sentence with subject, verb and predicate […] But I do not know exactly what the expression “experience of psychoperceptive liberation” means […] nor do I understand the semantic scope of the phrase “neo-capitalist castration” or “global neofascists.” Consequently, I do not think they can create a description or a prescription. Not even a meaningful sentence.]

For Sáez Mateu, a thinking that does not conform to a set of fixed rules is unthinkable and clearly uncomfortable. However, if new meanings and actions can never be imagined, they can never be realized in the material world. Sáez Mateu is right to be wary of the political use of imagination as decor. However, he should be equally careful not to dismiss all forays into the nonsensical as too theoretical and unpractical, a charge that he levels against Marx and Bakunin for having relied on fictional counterparts of the marginalized masses instead of on the real workers to further their perspective ideologies.

On the question of how to relate theory and practice, that is, mind and body, Sáez Mateu errors on the side of practice and body. He believes that practical change for real bodies is possible through the state form, namely, the Welfare State. The strength of the Welfare State is that it is grounded in reality. It does not pretend to have the definitive answer to all political problems. Rather, it is dedicated to the continual betterment of society, not its perfection. Sáez Mateu criticizes the Catalan socialists for wasting the resources of the Welfare State on the okupas, a fictional urban group (fictional in the sense that they are self-marginalized, middle-class young people that are just “jugant a la revolució” 80 [playing revolution]) instead of on involuntarily marginalized groups like “families autòctones molt pobres”(83) [very poor local families] and “grups d’immigrants que viuen atapeïts en condicions infrahumanes” (83) [immigrant groups living in subhuman conditions.] He accuses the Catalan socialists of creating a “figura mediàticament homologada de l’okupa” (83) [a positive portrayal of the squatter in the media.] They magically convert “el punki del gos i la flauteta” (83) [the punk with a dog and a flute], what Sáez Mateu believes, along with Albert Gimeno, the chief editor of the Vivir section of La Vanguardia, to be the true representation of the okupa, into a rhetorical figure, “una plausible barreja de Bakunin, Ferrer i Guàrdia i Robin Hood” (83) [a plausible mixture of Bakunin, Ferrer i Guardia and Robin Hood] whose squatted building resembles less a “sala de festes de cap de setmana sense llicència municipal” (83) [weekend nightclub without a municipal license] (again what both Sáez Mateu and Gimeno believe to be the true function) and more a social center that serves the needs of the neighborhood.[ii] This rhetorical figure is used to denounce the lack of affordable housing without having to provide political solutions. Keeping in mind that Els bons salvatges was published in September 2008, the sanitized okupas to which he is referring must be those of the soap opera El cor de la ciutat (2007) and the Children’s and Young Adult Literature books Las pelirrojas traen mala suerte (1995), Korazón de Pararrayos (2003), and Los okupantes (2005), and not the representations of okupas in print media, for there were no sanitized okupas in Gimeno’s newspaper portrayals in La Vanguardia (2005-2007). The okupas he described were precisely those of “the punk with a dog and a flute” who squatted buildings in order to convert them into illegal discotheques.

Sáez Mateu’s critique is that ideological okupas are spoiled, middle-class intellectuals with dreadlocks whose radical theories have nothing to do with the reality of precarious living. While I acknowledge that the analysis of El cor de la ciutat, El Kaserón, Las pelirrojas traen mala suerte, Korazón de Pararrayos and Los okupantes support the view that the okupas are manipulated and refashioned by the socialist Catalan Imaginary to resemble the good savage, I disagree with him that Barcelonan okupas are not real subjects of social change.


[i] Jean-François Lyotard is the first to acknowledge the failure of grand narratives in 1979 in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Other theorists who forward similar projects are Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari.

[ii] Francisco Ferrer i Guardia (1859-1909) was a Catalonian anarchist who founded in 1901 the Escuela Moderna [The Modern School], a progressive school whose aim was to groom middle-class children to be the future leaders of the coming political revolution. He was executed in 1909 during the Tragic Week in Barcelona.

Works Cited

Day, Richard J. F. Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. London: Pluto Press, 2005. Print.

Sáez Mateu, Ferran. Els bons salvatges: El fracàs inevitable de les utopies polítiques modernes. Barcelona: L’arquer, 2008. Print.