Research projects

Political Action

Urbanization affects the terms and the nature of socio-political relations in three ways. Firstly, it modifies the institutional architecture of political power. The major urban challenges (infrastructures and public services, violence management, property speculation, diversity management, vulnerability to natural catastrophes, sanitary risks, etc.) are now a priority on most national and international political agendas. Most states have already initiated significant processes of institutional decentralization and reforms of metropolitan governance. The terms of developing public policies must increasingly go through a territorial and lateral approach that targets a locality in its entirety rather than a single policy sector. The demands of civil society often pass through cities (mostly within global justice movements, but also among rioters and in “terrorist” acts).

Secondly, urbanization transforms citizens’ way of life and – this is our hypothesis – generates a new logic of political action. Making political decisions has long been thought of as a cost-benefit calculation of future costs and benefits. Yet, action is often less strategic, governed rather by impulsiveness than by planning. Think for example of Athens in December 2008. The spark of the first demonstrations was anger against police abuse. The deployment of action shows that unpredictability is their first source of inspiration. They do not know where all of this will lead, nor who exactly the enemy is (the State, but also all other forms of diffused authority). This logic of action is not only visible in riots ; it is also visible in government decisions. For example, the code from green to red created to alert citizens of the intensity of the terrorist threat was based on the idea that people’s reaction to affective stimulation is unpredictable (Massumi, 2006). By learning that the United States is, for example, in code “orange”, the passengers at points of security in an airport can react many ways : panic, exasperation, or indifference. Such a policy is directed towards the emotions of the population and not its reason. We never explain what the threat is, we only stimulate fear.

Thirdly, urbanization – somewhat like modernity – produces a new ontology that we can call urbanity. It transforms the way people think of the world. The cultural references proper to the city (such as the relation to fear, to uncertainty, to mobility, to sensory stimulation) are diffused beyond the city and become elements characteristic of the current era.

 Comparing metropolitan governance through transatlantic perspective : Toronto, Montreal, Paris and Frankfurt, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), under the direction of Roger Keil, with Stefan Kipfer and Pierre Hamel.

This project takes a comparative look at metropolitan governance in four cities : Montreal, Toronto, Paris and Frankfort. The research question is twofold : 1) To what extent are conflict and cooperation between local actors articulated in terms of metropolitan governance ? 2) Are the practices of local actors involved in metropolitan governance similar in the four cities studied, despite differences in political culture ? Is there, in other words, a convergence in the practices of metropolitan governance ?

These four cities are faced with similar challenges : 1) economic and demographic growth, 2) urban sprawl and the new distribution of residential duties/jobs and of transportation, and 3) institutional and political transformations. In this context, how do local actors contemplate metropolitan governance ? From interviews with the government, civil servants, scholars, associative activists and the elected, we analyze the representation that these actors make of the metropolitan region. We speak of a study of representation because we do not only study the process of implementing programs, but also the manner in which actors define problems in this context of transformation, develop solutions, and legitimize their actions. Our questions are mostly centred on housing and transportation.

The integration of immigrants in Montreal and Brussels : Eliminating defiance and building new spaces of trust

This project explores the trajectory of community associations working in stigmatised neighbourhoods in Montreal and Brussels : Parc-Extension and Cureghem. Socialised in the spirit of the 1960s progressive movement, these social development workers have nevertheless evolved in their relationship to the local state. They operate less within the logic of emancipation and more within the logic of social incorporation. This has increased their role in maintaining order. In Brussels, new “urban jobs” (from cycling stewards to street workers), give community associations more resources to provide employment. Yet, faced with growing flows of new immigrants, they are less in-tune with the needs, aspirations, and ways of doing of the residents they pretend to “help.” In Montreal, the framing of community work in terms of health issues has modified relations with « clientele ». In the twofold context of local governance restructuring which brings community organisations closer to the local state while professionalising them, and ethnocultural diversification, social workers’ action tends to change towards social conformism more than emancipation.

VESPA in 360 News

04.2012 | 2009 | Ongoing Projects

Appréhensions et opportunités face à la mobilité des jeunes. Le cas montréalais

Espoir, rue St-Denis, Montréal

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04.2012 | Epistemological reflections

Presentation of VESPA. For an Epistemology of Urbanity

Pour une épistémologie de l’urbanité, Tokyo

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04.2012 | Publications

Research report 2012

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