All cities are possessed

16/02/2018 admin 0

The aim is not to heal a sick space, but to free it from its evil condition: to save it. Urban space must be regenerated, its vices turned into virtues, its inhabitants redeemed from sin. The real enemy is not disorder, chaos, or poverty; the real enemy is the devil itself” (Manuel Delgado, “Todas las ciudades están poseídas”)

There is an intimate link between cities and the devil. All cities were born to contrast the terror of the wilderness, the dangers of the wasteland, and they are built around an axis mundi that protects its inhabitants from evil. Inevitably, they all betrayed this task. Inside them, other forces proliferate, more perverse than those of the wilderness. The bustle of the city, its  promiscuous and uncontrolled intermingling of bodies, ideas, and actions, cause a moral panic far more terrifying than the dangers of nature.

All the recurring calls to regenerate and renovate the city, or at least the more disturbing parts of it, are always calls to expel the devil. The words that are used for it – culture, order, law – are apotropaic, like psalms or mantras that are pronounced in order to contrast the Evil by evoking its opposite, a ‘Good’ as imaginary and dreamlike as the other. Urban renewal is an exorcism: it aims to chase the demons away, to kill the unwanted and uninvited ‘others’, to purify the body of the city, and to return it clean and renovated to its legitimate owners – those imaginary and neutral ‘subjects’ to whom public space is thought to belong.

No violence is too much, to achieve this task. Whoever tries to oppose the sacred duty to chase away the Evil one, will be considered as dangerous as those who defended the witches, the sabbas, or heresy.

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Raval, the “Xino”, the other. The Evil.

Other cities, other demons:

  • Chiara ZANASI (2016) Demoni e metropoli, Manifestolibri, on the christian exorcist father Amorth, active in Rome until few years ago. A presentation of the book by Stefano Portelli, in a conference in the University of Rome.
  • Federica DI GIACOMO (2016) “Liberami“, documentary on the exorcist father Cataldo, active in Palermo. Here’s a critique to the movie by another exorcist, father Dermine.
  • Andrew Alan JOHNSON (2014), Ghosts of the New City, University of Hawaii Press. Ghosts pentrated into the imaginary of the old buildings in Chiang Mai (Thailand); but the new urbanization are not free from evil either.
  • Michael HERZFELD (2016), Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok, University of Chicago Press. In Bangkok, however, residents of the ancient settlement of Pom Mahakan, under eviction, claim their right to stay, as the guardians of the shrines to the ancestors of the city. The spirits that protect the city would not agree with the demolition of the neighborhood.
  • Ernesto DE MARTINO (2009 (1959)) Magic, A Theory From The South. HAU Books recently translated into English this classic of the great Italian ethnographer, whose original title was South and Magic. The complete text is available online! And here’s a review by Stefano Portelli in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2017 [PDF]. The book includes an extraordinary chapter on popular magic in Naples and on the ambivalence of Italian Enlightenment towards it. Another very important work is its posthumous book, incomplete: La fine del mondo (Einaudi, 1977).
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Where the devil hid, now there is a Rambla.

The protector of Phnom Penh

21/09/2013 admin 0
Outsized buildings erected suddenly and without any order; the police occasionally killing protesters; traditional healers slowly converting the millions of ghosts of the genocide in ancestors and protectors of the land. A look on Cambodia's capital.
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Conference in Bolonia: the subjective dimensions of vulnerability

01/09/2013 admin 0
"Lean, Cover, Hold": Risk prevention against earthquakes in Khatmandhu, Nepal. Photo: Stefano Portelli, 2013

On october 5th, in Bolonia (Italy) the Network for the Evaluation of the Subjective Dimensions of Vulnerability (REDISUV) Chile-Europe will meet for the second time, after the foundational Conference in Paris. The repeated natural catastrophes in Chile made evident the need for a more systematic study about the subjectivities of the communities affected, which are always the product of particular social, economical and political conditions. The program of the conference includes papers concerning natural desasters, but also approaches to the “urban” vulnerability, caused by neoliberal policies as the one our group has been studying in Barcelona.

  • Bolonia, Thursday september 5th, 10am-6pm: “Vite invisibili: dimensioni soggettive della vulnerabilità sociale, program in PDF.
  • Davide Olori (2013) “Taking over the center to oppose evictions: the case of the Inmuebles Recuperados Autogestionados en Santiago de Chile” [PDF, italian]. “The urgency for housing after the earthquake forced towards the aggregation of both informal organizations (as neighbours, relatives, co-workers) and formal ones (political, parties…), so causing dynamics of rupture and recomposition among interests, hierarchies, relationships…”
  • Fabio Carnelli studied ethnographically the consequences of the earthquake in L’Aquila (central Italy) some years after: the “militarized” solution brought again to life the traumas, and increased the  vulnerability of the population. See Sismografie on Il lavoro culturale webpage. And also Rita Ciccaglione’s article, one year after the earthquake in Emilia Romagna.
  • Caterina Borelli jsut published on academia.edu her PhD thesis about Sarajevo: “La ciudad post-traumática” (see also this older post)
  • Stefano Portelli (2013) “Spatial reordering and social pathology in the periphery of Barcelona: the social impact of urban transformation”, intervención al XXI congreso del International Social Theory Consortium, Copenhagen, June 26-27th [Coming soon!]
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On the occasion of the election of a new pope…

13/03/2013 admin 0
Click here to watch; and CC for subtitles (ENG-ITA)

The speech of the great Manuela Trasobares [more about her] during the protest against the visit of Joseph Ratzinger to Barcelona, on november 7th, 2010, in a video made by our friend Jordi Secall: a political line about the church, the state, history… that reminds us of when, in Barcelona, we had a very clear opinion about these things. [original video in jordi secall’s blog :: reduced version in youtube, subtitled in SPANISH, ENGLISH & ITALIAN!]

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More on Barcelona’s city center: “The Melody of Raval”, by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

09/01/2011 admin 0
"Here we were all born in leftover neighborhoods, rounded by leftovers, waiting to grow up, to get old, or better said, to deconstruct ourselves; so we can receive all your sociologists, all your social psychologists, your substitute mayor, your worst dressed politician, the sons of your good neighborhoods that will give us examples on how to use abilities and efforts to help us out of the leftover neighborhoods; this is, you give us your leftover social science, your leftover psychology, your leftover mayor, your leftover solidarity, even your leftover fear, for sometimes you think that you yourselves could have been born in the leftover neighborhoods, that you could be leftovers yourselves; this is why you come down here to look at us playing the part of the assisted classes, useless even for production because robotics replaced us, and because our condition of leftovers can't compete anymore with leftovers from even more impoverished parts of the planet.
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December 2010: burning cars

22/12/2010 admin 0
2010/12/17: a car burned in the periphery of Santa Coloma de Gramanet (Bcn), in an area deeply immersed in urban change

Gentrification: cars burning (2010). “The BRENNENDE-AUTOS.DE webpage is dedicated to the memory of the cars burned in Berlin since 2007. […] During the last three years in Berlin more than 500 cars, mostly big engined, have been burned by night. 

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Ethnicity and gender in a murder in the periphery of Rome

21/10/2010 admin 0

On october 15th, 2010, the 32-years-old romanian nurse Maricica Haiaianu, died after being hit by an italian young man in the Anagnina metro station in Rome. About this fact (racism? sexism? the two of them? or a complex system of symbolic interactions?), and about the context that produced it, writes the italian anthropologist Pietro Vereni. This is the translation of his article into spanish; you can read the original version in italian in his blog.

Lo siento, pero la cuestión es justamente étnica y de género. El asesinato por parte de Alessio Bertone de la enfermera Maricica Hahaianu en la estación de metro Anagnina de Roma, ha recibido mucha atención por parte de los periódicos, de la radio, de la televisión y de todos los medios de comunicación. La historia es esencialmente dramática en su banalidad (una nueva versión de la banalidad del mal, podríamos decir) y parecería una de esas trágicas “fatalidades” debida a la anomía de la vida urbana, a un sistema de relaciones sociales totalmente vacío de contactos personales y por lo tanto reducido a puro intercambio económico. Aunque no podamos pasar por encima de estos aspectos, y no hay duda que la vida en las metrópolis se caracteriza por un aumento de violencia aparentemente gratuita, pero creo que en este caso específico tenemos que investigar también su componente “étnica”, que no es absolutamente marginal como parecen suponer muchos periodistas y políticos: que han hablado de un caso de violencia que no hay que explicar absolutamente en términos de racismo o de tensión étnica.