Panel 2

“Contentious Spaces: Revolutions in Squares, Neighborhoods, and Cities”
(All informations below are from the website of the Scuola Normale Superiore)
Date and time: Wednesday, 30th November 2022 | 15:00 – 16:30 PM
Room: Altana Hall
1.) Discussant: Dena Qaddumi – LSE
“The Urban Basis of Political Division in Syria Abstract”
Munqeth Othman Agha – University of Trento

Unlike other popular uprisings that occupy central squares as in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian uprising took place mainly within inner streets and neighbourhood squares, magnifying the role of micro-urban and social settings in shaping local mobilisation and resistance tactics. Activists were able to mobilise within their inner family, neighbourhood and friendship circles.

This research aims to deconstruct the relationship between the local urban environment, social structures, and human agency. It attempts to explain the different outcomes of mobilisation dynamics in two Syrian cities (Dara’a and Deir-ez-Zor), considering the pre-conflict socio-spatial structures as an analytical departure point. The research claims that the different ways people interacted with their surrounding urban and socio-political structures across neighbourhoods led to heterogeneous outcomes with respect to their ability to protest, sustain protesting, and transfer that eventually into a territorial control.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches (mixed methods) is utilised, including socio-spatial mapping followed up by in-depth semi-structured interviews in order to understand the dynamics of mobilisation and resistance. Explaining the place-specific outcomes of the interaction between the site and the event is done through the explaining-outcomes process tracing model. The main argument is that during each phase of the uprising, multiple neighbourhoods were included or excluded according to the compatibility of their place-specific characteristics with the dynamics of the ongoing phase. During the protest phase, neighbourhoods that are located far away from security branches, social ties are stronger, and streets are narrower and taking irregular forms, have been more successful in organising and enduring protests over a longer period of time. Mechanisms and tools utilised by the state to repress the protests have been also influenced by urban and demographic settings. Neighbourhoods with lower strategic location for the state, having a smaller number of state’s institutions, irregular urban typology, denser social ties (harder to penetrate), and less reliance economically on the state (services and employment) have been more capable of resisting the regime and sustaining activism. Eventually, neighbourhoods that had a higher ability to mobilise, sustain mobilisation and resist the regime’s repression attracted activists from other neighbourhoods and sheltered defected soldiers who created local resistance cells. They effectively gained territorial control later.

2.) “The Role of Spatial Interventions for the Making of Long-Lasting Counter-Subjectivities: Examples from 1 Mayıs, Küçük Armutlu, and the Gezi Uprising”

Dogukan Dere – London School of Economics and Political Science, Sociology

Since the millennium, various metropolises of the SWANA region witnessed major uprisings with an unprecedented level of collective mobilization. One of the most prominent uprisings was the Gezi Uprising in Turkey. The emergent solidarity became successful in terms of consolidating the Gezi Park area as a public park at the expense of the planned rent-seeking and symbolic-laden transformation of Taksim Square. Yet, this emergent solidarity could not evolve into a long-lasting collective revolutionary subjectivity. As highlighted by the famous quotation of Lefebvre (1991)1, the production of their own spatialities is a must for the transformation of temporal emergent solidarities towards permanent insurgent subjectivities.

As this lack appears a crucial problem of Gezi Park and various other recent mass mobilizations in the SWANA region, our question is: How can we do that? What kind of spatial productions, reproductions, and interventions reinforce -or undermine the potential processes of forming revolutionary collective memories, identities, and subjectivities. In this attempt, I will benefit from the experiences of similar transformation processes in gecekondu2 neighborhoods. These informally settled poor urban neighborhoods have been hotbeds of emergent solidarities and, in some cases, long-lasting insurgent memories and subjectivities across the SWANA region since the second half of the 20th century. 1 Mayıs and Küçük Armutlu are two of the most prominent examples of such trajectories in the socio-political history of Turkey. In this paper, I will compare the spatial legacies of these two neighborhoods and the Gezi Uprising in order to discuss how different kinds of spatial (re)productions and interventions affect the very rare making of long-lasting collective subjectivities out of relatively frequent emergent solidarities.

3.) “Nostalgia and Revolutionary Politics in Istanbul, Turkey”

Ilkim Karakus – Harvard University

This paper explores spatial nostalgia and revolutionary politics in Candere—a pseudonym for an urban margin in Istanbul, Turkey. Established as an informal, working-class neighborhood in the 1970s, Candere is one of Istanbul’s hotspots for revolutionary activism. With the increasingly authoritarian and violent rule of President Erdogan, however, armored police patrol vehicles [akreps] are part of daily life in this neighborhood that once was known as an “emancipated zone,” where police forces would not dare enter. Despite exacerbating conditions of infrastructural deprivation, state surveillance, police brutality, and unemployment, residents of Candere still use “revolutionary” as an ethical compass to govern the present as well as the futures it might lead to. Yearning for a future that once was possible, but seems no longer tenable, and stuck in the present with a nostalgic commitment to a revolutionized future, residents of Candere employ two temporal reasonings with distinct priorities: one primarily concerned with abiding by “revolutionary” morality in the present, the other oriented towards a distant, emancipated future. But under conditions of urban marginalization, the expectations of present and future do not always easily overlap. Drawing on an ethnography of local mobilization in the neighborhood, this paper asks: How do these co-existing temporal orientations—of revolutionizing the present and of the revolutionary telos— constitute political life in Candere?  


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