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London workshop

London Workshop: Framing Financial Crisis and Protest: Pressures on Cultural Identity and Citizenship

30/31 July and 1 August 2015

The Open University, Camden Town, London

A bottom-up view of the 2007-8 financial crisis, austerity measures and responses to these has generally taken two directions.

On the one hand, this view takes in numerous and accruing experiences in everyday life and observations made, so to speak, in the commons. Over this period, from 2007 to whenever the crisis has been declared as done (if at all), for large numbers of people: those unemployed have found prospects becoming increasingly straitened; those in employment have faced intensifying surveillance and managerial control, steady impoverishment of working conditions, reduction of benefits, pensions and leisure, constant threats of redundancy or what’s euphemistically called “rationalization”; on the domestic front there is less income relative to consumption and the pressure of debts has increased; many of the public and welfare support systems – for health, education, old age and disability care, child support etc. -- that average citizens had grown habituated to have quickly disintegrated (either effectively privatized or occasionally left only to seemingly altruistic organizations, a recourse to begging rather than claiming rights); visible signs of poverty have appeared in the streets only to be shoveled into ghettoes; venomous anti-immigrant feelings and small-minded nationalisms that have always simmered have become normalized; and the intensity of baffled or impotent demonstrations by disaffected sectors of the population has grown stronger, sometimes appearing explosively; and so on.

On the other hand, the bottom-up view has found itself at the behest of media coverage and incessant talk of “the financial crisis”: as the ineluctable source for, all-embracing condition of and core paradigm for apprehending every nuance of all the multitude of experiences. It is the reiterative pervasiveness of such talk that enables the experiential plethora to congeal into the singularity of the financial crisis. Such talk emanates particularly from all-penetrating broadcast and print media, but also from every forum for institutional bosses and “leaders” of the public and “experts” of domains that matter. It is also concomitant to such talk that experiences of the financial crisis become an articulable lived experience rather than a diffuse flow of many diverse and variegated experiences; it has become possible to note it as a phenomenon, with a before and perhaps an after. In fact, the superlative production of talk about crisis of late has been such, the self-reflexive articulations of crisis so dense and variable, that the connotations of “crisis” itself seem under pressure -- in danger of being emptied, itself a signifier to dissect.  As Janet Roitman (Anti-Crisis 2013) puts it, “Crisis is a blind spot that enables the production of knowledge.”

Somewhere between -- or perhaps outside -- these two directions, notions of “citizenship” and “identity” have been renegotiated over the period in question. That is the assumption on which this workshop is organised, but it may well not be the case. Perhaps the financial crisis, austerity regimes and protests have had no discernible effect on apprehensions of citizenship and identity. Naturally, that too is a position to be debated here.

This workshop is focused on discussions rather than formal presentations, and it is expected that all participants will contribute to all the sessions. There are five sessions, as follows.

  • Session 1: 4 or 5 panellists will respond briefly (10-15 mins.) to the following questions, and lead into an open discussion:
    • Question 1: What are the key considerations in communicating the rationale of the financial crisis for public understanding?
    • Question 2: What social and political factors encourage or discourage a public response to the financial crisis?
  • Session 2: Theme: Discourses of Immigration and the Far Right
    4 or 5 panellists will make brief presentations of 10-15 mins. followed by responses by other panellists leading into open discussion.
  • Session 3: Theme: Citizenship and Borders (transnational and nation-state allegiances in the context of financial crisis and austerity and in relation to protests; identity formation and significations in relation to the same.)
    4 or 5 panellists will make brief presentations of 10-15 mins. followed by responses by other panellists leading into open discussion.
  • Session 4: Theme: Geographies of Crisis in the UK (between devolution and transnationalism; London as a global city; relation of city and province; mapping of architecture/urban space in terms of control/surveillance; symbolic space)
    The mode of presentation will be determined by invited participants, and could include an AV presentation or posters or performance, leading into discussion.
  • Session 5: Theme: Public Protests: Riots, Marches, Demonstrations, Occupations
    ​4 or 5 panellists will respond briefly (10-15 mins.) to one of the following questions, and lead into an open discussion:
    • (a) How do public protests mediate between the agendas of specific interest groups and expressions of broader disaffection?
    • (b) How are such public protests mobilized, managed and represented?
    • (c) What have such public protests achieved?

Full workshop programme