#1 Power and politics of engagement

Parallel sessions on Friday 25.11. at 10.30-11.45
Location: Room 10, Metsätalo

Ivana Rapoš Božič (Masaryk University) – Civic Art and Culture Initiatives: Key Tensions

Recent years have seen a growing interest in the role of artistic and cultural initiatives in generating creative solutions to social inequality. Such interest has been stimulated both from above, in the form of grants and financial incentives from schemes such as Creative Europe, as well as from below, through innovative practices of civil society organizations and social movements. However, the bulk of discussion on the role of artistic and cultural initiatives in the promotion of more inclusive social environments is often narrowed down to their representation as examples of good practice. Such an approach is insufficient as it neglects the tensions that are inherent to the use of arts and culture as instruments of social change.

In this contribution, I address this deficiency by elucidating the key tensions that accompany civically engaged artistic and cultural initiatives. My analysis draws on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted during an artistic residency in Slovakia. This residency took place as a part of the European project Borderline offensive, whose aim was to tackle growing xenophobia and migration fear across Europe via arts and humor. Utilizing the theoretical frame of French pragmatic sociology, I show how the logic of different orders of worth embedded in the projects' design clashed with the artists' engagements with both their artistic practice and one another. All in all, I articulate a need for a nuanced understanding of the role of artistic and cultural initiatives in negotiations in the present-day civil sphere.

Anna Zhelnina (University of Helsinki) – Temporal Agency in Urban Politics

Temporal agency and power in urban politics Urban redevelopment projects are often associated with an intensified sense of uncertainty. Residents of the transforming urban areas can experience the future of their inhabited urban worlds as unpredictable and beyond their control. Still, these moments of uncertainty are not “empty:”; they are filled with action, emotion, and meaning-making. Both political sociology and urban studies have noted that, potentially, uncertainty can be a productive, creative condition. It can have stimulating effects, pushing people to (inter)act; it can be the driving force of contention, and an opening for innovation (Tilly, Tarrow, and McAdam 2001). On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence of the dampening, disempowering effects of uncertainty (Auyero and Swistun 2009). This duality has to do with the temporal logic of human agency, which is “informed by the past” and “oriented toward the future” and the present” (Emirbayer and Mische 998:963).

Obstacles to the future-oriented part of agency result in the inability to strategize, make plans or even imagine the future alternatives. Moreover, this future-oriented dimension of agency is socially stratified; powerful players can manipulate other people’s ability to imagine and control their own futures by delaying and making wait or rushing and making false promises (Auyero 2014). The theory of future coordination (Tavory and Eliasoph 2013) offers us a conceptual toolkit to analyze moments of uncertainty as political moments. By focusing on the intensified interactions in a variety of arenas around urban redevelopment projects, scholars can unpack and demystify uncertainty and understand how and where new futures are created from a polyphony of individual perspectives, aspirations, and projects.

This presentation will focus the temporal dimension of agency and power in urban politics building on the empirical examples from a study of a contested urban renewal project in Moscow and the study of immigrants’ engagement with urban politics in Helsinki.

Veikko Eranti & Taina Meriluoto (University of Helsinki) – Towards a pragmatist theory of the political

This paper introduces a pragmatist interpretation of agonistic pluralism, and develops this into an analytical framework that is applied to the analysis of urban conflicts. Taking heed from contemporary radical urban scholarship, the article’s aim is twofold: First, the article substantiates Chantal Mouffe’s notion of agonistic pluralism with tools from French pragmatic sociology. We suggest that plurality, in a democracy, emerges both as a plurality of conflict manifested in the variety of possible ways to identify injustices, and formulate and justify claims in public struggles, and plurality of commonality, manifested in different logics by which a “we” can be formed, and ways of coordinating action so as to solve issues without resorting to violence. Second, by deploying the developed conceptualisation of plurality to an on-going urban conflict over an airport, we showcase the value of the approach for identifying and analysing different forms and phases of actually existing political conflicts, and for recognizing their meaning for democracy. The paper finally sketches an outline for a pragmatist approach and theory of the political.