issue 34, Spring 2009
Front cover & centre pages: 'Every action will be judged on the particular circumstances'
The Creativity Fix 5
Tyranny of the Ad Hoc
Glasgows Merchant City: An Artist Led Property Strategy
Artists & Art Schools: For or against innovation? A reply to NESTA
Angela McRobbie & Kirsten Forkert
Hunting, Fishing, & Shooting the Working Classes
The Toughest Man in Cairo vs The Zionist Vegetable
Shoreditch and the creative destruction of the inner city
The End of Israels Impunity?
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Front cover & centre pages: Every action will be judged
on the particular circumstances
The five anti-war activists who damaged a US military aircraft in 2003 justified
their actions on the grounds that they honestly and completely believed their
actions were protecting the lives and property of people who did not have an
opportunity to defend themselves,1 mainly the very young and very old of Iraq,
innocent civilians caught up in the shock and awe campaign of what
the United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan referred to as an illegal
war, being in violation of the UN charter.2
The fact that the activists had the ability to directly effect US Military hardware
on Irish soil, calls into question the tenets of the Irish constitution which
states that, War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate
in any war save with the assent of the House of Representatives.3 The constitution
also declares that, Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles
of international law,4 but the High Court has recently ruled that this
provision is merely aspirational and is not enforceable.5
The tools of disarmament, the hammers which the activists used, were
recently returned to their owners by the Gardai two years after the five activists
were acquitted of the charges of criminal damage, on the grounds of lawful excuse.
One of the hammers has clocked up approximately $7 million worth of damage to
military hardware through previous actions.
The hammers have been termed tools, weapons, evidence
of criminal activity, and of late icons of civil disobedience.
This shift between definitions is indicative of the situation in which they have
been represented, of how these objects might be presented with regards to particular
agendas or particular circumstances. The very image of the hammers with their
anti-war / religious slogans engraved into their handles speaks of the duality
or conflict of purpose and the blurring of identity which has come to represent
the political situation in which they have been instrumentalised.
This relative objectivity purports to the blurring of definitions, of relative
interpretation which have been applied to the Irish constitution in defining
a position on neutrality and ultimately on democracy.
Seamus Nolan, 2008
Thanks to the Pitstop Ploughshares for loaning the Hammers for this exhibition
at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. The exhibition was curated by Jonathan Carroll,
Mark Garry and Georgina Jackson, and the project organised by the Goethe-Institut
Irland, Project Arts Centre, and the Austrian Embassy Dublin.
1. The Criminal Damage Act 1991, amended in 1997,
provides a defense of lawful excuse to the offense if the accused was acting
to defend himself or another or property belonging to himself or another. The
action taken must be reasonable in the circumstance, as the accused believed
those circumstances to be. It is immaterial whether such a belief is justified,
so long as it is honestly held. The Clare Champion, Friday July
2. Ciaran O Reilly, DailyIreland.com
3. Article 28 3.1, The Constitution of Ireland
4. Article 29 3, The Constitution of Ireland
5. Horgan vs. Ireland, case No. 3739P
What follows is an open letter to Mike Russell MSP,
Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, concerning Creative
Scotland (the proposed merger of the public bodies, the Scottish Arts Council
and Scottish Screen) that will shortly be sent to him. The letter was formed
through open group discussion and concentrated exchanges between artists
and members of Variants affinity
group. If you concur with the letter and wish to sign it, either in a personal
or official capacity, then please email Variant at: email@example.com
For ongoing analysis of the Creative Scotland debacle, please visit: creativescotland.blogspot.com
Letter to Mike Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution
Dear Mike Russell,
Re. Promotional Culture versus Democratic Culture: The Case of Creative Scotland
After a long series of confusing twists and turns over cultural policy in Scotland
it is clear that there is considerable controversy surrounding the proposed cultural
body Creative Scotland. We believe Creative Scotland is already impoverishing
culture by promoting and envisaging it in overwhelmingly industrial terms. This
misguided approach ultimately fixates on anything or anyone that can be bought,
sold or put into debt1, and stands against the spirit and letter of the UNESCO
Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions which
came into force in March 2007.2
So far, the formation of Creative Scotland has been a largely opportunistic political
and bureaucratic exercise in a country which suffers from significant democratic
deficits despite our devolved parliament. It is therefore vital that this organisation,
if it is to truly represent the interests of culture, builds moral and democratic
authority. We take your recent ministerial appointment as evidence of the seriousness
of this problem at the heart of Creative Scotland.
It is disappointing that your first public meeting, at the Traverse Theatre,
Edinburgh (18th February 2009) about the new cultural agenda was with a selected
gathering. Many people who wanted to attend, such as the President of University
Colleges Union in Scotland, were excluded. It should go without saying that there
are intertwined problems of protecting criticality and freedom in education as
in culture. However, the Team Scotland ethos already expressed for
Creative Scotland3 demonstrates far narrower promotional and business-led objectives
that neglect these and other treaty obligations in cultural policy.
Other countries which have also ratified the UNESCO declaration, such as Sweden,
recognise prosperity as an important consideration in cultural aims4. Yet, in
contrast to successive pronouncements in our country, Swedens policy explicitly
states the need to counteract the negative effects of commercialism.
Evidently Scotland and Swedens leaders in the cultural policy area are
not singing from the same song sheet. However, given that both nations are signed
up to the same universal rights and obligations, we, as citizens, are entitled
to ask why there has been absolutely no sense in Scotlands political discourse
of all the ways that culture and commerce are not compatible?
Is it that Scotland is conforming to an old slur against its people and is now
ruled by the same short-sighted money-minded people, the best of whom have presided
over financial disaster, or is it that we have not been represented in accountable
and truly democratic terms? In either case we see the dominant ethos of Creative
Scotland as deeply flawed. It is highly inappropriate that Creative Scotland
is being forged by bankers and businessmen who are evidently insensitive to,
or ignorant of, the broad implications of cultural policy. Their patronage or
support for certain cultural activities is no qualification and does not enable
them to address culture as whole. We therefore urge the resignation of Ewan Brown,
Peter Cabrelli and Chris Masters from the board of Creative Scotland on the grounds
of their inability to fully discuss this key issue of democratic society with
politicians, civil servants and wider communities.
In accordance with our international obligations under the UNESCO convention
from March 2007, it is also essential the following points are recognised in,
and made central to, Creative Scotlands core script:
Culture must be protected from commerce, particularly from the economic
processes of globalisation.
The very idea of Team Scotland is a symptom of these competitive
processes and should be removed. It is not a means to defend diversity of expression,
nor does it promote international co-operation. These two obligations should
be clearly addressed.
The poverty, and consequent lack of autonomy, of artists and cultural
workers must be acknowledged as a key issue that should be addressed by any cultural
organisation seeking to articulate the public interest and the common good.
1. The Government wants Scotland to be recognised
as one of the worlds most creative nations - one that attracts, develops
and retains talent, where the arts and the creative industries are supported
and celebrated and their economic contribution fully captured. [our
emphasis] Published - 5 February 2009, Support For Creative Industries: Roles
And Responsibilities - Core ScriptThe previous minister Linda Fabiani stated: If
formed, Creative Scotland will add to the range of funding sources available
to artists and creative practitioners. As well as grants, it will develop a wider
portfolio of funding methods including loans and investments. This was
reinforced further in a Sunday Herald article, where it was reported, A
spokeswoman from the Creative Scotland transition team stated: Creative
Scotland will be looking at a range of alternative investment models, with the
aim of finding and increasing sources of funding. Tax incentives, venture
capital, loans and corporate investment are all potential models previously mentioned
by the transition team.
2. Culture is itself broadly defined in the convention as a complex phenomenon; ...consequently
cultural goods and services convey identity, values and meaning and cannot be
treated as mere commodities or consumer goods like any others... p4 UNESCO
Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
3. 5 February 2009, Support For Creative Industries: Roles And Responsibilities
- Core Script
4. The objectives of national cultural policy include safeguarding freedom
of expression and creating genuine opportunities for everyone to make use of
that freedom; taking action to enable everyone to participate in cultural life,
to experience culture and to engage in creative activities of their own; promoting
cultural diversity, artistic renewal and quality, thus counteracting the negative
effects of commercialism; enabling culture to act as a dynamic, challenging and
independent force in society; preserving and making use of our cultural heritage;
promoting the thirst for learning, and promoting international cultural exchange
and meetings between different cultures in the country. Swedens
objectives of national cultural policy
The Creativity Fix
Creativity is the new black. An increasingly fashionable
urban-development script has it that an historically distinctive creative
economy powered by raw human talent, as cool as it is competitive is
displacing sclerotic, organization-era capitalism. The prime movers in this new
new economy are members of the so-called Creative Class, a mobile elite whose
finicky lifestyle preferences increasingly shape the geographies of economic
growth. We are told that cities like corporations have become embroiled
in an endless war for talent, as flows of creative individuals have
become the fundamental vectors of innovation-rich growth. And lo, there is man
in black at the centre of this burgeoning creativity fad Richard Florida,
who makes frequent recourse to sartorial signifiers in his best-selling primers
on the creative economy. As an architect and popularizer of the creative class
thesis, Florida has been feted around the world as a cool-cities guru. His germinal
texts on the creativity thesis serve, simultaneously, as cliff notes for Creative
Economics 101, as how-to manuals for anxious city leaders and opportunistic policymakers,
and as lifestyle guides for the rising class of creatives.1 While Floridas
catchy notions concerning the creative city and its favoured inhabitants have
certainly benefited from some savvy promotion, their evident allure and alleged
salience have little to do with the intrinsic explanatory power of the model
of creative growth my theory2 or indeed the inventiveness
of the associated marketing push. Rather, the creative-cities thesis has travelled
so far so fast because as a seductive urban development script-cum-vision,
complete with prescriptively defined policy practices and positions it
has been artfully crafted for todays neoliberalized political-economic
The creativity script encodes an engaging economic imaginary, based
on a set of principles that combine cultural libertarianism and contemporary
urban-design motifs with neoliberal economic imperatives. Undeniably, there are
liberal and even progressive themes running through the creativity script notably,
its explicit embrace of social diversity, arts, and culture, together with its
articulation of a positive economic role for (central) cities. But these pinkish
elements are folded into a development vision that is profoundly market orientated
(creative cities, assets, and actors, always in competition) and individualistic
(creative subjects as hedonistic free agents). So while the creativity thesis
has generated attention, and controversy in some conservative circles, for highlighting
the positive contribution of gays and lesbians to the life of cities, here these
contributions are ultimately valued for their economic functionality, or as mere
indicators of a favourable competitive climate. Likewise, art and culture are
discursively commodified, as productive assets and positive externalities of
creative capitalism, while streetlife and authenticity are also located within
the circuits of (accelerating) interurban competition. For all its social-liberal
compensations, the creativity script works with grain of the contemporary realpolitik.
It offers a feel-good but fiscally undemanding development vision, consistent
with a post-entitlement, intensively competitive urban realm. It facilitates
revamped forms of civic boosterism (flogging cultural assets), alongside the
gratification of middle-class consumption desires and the lubrication both of
flexible labour markets and gentrifying housing markets. The creativity script
also subtly relegitimizes regressive social redistributions within the city:
the designated overclass of creatives are held to have earned their superior
position in the creative city, by virtue of raw talent and creative capital,
validated through the market, and it is they who must be catered to in what amounts
to a post-progressive urban policy. The lumpen classes of service and manual
workers, on the other hand, are so positioned in the new socioeconomic structure
by virtue of their creative deficits, and they play little or no positive role
in Floridas account of the creative economy. They must be content with
lectures on creative bootstrapping and in lieu of their own creative awakening the
benefit of downward-trickling positive externalities like the opportunity to
wait tables for the creative bohemians.
The discourses and practices of creative-cities policymaking are barely disruptive
of the prevailing order of neoliberal urbanism, based inter alia on polarizing
labour and housing markets, property- and market-led development, retrenched
public services and social programming, and accelerating intercity competition
for jobs, investment, and assets.3 The creative cities thesis represents a soft policy
fix for this neoliberal urban conjuncture, making the case for modest and discretionary
public spending on creative assets, while raising a favoured bundle of middle-class
lifestyles based on self-indulgent forms of overwork, expressive play,
and conspicuous consumption to the status of an urban-development objective.
Urban leaders, a key audience for the creativity shtick, are likewise urged to
do what it takes to transform their cities into talent magnets, having
been made acutely aware of the risk if they do not adequately tend to
the needs of the young and restless that they will be demoted
to the rust belt of the shiny, creative economy. Discursively downloading both
risk and responsibility, the creative-city concept is predicated on, presumes
and (re)produces the dominant market order. So is revealed the funky side of
neoliberal urban-development politics.
Creative subjects are celebrated for their hypermobility and for their strictly
circumscribed, individualistic commitments to place. These economic hipsters
thrive in buzzing 24/7 neighbourhoods, where they can satisfy their craving for heart-throbbingly
real experiences,4 but at the drop of a hat may chose to relocate to an
even more happening place. It follows that anything short of public pandering
to the needs and desires of the restless creatives is practically guaranteed
to secure their automatic flight.5 The creativity discourse amounts
to a paean to the international talent market and its favoured agents, to which
cities and regions must be performatively deferential. In this retread of the
orthodox globalization script, the argument for decisive local action featherbedding
the creative supply side is presented as no less than a new urban imperative.
Cities must attract the new creative class with hip neighbourhoods,
an arts scene and a gay-friendly atmosphere or theyll go the way
of Detroit.6 Which way, then, to the creative city?
The creativity catechism...
Routinely overstated and hyperbolic, Floridas essential argument is that
human creativity has become the engine of twenty-first century economic development,
such that the competitiveness of nations and cities is increasingly rooted in
the capacity to attract, retain, and nurture talented individuals the
newly dominant factor of production. For Florida, human creativity is the defining
feature of economic life [...] [It] has come to be valued and systems
have evolved to encourage and harness it because new technologies, new
industries, new wealth and all other good economic things flow from it.7
What this account lacks in causal analysis it makes up for in alliterative chutzpah.
Success in the new, creative economy is down to three Ts technology,
talent, and tolerance. Technological capacity is a precondition for creative
growth, but on its own is insufficient. The gist, though, is that cities with
a shot at the creative big time must have a strong cluster of high-tech companies
and a good university. The lifeblood of the system is the flow of talented individuals,
the second T, this restless-but-critical factor of production having become the
carrier of creative potential. Productive capacity is therefore located not in
institutional matrices or production systems, but in the heads and hearts of
creative individuals. Yet a citys development strategies will add up to
naught in the absence of the third T, tolerance, where open, dynamic, and heterodox
local cultures represent the supply-side foundations upon which creative meccas
are built. As Florida informed the readers of Salon magazine:
[I]n every economic measure, Detroit and Pittsburgh should be trouncing
Austin. These are places that had probably two of the greatest technological
powerhouses of their time they were the Silicon Valleys of their day.
Detroit in automotive, Pittsburgh in steel and chemicals [...] What happened,
however, was that both places fell victim to institutional and cultural sclerosis.
They got trapped in the organizational age; they thought we really live in a
patriarchal, white, corporate society and that the key to success was to strap
on your tie, go to work 9 to 5, and behave yourself. There was no room for people
with new ideas ... [In contrast, what] Austin did was they really hustled. In
the 1980s and 1990s they said, We want to grab some of these high-tech
companies, so they did that. [Then] they said, Were going to
make this a fun place to live [...] They created a lifestyle mentality,
where Pittsburgh and Detroit were still trapped in that Protestant-ethic/bohemian-ethic
split, where people were saying, You cant have fun! or What
do you mean play in a rock band? Cut your hair and go to work, son. Thats
whats important. Well, Austin was saying, No, no, no, youre
a creative. You want to play in a rock band at night and do semiconductor work
in the day? Cmon! And if you want to come in at 10 the next morning and
youre a little hung over or youre smoking dope, thats cool. [...]
Austin saw this from day one.8
Florida uses this kind of sophomoric sociology to make the argument that, riding
the new wave of urban economic development, the creatives have inherited the
earth, and it is they who now make the rules. The logical, if stark, conclusion
is that the Creative Class has become the dominant class in society.9
Florida softens the edges of this millennial pronouncement with his own form
of new-age atmospherics: he frequently declares that every human being has the
capacity to be creative, just as every city has a shot at becoming a creative
The economics of creativity are more utilitarian: from the perspective of corporations
and cities (the difference hardly seems to matter in this instance), talented
workers are a scarce resource, yet they are both highly mobile and discerning
in their tastes; therefore, they must be given what they want or they will not
come/stay; without them, there is only creative disinvestment and economic decline.
In the context of a persistent shortfall in the supply of talent, cities must
learn what corporations have before them been forced to learn, that if they do
not take steps to establish the right people climate for creative
workers, if they are not appropriately welcoming, they will wither and
die.10 There are roles for government in this development vision, but they
are safely located on the supply side of the creative economy: establishing the
right kind of urban ambience becomes the key to harnessing creativity.
Paradoxically, Florida seeks to celebrate certain qualities of place, like
buzz and cosmopolitanism, while at the same time recirculating pernicious neoliberal
narratives of external competitive threat/vulnerability to flight.
The core of the challenge is what Ive come to see as the new global
competition for talent, a phenomenon that promises to radically reshape the world
in the coming decades. No longer will economic might amass in countries according
to their natural resources, manufacturing excellence, military dominance, or
even scientific and technological prowess. Today, the terms of competition revolve
around a central axis: a nations ability to mobilize, attract, and retain
human creative talent [...] The global talent pool and the high-end, high-margin
creative industries that used to be the sole province of the US and the crucial
source of its prosperity have begun to disperse around the globe. A host of countries Ireland,
Finland, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand among them are investing
in higher education, producing creative people, and churning out cutting-edge
products, from cellular phones to computer software to blockbuster movies."11
It follows that no-one, and nowhere, is safe from this new competitive
threat. Even powerful economies can fall prey to new forms of creative competition,
which (along with the hyperbole) is said to be heating up.12
Help is, however, at hand, since Floridas self-appointed role is not simply
to disclose the new economic order. He is also a purveyor, conveniently, of winning
urban strategies. Right along with the identification of policy imperatives comes
a suite of new policy solutions, all designed to give the creatives what they
want, while securing the position of cities within the evolving creative division
of labour. Figuring out what the creatives want, and where they want to be, was
a primary task of Floridas opening salvo in the creativity debate, The
rise of the creative class, 2002. This bestselling book probed the locational
proclivities of the creative class using a combination of pop-culture anecdotes,
focus groups with young, restless, and talented people, excruciating insights
into Floridas own creative lifestyle, and supposedly suggestive spatial
correlations, for instance between gays and growth. The results sparsely
documented from a social-scientific perspective, but nevertheless emphatically
stated indicated that the creative class yearn, above all, to validate
their identities. Creatives seek out neighbourhoods amply endowed with
the kind of amenities that allow them to maintain an experientially intensive
work-life balance. They are drawn to plug and play communities, where
social entry barriers are low, where heterogeneity is actively embraced, where
loose ties prevail, where there is plenty of scope for creative commingling.
These are communities that creatives can move into and put together a life or
at least a facsimile of a life in a week.13 Such diagnostically-critical
conditions are signalled by conspicuous presence of gays and lesbians, designated
here both as the canaries of the creative economy and as harbingers
of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighbourhoods.14
Other more concrete indicators of urban edginess include authentic historical
buildings, converted lofts, walkable streets, plenty of coffee shops, art and
live-music spaces, indigenous street culture, and a range of other typical features
of gentrifying, mixed-use, inner-urban neighbourhoods.
These environments serve as creative incubators. Homo creativus thrives
on weak attachments and noncommittal relationships, most often mediated through
the market. These atomized actors seem to lack families and non-market support
systems, revelling instead in long hours of work and individualistic competition.
This twenty-first century version of economic man may have a better social life,
but he is still economic man. As a member of the creative class, Florida understands
that there is no corporation or other large institution that will take
care of us that we are truly on our own.15 The edgy urban neighbourhood
facilitates and enables this productive lifestyle, allowing the creatives to
plug into the new economy and play as hard as they like. The defining characteristics
of this new urban überclass are all framed in competitive terms. They are,
one might say, neoliberals dressed in black. It takes no effort at all
to translate the founding principles of the creative doctrine into just such
Since it is the creatives who are the primary decision-makers in Floridas
account, then it is ultimately their choices writ large that shape
the spatial division of creative labour, the creative urban hierarchy, and the
parameters of the interurban talent war. And, when it comes down to it,
creative people choose regions, Florida explains, They think
of Silicon Valley versus Cambridge, Stockholm versus Vancouver, or Sydney versus
Copenhagen. The fact that many regions around the world are cultivating the attributes
necessary to become creative centres makes this competition even fiercer.16
Just like the wave of entrepreneurial urban strategies that preceded it, this
form of creative interurban competition is both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating:
establishing open, plug-and-play communities that are welcoming of restive creative
types becomes tantamount to both enabling and subsidizing the very forms
of mobility that were the source of competitive anxiety in the first place. But
since there is (again) only one game in town, cities had better make sure they
are ready to participate, to do what is necessary, or they will certainly lose
out. This is a variant on the do it, or else style of neoliberal
urban policymaking, in which favoured strategies are translated into economic
imperatives, a new-age variant of smokestack chasing.17 Again, cities must be
reflexively responsive to a hypercompetitive external environment, comprising liberalized flows
of capital, public investment, consumer dollars... and now talent workers:
Lasting competitive advantage today will not simply amass in those countries
and regions that can generate the most creative, innovative, or entrepreneurial
output. The places that will be most able to absorb new energies will be those
that are both open to diversity and also capable of internalizing the externalities
that the creative economy gives rise to [...] The most successful places will
require a socially adaptive capability that will enable them to pioneer
new fields and innovative industries.18
The role for government, in this context, is to invest in the creative supply
side, Floridas chameleon-like position being to sanction discretionary,
pink-tinged interventions at the local scale, while demanding that big government
get out of the way. Where I share common ground with some Republicans and
libertarians [is] that old-style government programs have become a huge impediment
to leveraging the creative age and allowing it to emerge, Florida explains,
the more limited function of the State being to set up the parameters in
which market-based actions take place.19 Priming the creative pump therefore
becomes a task for urban leaders; the way forward is with grassroots
initiatives and community-oriented efforts. Step forward the
street-level activists of the creative age.
... and its converts
The response to the creative cities thesis amongst urban policymaking communities
around the world has bordered on the ecstatic. Floridas ideas have been
picked up by mayors, regional development agencies, policy entrepreneurs, advisors,
and consultants across the United States, Europe, Australasia, and parts of Asia,
both in wannabe locations at the bottom of his creative league tables (which
are now available in numerous countries) and in established centres like London,
Toronto, and Melbourne. This fast policy success story may be attributable
less to the revolutionary or transformative nature of the Florida thesis itself,
more to its character as a minimally disruptive soft neoliberal fix.
The story is, in many ways, a familiar one, though the cast of characters has
changed. National governments just have to get out of the way for the creative
economy to flourish; effective urban responses call for bold leadership and vision,
but some kind of response is essential for any city that wants to stay in the
game; self-managing and hyperactive creatives, as bearers of creative market
forces, will look after the rest, so earning their status as privileged urban
In this neoliberalized urban terrain, a receptive and wide audience has effectively
been pre-constituted for the kinds of market-reinforcing, property- and promotion-based,
growth-oriented, and gentrification-friendly policies that have been repackaged
under the creativity rubric. The creative cities policy fix can be deployed to
accessorize extant, market-based urban development agendas, with the minimum
of interference to established interests and constituencies. At root, it simply
adds a livability-lifestyle component to the established urban competiveness
stance. The typical mayor is likely to see few downsides to making the city safe
for the creative class. Establishment power elites have little to fear from conspicuous
urban consumption, gen-x marketing campaigns, key-worker attraction strategies,
and gentrification-with-public-art. A creativity strategy is easily bolted on
to business-as-usual urban-development policies, while providing additional ideological
cover for market-driven or state-assisted programs of gentrification. Inner-city
embourgeoisement, in the creativity script, is represented as a necessary prerequisite
for economic development: hey presto, thorny political problem becomes
Creative cities policies, of course, would hardly be spreading like wildfire
if they represented a revolutionary challenge to the neoliberal status quo. In
fact, they are being stamped out cookie-cutter style across the urban landscape,
spanning a quite remarkable range of settings20 having become policies of choice,
in particular, for those left-leaning mayors who have learned to live with, if
not love, the market order. Nominally bespoke creativity strategies can be purchased
from consultants in practically any mid-sized city these days, or they can be
lifted off the shelf from countless websites and urban regeneration conferences.
These are almost ideal products for the fast-policy distribution systems that
have evolved in the past two decades: both the rationale and the design parameters
of the policy are essentially portable just make sure that each plan contains
at least a dash of local cultural authenticity, while nodding to
the right grassroots constituencies in each city.
To take just one of dozens of (very) similar examples: Michigans recently
enacted Cool Cities program, derived directly from the creativity playbook, retasks
state funds to the goal of localized gentrification, hipster-style, in the hope
that this will attract the creative class. Beneath the rhetoric of avant-garde
economic development, this entails the public subsidy of various kinds of creative collective
goods and infrastructure projects, focused exclusively on locations with demonstrated development
potential (a.k.a. happening, gentrifying neighbourhoods). Making
Michigans cities attractive to the creative class has entailed a youth-oriented
marketing program; extensive learning from other cities and from creative citizens
themselves (given that government cannot create cool);
and a bundle of mostly repackaged policies aimed at the rehabilitation of historic
buildings (specifically, theatres, galleries, mixed-use housing), farmers markets,
streetscaping and public art, physical infrastructure development, façade
improvements, outdoor recreation facilities, greenspace, parks, pavilions, and,
if necessary, demolition.21
Posing in fashionable shades to launch the program, Michigans Governor,
Jennifer Granholm, insisted that it was essential that this struggling, auto-industry
state catch the next wave of economic development. Michigan has been experiencing
an exodus of young, highly educated people in recent years, as large
numbers of talented workers have fled the state in search of employment.22
According to the creativity script, the way to alleviate Michigans economic
decline is to reverse this critical flow of talent, since in the new knowledge
economy jobs follow workers, not the other way around. Curiously, even though
Michigans creative class decamped in search of employment, we
are expected to believe that they will be attracted back by enhanced urban
environments, and then the states economy will revive:
Given the right mix of services and amenities, this group will vote
with their feet and relocate to vibrant, walkable, mixed-use communities.
Attracted by a talented, diverse workforce, business will follow.23
The target demographic for the Cool Cities program is defined as college-educated
young professionals in core fields like science and engineering, art and design,
entertainment, computing, and the media, whose defining characteristics include
a preference for lifestyle, distinctive purchasing patterns (reflecting
individuality and self-statement), and above all, mobility:
[T]odays young professional workforce is more interested in working
as a means of experiencing and enjoying their lifestyle than their counterparts
in decades past. This group is increasingly mobile, and in order to attract and
retain them, cities have to change their paradigm of physical and social development.
The city itself has to be attractive, not only to business, but also to the workforce.24
But will young Michiganders, who left the state in search of better career opportunities
(apparently having had their fill of the lifestyle options of Flint, Kalamazoo,
and Saginaw), really be tempted back by the policy-induced trendification
of their old neighbourhoods? Even if the goal of making Michigan the coolest state
in the nation is a realistic one, it sits rather awkwardly with the sobering
realities of structural economic decline and public-sector downsizing in a state
hardly renowned as a hipster haven.25 Michigan has one of the highest unemployment
rates in the nation, the auto industry has entered a(nother) major phase of restructuring,
and the rate of job loss in the state has been characterized by local commentators
as staggering.26 The citys economic trajectory has been described
by David Littman, chief economist at Comerica Bank, as a graveyard spiral.27
Inhospitable territory for creative cities strategies? Apparently not. In some
respects, the level of enthusiasm for creativity makeovers may be inversely proportional
to the scale of the economic challenge confronting local policymakers. Even in
the rustbelt capitals, the creativity cult has been recruiting new members. CreateDetroit,
an offshoot of the states Cool Cities program established in 2003, characteristically
self-describes as a grassroots organization, despite sponsorship
from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Governors Office, the
City of Detroit, Wayne State University, Detroit Renaissance, the Detroit Economic
Growth Corporation, and corporations like Apple and SBC. CreateDetroit has been
striving to turn around the flagging fortunes of Motown by making it a destination
city for the creative class. Detroit was ranked 39th out of 49 major cities
in Floridas original creativity index, but as the creative
economist himself has pointed out, this means that the city has more creative potential than
almost anywhere in the nation (see Klein 2004b).28 CreateDetroit is pursuing
similar strategies to a range of other (newly designated) creative bottomfeeders,
like Memphis and Tampa Bay, who were similarly spurred to action by their lowly
rankings in Floridas widely publicized league tables.29 These include periodic
events that splice the arts and urban development; lobbying for creative investment;
creatively themed marketing and promotion activities; and hobnobbing initiatives
like Connect Four, where artists, writers, designers and media types
can meet, mingle, hunt, gather, network, and play.
The idea behind CreateDetroit, a founding member explained, is
to create a long-range plan, focused on making the Detroit region a magnet for
new economy talent. The stakes are high. Those regions that do not flourish in
the new creative economy will fail, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor
Richard Florida.30 A formative early step for CreateDetroit was to invest
in one of the professors two-day regional transformation workshops,
photographs from which adorn the groups web site. Following a well-established
methodology, the event featured a range of local performance artists, plenty
of feel-good provincial pride (along with I am Detroit t-shirts), and
a 350-person audience heavily titled towards the arts and cultural communities,
together with local policymakers and advocates. Floridas polished performance
was greeted with enthusiasm, and there was widespread support for his populist
rendering of pro-people economic development. His energetically delivered
message, that Detroit was losing out in the balance of trade in creativity, focused
attention on the out-migration of talented individuals, while validating
a distinctive set of arts-intensive investments in the city. An irreparable failure
of the computer system (and its backup) unfortunately marred the audience-participation
segment of the workshop, in which attendees were invited to vote on their citys
creative strengths and weakness prior to revelations of the actual data perhaps
calling attention to some of Detroits deficits on the first T of technology.
But most of the participants, especially those in the (previously-neglected)
arts and cultural communities, seem to have left invigorated by Floridas call
to arms to take themselves seriously as an economic force.31
The purpose of the event, Florida insisted, was not for me
and my team to come to Detroit and prescribe fixes. What will help Detroit is
for swelling grassroots efforts like CreateDetroit to say, This is where
we want to be in the future. This is what we plan to do to get there.32
However, some noted that, for all his talk of reach[ing] down and harnessing
that energy, Florida failed to offer the hungry audience a single
concrete suggestion.33 Others were left wondering whether the creative
backwash, should it ever reach the shores of Lake Michigan, would really lift
all boats. Buzz aside, most recognized that this was in many respects a canned
presentation, and that Floridas troupe would soon be pulling up their
tent stakes, and mov[ing] on to their next destination.34
Florida had the air of a motivational speaker, claiming that Detroit has
more raw potential than any other city in the nation. He gave a brief synopsis
of his concept of what makes a city livable, vibrant place but other than
the obligatory White Stripes and Eminem references, the speech could have been
delivered in Anyville, USA.35
In a sense, of course, the speech had been delivered in Anyville, a generic
location for which it was carefully crafted. Scores of cities have heard, and
often responded to, the same basic message, with each being urged to value and
valorize whatever creative assets they might have to hand. (So, the creativity
tonic for Milwaukee is ginned up with a dash of Liberace and the Violent Femmes,
while Baltimores makeover references Billie Holiday and Frank Zappa what
creative-city consultants now routinely decant as the audio identities of
place.) According to Dr. Floridas prescription, practically any city can
respond to the creativity treatment, at least as long as their civic leaders get
On the face of it at least, Detroits hip hop mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick,
still under 40 and the proud wearer of a diamond ear stud, gets it. The Mayor
offered a fulsome introduction to Florida when he came to Detroit. (On this occasion,
the Mayor chose not to mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, which would
not earn him high marks on the Tolerance scorecard.) While the realistic prospects
of a creativity-fuelled economic turnaround in Detroit may be remote, the city
can hardly be faulted for its willingness to give anything a try. Its population
has fallen by half since the mid-1950s; its unemployment rate is twice the states
average and getting on for three times the national average; 72 percent of the
citys public school children receive free school meals (up from 61 percent
in 2001); and white flight has become bright fright, with families and
people earning more than $50 000 a year leading the way out of town.37
For the citys government, sustained population loss, coupled with a declining
tax base, has been fueling an unprecedented and unresolved fiscal crisis: Mayor
Kilpatricks administration hovers on the brink of receivership, having
cut bus services, closed the city zoo and 34 schools, and laid off one in ten
of the municipal workforce. The City has also been considering closing non-essential
departments, including note unfortunate inconsistencies the
Department of Culture, Art & Tourism, and turning off street lights. Its
paralyzing three-year deficit amounts to just under one quarter of annual general
fund revenues, while the first round of serious cuts has been said to threaten a
vicious cycle for a city already on the edge.38
Compared to the usual package of corporate tax breaks and big-box development
subsidies, cool-cities policies certainly look like a break with the past. While
there may be novelty in urban policymakers sharing the stage with fashion designers
and hip-hop artists, none of this makes the causal relationships between buzz
and economic growth any more real. But none of this will prevent cities, with
few other realistic options, from trying. Recall, however, how entrepreneurial
urban strategies proliferated during the 1980s and 1990s, facilitated by competitive
leverage and the weak emulation of winning formulas, quickly stacking
the odds against even the most enthusiastic of converts.39 Coming on the heels
of this experience, the creativity fix also seduces local actors with the no-less
false promise that any and every city can win in the battle for talent.
Under such circumstances, the first-mover advantages for a few quickly descend
into zero- or negative-sum games: more players pursue the same mobile resources,
the price of success rises, the chances of positive outcomes fall.
In cities like Detroit, the odds look daunting. This said, there remains plenty
of enthusiasm amongst the activists at CreateDetroit for what they are calling Plan
B [...] [making] sure the talent comes here.40 Plan A was automobile manufacturing.
The Cool Cities program may indeed be an economic development strategy
that puts creative people first,41 but in cities like Detroit
these look like perversely indulgent priorities. Should the Motor City really
be investing its dwindling tax revenues in a market-following means of underwriting
middle-class house prices and consumption desires, with distributional consequences
that seem certain to be socially and spatially regressive? Entrenched problems
like structural unemployment, residential inequality, working poverty, and racialized
exclusion are barely even addressed by this form of cappuccino urban politics.
According to urban historian, Matt Lassiter, the Rust Belt capital of Detroit
has basically adopted the Sunbelt strategy of Atlanta and Los Angeles: ignore
social problems of segregation and poverty, and instead try to transform the
image rather than the reality of the central city.42 Creativity strategies
have been crafted to co-exist with these problems, not to solve them.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the creative capitals exhibit higher
rates of socioeconomic inequality than other cities, as has been belatedly acknowledged
by Florida himself.43 This awkward correlation is quite consistent, of course,
with the argument that creativity strategies are predicated upon, and constitutively
realized in the context of, uneven modes of urban growth and neoliberal politics.
In this light, the creativity fix begins to look less like a solution to, and
more like a symptom of, Detroits problems.
Conclusion: creativity redux
Beneath the creative rhetoric, Florida presents a familiar urban-economic development
story: construct new urban governance networks around growth-oriented goals,
compete aggressively for mobile economic resources and government funds, respond
in formulaic ways to external threats, talk up the prospects of success, and,
whatever you do, dont buck the market. The emphasis on the mobilization
of elite policy communities around growth-first urban policy objectives is nothing
new, but whereas the entrepreneurial cities chased jobs, the creative cities
pursue talent workers; the entrepreneurial cities craved investment, now the
creative cities yearn for buzz; while entrepreneurial cities boasted of their
postfordist flexibility, the creative cities trade on the cultural distinction
of cool. Notwithstanding some conventional neoliberal frames of reference,
the creativity fix is also a distinctive development vision, tailored to appeal
to left-tilting mayors, with its easily digestible cocktail of cultural liberalism
and economic rationality. Moreover, it is very much a mobilizing discourse,
which actively reconstitutes external competitive threats in novel terms,
while pointedly defining new responses, together with new roles for an
enlarged network of urban policy protagonists and beneficiaries. It establishes
a fresh set of models of urban development, distilling the essence
of their success into a series of portable policy routines and mobile rationalities.
It nudges urban leaders to contemplate new forms of fiscally modest, supply-side
investment, mostly targeted at economically secure residents of neighbourhoods
in which property prices are already on the up.
The seductiveness of creativity strategies must be understood in terms of their
basic complementarity with prevailing neoliberal development fixes, their compatibility
with discretionary, selective, and symbolic supply-side policymaking, and their
conformity with the attendant array of development interests. Creativity strategies
presume, work with, and subtly remake the neoliberalized terrain of urban politics,
placing commodified assets like the arts and street culture into the sphere of
interurban competition, enabling the formation of new local political channels
and constituencies, and constituting new objects and subjects of urban governance.
Creativity strategies work upon, indeed celebrate, mobile and adaptive creative
subjects, making the case for public investment in their preferred urban milieu,
while shifting the primary focus of proactive governance towards the needs of
a techno-bohemian slice of the middle-class. Taking the flexible/insecure/unequal
economy as given, these post-progressive urban strategies lionize a creative
elite while offering the residualized majority the meager consolation of crumbs
from the creative table. They enforce soft-disciplinary modes of creative governmentality
based on mandatory individualism, relentless innovation, and 24/7 productivity.
Say what you will about the fuzzy causality in Floridas model, its central
message has certainly struck a chord. But as Detroit writer Carey Wallace, among
others, has begun to wonder, does the creativity craze represent a new
truth, or something people want very much to believe?44
This article was previously published in Fronesis issue 24 (2007) and
on the net, on www.eurozine.com.
1. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class (2002), Cities
and the creative class (2005), The flight of the creative class (2005).
2. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 20.
3. Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell, Neoliberalizing space, i Antipode,
vol. 34, no. 3 2002, p. 380-404.
4. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 166.
5. Florida, The flight of the creative class.
6. Chris Dreher, Be creative - or die, Salon 6 June 2002,
7. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 21.
8. Quoted in Dreher (2002), p. 4-5.
9. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. ix.
10. Ibid., p. 13.
11. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 3-4.
12. Ibid., p. 7.
13. Florida, The rise of the creative class, Washington Monthly May
2002, p. 20.
14. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 131.
15. Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 115.
16. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 10.
17. See Peck and Tickell, p. 380-404.
18. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 243-244.
19. Quoted in Bill Steigerwald, Q&A: Florida sees a different
role for government, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 11 April 2004,
20. Jamie Peck, Struggling with the creative class, International
Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 29, no. 4 2005, p. 740-770.
21. See Cool Cities Initiative, Michigans cool cities initiative (2004).
22. Ibid., p. 3.
23. Ibid., p. 4.
24. Ibid., p. 13.
25. Ibid., p. 3.
26. Louis Aguilar, Michigan loses jobs. Rate worst in nation, Detroit
News, 20 January 2005, p. A 1.
27. Quoted in Jodi Wilgoren, Shrinking, Detroit faces fiscal nightmare, New
York Times 2 February 2005, p. A 12.
28. See Sarah Klein, Hipster economics, Metro Times 25 February
29. See Peck, Cities and the creative class.
30. Hans Erickson, Create Detroit: Who needs it? We do!, The Detroiter November
2003, p. 1.
31. Nick Sousanis, Rise and shine Detroit, The Detroiter March
2004, p. 4.
32. Quoted in Carey Wallace, Does civic creativity pay, Metro
Times 25 February 2004, p. 2.
33. Sarah Klein, Creation station, Metro Times 10 March 2004,
34. Sousanis, p. 3.
35. Klein, Creation station, p. 5.
36. Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 302-303.
37. Wilgoren, p. A12.
38. Marisol Bello, Detroit is bracing for a lean new year, Detroit
Free Press 30 December 2005, p. A1.
39. David Harvey, From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation
in urban governance in late capitalism, Geografiska annaler B 71,
40. Klein, Hipster economics, p. 5.
41. State of Michigan, Office of the Governor, Michigan cool cities initial
report (2003), p. 3.
42. Quoted in Ari Paul, 32 flavors of cool: Making over Michigan, Next
American City 7 (2005), p. 19.
43. Florida, Cities and the creative class.
44. Wallace, p. 1.
Tyranny of the Ad Hoc
The nature and composition of institutions-with-power, and whether
they matter at all, has been absent from modern communist thinking in the developed
world. Absent in some part from the belief that thinking that such
institutions matter at all is inherently reformist. Or perhaps because they
are seen to have few tangible consequences. In a period of massively unequal
globalization, formal institutions with at least nominal accountability have,
with a few exceptions, been sidelined or become expendable. Power has shifted
to a raft of ad hoc outfits with grandiose names and a lack of even nominal
accountability. Their effect is often diffuse, and not immediately visible.
Capitalisms protectorate demands unhindered freedom of action, happy
to impose rules on others while dodging any on itself; slippery to its core.
All this matters and especially now when in the economic sphere voluntary
agreements, ad hoc oversight, and a lack of accountability has come to the
One prominent evasive tool of the protectorate is its use of weasel words. Flexibility,
for example, used to have a virtuous ring to it the supple body, the
give-and-take needed for civilized living, the possibility of working only
when its convenient but not now, not for a long while. Rather,
a change of meaning reflects how one-way and rigidified the hierarchy of give-and-take
has become. It is now a virtue for exploiters. One in which any assertion of
the rights of labour is automatically categorized as inflexible behaviour,
and in which exploiters and their protectorate can never be pinned down, never
be responsible for any thing specific. This is not simply double-speak,
rather, double-speak has become so pervasive and marketing language so dominant.
And, like Humpty Dumpty, who asserted that words would mean what he wanted
them to mean, marketing agents and their masters dont want flexibility
to mean anything other than what they want it to mean. When the World
Health Organization, an arm of the UN, published the document The Use
of Flexibilities in TRIPS by Developing Countries: Can They Promote Access
to Medicines, the USA demanded an immediate review of WHO publication
policy because the document had been critical of the USs interpretation
of the World Trade Organizations TRIPS agreement. Subsequently, at
a January 2008 Executive board meeting it was proposed that all WHO publications
should be censored, subject to clearance by a Guidelines Review Committee.
There are, then, flexibilities and flexibilities. The World Trade Organization
has been exemplary in its double standards. Talking of their agreements,
Robert Hunter Wade, Professor of Political Economy at LSE, pointed out that they
are vague at points where vagueness benefits the developed countries, and precise
at points where precision works against developing countries. This has
been especially the case with intellectual property rights enforcement, whereas
the promise of technology transfer has been smothered in vagueness. Like a
character in Henry Greens novel Nothing, the most powerful
forces in the world take refuge in a vast quagmire of vagueness when
at all pressed. When George W. Bush was pushing the UN Security Council
for a vote to invade Iraq, UN President Lamine bravely demanded benchmarks
by which Iraqi compliance/non-compliance could be judged. Such vagueness has
also been the Western response to the number estimates of Iraqi conscript deaths
in the Gulf War, and of Iraqi civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion.1 It
is also the case whenever a commitment to reaching targets is made, and especially
in the matter of greenhouse gas emissions. When climate change negotiations
began in earnest, President Bush the First made sure that there was an inbuilt
ambiguity regarding both principles and target. And just as there is flexibility
as to what is flexible, there is an equal partiality when it comes to what
is measurable. The McKinsey management conglomerate, with a toehold in every
ad hoc pie has a mantra that says whatever can be measured can be mangaed. This
refers, in one form or another, to a measuring of the intensity of labour
and surplus value extraction. Other things, uncomfortable realties, however,
are not measured.
In a world dominated by the language of marketing, and by strategic vagueness,
rhetorical demands for transparency are just that, rhetorical,
and until recently applied as selectively as WTO rules. Its sibling, accountability,
is also applied selectively, and has been still further undermined by a tyranny
of the ad hoc. That is, power being exerted by institutions that are
unelected and have been created with confident self-importance, approval openly
from themselves, and murky funding. As has the virtuous meaning of the ad
hoc, with its promise of spontaneity and the coming together of disinterested
people across boundaries. In reality it has meant an ever-increasing plethora
of think-tanks, Foundations, public-private partnerships, NGOs, and wholly
unelected national and international bodies like The World Business Council
for Sustainable Development, Chatham House or the G7/8 itself , the very
inclusion/exclusion of Russia revealing its ad hoc nature. These are not
just unaccountable: they preclude negotiation which is anathema to exploiters
and their protectorate, since there is always the danger that they might
open a can of worms, notions of fairness and justice; they are invariably
undemocratic set-ups and are agencies of exclusion. These ad hoc set-ups
are pervasive both nationally and internationally.
The British Version
When it no longer mattered, the unctuous Tony Blair was criticised for having
run a sofa cabinet in which informal groupings took major governmental
decisions. The most publicised came from a civil service mandarin with an ingrained
belief in constitutional protocol and the semblance of checks and balances
on executive power. Another came from David Runciman2 who compared it ironically
to the 1970s National Health Service. Ironic because New Labour described the old
NHS as Stalinist whereas in reality it was a matter of who you knew;
comparable, because Blair runs his own administration
depending on finding yourself on the right sofa at the right time, with as
little as possible written down, no proper minutes, everything geared towards
reaching a workable consensus among colleagues who understood how things worked
on the inside. Altogether, in both set-ups, no one was ultimately
accountable, and when it came to health policy, it was a case of the wishful
thinking that passes for health policy research in the prime ministers
circle. Wishful thinking being one consequence of unaccountability,
and, of the absence of any space or desire for critical voices.
This unaccountability is far more pervasive than political government itself,
and, given the fabled ad hoc nature of the British Constitution, that much
easier to get away with. I have given a sketch of its scope in The High
and Mighty3, with Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as exemplar of someone,
an ex-civil servant, who holds positions of power across the public-private
spectrum, with its voluntary agreements, political advisers, think-tanks, quangos
and, most concretely, PFI deals. Voluntary agreements by sectors of capitalism
and self-policed regulation are not new, but the same justificatory weasel
words described by Nigel Balchin in his London blitz novel Darkness Falls
from the Air are still being used by the food industry in avoiding
mandatory targets in relation to obesity, and even by cheeky bankers. An
exemplary case in 2007 , just as the contours of the financial crisis to
come were becoming visible, and described by Philip Inman (Guardian July
18th) was a report into private equity firms conducted by a former chairman
of Morgan Stanley, a subsequently failed-and-rescued investment bank. The
report rejected demands for closer scrutiny of the huge fees it enjoyed and
called for a voluntary code of conduct in explicit opposition to clear, enforceable
Quangos and think-tanks are not new either, rather they have increased in
number, and beyond military realpolitik in scope This increase has happened
in tandem with New Labour developing the trend towards the monopolisation
of political power by the executive. Most of these ad hoc outfits involve
people who know how
things work on the inside and share ideological views of the world; whether
pro-Americanism, like the British-American Project for the Successor Generation,
or blind faith in business managerialism. There are isolated demands for accountability,
as in the case of Lord John Birts role as a government adviser, but they
remain isolated incidents. There are numerous public-private partnerships like
the Carbon Trust, a player in the murky world of carbon trading, or there
is the Information Assurance Advisory Council. Meanwhile what are essentially
public-private schools are becoming the norm, conditioned by charities and/or
The Sandwiched State
This is how development policy manifests itself in Britain, but
a far greater impetus for documenting internal ad hoc domination has come from
radical intellectuals in NGO-laden Africa. NGOs cover a multitude of sins and
virtues. The Adam Smith Institute for example, a think tank of free market
fanatics, was sub-contracted to work on the privatisation element of structural
adjustment. How NGOs came into being, by and for whom, how democratic, varies
a great deal. Many are self-organised by the oppressed; others provided the
tools for such groups with no strings attached. In the context of debt-coerced structural
adjustment policies however, many have played a key role, wittingly
or not, in the imposition of those policies with their neoliberal agenda.
This happens when the state in the affected countries is deprived of much
of its role of responsibility to its citizens, reduced to being a reliable
re-payer of foreign debt and imposing the social discipline that requires.
In these circumstances the role of NGOs is problematic: when they are usually
financed by debt-receiving countries; have their own organisational dynamics;
are themselves largely unaccountable; and when multilateral agencies like the
World Bank directly incorporate NGO elites, or proxy agencies financed by the
Bank, like Civicus.
They look especially problematic when the patrons of structural adjustment
have come to blame the misery they themselves have caused by these policies,
and their failure even within their own terms (the trickle-down fantasy),
exclusively on state corruption. To this end, they have come up with a new,
ready-made ideology of good governance. This was especially so
in the brief period when the World Bank was headed by that righteous killer
Paul Wolfowitz. He spoke of nothing else during his time there, but it was
very much on behalf of the Bank, and consistent with its ideology. Not only
did corruption per se or as the Bank put it, a lack of good
governance come to rationalise the failure of structural adjustment,
it aimed at pioneering a further stripping of state capacity.
This needs qualifying. There are many brave and capable humanists working
within large institutional NGOs, and especially those working in emergency
relief who I saw for myself at work during the period of Ranamo terror in
Mozambique.4 But Im especially sceptical of the fashionable downplaying of such emergency
relief with talk that goes, we must not just respond, but work on the
long-term causes of these emergency situations, for it is exactly with
such goals, that it substitutes itself for the capacity of the state which
at least has some accountability, however nominal. And Im sceptical despite
there being a group of think-tanks (The NGO Watch of the American Enterprise
Institute, the American Rushford Report and the NGO Monitor in Jerusalem) devoted
to monitoring development NGOs for any signs of challenging Western hegemony.5
The irony in this situation really takes the biscuit; unaccountable, privately
funded think-tanks keep surveillance on NGOs using NGOs own lack of
accountability as cover for political attacks on them. But this, along with
donor pressure means that NGOs are even more likely to fulfil their state-replacement
role, whatever their original misgivings.6
The African state, formed in large part by colonial rule which actively encouraged tribalism as
a set of hierarchic chieftaincies, has often had morbid dynamics. Elites have
used ancestral traditions as created by colonial powers to use
the notion of African consensual decision-making in order to refuse to
concede to the formal representation of the interests of cultural solidarities.7And
of course there is corruption, pervasive in some parts; African fiction
writers have been mapping the debilitating frustration it produces for years.
But this too needs qualification. Corruption is not unique to the public
sector, nor the less developed world, nor of human nature;
rather, it is characteristic of unaccountability. Indeed the rich worlds
complicity in, and benefit from such corruption is well known. It has taken
the form of siphoned off millions into non-transparent Western banks, and,
insidiously, in the sale of unnecessary armaments in the case of Tanzania,
and accompanied by bribes in South Africa.8 On the other hand, unscrupulous
elites have used the IMF as both a punchbag and an excuse in domestic politics
to impose austerity programs they themselves favoured. These structural
adjustment policies had as a main target, public sector wages. Cuts directed
against them not only prompted new waves of brain drain but were
self-fulfilling in regards to corruption. Bureaucratic corruption and teacher
absenteeism were predictable results.
The advent of structural adjustment, a policy of reducing state capacity
in favour of an ad hoc group of agencies, was a consequence of policy decisions
in the West, and an ideology that soon followed to justify them which originally
went under the name Monetarism.9 It was an ideology used partially; useful
in the attack on wages identified as the cause of inflation. Partially, because Keynesianism was
not thrown overboard, rather it became one of corporate welfare, of military
budgets and personal indebtedness. Capitalism is necessarily an opportunistic
mode of production. It uses whatever is to hand whether it be ideology or what
might appear to be adverse circumstances. Thus US inflation, in part a consequence
of the war against Vietnam, prompted the decision to break the relationship
between gold and the dollar. This had two related consequences: the fiction
of the independence of money was broken, as was the Bretton Woods
system of fixed exchange rates. This system was not capitalist utopianism writ
large, that notion, as presented by Keynes in the form of the Clearing
Union, had been knocked on the head at Bretton Woods itself. It did
however involve governments deciding on changes to their currency values
when deemed necessary in negotiation with the International Monetary Fund,
which also meant there was a degree of inflexibility in exchange rate movement.
Since then floating rates have meant that the currencies of countries where
the demands of the investor class did not monopolise economic policy, could
be attacked massively, at speed, and, most of all, without negotiation.
Soon afterwards, the emergence of OPEC as a real force and the first qualitative
jump in the price of oil appeared at first as a crisis for the capitalist
economy, but soon became instead an opportunity for this opportunist mode
of production and its protectorate, rather than for the less developed world.
Its not that this world which had organised itself in the Non-Aligned
movement did not see the opportunity. Taking a leading role, the Algerian
government as an oil producer itself and the movement as a whole,
articulated clear demands in negotiations under the auspices of UNCTAD (the
UNs Trade and Development arm) for a New International Economic Order.
With the perhaps predictable connivance of the Saudis and the pro-active diplomacy
of Henry Kissinger the Wests front man for the torturers of the
time UNCTAD was by-passed. When, in 1987, UNCTAD attempted to restart
negotiations to make global North-South trade more fair, the institution was
dismissed as ideological by the Reagan Administration. Ideological!
No beating them for sheer brazen cheek. And followed up with vindictive ideological
zeal by the USAs withdrawal from all International Commodity Agreements
which had provided some stability and predictability for farmers.10
Back in the 1970s even the IMF, a Bretton Woods institution which
along with the World Bank survived the end of Bretton Woods as a system, was
sidelined. The re-cycling of petro-dollars was a thoroughly privatized
affair. The institution only made a comeback in the 1980s to take on the role
of debt-collection enforcer when the profits made with petro-dollar loans,
desperate for outlets, resulted in a debt crisis centred on Latin
America. The strategy was that IMF loans would encourage private lending to
resume on the grounds that IMF conditionality prototype
structural adjustment policies would do the job of making conditions
conducive to profitable investment by policies that attacked the public sector
and held down wages by pushing for export-led growth. This global policeman
role, different to its original role of managing Balances of Payment, came
and went as required. Whats more, it was restricted to this role, the
crucial decision taken in the international monetary system in the 1980s,
the Plaza Agreement to manage a fall in the value of the dollar,
was made by a few finance ministers, and it worked although nothing formal
had been agreed on paper. This, since it was a balance of payments problem,
should have been IMF work, but in effect use of this institution in the interests
of global capital was itself flexible.
The IMF only became a significant actor again with another crisis, that of
East Asian currencies in the 1997-8 period. Its role was rightly criticized
for turning a dangerous situation into a calamitous one, as Jeffrey
Sachs put it, making the repayment of foreign investors paramount. The policies
this involved exacerbated the crisis by publicly closing banks, raising interest
rates and tightening credit in return for the stamped-with-approval credit
the Fund provided, which was needed to deal with a liquidity crisis. Even then
its role had to be supplemented at the end of 97 when its original package
was in danger of failing to prevent a South Korean default.11 The IMFs
use was, rather, to open up Asian capital markets to foreign finance while,
as Francois Godement said, it conveniently takes the blame and serves
as a handy shield for the principals, should events turn sour. Convenient
for Western finance capital and in perverse fashion, for free-market true believers.
At its 1997 annual meeting in Hong Kong when the crisis was still just a blip,
Milton Friedman the Monetarist guru announced that it had outlived its purpose:
it had, he said, become a lender of last resort to countries making the
same old mistakes of government interference. A political protégé,
Jack Kemp, attacked the Funds handling of the crisis and demanded a comprehensive
deregulation of Asian economies as its conditionality. Though Im
loath to make analogies, these true believers do rather resemble the racist
Jewish settlers in occupied Palestine. They are functional to Zionism, in creating
facts on the ground, and making mainstream Zionism look reasonable in comparison,
but are repressed if their demands and actions run contrary to core interests.12
The free market variety of fanatic put pressure on how the Fund should act,
and in the event, as Kemp must have known, he got what he wanted while keeping
his ideological hands clean. Not so difficult when the USA itself applied pressure
by playing games with the Funds own funding.
The usefulness of the IMF as structured, was twofold and this was appreciated
by the USA. The pressure it exerted on Japan to abandon its proposal for an
Asian Monetary Fund at the time was one indication of this appreciation.Then
at the IMF/World Bank conference when things had quietened down in the autumn
of 1998, proposals made by the then President Chirac of France to reform the
Fund were similarly shot down. They centred on the demand that its Interim
Committee be transformed from a consensus-based system into a fully-fledged
decision-making body in which voting would replace the consensus-based system.
Consensus decision-making is usually conducive to the tyranny of the ad hoc,
in that it hides the way that such decisions represent the interests of the
most powerful, and smothers critical voices, and the Chirac proposal was
seen to undermine the USA-backed creation of an ad hoc Group of 22.
This insistence mirrored the USA attitude to the demands for a global financial
architecture in the wake of the East Asian crisis. All it wanted was an
informal taskforce looking into regulatory possibilities, hoping
that the impetus for reform would pass, as it did, before serious issues
like offshore banking and capital market liberalisation were raised.
Some 40 years ago one of the most important texts of the period was The
Tyranny of Structurelesness. It was written in the early days of the
Womens Movement at the point at which discussion groups were on the point
of becoming both more organised and activist. It has since been smothered in
ahistorical Foucault-derived treacle in which self-policing and hidden modes
of policing are presented as integral to the human condition, but the texts
purpose at the moment of organisational transition when it was written, was
to warn of the dangers that informal organisation might give rise to. It
was one in which hidden power could be exerted by informal groupings within
such organisations, especially so in consensus-based decision-making. Its
materialist analysis suggested that such informal groupings with their implicit
power would arise from unequal power relations like those that might, for example,
be exerted by founder members.
In the case of the IMF and the World Bank, unequal power relations were constitutionally
established. More generally, the tyranny of the ad hoc depends on unequal
access to money, allied to the neoliberal shrinking of the states welfare
Think tanks have money, usually from very rich donors (philanthropists)
and Foundations. Foundations are themselves products of corporate wealth.
And charities, which in the UK and USA have been encouraged and devised to
fill in the space left by cuts to that shrinking of state capacity, are increasingly
dependent on religious or ideological affiliation.
The same pattern is observable at international level. Weve already seen
how the UNs World Health Organization is being subjected to censorship.
It is also being financially outweighed and undermined by unaccountable entities.
The Gates Foundation is the largest of these bringing with it executives
from Microsoft and other corporations. It is neither transparent nor accountable,
with many of its grants based on informal networking; it is favourable to
the ubiquitous McKinsey consulting group and, apart from its own programmes,
has great influence on the WHO itself.13 Similarly the Global Fund for AIDS
TB and Malaria, funded by the Gates Foundation, depends for local implementation
on the equally ubiquitous PriceWaterhouseCoopers and KPMG, both global accountancy
Foundations are especially anti-democratic. As described by Robert Arnove, they
represent relatively unregulated and unaccountable concentrations of power
and wealth which buy talent, promote causes, and, in effect, establish an agenda
of what merits societys attention. They serve as cooling out agencies,
delaying and preventing more radical change. When Mrs Brundtland was
head of the WHO she encouraged public-private partnerships, with the help
of the Rockefeller Foundation which was instrumental in setting up the Initiative
on Public Private Partnerships for Health. Many of these partnerships are
dependent on the Gates Foundation. In addition there is the usual plethora
of NGOs and bilateral donors which, all together, make for a global health
industry operating a loosely connected portfolio of initiatives and programmes.
Zambia for instance has fifteen donor agencies in the health sector alone.
What it also means is that the World Health Organization is being by-passed,
while its funding situation means that instead of it being at least a nominally
democratic UN agency, it is in danger of becoming an instrument to serve
donor interests. And as if this were not enough, the World Bank with its
neoliberal agenda has itself become a leading financier of health projects.
The World Bank is the more consistently powerful of the Bretton Woods institutions.
Its loyalty to the protectorate has never been in doubt. When it immediately
ceased any loans to Chile on the election of Salvador Allende in 1970, for
example, and then to Sandinista Nicaragua. Its importance can be gauged by
the USAs recent insistence on its absolute right to choose the Banks
next boss against pressure from a coalition of 10 developing countries. An
internal memo from the USA leaked to The Observer is very revealing.14 The
arrangement that exists regarding the nationality of the President of the
Bank is an informal agreement among shareholders and we cannot support
an option paper for the annual meeting that includes concrete options with
respect to the selection process of the President.
The IMFs power, on the other hand, is ironically conditional; to be used
or not used as required. True; the ad hoc characteristic of consensus decision-making
remains intact, as does the secrecy and thus unaccountability of its proceedings.
But now, at the very moment of perhaps the biggest ever monetary crisis of
capitalism, its role is minor at best, just as it was in the crucial 1980s
Plaza deal. Its own funds are low, alternatives like the Chiang Mai Initiative
are developing, and it has been reduced to helping out relatively
small players; Ireland, Hungary and Iceland. The bigger role has been taken
by ad hoc central banker meetings and the G7, which itself has graduated
from the ad hoc to institution by sheer longevity.
The Bank may also turn out to have more staying power than the World Trade
Organization. The enforcement of global capitalist power by the WTO with its
TRIPS and TRIMS agreements, has been inequitable, and is well known. These
are the agreements that are not vague, and are open to judgment on
a case-by-case basis by the Dispute Settlement Mechanism which consists of
committees of unaccountable experts. They are unaccountable but have the power
to constrain the role of democratically elected national bodies. However, the
defeat of the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and then
the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and now resistance toWestern demands
in the WTOs Doha Round, whatever the outcome, will mean that trade is
increasingly dominated by bilateral deals in which the investor is king as
envisaged by the MAI. The WTO has caused great damage, but at the same time,
however distorted they are, it has aimed to create a system of economic governance
based on a universal set of rules, and in the process made the case for collective
action obvious and compelling. This possibility makes bilateral trade and
investment deals far more attractive to the powerful. Since 2004, and despite
rejection of the FTAA, the USA has bilateral deals with Chile, Peru, Colombia,
Central America, and has ongoing talks with Panama.
Fingers in all the Pies
The global reach of the World Bank, however, is far more secure. Its role
in structural adjustment has been far more hands-on than that of the IMF.
In 1990 the Banks Infrastructure Economics and Finance department formed
a proxy set-up, the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility. Its
default ideology is free market capitalism, in place ever since the Elliot
Berg report of 1982. From 2004 it has relaxed its environmental and social
requirements when lending to the private sector, especially as it lends most
to the mining, oil and gas industries, with flexibility a justification in
itself. As opposed to the IMF, it has applied this ideology by itself, or
via proxies, at a micro level.
In our marketing dominated times this has been done under the buzz words participation (also
an NGO word along with empowerment, equity, and sustainability)
and poverty eradication. In practice participation has
had two functions. It depicts relations between creditors and debtors, governments
and NGOs as if their interests were identical or at least compatible; and it
has replaced democratic decision-making. This has amounted to the participation
of senior officials of the affected countries being given expanded opportunities
to participate in new layers of managerial activity. These include becoming
consultants, international institution staff, or managers of participatory processes
funded by the Bank (see Civicus above) or by bilateral donors. This co-option
of official local elites weakens local democracy, and has also given the Bank
access to a wealth of knowledge(s) of specific situations. It is knowledge
from the partial view point of careerists, whether expert or with
political/bureaucratic experience. It is this monopolisation of knowledge as
for example its Private Participation in Infrastructure Project Database, which
it contributed to the Advisory Facility mentioned above which puts the
Bank at the centre of a series of elite, ad hoc institutions with
J.F. Rischard, the Banks long term vice-president for Europe (with
a background in academia and Wall Street) has been involved in various such
elite networks, not just Davos but a series of more shadowy outfits:15
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund Project on World Security (Transnational
governance requires the establishment of relationships, understandings, and shared
expectations that are both self-regulating and self-sustaining).
The Commission on Globalization (A leadership network for constructive
The Global Information Infrastructure Commission (fosters private
sector leadership and public-private sector cooperation in the developement of
information networks and services to advance global economic growth, education
and quality of life).
The Governing Body of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University.
A position that seems especially sinister in the context of that monopolisation
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and international
group of Corporate CEOs) (the pursuit of sustainable development is good
for business and business is good for sustainable development).
This latter outfit has been especially powerful in parameter-setting and negotiations
on the issue of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions, an area in which strategic
vagueness has been especially prevalent. Its well known that from the
Rio Conference of 1992 onwards despite its Framework Convention on Climate
Change the absence of legally binding emissions targets was consistent
US policy.16 The Doha Declaration has adopted vague and contradictory language
when it comes to specific reduction mechanisms. The World Business Councils
role has been more in its influence over UNCED, and in developing the murky
world of emissions trading. Such ad hoc power is equally prevalent in this
sphere, where actions and tasks for the global governance of environmental
issues are currently scattered in different institutions, as is also the case
in the health sector. The Kyoto Protocol itself, which the USA would not sign,
has targets but the trading allowed by it in the form of Clean Development
Mechanisms (CDMs) shares all the characteristics of nothing definite. The
CDM community of financial advisers, accountants and consultants is a very
tight network with ties to investment bankers, which raises doubt about independent
verification.17 Doubts which are the greater because supposed defence
against the abuse of CDMs, the concept of additionality, is itself
Across the Board
The processes described apply to every aspect of life-impacting decisions and
International water bodies have become more insistent on private sector
involvement, a line being pushed by the World Commission on Water for the Twenty
First Century which calls openly for governments to step aside, and for full-cost
pricing. It has been chaired by Ismail Seragledin, a World Bank vice president.
Food aid is increasingly channeled bilaterally rather than through the
co-ordinated and multilateral system of the World Food programme.
The spread of ad hoc security organisations is not just a
US phenomena. Ever since 1991 Tony Bunyan and Statewatch have described
the plethora of such organisations within the European Union, including the
Trevi group set up in 1976 of which he comments, the British government sees
Trevis distinctive strength as lying in the informal, spontaneous
and political character of its discussions.
For the nuts and bolts structure of the internet it is root servers and
their location that has become most contentious Africa does not have a
single one but ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers) has acted as a classic ad hoc set-up, or as an adhocracy as
Michael Froomkin, Professor of Law at University of Miami School of Law, described
The formal structure of organisations is no guarantee of how democratic they
are in any real sense [by which I mean they are quite liable to be manipulated
by promises, threats and demands for loyalty.. The development of wireless
local area networks, open source software and a whole DIY culture it has
been such an important part of, could only have happened in ad hoc style.
Equally for the emerging, consciousness-raising Womens Movement of
the late 1960s it was informal organisation that was appropriate. The warning
from The Tyranny of Structurelesness was that it would not be appropriate
for activist, decision-making womens groups for whom it was not just
a matter of providing the tools for people at large. Powerful ad hoc agencies
of capitals protectorate have no critical voice to make a similar warning.
Or rather, they would not understand such a voice, or want to understand it.
Instead they are one significant component in the final draining the democratic from
democracy, of effective accountability to citizens.
The limits to the democratic nature of professionalised representative democracy
are well known, as against a structure of recallable delegates. It is the development
of such delegate structures which are essential for a non-euphemistic way of
seeing whose benefit and whose risk is being taken in any given
policy. This is real participatory democracy rather than the
World Bank/NGO scam version. Where it does exist it tends to be at local
level, but the limits of representative democracy have an impact on them
with their power to create the parameters of what is possible, though these
can be broken. The institutions of this professionalised democracy can either
allow some space for social movements or take it away, or at the very least
make strenuous efforts to do so. As these institutions become increasingly
ad hoc, the space shrinks.
We know things are bad when the elite necessarily exclusive think
tank-cum-seminar organiser and opinion former, the Ditchley Foundation,
can hold a conference entitled Legitimacy/Correcting the Democratic Deficit.
The lack of self-awareness is staggering; the words part of the problem come
to mind. What they have in mind is clearly nothing to do with a citizens
democracy. We know how bad things have become when the War on Terror has
created the precedent of an international community with
a selective and flexible composition which is not bound by formal decision-making
or indeed the nominal limitations of international law. This is then amplified
by how such ad hoc power becomes institutionalised by the power of precedent,
like coalitions of the willing , the World Economic Forums, or
the G7/8 itself.
All this, it could be said, is nothing new; except that the process has gone
further than ever, and it also coincides with a crisis of capitals self-driven
deregulation, and of its protectorates complicity and failure in the
economic sphere, the sphere in which it is supposed to be expert and on which
its reputation is so dependent. The crisis provides the proverbial window
of opportunity to contest diffuse and comprehensive unaccountability
in all spheres, and the protectorates ideological grip. Indeed its
a necessity when, despite the havoc caused by neoliberalism economically, its
ideology pedals on like one of those cartoon characters over the edge of the
cliff, airborne until it looks down, which, so far, it has not had to do. The
protectorates predominant rhetoric is still that of citizens rights
being conditional on responsibilities as defined by the protectorate. It has
talked cynically of dependency being bred in individuals as justification.
This when it itself is irresponsible and so unaccountable. New Labour implies
that citizenship is only the right of those who play by the rules,
when in fact the rules they play by are flexible, vague and ad hoc.18 Peter
Harries-Jones, talking of how social, political and economic risk increasingly
escapes the institutional monitoring of risk now so obvious in
the case of the economic goes on to say, but such blindness is
no mere happenstance. The loose coalition of business firms, policymakers and
experts who comment and/or devise policies about risk in contemporary society
have constructed a discourse of euphemisms as a means of disavowing their responsibilities. The
very nature of such loose coalitions makes this possible.
One opening in this window of opportunity is to make something of the demands
being made from what was once called social democracy for regulation
in the financial sphere, into a scrutiny of just how little good governance
there is at all levels. I have written elsewhere of how regulatory demands
following the East Asian currency crisis of 1997-8 demands from some
serious globalized capitalists for a global financial architecture came
to nothing.19 There is a fear in the heart of capitals slippery protectorate
of getting into negotiating situations of any sort, despite their experience
in smothering outcomes. The present situation is so serious however that it
may be unavoidable, and any substantive negotiation has the possibility of
being turned into that can of worms they fear. The pressure to make this happen
will come mostly from the less developed world. Latin Americas
forms of real participatory democracy and its mutually empowering
diplomacy in resisting the FTAA is one model, one which demanded the FTAA
negotiations be as transparent as possible with clear procedures for the
dissemination of information to the affected populations. Our job in the
West, at a minimum, with a becoming modesty vis-à-vis the rest of
the world, is to pin down responsibility, expand its scope, and block off
1. After the massacre at Mutla Ridge at the beginning
of 1991, a Pentagon spokesman was explicit about wanting to keep the numbers
vague, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph, 2nd March 1991. This time
around the estimate given by The Lancet of civilian deaths has been
routinely attacked, but not countered by any estimates from the invaders.
2. David Runciman: Institutional Hypocrisy: London Review of
Books, 21st April 2005
3. Barker: Variant, Issue 30, Winter 2007
4. Critics like Alex de Waal are distinctly snooty when talking about emergency
relief efforts. It seems especially perverse to in effect blame aid agencies
for feeding Mozambicans during the Renamo destabilisation terror on the grounds
that somehow this perpetuated a civil war. A fair and open-minded
account can be found in Bruce Robbins Progressive politics in transnational
space in Radical Philosophy 153, Jan-Feb 2009. In the review
he is critical of the tick-box ultra-leftism of Nicolas Guilhots The
Democracy Makers which second guesses in ideological fashion.
5. John Fante of the extremist Hudson Institute has demanded aid cut-offs for
6. See the aptly named Civil Society or Shadow State by Margaret
Sutton and Robert F. Arnove: Information Age Publishing 2005. Its focus is
on education but gives a wider analysis.
7. Africas Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging:
Francis B. Nyamnjoh: Zed Books
8. In the Tanzanian case BAe managed to sell them £28 millions worth
of a pointless military air traffic control system.
9. It involved dusting down this dusty old theory which had sat on the shelves
since the 1920s when Irving Fisher had set down in tablets of stone that MV=PT.
10. Describing the modern realities of export horticulture, Oxfam has described
the loose contractual arrangements in many areas: Agreements are often
verbal, so that there is no written contract to break
gives buyers flexibility to delay payments, break programmes or cancel orders,
forcing suppliers to find last-minute alternatives.
11. Jeffrey Sachs: IMF loans are effectively used to repay the foreign
investors either through a fairly direct mechanism or, in the case of
Brazil, when the central bank sells the dollars in the foreign exchange
market as part of its currency operations.
12. The Zionists are themselves experts at the use of ad hoc set-ups in the
confiscation of Palestinian land as part of a mixed strategy of brute force
and legalese. Confiscated land could not be sold but became a joint possession
of the state and the entire Jewish people by allowing the Jewish National
Fund, Jewish Agency and the Zionist Federation a share of the states sovereign
powers. The transfer of land to the hands of unaccountable bodies can
be likened to a black hole from which Arab land cannot be retrieved. As
Masalha puts it in The Nabka.
13. See A.Damon The Gates Foundation and the rise of free market philanthropy:
World Prout Assembly: 2007
14. The Observer, 10th August 2008
15. See Jonathan Murphy: The Rise of Global Managers; in Dar and
Cooke, The New Development Management, Zed Books
16. In the case of the agreement on forest protection, the resulting document Non
Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles the very
title a giveaway is filled with green promises but continued to push
for free market access for timber interests.
17. Y. Schreuder: The Corporate Greenhouse, Zed Books
18. It hardly needs saying that the UK Parliament is useless as a defender
of the citizen. Only the jury system provides defence of the citizen by the
citizen and that is why New Labour is forever chipping away at it.
19. See Barker: Wishful Thinkers at the Calamity Bazaar; Mute,
Glasgows Merchant City:
An Artist Led Property Strategy
Urbanism is the mode of appropriation of the natural
and human environment by capitalism, which, true to its logical development towards
absolute domination, can (and now must) refashion the totality of space into
its own peculiar décor.
In Ian Sinclairs Downriver, early indications of the gentrification
of Londons Docklands arrived with the wave of bohemians, squatters, and
artists who descended on the area to take advantage of the spacious, dilapidated
buildings and cheap rents: When artists walk through a wilderness in epiphanous bliss-out,
fiddling with polaroids, grim estate agents dog their footsteps. And when the
first gay squatters arrive, bearing futons
the agents smile, and reach for
their cheque books. The visionary reclaims the ground of his nightmares only
to present it, framed in Perspex, to the Docklands Development Board2.
Last year, from the window of my flat in the Gallowgate (Glasgows near
east end), I looked on as a group of artists moved into a disused, shuttered
shop to set up a temporary gallery for the duration of the Glasgow International
Festival of Contemporary Visual Art (Gi). When I asked one of the artists how
they had found the space, she replied that a representative from
Glasgow City Council had led the artists on a tour of disused shops in the edge
of success area around Trongate and the Gallowgate offering free leases
for the duration of the festival. The Gi brochure alluded to this process as
well as borrowing carelessly from urban frontier language3 by suggesting
gallery visitors embark on a cultural safari in both celebrated arts
venues, and, in found or temporary locations throughout the
city. From a situation where artists and squatters had once led gentrification,
albeit unconsciously, an instrumental policy framework is now firmly in place
whereby city officials do the leading as they seek to enhance property values
through the cultural capital of artists and the creation of a creative
cluster in the area now re-branded as the Merchant City.
As Neil Smith, and many other critical urban theorists, have noted, the ad-hoc,
almost accidental nature of gentrification that Ruth Glass had in mind when she
first coined the term in 19644 has now been replaced by gentrification as a global
urban phenomenon; a (once) productive pillar of investment capitalism,
that weaves together global financial markets with a phalanx of real-estate developers,
local merchants, property agents and brand name retailers all lubricated
by generous state subsidy5. As Sinclair has observed, the potential of the
arts to rehabilitate unproductive urban space, and stimulate
the property market has long been established by gimlet-eyed developers. In this
context it should come as no surprise that Gi are preparing for re-location to Trongate
103 a much-vaunted proposed hub for the diverse arts
community in the Merchant City area alongside a host of other arts organisations
in the area. Trongate 103 (which names itself to let us know it is a place)
is a symbolic marker of city boosters attempts to foster a cultural
quarter in the Merchant City; a city centre area which has seen significant
gentrification and displacement since the 60s, when clothing manufacture,
warehousing and the regional fruit market were the main activities. Despite the
failed promises of cultural quarters in London6, Dublin7 and Liverpool8, the
area has now been designated as the prime site to pump-prime Glasgows
creative industries9 and bolster the citys Glasgow: Scotland With
Style marketing strategy. The policy of subsidising arts space must be
seen in the context of an overall strategy by the City Council to revalorise
property values and land rents in the Merchant City area through the City Councils
unambiguous Artist Led Property Strategy10.
The Merchant City Five Year Action Plan 2007-12, the strategic document
for the development of the Merchant City area, inevitably pays homage to Richard
Florida and his ubiquitous, but increasingly shopworn creative city thesis11.
Florida, a self-confessed product of the 60s, who always liked to consider
himself a bit edgy or cool12, is responsible for much of the hyperbole
surrounding the potential of the creative industries to regenerate the
post-industrial city. Floridas thesis, outlined in detail later in this
article, is that regional economic growth is powered by creative people. These
creative people prefer places that are diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas. Place in
this matrix is thus the central organising unit of the economy, the
key lever in attracting talented and creative people to a city region. The task
of the city region is then to increase its place-attractiveness (understood through
such measures as gay and bohemian indexes) so that it
can compete for the services of the creative classes, who will then
generate economic value through their creativity, thus ensuring the city
will achieve winner status in something called the creative
As urban geographer Jamie Peck has noted, the Florida thesis, despite its sophomore
sociology has provoked a reaction that has bordered on the ecstatic in
urban policymaking communities around the world13. It is hardly revelatory that
Glasgows city development agencies reference what Peck calls Floridas creativity
fix; Floridas thesis, as Peck notes, has been artfully crafted for
the contemporary political-economic landscape: In this neo-liberalised
urban terrain, a receptive and wide audience has effectively been pre-constituted
for the kinds of market-reinforcing, property- and promotion-based, growth-oriented,
and gentrification-friendly policies that have been repackaged under the creativity
rubric14. Despite increasing skepticism around the hyperbolic claims of
Florida, the creative city policy framework is still being applied by countless
slow-learning global cities worldwide. Florida himself acknowledges the creative
classes as the vanguard of gentrification, displacement and inequality depending
as they do on an extensive venture capital system on the one hand,
and on the other, an increasingly impoverished and insecure service class as
their supporting infrastructure15, yet Glasgow City Council seem
oblivious, or unconcerned. However, rather than have us submit to boosterist
overstatement, Peck usefully contextualises the competitive creative economy
mantra as the afterbirth of a wave of self-defeating entrepreneurial urban strategies
which preceded it.
The Production Of Place: An Economy Of Appearances.
Pecks materially-grounded critical analysis emerges from theoretical foundations
laid down by David Harvey, particularly his seminal analysis of the paradigmatic
shift from a managerial mode of urban government nominally associated
with thick government, redistribution, and the provision of services
and amenities to local citizens to an entrepreneurial market-led
mode of governance, firmly pre-occupied with facilitating economic growth for
capital16. The broad context for this shift is the transition from Fordist-Keynesian modes
of accumulation to new rounds of what Harvey characterised as flexible
accumulation a spatial fix, engineered in response to
the early 70s crisis of over-accumulation, characteristised by de-industrialisation,
de-unionsiation, accelerated international capital flows (globalisation), privatisation,
and the exploitation of an increasingly flexible and geographically
diverse labour market. In this formation, space is annihilated by time, and economies
of scope vanquish economies of scale. As neo-liberal modes of flexible
accumulation have gained hegemonic status over the collective bargaining powers
of nation-states, so the matter of inward investment has increasingly taken the
form of negotiations between international finance capital and local city powers.
Lacking the power derived from large-scale, planned state investment in regional
economies, inter-city competition for global investment capital has intensified
in parallel. As a consequence of this, city governments are increasingly obliged
to take an entrepreneurial turn, and act as active state partners in an
attempt to lubricate capitalist investment in the city.
In a fiercely competitive inter-urban environment, rather than service the needs
of its citizens on a universal basis, the key issue for the entrepreneurial city
is the provision of a good business climate17. In order to obtain
this business-friendly regime, cities are forced into a highly competitive race
to the bottom; a zero-sum game routing scarce public resources
(land and assets), and driving down labour conditions, so that increasingly benevolent
measures can be offered to entice investment capital. Unsurprisingly, these booster
activities only accentuate and diversify the geographical mobility and flexibility
of capital, forcing urban governments to produce ever more competitive policy
cocktails, and subsuming policy ever more within the groove of uneven capitalist
development: Indeed, to the degree that inter-urban competition becomes
more potent, it will almost certainly operate as an external coercive power over
individual cities to bring them closer into line with the discipline and logic
of capitalist development18. Ultimately, the end game is capitulation to
market forces: under the external coercive power of neo-liberalism,
even the most resolute of city governments, find themselves, in the end,
playing the capitalist game and performing as agents of discipline for the very
processes they are trying to resist19.
The discriminatory deployment by the nation-state of nominally Keynesian measures,
has led the entrepreneurial city to concentrate on the political economy of place rather
than territory. By territory, Harvey means the type of economic and infrastructural
projects (housing, education, etc.) designed to improve the universal conditions
of living and working in a particular jurisdiction. The construction of place,
however (shopping malls, sports stadia, conference centres, iconic buildings, cultural
quarters, etc.) is cultivated through public-private partnership, and designed,
in large part, to enhance and upgrade the image of the city primarily
for the investor and the tourist. In this model, city branding, place marketing,
and the production of urban spectacle take precedence over the amelioration of
general, structural conditions in the wider terrain. Despite thoroughly discredited
promises of Thatcherite trickle-down, urban spectacle and an uneven
and limited focus on place, typically functions to divert attention from broader
problems in the overall economy and to mask the brutal demarcations between winners
and losers, and the included and excluded in the neo-liberal city. As Peck argues,
it is precisely in this unequal policy nexus that Floridas feel-good creativity
fix has found a willing audience amongst urban policy makers.
Moving Up The Value Chain? The Art Of Gentrification
A key policy message from the Glasgow Economic Forum (a partnership
body between Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and Glasgow City Council responsible
for overseeing economic regeneration and development in the city) is that cities
and city regions are the key drivers of economic growth, and that investment
must be located in priority locations and industries within the metropolitan
core. Glossing over the debilitating national and regional context outlined in
Harveys thesis, and neglecting to offer any real challenge to the hegemony
of neoliberalism, the Forum instead, in typical booster form, talks up the positive
policy environment for entrepreneurial cities20. With an emphasis on place-specific,
inevitably competitive inter-urban policy, a stated ambition of the Forum is
to attract tourist revenue and to attain Top UK destination status.
In a typical formulation from the Florida-inspired creative city handbook, the
Forum aspires to develop, retain and attract people and talent by building
on Glasgows distinctive diversity and city buzz, increasing
its place attractiveness, and developing the citys cultural and leisure
offer21. Thus, one of the key themes in the Forums A Step Change
For Glasgow: Action Plan To 2013 is to develop the city center as a retail
and cultural environment. A key component of this plan is to develop the Merchant
City as a cultural quarter through the Merchant City Action
Plan 2007-2012 and an Arts Property Strategy22.
The Merchant City Initiative (whose key partners are also Scottish Enterprise
Glasgow and Glasgow City Council) is the agency charged with delivering the Merchant
City Five Year Action Plan and overseeing the distribution of a programme of
grants to renovate the built environment in the area through the Townscape Heritage
Initiative (THI) funded by Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow,
and the Heritage Lottery Fund (£3 million of subsidy grants have been targeted
at owners of historic buildings within the Merchant City). The plans manifesto
is a Floridian utopia: To create an area of design and inspirational excellence,
individuality and style a unique urban quarter where the cultural and
artistic can mix with retail and residential to generate energy, where quality
architecture re-enforces the sense of place and creates activity and where boldness
and innovation is positively encouraged at the expense of mediocrity23.
Ten million pounds of public realm beautification works have already
been committed by Glasgow City Council to help encourage this project, with a
list of sixty-five physical developments either committed, proposed or in discussion
at 200624. The ultimate aim is to make the Merchant City (through strategic marketing
and pump-priming investment strategies), Glasgows foremost mixed-use,
creative, cultural, business and residential quarter25. The mantra is Glasgow:
Scotland with Style
Central to plans for lifting the Merchant City and Glasgow indisputably
into a UK league of creative cities26, is the creation of a creative
cluster around the Trongate area: The economic and social impact
of the presence of the arts community and the cluster effect of a successful arts
quarter is one of the central tenets of the Councils recent Five
Year Action Plan for the regeneration of the Merchant City, Trongate and Glasgow
Cross area27. By harnessing Glasgows creative and cultural
energy, the initiative aims to position the area as the natural home
for these new explorative and innovative developments in technology and
attitude28. Key to these plans are the proposed creation of a business
centre for cultural and creative industries at the City Councils
cleansing Depot on Bell Street, or in King Street (South Block); the establishment
of an artists studio/gallery hub at Trongate 103 in King
Street (North Block); and the renovation of the Briggait building as the new
home for the Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Workers And Artists Studio Provision
Scotland (WASPS). These developments are designed to consolidate the arts
quarter, alongside current institutions such as The Tron Theatre, The Ramshorn
Theatre, St.Andrews In The Square and The Gallery Of Modern Art (GoMA), and proposed
developments such as the Bathhouse project. The £8.5 million Trongate 103,
perhaps the centrepiece of the strategy, will consolidate several
arts organisations currently housed in City Council property nearby, including
Glasgow Independent Studio, Glasgow Print Studio, Glasgow Media Access centre
(GMAC), Sharmanka, Project Ability, Street Level Photoworks, Transmission Gallery,
and the Russian Cultural Center. Gi will take up residence in June this year.
The long-term rationale for the Artist Led Property Strategy is made
perfectly clear in the City Councils Housing the Visual Arts in Glasgows
Merchant City strategy report. By consolidating arts organisations in single
premises, the City Council hopes to capitalise on the assumed ability of the
arts to thrive in edge of success urban areas like the Trongate and
Glasgow Cross. The arts are seen as a potentially major regenerative tool for
the raising of general perceptions and confidence in the areas future potential.
Whose confidence needs to be raised, and what kind of future potential is
envisioned, are of course key questions the consolidation of a strategic
partnership for the arts is considered central to the raising of external
investment confidence for the proposed development of the adjacent St.Enoch
East car park site into a cinema complex, incorporating car parking, by Stannifer
Developments.29 Meanwhile, the pursuit of an arts strategy that consolidates
different organisations chimes with the increasingly instrumental face
of National Lottery funding. The Lottery has intimated that it will not entertain
large capital funding for Glasgow-based arts organisations unless the city produces
a strategic plan for housing the visual arts30.
Further, in light of the austere and worsening fiscal climate, and the collapse
of commercial property markets in particular, and in line with Glasgow City Councils
policy to generate revenue from the sale of publicly held land and assets, the
Council and the Merchant City Initiative intend to promote the areas renewal through
the refurbishment and pro-active marketing of a number of City Council properties
in the Merchant City. Stephen Purcell, leader of the City Council, recently clarified
the Citys position when he made clear at the State of the City economy
conference that Team Glasgow was still very much open for business: The
first thing that all public bodies, including my own Council, must do, is to
examine where we can help business by being more flexible and willing to do things
differently. This is no time for unnecessary rules and processes; this is a time
to do everything we can to help31. As part of this flexible approach,
Purcell ensured the business community that it can expect more slack from
the Council in terms of land disposal and leasing of Council property.
Thus, the Merchant City Initiative website (in its Trade into Trongate section)
assures readers and investors that these freshly shelled out retail spaces will
have very flexible and attractive lease terms32. A large
percentage of the arts organisations included in the creative cluster rubric
are currently housed in separate council-owned buildings, which are leased at
what were considered below market values; by pulling these groups
together, the City Council intend to capitalize on the vacant properties, or,
as they put it, to rationalise property aspirations with available space.
Agglomerating these varied arts and cultural groups into one space will also
assist the freeing up of other surplus property for re-use and potential
conversion/sale, thus increasing Capital receipts to the Council and removing
property from its portfolio which has ceased to perform in an economic manner33
The transition from use value, which may not perform in an economic manner,
to exchange value, which by definition must add economic value, is
of course a central imperative of growth-orientated capitalism an imperative,
which by its very nature leads to monopoly. While the Housing The Visual Arts
Strategy, talks up the benefits of a sustainable, secure, arts quarter,
the effects of the arts led property strategy are manifested throughout
the Merchant City. A look through Glasgow City Councils inventory of physical
developments in the Merchant City area, dated 2006, shows an overwhelming preponderance
of high-grade private residential, retail and office developments34. Despite
oft-cited Floridian claims for plurality and diversity in the residential make
up of creative cities, the Merchant City, is already geared towards
the retail and housing consumption demands of middle-class taste this
strategy is likely to be intensified rather than mitigated in the coming years.
Out of sixty-five proposed or confirmed developments, only two proposals involve
social housing organisations (both of them in Duke Street it should be noted,
far away from the arts quarter epicentre). Meanwhile, arts organisations
and the cultural quarter, concentrated in the newly branded lower
east side of the Merchant City, despite the hyperbole, play a very small,
increasingly agglomerated, and place-specific part in the development of the
Merchant City overall. Indeed, only five of the new developments could be said
to involve arts or cultural organisations, and two of these developments are
dedicated to rationalising a diverse mix of existing cultural organisations into
The Art Of Rent: The Manhattan Model
Certainly artists are only the forerunners of high-income, youngish, non-minority
residents. But after the artists, a rising tide of high-rents and condominium
conversions seems unstoppable.
Sharon Zukin, 198235
Artists have been used for some time now as urban pioneers for
canny developers in the property market. David Panos of The London Particular (an
artists group charting the gentrification of Shoreditch and the east end of London
through film-making and urban theory) has observed how the London Development
Agency (LDA) in its Creative London programme had formalised, through The
Creative Space Agency36, what had often been an ad-hoc relationship between
artists and developers, whereby space was leased to artists at rent-free or peppercorn
rents for prescribed periods. The Creative Space Agency now acts as a pro-active broker
between artists and landlords whose property lies empty. As Panos acknowledges,
this strategy is always likely to appeal to artists in search of cheap and spacious
premises. But for the developers and city agencies the agenda is quite different.
Attracting seemingly upwardly mobile artists to edge of success urban
areas simultaneously helps rehabilitate and increase the property values of uneconomic premises
and changes the perception of run down areas. Meanwhile, as Panos
notes, government intervention aids a soft policing and regulation
of space, discouraging squatters (in the London context) and vandalism, as the
artists, in effect, act as free security guards for the properties.
Moreover, with increasing state intervention, arts projects can be vetted,
behaviour regulated, and the process brought under centralised control37.
For Panos, The Creative Space Agency makes clear the exceptional, instrumental role
of art in the gentrification-led economy. But if the celebrated example of Shoreditch
is anything to go by, the fostering of a creative hubin the Merchant
City will only have a negative effect on local, working-class residents. The
net effect of Shoreditchs transformation into a cultural hub, according
to Panos, has been to escalate property prices out of the reach of all
but a privileged minority, and drive up the overall cost of living38.
The Shoreditch example, has an exemplary precursor in the artist led gentrification
of Lower east Manhattan. Sharon Zukins Loft Living: Culture and Capital
in Urban Change (1988), captured how New York City became both the
harbinger and the model of loft living39. By charting the conversion of
industrial and light industrial manufacturing units to spacious loft-living style
residential apartments, the book proved seminal in marking the transition from
a manufacturing to a post-industrial service economy in Manhattan.
For artists in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Manhattan lofts were
often merely a question of marginal utility: cheap rooms and plenty of space.
Yet these lofts, and the arts production that took place within them, played
a crucial role, both symbolically and materially, in an embryonic arts led property
market. Zukin argued, convincingly as it turned out, that the concern for loft
style apartments as objects of consumption reflected changes in patterns of consumption
in the 60s: a more active appreciation of the arts; and a nostalgia for
the aesthetic of the industrial machine age. As Manhattan-based artists such
as Robert Rauschenberg began to hit it big their celebrity increasingly attracted
the attention of the mainstream as did the way they lived. On the one
hand, artists lofts were vicariously identified with a sense of adventure
or bohemian ambience. On the other hand, the massive raw spaces of
the industrial lofts began to exert a powerful aesthetic appeal. By choosing
a return to an industrial aesthetic, the return to the city was a return to the
industrial past, but this time a more manageable past. Lofts thus became
both the site and symbol of the transition to a service sector economy, concretising
the process of de-industrialisation: Lofts that are converted to residential
use can no longer be used as machine-shops, printing plants, dress factories,
or die-cutting operations. The residential conversion of manufacturing lofts
confirms and symbolises the death of the urban manufacturing centre40.
In Manhattan, the arts presence was crucial in helping to destabilise existing
uses and redefine the terrain for new markets of middle-class consumption as
patrons, public, and, ultimately tenants41. As the art market developed
around the bohemian atmosphere of the lofts, and art institutions sprang up to
support the market (making art both a career and an investment opportunity) an
appreciation of the arts, and historic preservation, went hand in
hand to preserve loft apartments and the artists within them. State subsidies
for artists in New York during the 60s and 70s allowed artists to
become major producers in the emerging arts economy. But by attracting a new
vanguard of middle-class art consumers, and those enchanted by the
raw (but now domesticated) spaces of the industrial past, arts producers unwittingly
enhanced property values to such an extent that those people who tried to live
off artwork or performance were effectively priced out of the market through
gentrification. The succession of uses and users over time is directly analogous
with typical processes of gentrification: A market of small manufacturers
slowly yields to demand for space by artists and artisans and middle- to upper
middle-class residents. The sequence of users converts loft space to increasingly better use
and, in so doing, alters the quintessential form in which that space is used42.
The concentration of artists and a bohemian artistic community offered
middle- and upper-middle class consumers ready made cultural capital,
and made it possible for developers to charge escalating rates for housing in edgy areas
like SoHo. Up until this point, artists, benefiting from subsidy, had little
reason to interfere in market forces, but sooner or later, as Zukin has pointed
out, a contradiction arises between the production of art, and developing higher-rent
uses: At this point real estate development reasserts its dominance over
the arts economy43. After the arts presence revalorised property
prices in areas of the city like SoHo to the extent that artists could no longer
afford to live there, they simply moved on to another run-down area
to establish the same process of gentrification and displacement elsewhere. Subsidy
for the arts in NY, as Zukin pointed out, soon became, by proxy, a subsidy for
the property market: Regarded in the short run as a bonanza for creative
and performing artists, production subsidies for arts infrastructure proved,
in the long run, to be a cornucopia for housing developers44.
Gentrification may appear and be represented as a visible sign
of economic growth by local state officials, tourists, and business elites, but,
as Zukin argued, what is really at stake is
the reconquest of the
downtown for high-class users and high-rent uses45. Manhattan was not only
the harbinger of loft living and industrial conversion, it was also
a seminal precursor of artist-led gentrification now writ large as global
urban strategy. By the 1990s, according to Zukin, no matter how restricted the
definition of art that was implied, or how few artists were included, or how
little the benefits extended to all social groups, making a place for art
in the city, went along with establishing a marketable identity for
the city as a whole46.
The Creative Classes, Or, Middle Class Masquerade?
In essence, Floridas advice is what savvy consultants might tell
a brand trying to boost market share: Attract lots of young people, project an
image of authenticity, and generate buzz. It works for TV networks, soft drinks
and cars. Why not cities?
Richard Florida argues that place is now the central organising unit of
the so-called creative economy. In contrast, to those who argue that people travel
and migrate in search of jobs, not places, Florida argues that the gathering
of people, companies and resources into particular places with particular qualities
generates economic growth: Places provide the thick and fluid
labor markets that help match people to jobs. Places support the mating
markets that enable people to find life partners. Places provide the ecosystems
that harness human creativity and turn it into economic value48. Believing
that the somewhat nebulously defined creative classes are the prime
movers in this new economy, Floridas theory decrees that regional economic
growth is driven by the location choices of creative people the holders
of creative capital who prefer places that reflect their own supposedly
open, diverse and pluralistic values. Members of the creative class, come in
all shapes, sizes, colours and lifestyles. Therefore, to be truly successful,
cities and regions, if they are to obtain a significant edge in the
new economy, must create and foster places which will attract their diverse
and divergent lifestyle needs. This, after all, is a class whose economic function,
Florida breathlessly declares, makes them the natural indeed the
only possible leaders of twenty-first-century society49.
Floridas big story is that the creative class is the
great emerging class of our time50. Broadly agreeing with Peter Druckers knowledge
economy thesis (which argues that knowledge is the basic human resource),
Florida claims to make an advance on Drucker by arguing that creativity and
the creation of useful new forms derived from knowledge is
the key driver of the economy. The philosophical background for Floridas
thesis emerges from a right-wing school of economic thought called New
Growth Theory. The theory, as espoused by Paul Romer, whom Florida approvingly
cites in The Rise Of The Creative Classes, assigns a central role
to creativity or idea generation as a means for creating economic
surplus value: We are not used to thinking of ideas as economic goods [
but they are surely the most significant ones that we produce. The only way for
us to produce more economic value and thereby generate economic growth is
to find ever more valuable ways to make use of the objects available to us51.
Romer argues that ideas are especially potent goods because a good
idea can be used over and over, and in fact grows in value the more it is used,
offering increasing returns. Florida, being a good entrepreneurial type, accepts
Romers instrumentalist, and thoroughly market-orientated conflation of
ideas and economic growth, but gives it a feel-good creativity spin: the
creative class, as defined by Florida, is made up of people who add economic
value through their creativity52. With creativity now instrumentally wedded
to productivity and growth, and with place as the key organising unit of
the economy, Florida argues, those cities and regions that attract and retain
the creative class are most likely to be the economic winners in
a framework of inter-urban competition for talent and growth.
But was this ever true? And who are the creative classes, anyway? The creative
class is made up of a creative core, according to Floridas
classification, which is comprised of scientists, engineers, university professors,
poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects, as
well as the thought leadership of our society, including non-fiction
writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts and other
opinion-makers. The creative-core group is supported by a phalanx of creative
professionals who work in a diverse range of knowledge intensive industries
such as high-tech, financial services, the legal and health care professions,
and business management. While Marx understood class in terms of conflicting
class interests dominated by uneven power relations, Florida, a keen supporter
of growth-based free market economics, is keen to stress that the creative classes
will work with rather than against the prevailing economic system: The
Creative Class has made certain symbols of non-conformity acceptable even
conformist. It is in this sense that they represent not an alternative group
but a new and increasingly norm-setting mainstream of society53. In this
sense Florida argues capitalism has pulled off a major coup, capturing people
who would have been seen as bizarre mavericks operating on the fringes
of bohemia, and setting them at the very heart of the process of innovation
Floridas claim that the so-called creative class make up the mainstream of
society is deeply contentious. In Glasgow, for instance, around nine out of ten
of the citys jobs are in the service sector, which as the Glasgow City
Council Plan (2008-2011) acknowledges, is characterised by a preponderance of
lower paid and lower skilled services. Meanwhile, about a quarter of Glasgows
working age population are on benefits and outside the workforce altogether.
There is no point in arguing either that Glasgows benefit claimants and
low-paid service sector workers can be rescued by the leaders of twenty-first-century
society; for beneath Floridas hyperbole a disturbing acknowledgement
is made: There is a strong correlation between inequality and creativity:
the more creative a region is, the more inequality you will find there55.
As Florida admits, this inequality has insidious dimensions. The
service economy ultimately operates as the support infrastructure of
the creative age: Members of the Creative Class, because they are well
compensated and work long and unpredictable hours, require a growing pool of
low end service workers to take care of them and do their chores56
[my italics]. Florida himself suggests that the growth of this burgeoning, increasingly
precarious service class must be understood alongside the rise of the
creative class. Moreover, another troubling element arises in Floridas
thesis. In his tabulation of the classes (which includes the agricultural
class, the service class, the working class, the
creative class, and a subset, the super-creative core) traditional
class actors the middle and upper classes are entirely absent.
Could it be that their new homes are in the upper echelons of the creative
class and the super-creative core?
Like the ideologues of New Labour, the creative classes are a class that believes
in the values of meritocracy: work hard, be rewarded; Arbecht
Macht Frei. In interviews that Florida conducted with the creative
class, he came across people, who no longer defined themselves mainly
by the amount of money they make or their position in a financially delineated
order; rather, they were
valiantly trying to defy an economic
class into which they were born57. This is particularly true of the young
descendants of the truly wealthy, says Florida, who frequently describe
themselves as just ordinary creative people
58. Like the
Blairite myth of a classless society, however, disavowal stalks the narrative.
As Terry Eagleton, paraphrasing Marx, has tellingly observed, the division of
labour between mental and manual labour marks the first point of ideology: Now
thought can begin to fantasize that it is outside of material reality, just because
there is a material sense in which it actually is59. Yet Florida himself,
frequently acknowledges his own complicity and the complicity of the creative
classes as a whole in uneven power relations: I have, in short,
just about all the servants of an English Lord except that theyre not mine,
and they dont live below stairs; they are part-time and distributed in
the local area. He admits that meritocracy has its dark side: By
papering over the cause of cultural and educational advantage, meritocracy may
subtly perpetuate the very prejudices it claims to renounce60. Moreover,
he concedes that the influx of affluent creative class types into working class
areas doesnt necessarily create more opportunities for local residents: Instead,
all it usually does is raise their rents and perhaps create more low end service
jobs for waiters, house-cleaners and the like61. The creative class may wish for
diversity in lifestyle choices and social classes, but as Florida admits: to
some degree it is a diversity of elites, limited to highly educated, creative
people62. Florida, in fact, always seems to be falling behind the ramifications
of his own theory that any growth in the creative class is
far outstripped by the concomitant growth of an increasingly insecure service
Governing Through Crime: Managing The Dark Side
The city-as-landscape does not encourage the formation of community or
of urbanism as a way of life; rather it encourages the maintenance of surfaces,
the promotion of order at the expense of lived social relations, and the ability
to look past distress, destruction, and marginalisation to see only the good
life (for some) and to turn a blind eye towards what that life is constructed
Florida states the obvious when he acknowledges a dark side to
the meritocracy script of the creative class. The cultures of cities,
as Zukin points out, are always framed within a symbolic language of exclusion
and entitlement: The look and feel of cities reflect decisions about what and
who should be visible and what should not, on the concepts of order and
disorder, and on the use of aesthetic power. In this primal sense, the city has
always had a symbolic economy.64. Despite Florida-style references to Glasgows
distinctive diversity and city buzz, the Merchant City is a
characteristically punitive, selective and heavily policed neo-liberal urban
terrain. As urban theorist Mike Davis commented in the context of fortress
LA, while architects and city planners may be oblivious to how the built
environment contributes to segregation designated pariah groups read the
meaning immediately65. The Merchant City, as part of the heavily surveilled city
center, has accessed the full panoply of human, physical and technological methods
to regulate behaviour on its streets. These measures include the City Centre
Enhanced Policing plan, Strathclyde Polices Stop and Search policy
which saw 129,563 searches last year. While figures for the Merchant City in
particular are difficult to disaggregate from city center figures generally,
I personally witnessed an excessive spate of stop and search incidents, targeting
beggars and the homeless, in the edge of success frontier area around
Glasgow Cross and the Trongate last year. Meanwhile, nine CCTV cameras at a cost
of £300,000 were recently installed in the Merchant City to add to over
300 security cameras Glasgow-wide (in an indication of the converging agendas
of public safety and the business community; the citys CCTV
system is jointly funded by Glasgow Community and Safety Services and Scottish
Entererprise Glasgow Scotlands main economic, enterprise, innovation
and investment agency66).
The major crucible in the Merchant City for all these regulatory, policing mechanisms
has been the raid on Paddys Market which lies in Shipbank Lane on the southern
fringes of the Merchant City near the river Clyde. The market whose name
is derived from the high number of Irish traders, many of whom were migrants
from the Irish famine is the oldest in the city with origins dating back
to the 1820s. The market has been in Shipbank lane since 1935, and has been popular
for decades with Glaswegians in search of bargains. A petition set up to save
the market gives a positive account of its place in local history: Initially
a second-hand clothes market for the citys poor and dispossessed, its traders
now sell a wider range of secondhand and new goods to a wider community. More
importantly, it is a city landmark, a tourist attraction and, at heart, simply
a place for locals to meet and work together67. However, in August 2007,
Councillor Gordon Matheson brought negative media attention to Paddys Market
by describing it as crime-ridden midden, and arguing for the closure
of the Glasgow institution: The days when Paddys Market made a contribution
to the city are over, it has changed, and in my opinion it should be closed down68.
No doubt Councillor Matheson (as chair of Merchant City Tourism and Marketing
Co-op Ltd) was aware of what was coming. In November last year, the market was
raided by over 100 police officers accompanied by a phalanx of trading, customs
and rail officials and the blaze of media flashlights. As part of the
investigation codenamed Operation Bazaar fake CDs and
DVDs, as well as counterfeit cigarettes and toys, some of which were allegedly
smuggled into the country, were confiscated by the police. The investigation
also led to eight men being arrested on suspicion of dealing class A drugs.
Superintendent Tom Doran, said of the operation: My priority is to make
sure the people who live, work and visit this side of the city, can go about
their everyday business without fear or intimidation. Meanwhile, a Glasgow
City Council Spokesman explained the rationale for the raid: High levels
of crime, anti-social behaviour have increasingly become a significant problem
in Shipbank Lane. They have had a detrimental impact on residents and visitors
and on the efforts to improve the Merchant City69 [sic].
On October 28th 2008, the decision to close down Paddys Market was called-in
by the City Council. Permission was granted to proceed with discussions to re-develop
the market for a combination of uses and sub-leases to business and arts
organisations70. The city council are in discussions with site-owners Network
Rail to take over the lease. After the deal is complete, the council intend to
create a mini-Camden Market on the site. Councillor George Ryan,
the City Councils regeneration convener explained the plans last year: We
will be able to lift the whole area. What we want is to create a mini-Camden
Market in Glasgow city centre. We see this as a tourist destination, an arts
and crafts market and a cultural venue. Other cities in Europe would bite your
hand off for this type of opportunity. Its near the Clyde and all the regeneration
in St Enoch and the Merchant City. Councillor Ryan continued: Glasgow
has moved on and we will not be dragged down by a blight which detracts from
our efforts to regenerate the city. We present ourselves quite rightly as a vibrant
and cultural city, which is a good place to live and work and visit. Paddys
Market does not fit with that ambition71.
Traders, understandably, were disgusted by the language deployed by senior City
Council officials, and by the chronic lack of tolerance for the people who shop
and trade at Paddys Market: It is important as part of Glasgows
history, said Hazel McGeachin, but whats more important is
that its needed. A lot of my customers are pensioners, asylum seekers,
foreign workers. They need a place as cheap as this72. Michael Burns, meanwhile,
said the council are turning their back on Glasgows working class heritage.
Many traders, according to the Scotland on Sunday, believed that what
was going on was yuppification ahead of the Commonwealth Games, while
many linked the situation with recent protests about land use in Pollok Park
and the Botanic Gardens73. Brian Daly, a spokesman for the Paddys market
committee, said the Market played a vital role in providing affordable second-hand
goods, as well as having a particular community role: You cant create
a community like this, it just grows. It would be a shame to lose this unique
piece of Glasgows heritage for the sake of creating a sterile precinct74.
While criminality, especially drug dealing, has been cited as the main reason
to close the market down, traders have accused the City Council of stigmatising
the market instead of dealing with the wider context of social polarisation in
the area. In December, the Sunday Herald reported that a city centre task
force set up to monitor the area had acknowledged that that the main catalyst
for crime was Hope House (a homeless hostel adjacent to the market). Strathclyde
Police stressed that it wasnt the traders of Paddys Market who were
the main causes of crime: Hope House was seen as a major crime generator,
due to the large amount of homeless drug-addicts it houses, and thus the inevitable
presence of dealers to service the addiction. Moreover, traders complained that
the vast majority of crime in the market area takes place in the evenings when
the market area effectively becomes a public lane. Market traders, however, close
up by 2pm every day75. The debate then, has been constructed not only about the
viability of Paddys Market, but of criminality in the area per se,
and of its unsuitability for the new types of economic activity to be associated
with the cultural quarter and the Merchant City overall. The Citys regeneration
convener, Councillor Ryan, expressed the intended message quite brutally: It
is the death-knell for the anti-social element. We want to move all that out.
We want to up the bar of what we expect of a market right in the heart of the
city. We want to bring in a better class of retail there76.
The highly disproportionate reaction to, and policing of, Paddys Market,
can be seen as a form of entrepreneurial statecraft. In an excellent study by
Roy Coleman, Steve Tombs and Dave Whyte77, they show how an emphasis on selective crime
and disorder issues reinforces a narrow sense of harm and danger in the
city and forecloses scrutiny of the city-building process itself. They label
this process governing through crime, but ask: what kinds of crime
are cities and citizens being governed through? With the expansion of public
private partnerships in the city, and business ever more entrenched in increasingly
corporatised regeneration processes, the moral capital of
business ideology has attained hegemonic status within regeneration discourses: private
enterprise, entrepreneurship, the pursuit of wealth and something called the market have
all become valorised as ends in themselves78. This elevation of business
influence, the authors argue, has led to an over-regulation of the poor
and marginalised who dare to interrupt the fetishised surface of the commodity
realm, and an under-regulation of hidden corporate crime and
While the authors applaud efforts to critically scrutinise all those regulatory
and disciplinary modes and discourses of governance like CCTV networks, targeting
of beggars and the homeless, and policing hotspots, they argue for
a shift of emphasis away from analysis of the heavily regulated spaces of consumption,
to the underregulated spaces of production. The report usefully places the emphasis
on corporate crime or harm, which has a catastrophic economic,
physical and social cost, yet remains almost entirely absent from crime and disorder
debates. The concept of corporate harm is reserved for those acts
of omissions which produce degradation of natural and physical environments and
injuries to and exploitation of workers and consumers, but which do not violate
any legal code. Here, the authors note that those regulatory frameworks that
impinge on, or, disrupt flows of production or consumption are routinely removed
from dominant definitions of crime and disorder by a complex nexus of social
and legal procedures. The authors point in particular at the UK wide deregulation
of occupational safety and health, and breaches of consumer and environmental
protection. For instance, the services sector, so central to the functioning
of the consumption-led neoliberal city (with its tourism, cafes, bars and restaurants),
is regulated largely by Environment Health Officers (EHOs), yet in a time of
proliferating expansion in the industry, the authors cite a UK-wide 50% drop
in full-time officials between 1996/7 and 2000/1, while half of all local authorities
failed to lay one single prosecution in 2000/1. Another example is road traffic.
The increase of commercial activity in cities is primarily dependent on the circulation
of commodities by road transport: deadly air pollution, and a host of other negative
social and environmental impacts are a concomitant by-product of this process79.
While the study makes an important intervention in debates around crime and harm
discourses, they may have left the most compelling crimes out of their research
field. In 1991, Frederic Jameson felt compelled to remind his readers of an obvious
but frequently repressed fact:
namely, that this whole global, yet
American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of
a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the
world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is
blood, torture, death, and terror80. Recent revelations about Primarks
(Argyle Street) cheap-enough-to-chuck clothing being manufactured
by sub-contracted child labour in India81, and Tescos (Argyle Street) continued
abuse of its monopoly power through the exploitation of labour in China, India,
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh82, merely hint at the full-scale of global, not to say
local, exploitation that underpins the spectacular commodity realm. Glasgows
frequently boasted about position as one of the major retail shopping centers
in Britain, masks and disavows a devastating trail of labour and environmental
harm on a global scale. Yet, the trajectory of pro-business, entrepreneurial
urbanism has led to a stabilization of opportunity structures for corporate
crimes and harms, whilst the relatively powerless and weak are further
exposed to the punitive gaze of extended surveillance capacity83.
While the stick is delivered to the traders of Paddys Market, Tesco Metro,
that most potent exemplar of monopoly capitalism, middle-class consumption tastes
and gentrification, is offered the carrot of competitive lease rates
to steal further up Argyle Street an accomplished private-public corporate
partner in the pioneering of new urban frontiers.
This Dull Rented World
In the context of Glasgows wider redevelopment and
regeneration ambitions, the location of the cultural quarter in the Merchant
City is far from accidental. It is hoped that the arts led property strategy will
act as a regenerative tool for property development in the area,
thereby increasing external investment confidence in the enormous
gap site at St.Enoch car park and the unproductive buildings and
land at the Bridgegate by the River Clyde. City support for a cultural
quarter, and the extremely heavy-handed and selective policing of the Merchant
City, especially Paddys Market, can be seen as parallel strategies of boosterism
and stigmatization: on the one hand, to encourage gentrification, on the other
to legitimise it. Developers plans to explore the potential for a mixed-use
redevelopment of the Union Railway bridge and the Hope House homeless hostel
adjacent to Paddys Market84, reflect City Council and Scottish Enterprise
Glasgow plans to extend the Merchant City down to the River Clyde as part of
the delivery of the enormous 13-mile, £5.6 billion Clyde Waterfront development
project85. The Step Change for Glasgow Action Plan To 2013 makes
clear that the redevelopment of Paddys Market is a central
part of the Arts Led Property Strategy: a key indicative output for
growing the metropolitan core.
As part of the same Step Change plan to move Glasgow up the
value chain, the removal of barriers to growth and success is
seen as prerequisite for economic expansion. For the city center elite, backed
by a whole panoply of civilising and criminal discourses, the solution to the
problems of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction seem to be simple: removal
and disavowal. In this potentially problematic context, the creativity
fix comes into its own as a soft policy legitimation tool: A
creative strategy is easily bolted on to business-as-usual urban-development
policies, while providing additional ideological cover for market-driven or state-assisted
programs of gentrification. Inner-city embourgeoisement, in the creativity script,
is represented as a necessary prerequisite for economic development: hey presto,
thorny political problem becomes competitive asset!86.
The Creativity Fix is most insidious when it assumes that every city can
win in the battle for talent and growth. Creativity scripts, however, are better
understood as zero-sum urban strategies constituted within the context
of uneven urban growth patterns in an increasingly polarized framework of inter-city
competition. Intercity competition, as Harvey observed, has come to act as an
external coercive power over urban governments, forcing them to adopt increasingly flexible,
pro-business urban strategies that tend to enhance rather than constrict the
mobility and external coercive power of global finance capital. Cities
are thus compelled to become collaborators in their own subordination to capital
accumulation strategies. The result of these entrepreneurial strategies, Peck
reminds us, has been the weak emulation of winning formulas, quickly
stacking the odds against even the most enthusiastic of converts87.
As Peck astutely observes, the creativity fix is less a solution
to these problems and more a response to them. For all its aesthetic pretensions
the creative economy, as Florida happily acknowledges, is underpinned
by predatory venture capital: Venture capital and the broader system that
surrounds it provide a powerful catalyst to the chain of creativity and an even
more powerful mechanism for bringing its fruits to the commercial market88.
Glasgows adherence to the creativity script is merely another soft policy
option for compliant forms of corporate welfare, regressive social redistribution
and trickle-up economics. In fact, precisely the same forms of compliance
that has allowed neo-liberal forms of capitalism to lead us into the deepest
global recession since the 1930s.
This is the third part of a trilogy on Glasgows gentrification for Variant: The
Clyde Gateway: A New Urban Frontier, Variant, issue 33, Winter 2008; Constructing
Neoliberal Glasgow: The Privatisation Of Space, Variant, issue 25,
1. Debord, Guy, The Society Of The Spectacle,
Zone Books, 1994, First Published, 1967.
2. Sinclair, Iain, Downriver, Paladin, 1992.
3. See http://www.variant.randomstate.org/33texts/3_V33gray.html for the link
between frontier language and gentrification in Glasgow.
4. One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded
by the middle-classesupper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottagestwo
rooms up and two downhave been taken over, when their leases have expired,
and have become elegant, expensive residences [...]. Once this process of gentrification starts
in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class
occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.
5. Smith, Neil. New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification As Global Urban
Strategy, in Spaces Of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring In North
America And western Europe, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002, p.96.
6. Seymour, Ben, Shoreditch and the creative destruction of the inner city,
7. McCarthy, John, Dublins Temple Bar: A Case Study of Culture-Led
Regeneration, European Planning Studies; Jun 98, Vol 6 Issue
3, p271, 11p.
9. Housing The Visual Arts in Glasgows Merchant City: A Strategy
Report, Glasgow City Council Development And Regeneration Services Committee
11. It is said that a city without its old buildings is like a person without
memory; by the same token it may be said that a city without culture is a place
without imagination. The well publicised Richard Florida report supports this
and argues that successful cities are those that embrace the diversity, tolerance
and non-conformist elements of an artistic community to rise above everyday challenge
and inertia. The Merchant City Action Plan, 2007-2012, p.9.
12. Florida, Richard, The Rise of The Creative Class...And How Its Transforming,
Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life, Basic Books, 2004, p.300.
13. Peck, Jamie, The Creativity Fix, Eurozine. http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-06-28-peck-en.html
15. Florida, Richard. The Rise Of The Creative Class...And How Its
Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life, Basic Books,
16. Harvey, David, From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation
in Urban Governance in late Capitalism, Geografiska Annaller, Vol.71,
20. A Step Change For Glasgow: Glasgows Ten Year Economic Strategy,
22. A Step Change For Glasgow: Action Plan To 2013, 2008.
23. Merchant City Five Year Action Plan: 2007-2012.
25. Merchant City Five Year Action Plan: 2007-2012.
27. Housing The Visual Arts In Glasgows Merchant City: A Strategy
Report, Glasgow City Council Development And Regeneration Services Committee
33. Housing The Visual Arts In Glasgows Merchant City: A Strategy
Report, Glasgow City Council Development And Regeneration Services Committee
35. Zukin, Sharon, Loft living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change, Radius,
37. Panos, David, Creative Clusters and Creative London, 2004, http://thelondonparticular.org/items/creativeclusters.html
39. Zukin, Sharon, Loft living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change, Radius,
40. Ibid, p.3.
41. Ibid, p.124.
42. Ibid, p.173.
43. Ibid, p.121.
44. Ibid, p.118.
45. Zukin, Sharon, Loft living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change, Radius,
1988, Ibid, p.149.
46. Zukin, Sharon, The Cultures Of Cities, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000,
47. From the blurbs, in, Florida, Richard. The Rise Of The Creative Class...And
How Its Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life,
Basic Books, 2004.
48. Ibid, p.xix.
49. Ibid, p.315.
50. Ibid, p.9.
51. Cited in, Florida, Richard, The Rise Of The Creative Class...And How
Its Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life, Basic
52. Ibid, p.68
53. Ibid, p.82
54. Ibid, p.6.
55. Ibid, p.35.
56. Ibid, 71.
57. Ibid, p.78.
59. Eagleton, Terry, Marx, Phoenix, 1997, p.7.
60. Florida, Richard. The Rise Of The Creative Class...And How Its
Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life, Basic Books,
61 Ibid, 325.
62. Ibid, p.79.
63. Cited in, MacLeod, Gordon, From Urban Entrepreneurialism to a Revanchist
City? On the Spatial Injustices of Glasgows Renaissance, in Spaces
Of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring In North America And western Europe,
Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002, p.267.
64. Zukin, Sharon, The Cultures Of Cities, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000,
65. Davis, Mike, City Of Quartz: Excavating The Future Of Los Angeles,
Pimlico, 1998, p.226.
70. Minutes of Glasgow City Council, Print 5, 2008-2009, http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/694FD6F9-42D1-4C41-A10B-E4899653BF64/0/PRINT5200809.pdf
71. Lundy, Ian, Paddys Market to be transformed, Evening
News, 14th March, 2008.
77. Coleman, R; Tombs, S; Whyte, D. Capital, Crime Control and Statecraft
in the Entrepreneurial City, Urban Studies, Vol.42, No,13, 2511-2530,
80. Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic Of Late Capitalism, Verso,
83. Coleman, R; Tombs, S; Whyte, D. Capital, Crime Control and Statecraft
in the Entrepreneurial City, Urban Studies, Vol.42, No, 13, 2511-2530,
84. Physical Developments In The Merchant City: August 2006, Glasgow
85. A Step Change For Glasgow: Action Plan To 2013, 2008.
86. Peck, Jamie, The Creativity Fix, Eurozine. http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-06-28-peck-en.html
88. Florida, Richard. The Rise Of The Creative Class...And How Its
Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, And Everyday Life, Basic Books,
Artists & Art Schools:
For or against innovation?
A reply to NESTA
Angela McRobbie & Kirsten Forkert
The recently published report from NESTA (National Endowment
for Science Technology and the Arts) by Kate Oakley, Brooke Sperry and Andy Pratt
and Brooke Sperry, entitled The Art of Innovation: How Fine Arts Graduates
Contribute to Innovation (2008) provides us with an opportunity to offer
a series of reflections on a number of topics. These include: links between the
art schools and the creative economy; the nature of cultural policy
and the role of consultancy research; the rise of creative labour and its social
consequences. The art school sector of higher education from fine arts
right across the spectrum of provision, including graphic design, fashion design,
but also all the many courses in ceramics, textiles, film, multi-media, jewellery,
theatre design furniture design and so on has recently attracted attention
for the reason that it is claimed to produce not just pathways into employment,
but employment itself, and a special kind of employment which is frequently flexible,
casualised, (mostly) self-employment. Creativity is a doubly useful concept,
not just for its value-producing capacity in production, but also, as Bourdieu
argued, because it confers status on its workforce, even when conditions are
punitive (1993). The art schools are expected to train, educate and prepare this
workforce, but there are very few extended studies of these public-funded institutions.
Frith and Horne (1987) provided a cultural history of the relationship between
UK art schools from the late 1950s onwards and the remarkable growth of British
pop music, and McRobbie (1998), in her study of young fashion designers, most
of whom had graduated from Central St Martins School of Art and Design in London,
included interviews with heads of department of fashion and/or textiles in the
UK in order to gain insight into the different pedagogies which had proved so
influential in the training of so many world-leading young designers in the decade
from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Like Frith and Horne, McRobbie refers to
the handful of earlier historical accounts of the art school, but she also acknowledges
the paucity of research on the influence of this sector of education in the wider
world of art and design. The interviews she carried out were a means of creating
a picture of how fashion design came to be established, and the kind of people,
usually pioneering women, who set themselves the task of fighting to gain academic
recognition for what had been considered a poor relative of fine arts and design,
a decorative, trivial, non-academic area of study. The interviewees in that study
were, in effect, living archives since so little of that history had been properly
assembled. And as McRobbie points out, one of the reasons that fashion design
eventually gained recognition inside arts schools like the Royal College of Art
was because astute Vice-Chancellors saw that (usually female) heads of fashion
and textiles were more willing than others to forge links with fashion retailers
and manufacturers. In this respect fashion education has long been at the forefront
of what has now become a standard feature of higher education: knowledge transfer,
industry-links, sponsorship, placements and so on.
Given the expansion of numbers of students into the art schools suggested by
the NESTA report, and the ways in which these institutions also offer pathways
of access to young people, some of them disadvantaged and with non-standard academic
qualifications1, it is easy to understand why they have attracted the attention
of educational and cultural policy-makers in recent years. But it was very much
a matter of Principals and Vice Chancellors lobbying at the doorsteps of government
office, not the other way round. They saw that practice-based training in newer
areas like digital media, game development, and also in media and performance
arts, were opening up new occupational pathways and they realised this had a
lot to do with the training the students were getting in inevitably under-funded
institutions. At the exact same time, academics and policy makers, in particular
those involved in urban regeneration, made a similar connection between young
peoples cultural activities and the so-called creative city (Landry
2000). This latter became the roller coaster we are all now familiar with, culminating
in the enormous attention given to Richard Floridas The Rise of the
Creative Class (2003). From economic geography to sociology, from cultural
studies to philosophy, from media studies to art theory, the rallying cry of
the culture or creative industries has drawn academics in Europe and the US to
reflect on and analyse these activities. As soon as the UKs Department
of Culture Media and Sport Mapping Documents were published, and
prior to that in 1996 when the Creative Industries Taskforce was set up, academics
found themselves torn between supporting the new agenda which required working
closer with government agencies and drafting policy agendas which fitted with
the prevailing vocabularies set by these departments, and establishing a more
autonomous critical and theoretical language to understand such developments.
Despite these flurries of activity very little was known about how these sectors
actually functioned and especially how they gave rise to new working conditions.
The Department of Trade and Industry in the 1990s professed little or no interest
in tiny micro-outfits of just two or three people working in a cottage
industry style, but by the early 2000s there were various roundtables hosted
at the DCMS, which had stepped forward as the government department best equipped
to deal with the new creative economy. Often these meetings delivered relatively
little for academic researchers, since the nature of the discussions was rigidly
set within a prevailing political agenda. A resolution of sorts was found in
the extent to which the funding councils recognised this as a new area for which
research funds could be competitively applied for. Cultural policy studies had
of course existed long before this sequence of events, but it gathered pace and
momentum as this new sector came to the forefront of political attention, (for
a critical overview see Scullion and Garcia 2005). Nevertheless cultural policy
research, connected as it usually is with arts councils, or departments of culture,
remains relatively marginal and even one-dimensional in comparison, say, with
public policy research which inevitably has a much wider remit in regard to urban
issues, housing, poverty, policing, crime, etc. At the European level, the new precarity
activists, many of whom are artists or new media workers connected to EuroMayDay,
do a great job of forging connections between arts, artists and culture, and
social global issues, including housing and unemployment (and indeed this frames
the ongoing research of Forkert2). And, from the early 2000s, these networks
introduced, especially within European cultural policy, a much more animated
and theoretically informed agenda see for example <http://www.eipcp.net>,
and also curators turned policy-advocates such as Maria Lind and Raimund Minichbauer
(2005)3. This work is sharply critical, with a theoretically-informed framework
(transculturation, globalisation, network society, neo-nationalism) and a focus
on geo-cultural issues, and on regional and sub-regional, urban, local, national
and transnational cultural policy in practice (see also Robins 2006).
In contrast, the kind of research undertaken by NESTA is primarily consultative4.
NESTA is an endowment which was set up in 1998 with the mission of making the
UK more innovative5. The focus on entrepreneurialism and innovation brings
it close to the priorities of the DCMS and it also fits the general Schumpeterian6
vision that now underpins much national and European Union economic policy under
the information society label focused on innovation systems and national
competition for the comparative advantage that successful innovation supposedly
creates (Garnham 2005:22). The context of NESTA and the focus on innovation
have considerable bearing on The Art of Innovation, beginning with
the suggestion that artists are inherently innovative, that they are resourceful
and adapt easily to changing circumstances. The executive summary points out
that artists have attitudes and skills that are conducive to innovation (Oakley,
Sperry and Pratt: 2008: 5), that they are brokers across disciplines who
continually retrain themselves and that their style of working is project- and
portfolio-based. The emphasis on innovation shapes many of the questions put
to the respondents, and, as we show below, this actually jars with the artists chosen
way of talking about or analysing their own working practices, suggesting something
of a mismatch, as if the term is foisted upon them.
The NESTA study comes under the label of consultancy work, drawing on the expertise
of well established academics like Andy Pratt (LSE), Kate Oakley, an independent
consultant,7 and researcher Brooke Sperry. For this very reason, it provides
a good example of the kind of work undertaken under these established guidelines,
where it is possible to detect the tensions which arise as the authors juggle
with a language and an agenda set by the host organisation. The study is ambitious,
given the timescale of just nine months. A questionnaire was sent to 8,000 graduates
from the University of the Arts, dating back to the 1950s, using their previously
unused alumni association. With a 6.4% success rate the authors contacted 40
of these respondents most of whom lived in or around London, and were predominantly
female and white8. These autobiographical interviews actually provide the most
significant material in the research. The authors allow the interviewees and
the questionnaire respondents to express things in their own words and methodological
attention is devoted to justifying this. The outcome of the interviews and the
email questionnaire are valuable and interesting; attention is drawn to job juggling,
low income, collaborations, and unexpected opportunities which can nevertheless
be made good use of.
Our own reading of this report points to three areas for further discussion:
the low income of artists; the inappropriateness of language and conceptual vocabulary
drawn from business or science and technology; the strengths and limitations
of consultancy research.
Jobs without capital
The authors provide information gleaned from the study about
the actual levels of income of the respondents. In effect these are tiny. The
incomes of these artists and creative people are well below the poverty line,
but the word poor does not appear in the considerations of salaries
(e.g. gross annual income from all sources 30% £10,000, and 55% under £20,000).
This is significant. For a start it corresponds with the findings of McRobbie
a decade earlier, who showed that young fashion designers, even those who were
well-established and receiving a lot of press support, were actually earning
extremely small take home pay, often less than £20,000 per annum. This
led McRobbie to argue repeatedly that working in the new creative work was low
capital return work. Jobs without capital was how she put it, inverting
Becks notion of a new world of capital without jobs (Beck:
1997). Following Ulrich Beck she talked about being poor in work rather
than poor and out of work. For middle class graduates a high proportion
of whom are female this is a significant and under-acknowledged fact.
We can see the field of poverty extending and incorporating the young, well-qualified,
ambitious and highly motivated in other words, those supposedly positioned
to succeed within the new economy. But the question of how it is possible to
live on less than £15,000 a year in a city like London in 2008 is skirted
over or ignored. The word poverty of course would go against the
grain of the need of government to promote this sector of work, not just because
they wish to promote individuals and invest highly in it through education and
training but because the style of working is increasingly being looked to as
a model for other sectors to follow. Does this mean the working poor develops
as a new norm? Yes it probably does. If effective, there will be a lot more people
self-employed and fewer employers faced with the burden of a payroll,
pensions and other benefits. This fact is borne out by the references to the
expansion of the creative industries (though this is as much to do with how the
figures are, highly problematically, calculated) and the 60% increase in art
and design graduates in the last ten years9. Mention of poverty would detract
from the connotations of glamour, aspiration and enthusiasm attached to creativity.
And anyway, starting with Thatcherism, poverty has been designated
and naturalised as a matter of individual failure rather than a consequence of
the re-structuring of manufacture and production, the destruction of the welfare
state and various other systemic features of global capitalism. The result is
that in a context like this poverty could only be understood, if it was discussed,
as a sign of personal poor choices in regard to creative work, or of individual
mismanagement (Bauman 2000, Brown 2006).
Nowadays for young artists or designers to identify with a self-description as
poor, would be synonymous with failure and with stigma. If artists like those
interviewed in this study have a degree of pride about their work, and self-confessed
enjoyment of it and commitment to it, then they too will most likely shun the
word poor. They will instead talk about the hardships they have had to endure
in order to carry on with the work. Perhaps it is the job of academic
researchers or social scientists to prise open the everyday realities of this new
poor middle-class, examining material issues in depth which words like bohemian do
not really encompass. Let us at least take this opportunity to flag up the importance
of examining in more depth questions of borderline poor income and dependency
on state benefits which are the norm among artists for at least some periods.
In this report the authors steer well clear of dealing with unpleasantries such
as poverty in work, merely referring in passing, for example to the less
desirable aspects of such work including [work] that is unpaid (Oakley,
Sperry and Pratt: 2008: 12). The reality of unpaid work or long term internships
also cries out for fuller analysis. After all, we are talking about long hours
of labour which will often be uncompensated (and thereby also result in unaccrued
state benefit entitlements). In his study of internet workers, Andrew Rosss
apt but nevertheless under-developed term net slaves just opens the
door on a sizeable and significant strata of this workforce (Ross 2004). To sum
up the degrees of hardship and the experience of what would normally be called
poverty require more systematic attention. It may be that these graduates are
lifted from the absolutely degrading aspects and connotations of poverty because
they possess high cultural capital, and because they can rely, just and no more,
on partners, or on extended family, as well as on a trickle of grants, commissions,
benefits and other sources of public money so that they can get through from
one month to the next. The downside of being an artist is also compensated for
by the relatively high value attached to this identity socially, but this means
that poverty can remain hidden and unacknowledged by public bodies. This is compounded
in a study like this where the conceptual framework is borrowed from science,
technology and business; in other words, a high-income world unaccustomed to
and hence ill-equipped to deal with or even imagine, economic survival concerns
like poverty, dole, housing benefits or income support. And likewise
when the respondents describe how they have set-up in business it also transpires
that this transition into what is presumably self-employment has actually been
accomplished thanks to the existence of state benefits (such as tax credits)
and other forms of income support lifting them out of being unemployed.
Imposing a vocabulary
The authors also make pervasive use of the words markets
and consumers, and on several occasions this leads them to impose on their respondents
a vocabulary which appears to be quite at odds with how the artists express themselves.
Taking their cue from Lester and Piore (2004), the authors report comments
on how these fine arts graduates and others like them are highly active consumers of
other art-related work or cultural products and this gives them sharp
insight into what consumers want (Oakley, Sperry and Pratt: 2008:14). That is,
they will have greater insight into how the market will respond to what they
produce, and they will also be able to tailor their work to fit with market trends.
But what is actually being referred to here is not a matter of markets and consumers
but rather that this group of people are constantly engaging with the world of
cultural forms, artefacts, and symbolic material which relates to their own interests
and their professional expertise (note the word professionals is
barely used). Not surprisingly, these people know about new films, or about current
exhibitions, they are frequently reading, they are in effect an intellectual
social strata. It is a misnomer to categorise them as consumers of, for example,
the Louise Bourgois exhibition or as consumers of Dostoevsky novels. The fact
that the respondents refer to these specific cultural forms is more about the
inspiration, ideas and intellectual engagement they derive from this material,
than it is about being a consumer of great works of art. This is akin to describing
sociologists as consumers of peer-reviewed academic journals. Hardly
surprisingly, the authors seem to exhibit some discomfort with their own vocabulary.
They explain that perhaps what this kind of consumer-activity does is give the
artists ideas and something like a feel, if not for possible markets for their
own work, at least for their potential audiences. The artists in
turn shy away from the words market and ideal users and reflect instead on how
and where the work might be responded to. They are in some ways too truculent
a group to allow themselves to be turned into spokespersons for innovation. One
even says that her work might be too innovative for the market, i.e. non-commercial
(Oakley, Sperry and Pratt: 2008:27), another says it is just art work (Oakley,
Sperry and Pratt: 2008:7). In a sense the survey seems to be pushing respondents
into a box they have never really considered inhabiting voluntarily. If there
is a degree of misfit here, we might wonder why? It could be that artists of
the sort who responded to this survey questionnaire, male and female, although
they are mostly female, attribute to their work an entirely different set of
social values. And this may be generally true for fine artists. Anyone who has
actually taught in an art school will know that fine art students have tended
to define themselves in opposition to commercial or market values, even if what
they produce in many cases are saleable objects. Indeed they are probably taught
to reject the idea of producing for a market. Their commitment to the work
itself takes precedence, they will concentrate on this and then hope that
it gets taken up by the wider art world. Of course some will, especially these
days, have learnt skills of self-promotion and might have developed entrepreneurial
strategies. But even here, the emphasis remains on the work itself. The question
in the years following graduation is how to retain time and commitment to the
work in the hope that it is successful; success meaning shows, reviews, commissions,
and possibly sales. Since this is an ideal scenario, realistic for only a handful,
the alternative strategy involves taking on other jobs as the authors of the
report confirm, this being in any case a well established fact (Menger: 1999;
Throsby and Hollister: 2003 ). But this career trajectory is quite different
from, let us say, graphic designers, who again if one has taught them one knows
that from the start of their education they are working almost consistently to
briefs set by industry. The studio atmosphere in the graphic design spaces is
quite different from that of the fine art department. Graphic design students
will surround themselves with images from advertising, comics and magazines,
they will have work placements and internships. They will hope that their design
work will attract the attention of commercial design agencies, eventually winning
them employment. In short, from the start graphic design students are oriented
to the commercial world of advertising, while their fine art counterparts will
at least feign disinterest, with some privately hoping for commercial success which
is something quite different. To sum up, it could be suggested that what this
report shows is how degrees of realism kick in not so long after graduation when
the artists begin to see clearly that they will have to develop skills which
will get them more regular and better paid work. The jobs they will gravitate
towards, or which they will embark on some additional training to prepare themselves
for, will be commensurate with their qualifications and expertise, and as the
survey shows they are well placed to get jobs in the cultural sector, in education,
in public services like health, education and art therapy. The role played by
the distinctive training they have had at art school, the unstructured studio
time, the one-to-one sessions with both tutors and technicians, will have given
them a sense of the value of learning, for example, new technical skills based
on the needs of each project. And the impact which tutors can have in pointing
students in the direction of relevant work, articles, other artists, writers
and philosophers whose work might help them engage with the issues they are struggling
with in their own practice, might well produce an openness to and awareness of
this as an important way of refining their own work. Thus we might
say that pedagogy prepares them not so much for the market or to keep their eyes
on consumer trends as to give them ideas about what kind of jobs would be interesting
or rewarding and how to pick up the necessary skills and experience, if it proves
impossible to make a living from art itself.
Researching the researchers
Finally, there is the point about the strengths and limitations
of consultancy research. A study like this is able to draw on a wide range of
academic studies which provide, if not the intellectual framework at least a
field of references which feed into the authors discussion of their findings.
Our aim in the foregoing text has not been to devalue this kind of consultancy
undertaking (although we do detect a tendency to avoid the bad news regarding
low levels of income and dependency on benefits). As Scullion and Garcia point
out, although this kind of research makes it difficult to develop a coherent
body of research and near impossible to develop longitudinal projects,
nevertheless it does allow social and cultural researchers to access to the
processes of decision-making and policy evaluation (Scullion and Garcia:
2005: 122). Indeed we could argue that think tanks and consultancies play a key
role in the new creative economies, insofar as they pick up on government thinking
by virtue of being close at hand, they tender for and often win contracts to
carry out research which will in one way or another further the agendas set by
government, and depending themselves on this kind of revenue they will also then
promote themselves as offering high degrees of expertise which can combine and
draw on leading academic research with the pragmatics of working close to government.
This puts agencies like NESTA at the forefront of the knowledge economy. And
as Garnham argues, it has been the association of culture with IT that has allowed
the term creative industries to emerge as a government favourite
in the contribution this sector makes to economic development (Garnham 2005).
The picture does not look quite so favourable if, as McRobbie points out, IT
and new media are subtracted from the more recent DCMS Mapping Document;
without these areas of activity, the remaining culture industries produce much
more modest returns (McRobbie 2004). If consultancies do indeed have this important
role to play in effect formulating the terms in which creative industries and
the knowledge economy come to be spoken about then the idea of researching the
researchers, as Pierre Bourdieu might put it, would be a timely undertaking.
These organisations differ enormously, from those which literally speak to government
(such as Demos or NESTA) to others which tender for grants for social and cultural
projects in competition with better funded and prestigious universities, to whom
they feel themselves to be poorer relatives.
The NESTA report confirms the fact that in the last decades artists have become
people who are working across a range of sectors. When theyre working in
non-arts related jobs, they are more likely to work in education or health care,
and this suggests a close connection with education and the public sector. Overall
we might even say that artists make a contribution, not primarily through innovation
for the commercial sector, but through the value their input brings to the social
field. This has also been the case for many years, especially for the majority
of artists who do not make the big time. Artists, photographers and
film makers have since the 1960s been drafted into public art and community projects,
hence the term community arts. The point is that now this has become
massively enlarged10. Our reading of NESTA finds an unofficial picture which
underpins these working lives which includes poverty and hardship, tolerated
perhaps because of the availability of unspecified cushions. There is a close
proximity to or experience of receiving benefits and income support, from the
state or through family ties. We also see a vigorous denial of the language of
markets and consumers, and a rather awkward or at least reflective response to
the word innovation, as though it suggests something quite different
from the way in which artists typically think about or talk about their work.
Overall we see the role of not just the state in the form of benefits and subsidy,
but also the state as educator, and the public sector as a frequent point to
which the graduates gravitate for work. We might even propose that artists have
become a new form of non-bureaucratic civil servants. However, unlike Claire
Bishop and others who have decried this as art turning into social work (Bishop:
2006), we are calling for greater examination of the conditions under which this
takes place. What in our own research we perceive are, again, part-time contracts,
artists indeed inserted into the field of social problems, such as tackling bullying
in schools, and inevitably more and more projects11 the irony
being, of course, that artists themselves are likely to suffer, in some form,
from the multiple effects of deprivation. We finish then with some further questions,
the first being what role does the art work itself play as it leaves the studios
and circulates across so many different locations, from galleries and exhibition
spaces, to community centres, to schools, to hospitals, to board rooms, corridors,
perhaps even streets and other public spaces? Can the simple presence of art
be considered as innovation? If so, then what is really meant by innovation (the
authors of the report do not define this)? Innovation to the landscape? Or innovation
in public transport for the values other than those of advertising which it introduces?
And finally, if one of the decisive features which shapes the inventive and energetic
ways in which these artists carry on working throughout their lives is the experience
they got from attending art school, then what would be the dire consequence of
these being run down, or subjected to further financial constraints?
The important role of the art schools as state institutions with public funding
is again underplayed in this report. Most UK art schools are now also part of
large universities, and with government interest in creative industries this
means that the changing world of the corporate university impinges particularly
in these departments. One priority then might be to safeguard good practice in
these historic institutions without romanticising them. Another might be to acknowledge
the important role played by access routes into art schools for young people
from disadvantaged backgrounds; it is also to pay attention to the role of rising
fees (and by consequence, increasing student debt) in making this access much
more difficult. Frith and Horne make the connection between the opportunity for
working class, mostly male, youth in 60s Britain to get to art school and
the way in which that experience and the unstructured fine art pedagogy permitted
a cross-over between the external world of pop music, and the development of
new forms of pop from inside those art school spaces. If then it is the art schools
which are the key sites for the production of culture (fashion, music, art, etc.)
it is not just then a question of defending their existence but dissecting what
it is that has made them important to national cultural life and beyond. We want
to end by emphasising a pedagogy which critically challenges the divide between
high and low culture and which contests the isolated status of the fine arts.
Fine art students might well seek to define themselves against commerce, but
they are theoretically aware of the intersections of art with media and popular
culture. They know how frequently the shock effects of art can give rise to media moral
panics. In short, art school graduates, by virtue of the cultural and social
theory courses which have been a set part of the curriculum, have a keen understanding
of how social cultural and media worlds work, including their own role as artists
within these realms. This reflexivity is perhaps overlooked by the authors of
the NESTA Report, even though there are clear signs of such critical self-awareness
in the responses. Might government then be persuaded of the art schools as the
source of social, cultural and economic value and of livelihoods? Our argument
in relation to NESTA is that the vocabulary of innovation is something of a discursive
imposition. Where this might be applicable with graduates in design, in particular
industrial or product design, in this current context there is a mismatch between
the working lives of fine art graduates, and the economic presumptions of innovation.
Bauman, Zygmunt. The Individualised Society. Polity
Beck, Ulrich. Runaway Worlds. Talk delivered at the Runaway Worlds conference,
ICA, London, 1997.
Bishop, Claire. The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents. Artforum,
Bourdieu, Pierre. Sociology in Question. Sage, 1993.
Conditions of Creative Artists in Europe: Report from the EU Presidency in
Visby, Sweden 30 March-1 April 2001. Available at: http://www.eu2001.se/culture/eng/docs/report_visby.pdf#search=%22Conditions%20for%20Creative%20Artists%20in%20Europe%22
Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class and How Its Transforming
Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books, 2003.
Frith, Simon and Horne, Howard. Art into Pop. Methuen, 1987.
Garnham, Nicholas. From Cultural to Creative Industries. International
Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol.11, No.1, 2005.
Jones, Susan. Art Work in 2007. A-N, 2007. http://www.a-n.co.uk/jobs_and_opps/article/414458
Forkert, Kirsten. Artistic Labour and the Changing Nature of Work and Cities.
PhD thesis (forthcoming 2010), Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths,
University of London.
Oakley, Kate, Sperry, Brooke and Pratt, Andy. The Art of Innovation: How Fine
Arts Graduates Contribute to Innovation. NESTA, 2008.
Landry, Charles. The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. Earthscan,
Leadbeater, Charles. Living on Thin Air. Penguin Books, 2000.
Lester, R. and Piore, M. Innovation: The Missing Dimension. Harvard University
McRobbie, Angela. British Fashion Design: Rag Trade or Image Industry? Routledge,
Menger, Pierre-Michel. Artistic Labour Markets and Careers. Annual
Review of Sociology, 1999.
Robins, Kevin. Challenge of Transcultural Diversities Cultural Policy And
Cultural Diversity (Cultural Policies). Council of Europe, 2006.
Ross, Andrew. No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and its Hidden Costs. Temple
University Press, 2004.
Scullion, Adrienne and Garcia, Beatriz. What is Cultural Policy Research?. International
Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol.11, No.2, 2005.
Throsby, David and Hollister, Virginia. Dont Give Up Your Day Job: An
Economic Study of Professional Artists In Australia. Australia Council for
the Arts, 2003.
1. At this point in time, application to some undergraduate
art design programs do not require A-Levels and can be accessed through the BTEC
or other equivalent qualifications.
2. Forkert, Kirsten. Artistic Labour, and the Changing Nature of Work and
Cities. PhD Thesis, Department of Media and Communciations, Goldsmiths. Forthcoming
3. See A Critique of Creative Industries, organised by EIPCP and FRAME,
which took place in Helsinki 31.8-2.9.2006. http://eipcp.net/dlfiles/prog
4. Comedia used to undertake this kind of work, particularly with an emphasis
on urban culture, regeneration, employment etc but with less focus on technology
and industry, see Landry 2000.
5. See NESTAs website at http://www.nesta.org.uk/about-us/.
6. Joseph Alois Schumpeter was an economist and political scientist who popularised
the term creative destruction in economics, using it to describe
a process in which the old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and
replaced by new ways.
7. Oakley worked with Charles Leadbeater whose book Living on Thin Air (2000)
won the praise of the then PM Tony Blair, celebrated the entrepreneurial culture
and talent led economy, citing figures like celebrity cooks as exemplars.
8. They also post a survey questionnaire on the website for NESTA, Artquest and
the Artists Information Company (A-N).
9. Oakley, Sperry and Pratt: 2008: 12.
10. In Art Work in 2007, Susan Jones notes the growing role of public
art commissions as an income source for artists. See http://www.a-n.co.uk/jobs_and_opps/article/414458
11. See Jane Simpsons contribution to the 2001 EU report The Conditions
of Creative Artists in Europe available at: http://www.eu2001.se/culture/eng/docs/report_visby.pdf#search=%22Conditions%20for%20Creative%20Artists%20in%20Europe%22
Hunting, Fishing, & Shooting the Working Classes
With the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1984-85 miners
strike upon us a certain amount of attention rehashing and probably remystifying
that pivotal period in UK politics can be expected. Now consigned by the mainstream
media safely to the past, moreover, the strike seems fair game for packaging
in the heritage industrys procession of spectacles trivialising and sanitising
historical significance. Quite how it could be spun to suit New Labours
threadbare corporate Cool Britannia formulations remains to be seen especially
given the preceding demonisation of the miners as the enemy within.
True, local areas most affected at the time and since should prove less amenable
to such calumnies yet, for example, while the combination of living
history with nostalgia persists at the annual Durham Miners Gala
(albeit with dwindling attendances), this heartland of militant mining culture1
also hosts the original industrial theme park at nearby Beamish. Of course,
a wide range of more faithful records of the 1984-5 events also exist in the
public domain in the form of various archives and publications, but these tend
to be created by and for specific constituencies and rarely impinge on general
One exception is Jeremy Dellers artwork The Battle of Orgreave (2001),
involving a full-scale re-enactment of the iconic confrontation between pickets
and police at the South Yorkshire village and cokeworks. Mobilising massed
ranks of military hobbyists and remaining participants from both sides of the
June 1984 clash, Deller questioned the role of memory, documentation and media
in personal and national history2. But whatever value is ascribed to such enterprises,
questions of the legacy of the strike and the wider upheavals in
British society it exemplified had already entered the popular imagination
via cinematic treatments of the consequences of 1980s deindustrialisation.
Here the social-realist tradition continues to provide visual narratives which
take seriously the problems and possibilities of the everyday lives of ordinary
working-class people, based on purportedly accurate accounts of lived experience
which resist the commercial imperatives of more obviously recuperative genres
like soap operas and reality TV. Now, with the prospect of mass
unemployment again looming in addition to the working poor of increasingly
casualised, insecure work patterns and impoverishment of substantial swathes
of the population in the meantime it seems pertinent to take stock.
What follows sketches the patchy tradition of UK social-realism before considering
a particularly consistent exponent the Amber collective whose
40th anniversary is also this year.
The Ambiguous Real
British social-realist film-making originated in the 1930s documentary movements
desire for the cinema to play a positive role in society beyond entertainment
for profit. To its leading figure, John Grierson, the creative interpretation
of actuality allowed the scientific capture of living patterns beneficial
for state planning and control, educating those in charge and artistically
enhancing a public sense of national unity especially during the Second
World War. The paternalism, patronisation and elitism of this vision, along
with the intrusive middle-class voyeuristic tourism of Mass Observations
sociological-anthropological recording projects, still haunt the descendants
of these traditions3 who generally echo the humanist responses of Humphrey
Jennings and other documentary directors of the time that their aesthetic strategies
were supposed to represent the lives of the objects of the cameras gaze
so that the films belonged to those portrayed, who otherwise remained
Nevertheless, British realism sunk further into complacent conservatism in
the postwar welfare state consensus which did, however, permit fractions of
working-class youth into higher education and the cultural sector whereupon
a generation of Angry Young Men railed against the multiple alienations of
1950s mass bureaucratic society and consumerism. Meanwhile the international
success and acclaim of Italian neorealist cinemas tragic, monumental
portraits of lower-class characters transfixed in poverty helped prompt New
Waves across Europe including the highly successful Northern kitchen-sink films
of the 1960s which dramatised masculine dissatisfaction with the drudgeries
of home, community and working life5. Then, when the swinging sixties bewitched
subsequent domestic cinema and spawned countless avant-garde and countercultural
currents, socially-conscious film-makers like Ken Loach and Alan Clarke migrated
into hard-edged 1970s public service television drama, dissecting
the dark underbelly of the steadily unravelling social-democratic settlement
finally laid to rest by Thatcherism.
Amid widespread intellectual disorientation accompanying the Conservatives brutal
structural adjustments, 1980s British cinema is best characterised as predominantly
escapist whether to other times and places, or visiting the margins of
a political landscape where collective issues were rendered purely private
personal problems ripe for coercive managerial or therapeutic intervention
now that there was no such thing as society. Those film-makers
working within broadly realist paradigms heightened and twisted their characterisations
and narratives to surreal degrees; delved into dreams and fantasies searching
for the hope or pleasure apparently absent given prevailing conditions; and
sought hitherto neglected milieux whose position, identity or culture was sufficiently
visibly distinct from failing respectable lifestyles to offer novel routes
for aspiration and social mobility. Most of all, long-shunned but eternally
popular Hollywood genre conventions were resuscitated throughout the decade,
offering cautionary tales of individual transcendence to console progressive
film-makers and audiences alike.
Despite a welcome widening of perspectives from which experience might be considered authentic,
however, the 1980s postmodern play of commodified differences and stylistic
gymnastics couldnt indefinitely divert attention from intensifying economic
inequality and the persistemt chronic material deprivation of millions in the
1990s. Official discourse preferred fashionable sophistry concerning an abject underclass socially-self-excluded
from buying into credit-bubble consumerism, but established film-makers like
Loach and Mike Leigh emphatically reaffirmed the blatant continued salience
of social class, even if its co-ordinates were once again cut adrift from secure
wages6. Other more visually and structurally innovative films variously glossed
their honest miserabilism with surrealism (e.g. Trainspotting,
dir. Danny Boyle, 1995), expressionism (e.g. Nil By Mouth, dir. Gary
Oldman, 1997)7, or benefitting from New Labour rebranding heritage
nostalgia (e.g. Brassed Off, 1996, dir. Mark Herman) and sentimental
manipulation and wish-fulfilment (The Full Monty, dir. Peter Cattaneo,
19978; Billy Elliott, dir. Stephen Daldry, 2000), occasionally yielding
These trends have continued across the millennium, though with a few new directors
more confidently experimenting with social-realism, expression and genre in
the independent sector where funding is just as precarious as career
prospects elsewhere9. Often themselves from humble backgrounds witnessing the
damage to the social fabric, they tend to resist pandering to mainstream commercial/political/middle-class
archetypes by demonising or romanticising the contemporary lower-classes. Instead
more subtle and complex evocations of working-class social adaptation to hardship
grope for germs of the creative solidarity capable, one day, of providing a
basis for a decent workable future10. Paradoxically, unhinged from the heroic
dignified menace of mens industrial labour, latent questions of social
reproduction thus re-emerge from behind the means of production. And, as it
happens, Amber had already been seeking hope in the face of such adversity
in North East England, albeit less troubled by postmarxist and postmodernist
Ambers original collectivists moved from London to Newcastle in 1969
to document working-class culture by living among and working with and for
its inhabitants, and to record the areas embattled craft practices before
they finally vanished. Through various accidents and artful dodges they eventually
acquired city premises on the Tyne and set up a photographic gallery, workshops
and cinema. In addition to regularly organising international exhibitions,
the Side Gallery gradually established a unique and extensive photography collection but
the ideal for the groups own new work was maximal protracted immersion,
building consultative trust in communities or situations before filming there.
As well as yielding classic heroic documentary, experiments hybridising forms
and methods often well ahead of fashion provided greater range
and effectiveness11. The cultural work attracted links with various grass-roots
arts initiatives and often proceeded alongside activism and campaign work,
including sustained support for the 1984-5 miners strike12. But the desire
to merge wider concerns in less urgent contexts required painstaking long-term
commitment, and their feature-length documentary The Pursuit of Happiness (2008)13
would have showcased a family of travellers settled in County Durham exemplifying
Ambers attempted integration of life, work and friendship but
then changed course to commemorate the sudden death in 2007 of founder-member
The preservation for posterity of visual records of endangered forms of working
life now well-established, one impetus towards making full-length fictional
features was that narrative structure and film editing facilitate greater attention
to social dynamics among their subjects rather than just objectively placed
physical routines. Also, significant changes in the film-making funding environment
entailed the recently unveiled Channel 4 offering revenue support to regional
film workshops facilitated by an ACTT union deal Amber helped broker and
its commissioners were especially keen to screen new drama. So material documenting
a travellers camp gathering waste coal on a Northumbrian tideline was opportunistically
bolted onto a bare biographical storyline in 1985s Seacoal. This
was followed four years later by In Fading Lights more conventionally
cast and fully-scripted story of small-scale fisheries sailing from North Shields,
this time widening the ambit to knit together social intercourse among the
trawlers at sea with their home lives. Completing this more traditionally observational
strand, Eden Valley (1994) described the precarious existence of a County
Durham horse trainer in a haunting study of harsh landscape and natural rhythm
passing through a minimal father-son narrative arc.
Sensitively detailed and lyrically realised though these films are in chronicling
tenuous patterns of making ends meet, a sense of overdetermination is palpable in
the physical rigour of the activities involved and being circumscribed by arbitary
external forces and interests. Only the insertion of gender and generational
texture provides lines of flux to complicate and defy otherwise resolutely
static, backward-looking portrayals. Of course, Ambers photographic and
documentary film practice had always paid attention to the social networks
and community activities they observed around them even if hitherto
brought together only rather uneasily with the over-riding focus on labour
under the banner of working-class culture. But now again partly due
to circumstance fictional explorations of the impact of economic adversity
on family and community cohesion assumed centre-stage, with the specificities
of subsistence modes increasingly framed with merely a contributory, if still
baleful, role in ensembles of social reproduction. This cycle started with Dream
On (1991) following a group of women on a North Shields sink estate finding
renewed strength in mutual support, mobilising the cathartic potential of shared
fears and fantasies to overcome personal and collective trauma.
Perhaps predictably, this film risked romanticising the magical resilience
of womens social labour counterposed to the pathos of mens lost
breadwinning grandeur a schematic segregation partly mitigated by adroit
comic and carnivalesque elements (and painfully wooden dream sequences). In
the subsequent East Durham trilogy the temptations of wishful thinking are
resisted by hinging narrative poignancy on the conflictual ambivalence of family
and friendship ties in a local community wrecked by the withdrawal of its economic
bedrock. Emerging from Ambers long-term Coalfield Stories accumulating
images, stories and ideas from residents in and around the Easington area (where Eden
Valley was also set), these organically connected films represent alternate
perspectives on the same situation. The Scar (1997) centres on a former
activist in the Women Against Pit Closures group as elsewhere, crucial
to nourishing the miners local base and propagandising further afield.
Her family left broken and bereft after the strikes defeat, an appetite
for life is revived by an affair with the manager of the private opencast which
replaced the deep mine (providing a small fraction of its jobs), but shes
unable to stomach the selfish consumerism and antisocial isolation of the future
she foresees and neither can he then accept the cynical corporate agenda
hes asked to serve.
Though tantalising viewers with the prospect of oversimplistic romantic closure, The
Scar refuses Dream Ons arguably easy options.
Like Father (2001) further muddies waters by juggling the contrasting predicaments
of three generations of a single family. The grandfather holds onto his beloved
pigeon loft earmarked for compulsory demolition for leisure sector development,
while his estranged son also a former miner juggles self-exploitation
teaching and composing music but lacks the resources to sustain his marriage.
He might carve out breathing space with a local council contract but
only by persuading the old man to cave in. Meanwhile his young son grapples
with late childhoods gamut of dilemmas, but even without Attention Deficit
would struggle to glimpse coherent guidance on how to grow from the role-model
muddle around him. But as separately tortured trajectories intersect, private
pain, anger and confusion are woven back into mutual concern, averting irreversibly
violent resolution. And, though less straightforwardly than in The Scar,
the tentative outcome again revolves around attitudes converging, refusing
to concede their futures to external institutional agendas whose exploitative
corporate whims are felt as personal insults on top of earlier grievous injury.
Like Father also marked a decisive departure in casting non-actors in
all the leading roles whose own life-histories closely paralleled their characters,
producing convincing acting and boosting the denouements credibility. Shooting
Magpies (2005) trumped this innovation by additionally translating the
real-life relationship between the two main actors into the plot even
including their testimony direct to camera examining the most depressed
neighbourhoods where drug addictions ramifications ripple out, colliding
with other survival strategies and raising questions of collective and individual
obligation. A young mother strives one last time to help wean her partner off
heroin with the help of a friend who is himself a single father shielding his
son from delinquency. But his altruistic motives prompt lapses of judgement
which could prove suicidal metaphorically in terms of local respect,
and physically in an environment where summary justice accompanies slights
real or imagined. While she finally admits defeat, and manages to move on,
his fate is left hanging and the harsher brightness of the digital video
filming accentuates the unpromising choices available in a story where, for
every advance for one character, anothers downfall beckons. Yet, despite
tragedy looming on all sides, generosity, tenderness and goodwill persist in
generating the possibility of avoiding surrender to the war of all against
What distinguishes Ambers cinematic practice from conventional social-realism
is scrupulous engagement with their subjects to generate content and texture,
rather than parachuting in to exploit indigenous resources for externally pre-defined
purposes. Relationships are built after approaching a community and offering
their craft skills, subsequently drawing on those found and their surrounding
cultural patterns. From images, interactions and interviews collected, stories
lending themselves to dramatic treatment develop in active collaboration with
local people whose feedback reinforces authenticity measured by their responses.
However, despite following the axiom that artists should bracket their own
concerns to reveal those of the community in which they work14, Ambers
films demonstrate two related sets of contradictions. These concern the material
grounds upon which they enter the lives of target networks exactly how
outsiders become insiders and the interpersonal co-ordinates within
which film narratives then emerge. But while compromising the transparency
of the final output in both its social and realist dimensions, these problematics
also help explain the genres and Ambers continuing
powerful fertility as well as illustrating its inherent political ambivalence.
Alienated from traditional proletarian backgrounds after bourgeois betterment
via higher education, reconnection has in effect been sought with the lost
social anchorings of group members own family and class heritage. An
ensuing celebratory nostalgia projectively identifies with organic settings
where apparently objective, culturally-fused reflections of economic and geographic
conditions nevertheless eternally melt into air in the march of progress.
Furthermore the bulk of the contemporary lower-classes are left behind in favouring
marginal milieux less afflicted by contemporary respectability and consumerism but
here the confusing multi-hybridity of class and cultural influences already
saturating the film-makers biography can also be more readily disavowed.
Yet their relatively privileged modern lifestyle choices are mystified within
the plots into the arbitrary exigencies of necessity confounding passionate
relations between characters whose natural discovery of
new environments is the fictional alibi for poring over them15. To varying
degrees, therefore, the dynamics behind the film narratives are driven as much
by resonances with the artists personal issues as the real situations
of those depicted and, as righteous criticisms of documentary method
and ethnographic bias emphasise, the credibility of observational detachment
is inexorably undermined by such compelling hidden agendas.
Just as inevitably, the economic underpinnings and corollaries of the films development
and production are also disguised in their manifest content. For example, the
groups approach has usually entailed direct financial intervention to
buy physical infrastructure16. Seen as supplementary tools of the trade this
certainly reinforces their credible seriousness, but also sets precedents of
inequitable patronage in dealings with locals lacking the wherewithal to solve
problems this way. Indeed, questions of property ownership in the narratives
usually represent agonising all-or-nothing life-changing decisions rather than
strategic investment options while characters representing big money
and associated power tend to be our heroes unequivocal nemeses. Similarly,
the funding for community photography or other documentary projects whose
output later feeds into the films often originates in local government
or other insitutional remits. This implicates the film-makers in hierarchical
circuits of influence which again militate against the clarity of horizontal
mutual exchanges among equals, and further implies selective local engagement
with those individuals more amenable to such external pressures or able to
realistically afford public exposure and official oversight.
All these inconveniences corrupt the impossible humble humanism of Ambers
ideals, leaving the results open to the weighty objections levelled at documentary
genres and realism in general and social-realist cinema in particular. But
the shortcomings cited here could never begin to be tackled in mainstream cinematic
apparatuses since storylines, settings, characters, scripts and outcomes
are fixed so long in advance according to the supposed superior wisdom (or
stupidity) of their vanguards of production variously incorporating discourses
of power and the bottom lines of capital. Little more than duplicitous lip-service
is typically paid to any deeper correspondence with lower-class experience,
whereas Ambers wilful autonomy and extreme care and patience bring such
issues to the surface. In a sense, the process they embark on in their artistic
sphere to get each low-budget film made mirrors, however inadvertently and
partially, the conjunctures routinely faced by social strata who lack the clout
to assert their own interests requiring the mobilisation of the fullest
range of resources available, however tainted, to prise as much personal and
communal benefit and meaning as possible from conditions imposed from outside.
So the real secret of Ambers success may lie squarely in their collective
ethos, putting their own integrity genuinely on the line to nurture and maintain
intimate intercourse with others and to share the results. As Murray Martins
motto the informal manifesto of the whole group has it: Integrate
life and work and friendship. Dont tie yourself to institutions. Live
cheaply and youll remain free. And, then, do whatever it is that gets
you up in the morning.
1. Whose more forward-looking manifestations include
an engagement with last years Climate Camp and subsequent debate: see
John Cunningham, A Climatic Disorder? [review of] Class,
Climate Change and Clean Coal the Climate Campers and the Unions conference,
Newcastle upon Tyne, 1 November 2008 (www.metamute.org). Also commemorating
the 1984-5 strike is a Working Class Bookfair organised by Tyneside
IWW and others to be held at the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields,
Tyne & Wear, 14th March, 11am-4pm. Involved in both initiatives is Dave
Douglass, former NUM branch official, whose Pit Sense Versus the State (Phoenix
Press, 1994) is one of the most clear-sighted explanations of the miners radicalism.
2. A feature-length television documentary directed by Mike Figgis about the
event was broadcast on Channel 4 on 20th October 2002. Dellers own catalogue
of the work was published by commissioners Artangel in The English Civil
War Part II: Personal Accounts of the 1984-85 Miners Strike (ed.
G. Van Noord); see also a comprehensive discussion by Alice Correia in Interpreting
Jeremy Dellers The Battle of Orgreave, Visual Culture
in Britain, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.93-112, 2006. For blunt firsthand analyses
of the strikes policing and media coverage, see Dave Douglass, Come
and Wet This Truncheon and Tell Us Lies About the Miners, ASP/DAM, 1986.
And for a powerful relevant literary fictionalisation, see David Peaces
GB84 (Faber 2004) whose previous bitter Yorkshire noir cycle
is adapted for television in Channel 4s Red Riding trilogy this
3. For an interesting comparison in the field of social documentary photography,
see Darren Newbury, Telling Stories About Photography: The Language and
Imagery of Class in the Work of Humphrey Spender and Paul Reas, Visual
Culture in Britain, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.69-88, 2001. For an exhaustive treatment
of documentary photography, see John Roberts, The Art of Interruption: Realism,
Photography and the Everyday, Manchester University Press, 1998.
4. A useful historical summary up to the 1990s can be found in Samantha Lay,
British Social Realism: From Documentary to Brit Grit, Wallflower, 2002.
5. Cf. John Hill, Sex, Class and Realism, BFI, 1986.
6. See Roger Bromley, The Theme That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Class and
Recent British Film, in Sally R. Munt (ed.), Cultural Studies and
the Working Class: Subject to Change, Cassell, 2000.
7. In Reimagining the Working Class: From Riff-Raff To Nil
By Mouth (in Sheila Rowbotham & Huw Beynon, eds., Looking
At Class, Rivers Oram Press, 2001), Kerry William Purcell considers the
films alongside contemporary visualisations of social class in the photography
of Paul Graham and Nick Waplington; whereas Glenn Creebers Cant
Help Lovin Dat Man: Social Class and the Female Voice in Nil
By Mouth (in Munt, note 6) interprets its erosion of male perspective
in terms of previous social-realist cinema.
8. Jill Marshall also discusses shifting gender relations after deindustrialisation
in Going For the Full Monty: Comedy, Gender and Power, Visual
Culture in Britain, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.31-48, 2000.
9. For example, Carine Adler, Pawel Pawlikowski, Lynne Ramsay, Shane Meadows,
Penny Woolcock, Kenny Glenaan and Andrea Arnold, among others.
10. Such cinematic contrasts of violence and conviviality are recurring globally,
with rich parochial inflections in France (e.g. Guédiguian, Kechiche),
Belgium (Dardenne brothers) and Romania; in Argntina, Brazil and Mexico and
even further North (John Sayles).
11. Including dramatised sequences within investigative documentary, as with
1960s de facto Newcastle mayor orchestrating his rotten borough in T. Dan
Smith (1987). For levels of resonance achieved, see, for example, founder-member
Sirkka-Lisa Konttinens tapestries of public communal cement in Bykers
(1983) pre-slum-clearance back-to-backs, Step By Steps (1985)
North Shields dance school, and The Writing In The Sands (1991)
windswept Northumbrian beach playgrounds.
12. Setting up a Current Affairs Unit to co-ordinate work for the NUM and the
strikes public face. Previous campaign work had included preserving part
of Newcastles historic Quayside (where their operations are based), and
earlier solidarity at Vickers Armstrong in Scotswood at the request of the
stewards convenor there. Protracted later involvement with an ex-mining
community also yielded, among other things, the recent fiction films.
13. Which received a television premiere on Channel 4s More4, 10th December
2008. Full details and summaries of Amber/Side projects, exhibitions, photographic
resources and film productions, including VHS, DVD and print publications,
can be found at www.amber-online.com. Interviews with Amber members giving
insights into their intentions and motivations can be found in The Pursuit
of Happiness and also in: Huw Beynon, Documentary Poet [interview
with Murray Martin], in Rowbotham & Beynon, Looking At Class (see
note 7); Neil Young, Forever Amber: An Interview With Ellin Hare and
Murray Martin of Amber Collective, Critical Quarterly, Vol. 43,
No. 4, pp.61-80, 2001; Darren Newbury, Documentary Practices and Working-class
Culture: An Interview With Murray Martin (Amber Films and Side Photographic
Gallery), Visual Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp.113-128, 2002; and
Jack Newsinger, Together We Stand [interview with Graeme Rigby], Vertigo magazine,
No. 11, August 2007.
14. Inspired by R.G. Collingwoods liberal-humanist idealist philosophy
in The Principles of Art, 1938.
15. As a desperate housewife flees spousal abuse to Lynemouth (Seacoal);
a daughter mends fences with her ships captain father (In Fading Light),
or an Irish wise-woman doesnt with her publican son (Dream On);
a juvenile delinquent seeks sanctuary with his absent dad (Eden Valley);
a working-class lad made good fails as management material (The Scar);
a self-employed community worker juggles family and career (Like Father);
and an ex-youth worker mentors others but risks losing himself (Shooting
16. Such as purchasing a caravan and horse in Northumberland; then a trawler
and pub (both fully-functioning) in North Tyneside; and then acres of land,
more horses and buildings in East Durham.
The Toughest Man in Cairo
vs The Zionist Vegetable
According to my old neighbor, Kamal Hanafi, the vegetables
in Israel are huge and good for only one thing. The cucumbers, he
exclaimed, eyes lighting up, are this longhe stretched his
hands more than a foot apart. They are this widehe made a
circle with his two hands. And they taste like shit, all chemicals and
unnatural fertilizers. He spat. No one can eat vegetables that
disgusting. The only people who use them are the women, who sit like thishe
spread his legs to demonstrate. And the men, of course. The invisible
cucumber in his hands jabbed sharply up. And now theyre sending
their vegetables to Egypt to fuck us all.
Kamal could see it. A flood of Israeli vegetables, inundating the Egyptian
market, washing away the old dream of agricultural self-sufficiency. More pernicious
still: the image of oversized Zionist produce coming for his two young daughters.
Kamal was very concerned with what his children put in their mouths. It
is difficult to keep them pure, he complained, before listing the few
shops that still sold untainted greens from Umm AlDunya.
But it wasnt just the vegetables. In the years since Sadats policy
of infitah liberalized the Egyptian economy, delectable imports have
come dancing through the open door to tempt the girls of Egypt. It began with
foreign banks, foreign aid, and joint ventures with Xerox, Colgate-Palmolive,
and Ford; and it culminated in a torrent of chocolates from Hersheys
and Nestl?, as well as Dove Bars, Lays potato chips, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi,
acidwash jeans, waffles, bikinis, rap music, exercise videos, Britney Spears,
If he had a son, things would be easier. But Kamal has not been so lucky. Hes
been trying to have a son for years. He tries every night, he told me, but
all his wife has given him are girls he will lose one day to a wet t-shirt
contest and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in Sharm el Sheikh.
My friendship with the Hanafi family was my proudest accomplishment in Cairo.
Kamal, his wife, and his two daughters lived just down the hall in my building,
a notso- solidly middle-class apartment complex in Sayyida Zeinab. Kamal was
an old friend of my Arabic teacher and, soon after I moved in, I began an aggressive
charm offensive. In the afternoons, I came back from my job editing English
translations and stopped by their apartment for tea, practicing my Arabic with
Kamal while the two girls practiced their English with me. I made a point of
bringing them tasteful and conservative gifts (Egyptian-made, of course). Colored
pencils, expensive stationary, pale white dolls with long, knotty hair and
ugly lace dresses. I sat with Kamal day after day and held my chin thoughtfully
through long lectures on the dangers of foreign involvement in Middle Eastern
affairs. One day, after polishing off a plate of kunaffa, I criticized the
idea of US intervention in Darfur.
It is an Arab problem, I said. And the Arab League can solve
it. The United States is treating Sudan like Iraqa staging ground for imperial
Kamal nodded, gazing approvingly at me through his large square bifocals. From
then on, he had his daughters refer to me as Uncle. I had succeeded.
I had friends.
My conquest was not complete, however. I could not, and never would, win over
Kamals wife. Rania taught literature in an adjunct capacity at one of
the universities in town. I would ask her about Arabic literature and poetry,
about her classes, her family, politics, movies she was never anything
but cordial, but there was something about the perfunctory way she answered
my questions that made me think she was wary of my presence.
She had cause to be wary. Soon after he declared me an honorary Arab, Kamal
embarked on a courtship of his own. It began with a series of quiet taps on
my door. It must have been sometime after two in the morning, and I was lying
in bed, neither awake nor asleep, paralyzed by the heat and a nameless anxiety.
The taps sounded like Morse code. An SOS? I tiptoed to the door and looked
through the peephole. I saw Kamals face, stretched and distorted, peering
back at me. I opened the door. Kamal was wearing his pajamas. He was barefoot.
And he was holding a trembling pack of Cleopatra Superluxsuper, because
they came in an extra-wide hard pack; lux, because they were extra-long.
I asked him if something was wrong.
He shook his head, no.
I asked him if he wanted to come in.
He showed himself to my couch and sat down, placing the pack of cigarettes
on the coffee table. He had something to ask me, he said, and he didnt
want me to take it the wrong way.
He wanted me to blow smoke in his face.
I looked at the cigarettes and hesitated. It was an odd request. I didnt
smoke. Even in Cairo, where everybody smoked, I had only ever gone in for melon-flavored
shisha, and even then I hadnt really inhaled, secreting the perfumed
smoke in my cheek.
I explained this to him, slightly chagrined.
Ah, but he wasnt asking me to smoke! He used to smoke two packs a day,
he said, back before he got married. His wife had made him promise to quit,
and he had. But he still liked the smell, and I wouldnt have to inhale.
He looked very innocent on the couch, with his thick bifocals and his pajamas
and his black dress socks, and I didnt mind the smell of smoke, either,
so I agreed.
I sat on the couch with Kamal and tore the plastic off the cigarette pack.
The couch was a gift from my boss, an ancient, leonine woman who had grown
up in the days of King Farouk, drank gin straight, and muttered angrily under
her breath at the sight of muhajabahs.
She must have been very fashionable in her twenties, which was when she bought
the couch. It was faux- French, with dark green fabric in a paisley pattern.
There were cherubic faces on the wooden backrest, carved in bas-relief, blowing
whorls of wind from pursed lips.
Over the decades, a rusty spring had cut its way through the center of the
couch. Six inches of jagged metal wobbled between Kamal and me. Ive never
been very good with matches, Im afraid, and I had trouble lighting the
cigarette. Each failed attempt added to a small mountain of matches on the
table and a stench of sulfur in the air.
Finally, it caught. The cigarette flared as the paper started to burn, and
I carefully drew a cloud of smoke into my mouth. I held my breath and leaned
in, over the paisley print and the exposed spring, within inches of Kamals
expectant face. He had removed his glasses for the occasion. I could see the
pores on his skin, the light razor burn on his left cheek, the mustard-colored
stains on his incisors, a testament to years of heavy smoking and poor oral
hygiene. I thought he would close his eyes, or at least look away, but he stared
right at me: I noticed for the first time that his light brown irises were
speckled with flecks of gold. Then I exhaled, releasing a stream of smoke that
traveled in a long, unbroken line before curling up into his nostrils. The
scent of his cologne mixed with the bitterness of the tobacco. Kamal threw
his head back, his eyelids fluttered, his upper lip quivered, and his cheeks
hollowed as he sucked away in my direction.
Somehow I had not noticed the awkwardness of the whole scene until that very
moment. I busied myself with the cigarette and the ashtray in an attempt to
hide the mixture of embarrassment and amusement I felt at Kamals evident
After Id stubbed out what remained of the cigarette, Kamal relaxed into
the couch. He spoke wistfully about his life before Rania, when hed spent
nearly all his time chain-smoking with his old friend Wagdi Lewis. If smoke
represented freedom, Wagdi and Kamal had spent the 1980s liberating Egypt.
Kamal chuckled as he described the quantities of tobacco they burnedfields
of tobacco as wide as the Sahara and as tall as the pyramids.
It wasnt just cigarettes, though. There were modest amounts of alcohol,
as well, and some (wink wink) hashish. And there were politics. Wagdi was a
secular leftist, and so deeply principled as to exert a gravitational force
on those around him. He easily indoctrinated Kamal, who recounted with pride
tales of Wagdis struggle with the corrupt Egyptian government and its
foreign backers. Unlike Kamal, who retreated into a stultifying world of domesticity,
Wagdi remained politically engaged. Even after starting a family, he had spent
five years in prison for attempting to stockpile explosives. Wagdi had changed
in only one way: hed quit smoking. Not because anyone told him to, but
because even homegrown Cleopatras were no longer 100 percent Egyptian.
In Kamals Egypt there were four types of men. There were the men over
fifty, who were castrated by the events of 1967, and those under thirty, who
suckled on the weak milk of Lebanese music videos; between them was Kamals
own generation, men who had seceded from society to create inviolable nation-states
of their families. And then there was Wagdi, a category unto himself, the toughest
man in Cairo, a superman who did not know the meaning of the word defeat.
The night ended as abruptly as it began. Kamal issued a brief but vitriolic
attack on USAID. He made fun of my sneakers. He looked around the living room
of my apartment and told me I needed a woman to take care of me. Then he stood
up, thanked me for my hospitality, and tiptoed down the hallway to his wife
Our secret relationship went on like this for monthsthe nocturnal visitations,
the secondhand smoke, the stories about Wagdi. Every few days at one or another
inappropriate hour, Kamal would knock softly but insistently until I woke up
and let him in. Sometimes I tried to stay up to wait for him, but his comings
were unpredictable. He would probably have come every night if he could have,
but he had a whole series of deliberate precautions, designed to hide his perfidy
from his family, and after a while I just accepted it. I still stopped by Kamals
apartment after work sometimes, but less than before; I resented the pretense,
the highly mannered welcome Rania gave me when I came in, the hungry look in
Kamals eyes when I left.
One afternoon I stopped by the Hanafis to drop off a plate of sweets my coworker
had given me; it was more than I could eat myself. The door was open, and I
stood at the entrance for a moment without announcing myself. Kamal and Rania
were having an argument. She wasnt blind to Kamals indiscretions.
Admit it, I heard her saying. Youve been smoking again.
I can tell. You go out at all hours of morning and then come sneaking home, washing
your hair in the dark.
Its the foreigner who smokes, Kamal said. His voice sounded
desperate. He is Hindu, from America. They have terrible habits. And
then, self-righteously, I have never smoked.
This is just like the Wagdi situation. Your friends are a terrible influence
But I stopped seeing Wagdi...
And you will stop seeing this man, too.
But he is a foreigner! He has no family, no friends.
He is not to come into our house.
Darling, dont do this, Kamal pleaded. I couldnt take
it anymore. I left the sweets by the door and crept away, feeling sick to my
I was the bad influence? Two months into our relationship, Id become
an addict. I had begun to smoke on my own, squirreling away a pack of Marlboro
Reds in my bedroom where Kamal wouldnt find them. I had started inhaling.
And I... well, I didnt have many friends, actually, but I didnt
need to hear about it from Kamal, and I certainly didnt need his pity.
A week later I heard the familiar tap-tap-tap on my door. I lay in bed, ignoring
it, hoping he would go away. But he kept drumming his fingers, and despite
myself I let him in and once more acted out the ritual. Looking nervous, he
asked where Id been, why I hadnt come by his apartment. I told
him Id been busy. I couldnt bring myself to tell him Id overheard
their conversation, and he couldnt bring himself to tell me not to come
by. We had achieved a kind of equilibrium. I mostly stopped listening to the
stories he told, chain-smoking the time away till he was done. His visits became
less frequent his precautions had become still more elaborate, I guess.
One night Kamal appeared at my door in a state of extraordinary agitation.
I was already smoking; in fact, I was marinating in smoke.
He sat down next to me. My wife is leaving tomorrow, he said. She
was going to Beni Suef, to visit her family. Freedom, he sighed.
Then he leaned across the metal spring and put his hand on my arm. I
need your help, he said, his voice dropping conspiratorially.
Sure, I responded. I was mesmerized by the smokes languorous
ascent through the air to my ceiling. My dignity and I had parted ways some time
ago. I probably would have agreed to anything.
He had made plans to see his old friend Wagdi. The toughest man in Cairo, remember?
I nodded. It was to be a reunion of sorts. He wished I could meet him, he said,
but it was not in my destiny; I had my own, very important, role to play. He
needed me to watch his daughters while he was out.
I saw it all in my mind right then, the whole arc of our relationship: my courtship
of Kamal and his family, Kamals courtship of me. Kamals betrayal
of me. And now, suddenly, my betrayal of Kamal. My hand shook. They can
stay in my apartment, I promised, hoping my voice did not betray my excitement. It
will give me great pleasure to welcome your daughters, I said, in exceedingly
When he left, I lay in bed, sweating through my sheets. It was a hot night,
and it was almost impossible to sleep. I lit cigarette after cigarette and
stared at the light cast on my ceiling by the street lamps outside. I woke
up covered in ash.
My recollection of the next day is hazy, filtered as it is through my guilty
conscience. I remember running to the corner store and the look on the cashiers
face at the sum I spent. I remember slowing my sprint to a walk when I passed
a security officer, as though he could see my intentions or, worse, what was
in the bags I was carrying. I remember closing my curtains because the sunlight
hurt my eyes. And I remember hearing Kamals familiar knock at an unfamiliar
time of day. He stood in the hallway, dressed in a suit, with his hands on
his daughters heads.
Good morning, he said, beaming.
The girls must have sensed something was wrong. They looked into my dark, drab
apartment with trepidation. Kamal was oblivious. Go on, my ladies. Uncle
will take care of you today. He noticed the cigarette in my fingers and
said something vaguely disapproving, but he hurried away with a wave before
I could respond. The girls filed in, reluctantly.
I should say that my intentions were not evil. I did not intend to hurt the
girls. They were merely pawns in a game their father had set in motion. I swallowed
hard. Sit down over there, I said, gesturing toward the couch with my cigarette
hand. I told them not to be frightened, that we were going to have a special
English lesson, that we were going to have a good time together. Ash fell on
the floor as I spoke, my hands moving dramatically with my words. Were
going to play now, I said, smiling.
I was calm at the time, but in retrospect I must have seemed kind of crazy.
I was dimly aware of how things must have looked through their eyes: the precipitous
ceiling fan and the bare light bulb, the couch with its rusty spring, the bizarre
cherub carvings, the spinning shadows. I saw myself: wild-eyed and disheveled,
shouting things in English, waving my arms in the air while holding a lit cigarette.
The older girl, Reem, held a protective arm around her sister Haneen, who looked
like she was about to cry. I wanted to stophonestly, I didbut I
couldnt. Their fear made me feel crazier. Is this what it feels like
to be dangerous, I wondered? Well, then, I was dangerous. I was Dracula, bizarrely
accented creature of shadow. I was Shaitan, my apartment a trap for the unwary.
I was Hindu, my gods many and many-armed, my habits terrible. I was the darkness,
the ugliest American, the lord of imports. I was the terrible Zionist vegetable.
My glasses slipped down my nose. I pushed them back up with a talon.
Ill be right back, I said. Dont move! The girls looked at each
other in fear. I returned with the plastic bags from the corner store and placed
them on the coffee table. Whats in the bags? I asked them
in English. They didnt respond. What do you think is in the bags? I
asked again, in Arabic this time, pointing at one especially bulky bag. Nothing.
I cleared my throat and was all set to ask them again when I realized that
with each question, spittle was leaking from the corners of my mouth. I was
foaming. The girls were trembling. This had to stop. I had to stop it. So I
jumped up, took hold of the bulkiest bag and turned it upside down. Suddenly,
the table was covered in... chocolatescandies cookiescrackerschipssicecream-deliciousness!
MERRY CHRISTMAS, I bellowed in English. The girls were in shock. MERRY CHRISTMAS,
I shouted again. Reem stopped crying and Haneen looked slightly less anxious.
I yelled again, louder this time: MERRY CHRISTMAS! I pulled open a box of Raisinets
and threw them in the air, laughing as the American chocolate rained down upon
us. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
Amazingly, all of the tension disappeared. Reem replied Merry Christmas rather
matter-of-factly and smiled, and Haneen rolled her eyes. Pretty soon we were
all sitting on the floor, tearing open candy wrappers and eating bite-size
Snickers bars. I taught them to say candy bar and ice cream and whatchamacallit. After
a little while they asked if we could have music, and the girls went through
my MP3s. They jumped around the tiny room, mouthing the sounds to Britney Spears
songs. I helped them. It was a fine English lesson. Then they developed a synchronized
dance for Im a Slave 4 U, spinning until they fell giggling
and flailing into twin nests of discarded candy wrappers.
Get it get it get it get! they laughed.
I started to feel self-conscious. Maybe we should be quieter, I
said. Reem smiled a gigantic smile. I mean it. Lets make this our
secret, OK? We should be careful.
Aiwa! They agreed. Secret!
But we werent careful enough. I lost track of time, and when the door
to my apartment opened without warning, the girls were spinning madly again,
mouths smeared with chocolate and nougat. I was clapping my hands out of time,
pausing occasionally to toss candy wrappers in the air like confetti. It took
us all a moment to register Kamals dark, angry face in the doorway. I
tried to sweep the candy wrappers under the cherub couch with my foot. Its
not what it looks like, I stammered. Its nothing. I was teaching
Kamal grabbed his daughters by the wrists. Haram aleik! he yelled
at me. You have betrayed me! He turned and slammed the door, leaving
me standing alone, Britney Spears still playing on the laptop, a half-eaten
Dove Bar melting in my hand.
Kamal never forgave me. And there remained a part of me that wished things
had ended on a more graceful note. After our mutual betrayal, our shared hallway
continued to reverberate with ill feelings, and at any other time of my life
I might have dreaded leaving my apartment on the off-chance I might encounter
him or his family. But thanks to Kamal, I was a changed man. I was shameless.
I wore shorts in the hallway and t-shirts in the street. I smoked a pack a
day. I started drinking. And whats more, I was obsessed with Wagdi Lewis.
One tale in particular fascinated me. Kamal and I had been driving from the
airport to our apartment building. I was returning from a short visit to the
United States and had thought it very kind of him to make the hour-long drive
on my behalf. When I came out of the terminal, luggage in hand, I looked around
to find Kamal standing by his car, a gleam in his eyes and a pack of cigarettes
in his hand. He had missed me.
On the drive home, Kamal refused to open a window. I puffed and he vicariously
inhaled until I grew dizzy and Kamal, drunk off the smoke, began de-claiming. The
toughest man in Cairo, he announced, and I knew what was coming. One
time in the 1980s, Kamal told me as he pulled his rusty Fiat into a gas
station, when Sadat was in power and everyone was being arrested all
over again, the police tied Wagdi to a chair and beat him with their fists
until the chair broke. Then they took the chair and tore the legs off and beat
him with the legs of the chair. I tried putting the cigarette out in
the cars ashtray. Kamal intercepted it and began waving it up and down
in a chopping motion to demonstrate the violence of the torture. And
after they broke the legs of the chair on his body, the police looked down
at Wagdi Lewis, lying on the concrete floor of the police station in a pool
of blood. There were splinters everywhere. They squatted down and yelled at
him. Are you ready to talk? they yelled. And you know what happened? Kamal
stopped and stared intently at me, like I was one of the cops. His eyes were
wide and distorted behind his thick lenses. Nothing. Nothing happened.
He was asleep. Snoring. Kamal rolled down the window and tossed the cigarette
out onto the ground of the gas station. I cringed. Now thats courage, he
Maybe he was right. Maybe that was courage and not just psychological trauma.
All I knew now was that I wanted to meet this man who had yawned in the face
of torture. I wanted to see just how tough he was, how strict his principles
were. If they were anything like Kamals, I was pretty sure I could break
Finding the toughest man in Cairo was remarkably easy. My Arabic tutor knew
him and arranged a meeting: 3:30, Saturday afternoon, Midan Orabi. Deciding
what to wear was more difficult. I initially thought about wearing my suit,
the same one Id worn to meet Naguib Mahfouz a month earlier, but thought
better of it. A suit was meant to impress, or, at least, to insinuate. I wanted
to intimidate. I found my most shameful possession, a shirt so embarrassing
I had repressed its existence by wadding it into a ball and burying it in the
deepest crevice of my bureau.
The shirt belonged to my father. Hed bought it when he came to visit
me, during a trip to the beaches of Dahab, on the Red Sea. Id lied and
told Kamal we were going to Aswan, to see the treasures of ancient Egypt. I
knew that if I told him the truth he would scoff. Prostitutes and Israelis,
he always said, those were the only things that existed in Dahab. He was wrong:
There were shirtless Australians as well, and a class of Egyptian salesman
evolved specifically to seduce my father. They called my dad Amitabh Bachchan,
and he was flattered; he thanked them in Hindi, and they complimented his Arabic.
Within hours of our arrival, my dad, giddy with the attention and the power
of the dollar, had bought three t-shirts, two with a camel and a pyramid, and,
more humiliatingly, a third emblazoned with an image of the Stella beer label.
He wore the shirt for the weekend. He wore it proudly, smiling and waving every
time someone would yell Hey, Mr Stella as he walked past.
I pulled the t-shirt on and stood in my bathroom in front of the mirror. I
rehearsed talking points to my reflection: The war in Iraq, I said, was necessary
to disturb the unproductive stasis of Arab politics. I turned so I could look
at myself in profile. Opening the Egyptian markets to foreign goods was necessary
to shock a stagnant economy into action. I sucked in my stomach. It was Hayek
who said it best. Or Milton Friedman. I shrugged. It didnt matter. Liberal
interventionism would trump Oriental despotism.
I was ready.
I arrived early for our meeting. Wagdi was two hours late. I waited for him
in a coffee shop and got a table in the center, strategically located underneath
a ceiling fan and next to a giant plastic bust of Umm Kulthum. Her impressive
head gazed impassively at the hordes of teenagers roaming outside. Most of
them were playing Amr Diab ringtones on their phones and sweating; others were
buying bodybuilding magazines and tabloids with news about Hollywood celebrities
from a group of old men who seemed to despise their customers as much as their
wares. I had a hard time knowing what Umm Kulthum was thinking. Each lens of
her iconic sunglasses was the size of my face. I dont think she was happy
with what she saw.
It was warm in the coffee shop, and I dozed off. A rough hand on my shoulder
woke me up. It was Wagdi. His broad, ugly, pockmarked face was inches away
from mine. He smiled.
Sleepy Mr Stella, he said. He roared with laughter.
I looked down at my watch. I guess I should have assumed, I said,
as coldly as possible, that everything in this country will be two hours
Wagdi seemed stung by my insult, which boded well for the afternoon ahead.
He apologized and promised to make it up to me by giving me a walking tour
of Cairo I would never forget. Outside, Wagdi grabbed a poorly dressed sheb
by the shoulder and pointed to a large sweat stain on the mans underarm. Thats
where we are. And that... He ran a thick and calloused finger along the
mans sternum, following the outline of his slightly distended belly. That
is the Nile.
Whatever advantage I might have gained with my putdown was lost in this disturbing
That makes his stomach Zamalek, laughed one of the old men who sold
newspapers off a mat made of newspapers. Our human map wriggled like a fish caught
on a hook.
Well head here first, Wagdi pointed at a small island of sweat
that had accumulated, oddly, below the mans left nipple. The Mugamma.
So, whats that, then? The old news man pointed to the mans
back, soaked with sweat, the sopping, nearly transparent fabric outlined by a
thin, white line of salt. I thought it looked like the African continent. Wagdi
thought it looked like Israel, which was, after all, behind everything. Were
not going there, he laughed. He let the kid go.
Wagdi ploughed his way through the crowded streets of Cairo. I followed in
his wake and tried to keep up as people scattered before his intimidating bulk.
As we walked he told me about his life. He was born in Shubra, to a poor Coptic
family with too many children; his dad was a butcher; he was precociously literate;
he went to Cairo University in the mid 1970s, where he was politicized, secularized,
met his first girlfriend, went to his first protest, and got arrested for the
first time. His life from that point on followed a dogged pattern: join underground
cell, plot era-appropriate destruction. 19771980: Assassinate Israeli
officials operating in Egypt; 19851988: Assassinate Israeli and Saudi
officials operating in Egypt; 19931996: Assassinate Israeli, Saudi, and
American officials operating in Egypt.
He never actually assassinated anyone. He never even got close. He held meetings,
penned pamphlets, organized rallies, smuggled weapons, and then, like clockwork,
the police would descend, and he was back in prison. When they released him,
the cycle began again. It would continue, he said. It was a question of principle.
We stopped in front of the Mugamma. Wagdi put his arm around my shoulder and
guided me to the very center of the plaza. Wagdis arm was solid. Extremely
large. Strangely comforting. In comparison, my own arms felt soft and weak;
they dangled uselessly at my sides. I stuck my hands in my pockets, tried not
to slouch, and we stood like father and son in front of the Mugamma, our shadows
stretching away at an angle towards Sharia Tahrir. This is the glory
of the Egyptian state, he said. A thousand bureaucrats trapped
in an unassailable fortress. I waited in silence for Wagdi to continue.
I started counting the windows from the topleft of the building, and when I
got to one hundred and twenty-four, began to think that Wagdi had nothing left
to say. I looked up at him. His body almost eclipsed the afternoon sun; a blinding
corona met the edge of his silhouette. Turning back, I blinked at pinpricks
of light that danced between the Mugamma and myself.
I tried to make a noise that would express condescension or knowing skepticism.
It came out as a croak. He was so large! And as to the corruption of the third-world
bureaucracy, Wagdi and I were in agreement. I knew I had to say something.
I could show no weakness. For had not TE Lawrence (or was it Thomas Friedman?)
taught me that Arabs only respond to ostentatious displays of strength? I tried
I think the building looks like its reaching out to give us a hug. The
building had two wings that jut out, four window-lengths, on either side. They
looked like arms extended in friendship and in love to the traffic of Midan Tahrir.
Wagdis face turned hard. The Mugamma is a fortress. It embraces
nothing. It crushes the life out of those who work inside, and of those of
us who live and work outside, as well. The weight of his arm on my shoulder
was heavier now.
We began walking down the Corniche. I took the offensive, complaining about
the traffic, the dirt, heat, the crowds, the noise, the poverty. Look
at other developing countries, I instructed Wagdi. India, South
Africa. There is hope for those countries. They have industry, a growing middle
class. There is nothing here. I tugged on my t-shirt. My sweat had made
it stick to my skin. Wagdi was quiet. I continued, National pride means
nothing without real economic progress. That progress can only come through
liberalizing the economy.
I looked to see if any of my words had registered with Wagdi. I looked at the
scar that extended from just below his right eye to the corner of his mouth. Mr
Stella, he said, you should meet my son. You remind me of him.
He is an idiot. He held my hand in his calloused mitt, and as he led
me off the Corniche and into the city, I began to wilt.
Wagdi took me to Midan Attaba, where he lived in an apartment on the eighth
floor. We went up. His apartment was empty, except for a mewling mass of cats.
Wagdi gave me a glass of ice water and directed us all onto the balcony.
Wagdi picked one cat up by the scruff of its neck and trained its eye on the
Tiring Building, a decrepit Viennese-designed department store languishing
in Midan Attaba. On the top of the building was a sculpture of four Atlases
holding up the world. I thought that the Atlases were somewhat ugly, and the
globe, disproportionately small. I made one final attempt at critique.
I dont understand why it takes four Atlases to do what one Atlas
can do anywhere else.
It is simple, Mr Stella. The weight of the world is heavier here in Cairo. And
with that, I gave up. The man, like the Mugamma, was a monolith. I was crushed.
I squatted and started playing with the cats. Wagdi looked down, pleased to see
that we were making friends.
Then a door slammed inside. Startled, I stood to see Wagdi shifting his weight
from foot to foot. My son, he said. My son has come home. The
cats were perturbed. They started clambering on one another, as though attempting
to form a feline pyramid. Wagdis son, a scowling, insouciant fourteen-year-old
wearing tight, torn jeans and a black Metallica t-shirt, walked onto the balcony.
The cats darted past him into the apartment.
Dad, Wagdis son yelled. The cats are inside. How many
times do we have to talk about this. The cats live in the street. People live
in the apartment.
Wagdi began apologizing to his son. Dont apologize, the son
said, take the cats downstairs. Wagdi began apologizing to me.
I made what I thought were reassuring gestures with my hands. It was a strange
scene. The toughest man in Cairo, pleading with a teenager. Wagdi seemed to
feel it, too. He followed the cats, leaving me alone with his son on the balcony.
God I hate those cats. He looked me up and down. Are you American? he
asked, and when I nodded, he began to speak in English.
What the shit are you talking for to my dad? I smiled.
He is a motherfucker. I hate him. He produced a pipe and a crumpled
cigarette out of a pocket. Like Sherlock Holmes, he said. He pronounced
the L in Holmes. He broke the cigarette in half and poured the tobacco into the
bowl of the pipe. He struck a match and almost lit the scraps inside, and then
leaned against the wall, sucking on the pipe with exaggerated pleasure.
Damn, that is smooth. He passed me the pipe. I played along and sucked
air through the pipe. The faint, faraway taste of the tobacco reminded me of
a more innocent time, now long past, when I didnt smoke at all.
After a few seconds, I passed the pipe back to him. It was dark out, a development
that clearly irritated him. He grumbled and turned on the light on the balcony.
A moth began to attack the light bulb. It was a losing battle, but the moth
was tenacious, throwing itself mindlessly against the glass again and again.
The fluttering shadow cast by the moth just made Wagdis son angrier.
That moth is stupid, he complained. Egypt is shit, he
said. He pointed the stem of the pipe at the Tiring Building. That is shit. He
pointed at the green lights of the mosques in the distance. Religion is
Religion is shit? I asked, feeling like I should say something.
I hate God.
You hate God?
He looked at me meaningfully. I hate America more than I hate God.
You hate America more than you hate God? I felt stupid repeating
his words but I wasnt quite sure what to say. I was beginning to empathize
with the cats. I hate Britney Spears more than I hate God. But I hate Amr
Diab more than I hate Britney Spears.
And the cats?
Those cats are pimp motherfuckers. I hate my father more than I hate Amr
Diab more than I hate Britney Spears more than I hate Egypt more than I hate
God. He looked satisfied with himself, like he had just solved a puzzle.
He passed me the pipe, and I obediently took another puff.
So what do you like?
He lifted in a fist in the air and made the devils horns. I love
metal. He stuck out his tongue and thrashed his head around. Just as
suddenly, he was still. Stop smoking. The pipe doesnt work, you
Anand Balakrishnans The Toughest Man in Cairo vs the Zionist Vegetable originally
featured in Bidoun magazine : Art and Culture from the Middle East.
Shoreditch and the creative destruction of
the inner city
This article was finished in October 2004 as a
kind of complement to a short film called The London Particular.
The end of the property bubble and the crisis of the wider system of
looting mentioned here have arrived. The interesting question now is
whether this crisis will halt, pause or intensify the process of regeneration/gentrification.
Is the crisis a reprieve or a new assault, and who will win this time?
In Hackney, the east London borough discussed here, there are signs
that it is both, with some regeneration projects (mercifully and/or
absurdly) stalling, others moving blindly ahead most notably
the 2012 Olympics development. On the estate where I live, plans to
construct in-fill housing on green space and disused sites
appear to have been held up, and rumours circulate that major projects
are being abandoned. What is missing in this text and on the
ground is organised resistance to the processes described here,
but hopefully this may be about to change now, too...
1 Militant Urbanism
Shoreditch, celebrated as the heart of Londons creative and artistic
scene in the 90s, is an ex-industrial, increasingly ex-working class
area in the East End of London now severely gentrified. Located between the
enormous wealth of the financial district in the City of London and the (growing)
poverty of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, its flashmob-like explosion into cultural
and economic life became the apple of urban policy makers eyes in the
late 90s. Shoreditchs convergence of culture and commerce evolving
out of a once lively clubbing, music and (YBA) art scene has today reached
a similar condition to that of Berlin Mitte or New Yorks Lower East side.
While the area now hosts bluechip art galleries formerly based in the West
End, the initial cultural elements that gave the area its charisma
of community and experiment have mostly been killed off, priced out by rising
rents, and supplanted by expensive apartments and culinary distractions restaurants
and bars that make good the zones new fashionability.
Effectively looting and recycling devalued property, subcultures, resources
and public space for the benefit of an incoming elite, gentrification continues
to take place in a remarkably similar form in world cities and
provincial capitals across the globe. In areas like Shoreditch and its peers
around the globe, the cosmetic renewal of a portion of the crumbling urban
core coincides with continued or intensified infrastructural
decline. The reactivation of dormant (or low profit sweatshop-occupied) industrial
properties first as artists spaces and later as bars, boutiques, apartments
etc has made many landlords even richer, but the areas large tracts of
public housing, services and transport facilities remain in a deteriorating
condition and/or are sold off to the private sector. Gentrification takes from
the poor and gives to the rich. Anything residually public will
either be reclaimed for the middle class or left to rot.1
Each wave of colonisers plays out the contradictions of their particular claim
to space, taking sides against the next phase of gentrification in which they
nevertheless conspire. The nightclub owners print huge posters declaring the
area a nighttime economy and warning potential residents not to
expect living on the edge to take place in silence. Hipsters in
Brooklyn wear Defend Williamsburg t-shirts, a slogan accompanied
by a picture of an AK47 and no consciousness whatsoever of the violence of
primitive accumulation in which they are always already mired up to their armpits.
Acting out fantasies of radical chic and social toxicity, the shocktroops of
gentrification have been much taken, in the last ten years, with images of
guerilla warfare, an unconscious, aristocratic reflection of concurrent neoliberal military
urbanism in more intensively looted cities from Palestine to Iraq to
Haiti. Gentrifications vanguard are at their most depoliticised when
at their most radically chic (what Simon Pope described in the late 90s
as the Prada Meinhof), and almost seems to dream the preconditions for this
low-level urban civil war through th eir hypertrophied fashion sense.
The creation and rapid extinction of cultural incubators clubs,
art spaces, etc. by more lucrative investments in areas like Shoreditch
at the same time intensifies bohemian settlers efforts to maintain that
crucial edginess which is the USP of the areas marketing.
In reaction to the zones loss of authenticity as their punky
simulacrums are displaced by more economically efficient ones, Hoxton and Shoreditch,
like Williamsburg and the LES, have taken a dirty turn in the last
couple of years, playing out a fad of stylised abjection and anarchy while
keeping their iPods clean. One physical emblem of this compromise formation
is the Shoreditch bar Jaguar Shoes, where the seedy old shopfront has been
left intact in all its fading plastic glory, its interior scooped out and embrodiered
with belle-lettristic grafitti. A shift from the gleaming sterile bars of the
dotcom era to red-lit pseudo sleaze today obeys the same relentless logic.
A facsimile of bygone bohemian squalor it is at the same time an index of the
limited economic resources for renewal, a sign of straitened circumstances.
As the (unwitting) poet of gentrification Michel De Certeau might say, the
current avant garde of gentrifiers elaborate a sensibility based not on remaking
but on making do.
Gentrification in London, a city now rated among the most expensive in the
world, embodies the drive of a cannibalistic capitalism looking for ways to
cut its costs in a period of declining profit rates and deepening national
current account deficits: The search for new, cheaper use values (primarily
space, but also intangible assets authenticity, creativity, community)
occurs via the alienating logic of exchange value and its necessary supplement,
primitive accumulation (or, simply, theft). Out of the middle classes need
for more room, more time, more congenial cities, emerges simulation, homogenisation,
privatisation and the looting of residual commons. An inherently vampiric process
which parasitises upon and kills its host, gentrification is a physical symptom
of neoliberal economics just as much as generic malls and big box out of town
developments are. Where these extrapolate out from modernist industrial economies
of scale, gentrification (at first) provides a luxury complement to /compensation
for the devastation. Lively, characterful inner city oases, what a relief.
The problem is that, as an equally privatised form of development, gentrification
is of course only the inner city version of the same process and leads from
exclusive art parties to Starbucks and all the rest. The same economic laws
force once idiosyncratic zones of experimentation and independent
shops into increasing conformity as the process matures and prices rise.
There is prosperity for a few but for everyone else the areas social
capital has been bled dry.
Gentrification does not produce so much as reproduce, rather than creating
anew it recycles, instead of investing in production it expropriates objects
and subjects outside the real economy to prop up the ever expanding
bubble of credit substituting for real growth. As Americas balance of
payments deficit deepens the property boom in both the US and UK functions
to defer the evil moment when this deficit has to be repaid. Without going
into this in depth, it should be emphasised that gentrification is very much
a sign of western capitalisms diminishing ability to make productive
investments. Instead of investing in manufactured and traded goods, the US
and UK use other countries money to borrow against over-valued property which
in turn allows them to buy more foreign made goods, causing yet more money
to be poured back into over-valued real estate. The current account deficit
continues to grow. While factories and apartment blocks rents rise and
housing prices rocket, their physical structure is allowed to deteriorate.
Some fixed capital is renewed hence the vibrant look of
gentrified zones which one hears so much about but even this is cosmetic
and, as it were, borrowed against the looting of infrastructure and labour
both within the nation-state and overseas.
Consumer activity in the UK is dependent as never before on credit secured
against mortgages on over-valued property. But the property bubble itself has
to be sustained somehow. In this way the local process of gentrification is
supported by the extraction of surplus value from the less developed world.
In the end the military urbanism going on in Palestine and Fallujah is the
extension of the USs monetary imperialism of which gentrification is
one domestic consequence. Military urbanism and urban militant chic are indeed
connected. The hipsters in AK47 T-shirts are quite right that their claim to
the inner city must be defended by force; its just that the ones doing the
fighting are their displaced latino and black neighbours and the enemy are
2 Behind The Boom
By the late 90s Shoreditch and Hoxton were being trumpeted as a model
for urban renaissance by policy makers. Regeneration industry professionals
and proponents of densely populated inner cities declared their commitment
to fostering neighbourhoods with a mix of residential and commercial buildings,
socially and economically diverse areas with mixed and balanced communities. With
the dotcom bubble yet to burst, Shoreditch was held up as an example of how
the inner core of the city, allegedly abandoned after the flight
of working class inhabitants to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s,
could come back to life if the areas residual population
of deadbeats were supplemented (that is, supplanted) by a lively group of dynamic
and entrepreneurial cultural professionals. From the beginning this notion
of new life served to obfuscate whose life was being discussed not
that of the areas economically challenged majority, it would seem.
New Labour claimed that the revival of inner cities was good news
not just for the affluent newcomers but that the commercial and cultural activity
they began would bring prosperity and opportunity for all. Vibrant, ferociously
networking creatives would displace the depressing homogeneity (and the social
support networks) of the working class. As we have mentioned, the dotcom boom
soon saw the artists studios, clubs and experimental cinemas that started
things off ousted by landlords keen to cash in. When the surge of new economy
related businesses itself proved short lived, the dotcoms avant garde
loft-style offices became yet more bars and restaurants or just fell empty
once again, a memento of the bubble and a portent of a bigger crash still to
While Shoreditchs magic circle was in the media spotlight the most massive
and significant changes in the borough of Hackney, and indeed the city as a
whole, were scarcely discussed. The social cleansing of working class communities
across large swaths of Londons inner core, vicious cuts, privatisation,
and Eastern European levels of poverty coincided with the highest number of
housing privatisation ballots in the country. The latter, advanced in the name
of regeneration served to hasten the theft of the city from its
true creative class, re-engineering former industrial areas as
a playground for young middle-class consumers of surplus value.
Although it is notoriously difficult to get precise figures, I would guess
that as much as 40% of Hackneys working class population have been pushed
out of the area through the combined effect of rising rents, evictions, demolition
and transfer of council housing into the hands of housing associations. In
the last ten years council estates have been demolished or sold off to be replaced
by so-called affordable housing which, given house price
inflation, no one can afford. Major and Blair alike have honoured Margaret
Thatchers mission to privatise the remains of the welfare state commons
and impose consumer choice on an increasingly impoverished majority
too poor to exercise the inalienable right to buy when it comes
to their basic need for shelter.
The local authorities in gentrifying areas connive with developers by letting
social housing crumble, forcing residents to either accept a lifetime of shitty
accomodation and rising crime or transfer to housing association landlords
who promise (but by no means always deliver) repairs and maintenance which
was once provided by the government. While in Shoreditch and the borough of
Hackney this has seen a few estates regenerated, many more remain
in an appalling condition. Where there are improvements in the physical state
of the buildings this comes at the cost of the definitive loss of the (relative)
security of tenure offered by state owned and run housing, and the beginning
of what promise to be exponential rent rises. Privatisation of services in
Hackney has converged with the privatisation of space such that where services
work at all the workers enjoy lower wages and more precarious contracts, and
the consumers, in the case of companies like Pinnacle (social housing maintenance)
and ITNet (housing benefit) worse or non existent services. The level of private
policing and the number of CCTV cameras rises as the local police and council
workers grow ever less keen to visit the estates (unless of course they are
wearing their newly issued bullet proof vests!).
But didnt Shoreditch also offer new chances to those whose homes were
being sold off and traditional hang outs (the rapidly closing or gentrifying
pubs and caffs) shut down or reocccupied? While some new businesses did spring
up, these did not cater to or even employ the working class population of the
area. Again, the rhetoric of diversity and opportunity (new jobs, training,
participatory local democracy and community based initiatives) served only
to cover over the evictions and expropriations, devolving responsibility for
these onto the population they attacked. The increasing use of local community
groups and referendums to integrate local people into the process has functioned
to give it a veneer of legitimacy rather than effecting a real transfer of
power. Those that participate in Neighbourhood Renewal projects
like Shoreditch New Deal (now rebranded as Shoreditch Our Way) have been known
to describe the process as not consultation but dictation.
3 Creative Destruction
After all the talk of inner city renaissance, the government this
year (2004) finally admitted in a white paper on the area that Shoreditch was
not the succcess story that they had claimed. No, it was an example of failed
cultural regeneration. Finally acknowledging the displacement of less
affluent local people and the reality that the different social and economic
groups in the area do not mix but rather pursue existences of segregated proximity,
the report noted the failure of the gentrification process to deliver
improved services or housing for the poor. It is interesting that the official
discourse, which took a long time to start selling the idea of Shoreditch as
a model of creative regeneration, is now so quickly having to reposition
its flagship as a failure. Yet in the absence of other models, the old story
of rebirth through the clustering of creative small businesses is still being
rolled out. Despite all proof to the contrary, Shoreditch is still being cited
as a model.
According to Creative London, the London Development Agencys new 10-year
action plan for culture-driven urban renewal, the Shoreditch effect, harnessed
and made more efficient, is to be repeated across the citys run
down areas. Presumably they hadnt heard the news about Shoreditch
when they put this latest parcel of guff together, or maybe they know very
well what creative regeneration really means and are more inspired
by Shoreditch than ever. Far from indifferent to the problem of gentrification,
the regeneration elite now see that the re-valorising creative class they
admire tend to be displaced by their own success in making areas fashionable.
Creative London tries to address this by seeking to help small
creative businesses remain in the city and attracting them to areas targeted
for renewal in the hope of reproducing and harnessing a Shoreditch
According to its website Creative London, aims to Galvanize Londons
creative sector, and bring businesses and people together to make more combined
noise. This punk rock definition of instrumentalised culture continues
to favour the development of cultural hubs as catalysts for the
intensified privatisation and productivisation of remaining pockets of cheap
living in the city. The difference is that now the governments intervention
in gentrification is even more direct, more conscious and, as ever, more smoothly
presented. Rather than an unfortunate side effect of the real estate market,
gentrification is an openly pursued policy objective. Like all the other facts
of life under the naturalised neoliberal order, the government will help the
privileged negotiate the necessarily precarious nature of unmitigated capitalism
but only in a dynamic way.
Exemplifying this tender mercy for the favoured class, Creative London includes
a Property Advice Service to help the cultural vanguard find and develop new
spaces when their existing ones becoming insupportably expensive. Soliciting
creatives to take on and realise the potential of crumbling industrial hulks
and potentially dangerous bits of un-reproduced fixed capital, behind the schemes honest
broker rhetoric, the economic imperative is plain: Be our caretakers,
reconstruct and make trendy our knackered infrastructure, take the risks involved
in repairing dangerous buildings, and when youre done, fuck off. Of course
the homeless, squatters and other malcontents who once enjoyed the opportunity
to explore such places potential will now find themselves
in competition with government-assisted culturepreneurs, but that is the dynamic,
Darwinian nature of creative urbanism. May the most excellent man win (the
right to a defered eviction).
Ethical qualms aside, Creative London and the general ideology of culture-driven
regeneration remains committed to the unlikely notion that a dense cluster
of web designers and style magazines can be a substitute for the mass concentration
of capital and labour that once provided the motor for genuinely productive
industries. Stressing the importance of Ideas and the knowledge economy schtick
that networked creative communities produce a qualitative leap in value generation
(as opposed to a pooling of value hoovers sucking up surplus value from across
the world), the ideologues of this process elaborate a frighteningly self-assured
action plan which positions themselves as the stewards of our communities,
and identifies as targets for removal a series of synonyms for the informalised
working class: Remove barriers to tolerance such as mediocrity, intolerance
[sic], disconnectedness, sprawl, poverty, bad schools, exclusivity, and social
and environmental degradation.3 When they say remove there
is nothing to suggest they mean ameliorate such ideological
wish lists are a combination of make believe and a ruthless intent to rectify
the community in the image of a commercial utopia in which all perform free
labour under the euphemism of creativity. The recognition that Creativity
can happen at anytime, anywhere, and its happening in your community
right now, is simply the familiar assertion that all life is available
for work and that a complete mobilisation of the social process is necessary
to squeeze a profit out of the economically inactive.
Everyone is a part of the value chain of creativity, but only those
at the top are getting remunerated. The contemporary equivalent of feudalisms
great chain of being, the value chain of creativity imagines a metastable dis-orderly
universe of Excellence based on well-policed chaos in which the soi-disant creative
class serve king capital as instruments of his divine will and ambassadors of
the new work ethic.
The underlying imperatives of an era in which productive investment is increasingly
impossible for knackered old capitals like Britain or the US mean that even
those who demand a less cosmetic solution to the problems of the inner cities
are invoking a chimera. The vision of ideologues like Richard Florida and the
self-styled Creative 100 quoted above, is at once feeble and terrifying,
since, in the absence of productive investment in the real economy (and its
structural impossibility for countries like the UK), the extraction of the
dregs of surplus value from those outside the magic circle will be as brutal
as it is euphemised. Identifying new sources of labour, whether in the third
world or at home, involves policing, coercion and co-optation, the theft of
peoples space, time, imagination and ideas and the redirection of opposition
into manageable forms.
If one abandons the quaint notion that regenerations real aim is to produce
a mixed and balanced community with social housing and (good)
jobs etc, then it doesnt seem so perverse and ineffectual after all.
Viewed in the light of the international experience of gentrification, culture-led
regeneration can be seen as the expanded, private-public consummation of the
process of revalorisation and looting described above. Increased social polarisation
and the (re)imposition of work through intensified economic pressure combine
with private capitals pillaging of former public resources (as well as
existing communities, bodies, knowledges, etc) in a desperate scramble to suck
up every last drop of surplus value from increasingly unproductive 1st world
cities. Regeneration is not so much the rebirth of the dormant industrial city
but its undeath, bled dry by a vampiric regime of inflation and austerity.
4 (Un)regenerate Art?
Whether overtly declared as the ultimate motivation for financial support to
the arts (cultural tourism as economic motor), or as a side-effect of
the work of visibility and valorisation performed when artists colonise and
gentrify an area, the subsumption of art under regeneration is so advanced
that to look at art without looking at the project for urban renewal in
which it is inscribed is to miss half, or perhaps more than half, of its social
(or rather, economic) function. With Londons more socially engaged art
scene continuing to burgeon, artists find funding by assuming the role of surrogate
and simulacral service providers delivering cheap but cosmetic substitutes
for welfare provision. While cultural agencies pour millions into flagship
projects that almost immediately sink, artists are a low risk investment. From
the task of beautifying the inner city with anodyne public art
to the social work and community-oriented projects favored by its New
Genre Public Art successors, artists are paragons of regenerate citizenship,
not least in their capacity to work for free while generating that marketable buzz.
In world cities like London and the slums of the third world alike, labour,
waged and unwaged, is ever more responsible for its own reproduction. The creative
entrepreneurialism identified by Creative London as the key to revived
inner cities is the upscale reflection of a survivalist condition in which
insecurity drives the underpaid into overwork. Participation in the valorisation
of life/labour whether helping run your block of flats or talking to
a concerned artist about your memories of displacement is not so much
solicited as compulsory. Consequently, in a regeneration regime it becomes
easier to get your experience of urban blight plotted on a psychogeographic
map of your area than to obtain hospital treatment, housing or a day off work.
In a similarly perverted piece of logic, the UKs New Labour government
now hails complex art as a way to challenge the poverty of
aspiration and low expectations allegedly afflicting the
lower class. The ongoing increase in simple poverty is ignored.4 Although social
engagement on the part of artists is viewed as a beneficial and moral expansion
of their activities into the community, artists role is primarily to
provide stimulus to and communitarian credibility for the process of privatisation
and gentrification which the term regeneration figures as progress
If politicised, will socially engaged art practices one day spark unforeseen
alliances against the dominant regeneration agenda? Perhaps the imminent collapse
of the property market bubble will trigger a new, more creatively destructive
attitude to the regeneration-art symbiosis on the part of the regeneration
industrys favourite people.
1. However, the urban pioneers and their
successors who live in gentrifying areas are not guaranteed immunity from the
overall devalorisation of fixed capital in which gentrifications localised
valorisation take place. Witness the case of the 30-year-old New York professional
recently electrocuted by a Lower East Side manhole cover that, as a result
of million dollar cuts in maintenance by utilities provider Con Edison, had
become live. A neat image of the kind of pay back that all this non-reproduction
of infrastructure and economic polarisation is no doubt storing up for the
privileged class, but only a more extreme instance of the low-level violence
daily visited on the working class within areas of localised renewal. Property
prices and rents may be rocketing but in gentrification zones life is of necessity
cheap and citizenship precarious or, indeed, cancelled. The rich are simply
those with better insurance and security guards to protect their fundamentally
2. At the same time many new large-scale, flagship PFI projects were begun
further into the borough of Hackney of which Shoreditch was very much a model
of transformation. These included an Olympic size swimming pool, a library,
and a major music venue. Of these, five years later, almost all have closed,
their economic and/or physical infrastructures proving feeble and badly constructed.
Most of these projects came in millions over budget, and, while hundreds of
other services (including very functional swimming baths, schools, playing
fields, etc) were simultaneously being scrapped as part of the local councils
efforts to impose economic austerity, they seem to combine unproductive expenditure
on a Bataillean scale with the most miserly and reductive conception of culture
imaginable. In the name of competition and efficiency the bigger scale regeneration
process has wasted millions and made local peoples lives more difficult,
expensive and precarious. What have the Romans ever done for us? as Tony Blair
asked, waggishly paraphrasing The Life of Brian. Well, the Romans aquaducts
are still standing; Tonys domes and amphitheatres collapse on completion.
3. From The Memphis Manifesto, A Map to the Future by the Creative 100. http://www.memphismanifesto.com/themanifesto/ The same kind of mephitic cheerleading can be found on the LDA website for
Creative London: http://www.creativelondon.org.uk/
4. See From Hard Edged Compassion to Instrumentalism Light in Variant
20, Summer 2004.
You Cant Live On a Web Site Privatisation and Gentrification,
Reaction and Resistance in Hackneys Regeneration State
Flogging Hackney, by Andy Robertson. A report on council sell-offs and cuts
in East London
London Housing magazine on the truth about affordable housing and mixed
and balanced communities
The End of Israels Impunity?
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
The assault on Gaza marks the end of an era for Israel. For
the second time in two years its colonial ambition has floundered in the face
of determined resistance. It may persist for some time; but the trajectory is
clear it is losing both legitimacy and power. Support for it is dwindling
in Washington; its friends are alarmed. Citizens are acting where governments
have failed; the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions is snowballing.
Apologists are finding it more difficult to justify its persistent criminality.
Rifts have emerged in the transatlantic alliance over its recent actions; EU
leaders have broken with Israel and the US, questioning the wisdom of continuing
to isolate Hamas. Even the pliant Tony Blair will no longer toe the line.
This leviathan may yet be tamed, accountability restored; but what part, if any,
will international law have played in this?
At one point in Errol Morriss 2004 documentary Fog of War,
former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara recounts a conversation he had
had with General Curtis Lemay of the United States Air Force à propos the
fire bombing of Japanese cities. LeMay, according to McNamara, said that if the
US ended up losing the war we would be hanged for this. As it transpired,
the US did not lose; and far from being hanged, the allied command got to play
hangman.1 The trials that led to the execution of German and Japanese high command
assumed a broader significance; they became the founding documents of international
law. The conclusions from these trials served as the basis for the Genocide Convention
(1948), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Nuremberg Principles
(1950), The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War
Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (1968), the Geneva Convention on the Laws
and Customs of War (1949), its supplementary protocols (1977), and the International
Criminal Court (2002).
As Kirsten Sellars details in her book The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, the
Nuremberg trials and the subsequent Tokyo trials which would later provide the
basis for international law were not themselves free of controversy. At the end
of the war, Western powers saw Germany and Japan as potential allies in the looming
conflict against the Soviet Union. However, the passions that had been mobilized
against the Axis powers demanded blood sacrifice before Japan and Germany could
be laundered back into the Free World. It was to satisfy this purpose that the
tribunals were reluctantly instituted. While Justice Robert Jacksons eloquent
pronouncements on the rule of law in international affairs have become de
rigueur in discourses on the subject, his contemporaries took a less generous
view. US chief justice Harlan Stone called the whole Nuremberg exercise a sanctimonious...fraud accusing
Jackson of conducting a high-grade lynching party. Justice William
Douglas of the US Supreme Court accused the allies of substituting power
for principle and creating laws ex post facto to suit the passion
and clamour of the time. In his famous dissent at the Tokyo trials, Indian
Justice Radhabinod Pal indicted the tribunal for its exclusion of European colonialism
and the American use of the atomic bomb. The trial, he argued, was nothing more
than an opportunity for the victors to retaliate. Antiwar US senator
Robert Taft called it victors justice.
Power asymmetry has defined the application of International Law since. Gaza
is a case in point.
Jus ad Bellum?
Israel and its apologists have sought to justify its military
assault on Gaza as an act of self-defence against Hamas rockets invoking
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.2 So pervasive was this view that even
putatively antiwar voices frequently worked the word disproportionate into
their denunciations. Israel, according to this view, has a right to defend itself
but used more force than was necessary. However, this argument relies on the
inversion of cause and effect and a defective legal premise.
Israels assault was not meant to protect its citizens against the Hamas
rockets, but to protect its colonial project and right to continue the strangulation
of Gaza. Israel broke the truce on 4th November 2008 when under the cover of
the US elections it launched an attack inside Gaza killing six Palestinians.
The attack, writes Middle East scholar Sara Roy, was no doubt designed
finally to undermine the truce,3 as even according to Israels own
intelligence agencies Hamas had implemented the ceasefire with remarkable effectiveness.
Though Hamas retaliated with rockets, it still offered to renew the truce provided
Israel ended the siege. Israel refused.4
Between the evacuation of its settlements from Gaza in 2005 and the beginning
of its latest assault, Israel had killed a total of 1,250 Palestinians, including
222 children, and maimed many more. This despite Hamass 18 month unilateral
ceasefire to which it strictly adhered. The situation was so dismal before the
siege that the late Israeli historian and author Tanya Reinhart described it
as a process of slow and steady genocide.5 Sara Roy saw in it a deliberate
process of what she calls de-development. The siege, in her view,
had two objectives: to reduce the Palestinian issue to a humanitarian problem;
and to foist Gaza onto Egypt. Israels economic stranglehold
over the territory, she said, was leading to the breakdown of an entire
The UN human rights rapporteur John Dugard, a South African legal scholar, has
compared the situation in the Occupied Territories to apartheid. His successor
Richard Falk, an American Jew and a leading authority on international law, called
the situation a prelude to genocide. Gaza, he said, was slouching
towards a holocaust insofar as the situation expressed vividly a
deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire
human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. Falk
accused Israel of bringing Gaza to the brink of collective starvation,
imposing a sub-human existence on a people repeatedly and systematically victimized.
Poignantly, he added:
To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed
genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral
part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning
of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the
famous post-Nazi pledge of never again.7
On 5th November, Israel sealed all entries and exits to Gaza and intensified
For Gaza a region whose unemployment rate is 49.1%, where the majority
relies on food aid (from the World Food Program and the UN Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), the latter alone feeding about 750,000 Gazans), and 50% of whose population
comprises children the consequences were devastating. Roy reports that
according to Oxfam, an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered Gaza in November
2008 as compared to 564 trucks a day in December 2005. There were three days
where 20,000 went without food and on 18 December UNRWA had to suspend food distribution
altogether. On top of that, the WFP had to pay more than $300,000 to Israeli
businesses in November and December for storage of the food being withheld from
Gaza. Thirty out of Gazas forty-seven commercial bakeries had to close
for the lack of cooking gas; by April there will be no poultry, on which 70%
of Gazans rely for their protein. UNRWAs cash assistance to the most needy
has had to be suspended. The embargo on paper, ink and glue needed for the production
of textbooks would affect 200,000 students.8
Gaza faces regular shortages of diesel, petrol and cooking gas. On 13th November,
Gazas only power station suspended operations because it ran out of industrial
diesel. Spare parts for the power station were auctioned by Israel after being
held in customs for eight months. Gazas hospitals have had to rely on diesel
and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels. In an attempt to undermine Hamas,
Israels surrogates in the Palestinian Authority (PA) withheld World Bank
funds from Gazas Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) to pay for
fuel to run Gazas sewage system. Israel has allowed in only 18 of the 200
tons of chlorine requested by CMWU for water purification. While medical supplies
in Gaza have been running dangerously low, the collaborationist PA has been turning
supply shipments away rather then send them to Gaza.9
It was within this context that on 19th December Hamas officially ended its truce.
All of this is significant, as in 1967 Israel used Nassers blockade of
the Gulf of Tiran as the casus belli for its pre-emptive attacks on Egypt,
Syria and Jordan the fateful war where it captured the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. Unlike Gaza, however, Israel faced no shortages of food, fuel or medicine indeed,
trade continued unimpeded all across its main air- and sea ports (all of which
are located on the Mediterranean coast). Yet, in spite of the facts, 67
has entered mainstream discourse as a legitimate case of pre-emptive self-defence
under Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions. The precedent was even invoked by
Colin Powell when on 5th February 2003 he made his case for invading Iraq at
the UN Security Council. If Israel was within its rights to launch a pre-emptive
war in 67 a highly tendentious proposition then the Palestinians
most definitely had a similar right. It is not only enshrined in the Fourth Geneva
Convention, it is also accorded them by virtue of Israels denial of basic
But what of international law?
The use of force is an act of last resort under international law subject to
the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. As a signatory to the Geneva
Conventions, Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks; but it has
no right to do so by force. In order to use force, it will have to show that
other options were not available. This was clearly not the case. It had the option
to end its occupation, withdraw from Palestinian land, and accept the international
consensus on the two-state solution. It also had more immediate options: it could
have agreed to renew the truce and end the crippling siege of Gaza. The Hamas
government had made three separate peace offers over a period of two years through
veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, including one a mere two weeks
before the assault. Relayed through a family member of Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert all of these overtures were rebuffed.10 In spurning this opportunity
Israel had forfeited any claims to self-defence. Had Hamas attacked after Israel
had tried all these options, writes political scientist Jerome Slater, then and
only then would it have a true right of self defense. It
is also the only condition under which the question of proportionality would
The rocket attacks had not killed a single individual before Israel began its
assault; had they done so, they would still not entitle Israel to kill 1,300
Palestinians, mostly civilians, injure 5,000 and destroy schools, mosques, homes,
UN compounds and government buildings. As the occupying power Israel has no rights
under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it has only obligations including
a responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians and infrastructure. And as
the occupied the Palestinians have a right to resist Israels oppression.
Writes Slater: An oppressor is not engaged in self defense when
it uses force in order to annihilate resistance to its repression, and that holds
true even if the form of resistanceattacks intended to kill civiliansis
itself morally wrong. The fact is lost on no-one, except perhaps the BBC
and CNN, that Israels occupation predates both the rockets and Hamas. Israels
actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, wrote distinguished lawyers
and legal scholars in an 11th January 2009 letter to the Sunday Times, not
least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. They added:
As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective
punishment of Gazas 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian
and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction
of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as
food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.
That the Palestinians also have a right to self-defence is not an issue the UN
Security Council would even allow anyone to raise. Instead, there are feeble
pleas for restraint. In lieu of an investigation, in the initial
phase of the massacre some UN officials dignified the Israeli claim that a mere
25% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians (in fact the majority were police
trainees killed at their graduation). The notoriously undemocratic executive
arm of the UN continued to treat the assault as a war even though
Gaza is recognized as an Occupied Territory, according Israel the right to defend
itself, albeit proportionately. In reserving their condemnation
exclusively for the targeting of women and children, the UN was also
declaring Gazas male population fair game. Despite the verdict of international
law experts that Israels murder spree in Gaza constitutes war crimes and
crimes against humanity, writes Omar Barghouti,
this UN discourse not only reduces close to half a million Palestinian
men in that wretched, tormented and occupied coastal strip to militants, radical fighters, or
whatever other nouns in currency nowadays in the astoundingly, but characteristically,
biased western media coverage...it also treats them as already condemned criminals
that deserve the capital punishment Israel has meted out on them. (The
Electronic Intifada, January 1st 2009)
Jus in Bello
Israel made no bones about its attacks on civilian targets:
one army spokeswoman declared that [a]nything affiliated with Hamas is
a legitimate target; another added that we are trying to hit the
whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism
against Israel. The government which had only a year earlier rejected the
results of an election which had seen Hamas take the majority of the vote, was
suddenly willing to acknowledge the partys popularity so it could hold
it against the whole population of Gaza as evidence of their support for terrorism
against Israel.11 As the democratically elected government of the Palestinian
people all of Gazas civilian infrastructure was thus affiliated with
Hamas and hence a legitimate target. In the very first hour of its assault Israel
bombed the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Ministries of Education and Justice,
the Islamic University of Gaza, mosques, ambulances and many homes. Palesitinian
civilian infrastructure was subjected as a whole to Israeli terror. By the end,
Israel had destroyed 4,700 homes completely or partially, leaving tens of thousands
of people homeless.
Sara Roy implored the world in the name of International law and human
decency to protect the people of Gaza. Perhaps the appeal to human
decency is a tacit acknowledgment of the irrelevance of international law where
it doesnt align with the interests of major powers. As Conor Gearty notes,
the assault on Gaza has laid bare the relative impotence of international
law in the face of determined sovereign action.12 Like Roy and Gearty,
Falk also places little faith in international law for redress. It would be unrealistic,
he writes, to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis,
given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent
to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts
to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.13
The impotence of the mechanisms for enforcing international law was exposed in
Israels refusal to heed the UNs calls for a ceasefire. Israel blithely
ignored the UN Security Councils call on January 8th 2009 for an
immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire. Likewise, it ignored
the strong statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the
next day about the applicability of international human rights law in all
circumstances and at all times. Pillay stressed that the violations of
these laws may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility
may be invoked. She urged the UNs Human Rights Council to consider
authorizing a mission to assess violations in order to establish the
relevant facts and ensure accountability. The Council in its resolution
said that it strongly condemns the ongoing military operation for
its massive violations of human rights of Palestinian people and systematic
destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure; it was particularly outraged
at Israels targeting of UN facilities. At the conclusion of
the assault, Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General himself, visited Gaza. He
said he was appalled by the destruction, which he found outrageous
and totally unacceptable and called for the perpetrators to be punished.14
The UN has called for the attack to be investigated as a war crime.
The anger evident in all this UN activity, and in particular the passion
evident in the High Commissioners choice of words, is founded upon the
blatancy of the disregard of the law that has been evident in Gaza.15
In a highly unusual move, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
broke with convention to condemn the Israeli military for breaching international
humanitarian law when it refused access for four days to a Zeitoun neighbourhood
where four small children were later found starving among twelve corpses, including
those of their mothers. The incident also occasioned one of the most extraordinary
moments in the history of British journalism when Alex Thomson of Channel 4 subjected
the Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev to an unrelenting interrogation ending with
the plea, In the name of humanity what is Israel doing?16
While Israel may have taken a hit in terms of its image already the worst
brand in the world, according to a 2006 poll17 a wave of boycotts sweeping
Europe also adds economic pressure. But in the absence of any kind of enforcement
mechanism, writes Gearty, the legal effect of all this international
noise has been for all practical purposes zero.18 There being no international
adjudicative body to which Israel is required to defer, he writes, the worst
Israel has to fear is five minutes of interrogation on the media, which is itself
a rare occurrence. Israels claim to self-defence might not be able
to survive a few hours in a court of law, Gearty avers, but with a mostly
pliant media already humming with a chorus of friendly academic terrorism
experts and defence analysts Israel is all but immune from
It was Israels 67 pre-emptive attacks on neighbouring Arab states
and Reagans March 1986 bombing of Libya both invoking Article 51
of the UN charter that demonstrated that unilateral action was possible
without eliciting any legal repercussions. The US refusal to join the International
Criminal Court, and Israels repeated rejection of its jurisdiction, is
transforming the whole concept of international law is revealed so far to be
a farce. The only people brought to trial in the Hague have all belonged to countries
either on the rough end of the unipolar worlds stick, or to countries in
which major powers have no vested interests. The irony of the US supporting the
ICCs prosecution of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir while itself refusing
to ratify its charter is lost on few in the outside world. Under these circumstances,
warnings about criminal responsibility are seen as little more than empty threats.
International law has hitherto served no purpose other than to lull the aggrieved
into believing that verbal indictments are somehow a substitute for justice.
The End of Impunity?
Concerns about prosecutions at the Hague led the Bush administration
to repeal the US signature from the treaty enabling the ICC and in 2002 to pass
the American Service Members Protection Act (ASMPA), more commonly known as the
Invasion of The Hague Act which permits the United States to unilaterally invade
the Netherlands to liberate any military personnel and other elected and appointed
officials held for war crimes. The US also pressured weaker states around the
world to sign bilateral immunity policies that require them to sign
a waiver stating that they will contravene the ICC in the case of Americans being
arrested. Those who do not comply risk losing US military assistance: Kenya and
Trinidad-Tobago, for example, learned this the hard way. According to the Observer,
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is already pursuing seriously the legal instruments
that would allow him to put Israelis on trial for war crimes.20 Fear of prosecution
has already caused the Israeli government to launch an international campaign
to defend its legal position while and at the same time redacting names written
in reports and masking photographs of military personnel involved. Director of
the Israel Law Center, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, has opted for bluster, urging
the Knesset to legislate a law prohibiting cooperation with any war crimes tribunal
and to pass an ASMPA-style Invasion of the Hague law. Foreign countries
should be made to understand we mean business, she added.
Obstacles remain, however, and precedents of the actual implementation of international
law demand one to attenuate expectations. It is this recognition that has led
some to consider using the universal jurisdiction laws enshrined in the legal
codes of several European countries to bring US and Israeli war criminals to
the dock. Several Israelis have already had close brushes with the law in Europe.
In 2001 prosecutors in Belgium filed a war crimes indictment against Ariel Sharon
and General Amos Yaron over their responsibility for the massacre of Palestinians
in Lebanon. The case was later dismissed by an appeals court on a technicality.
On 10th September 2005, General Doron Almog escaped arrest on arrival in London
only through a last minute warning from someone at the Foreign Office. Had he
disembarked, he would have faced arrest for violations of the Geneva Convention
in carrying out house demolitions in Gaza.
Using the same laws that led to the 1998 arrest of the former Chilean dictator
Augusto Pinochet, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu has launched an investigation
of Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing where a one-ton bomb dropped on a densely
populated Gaza neighbourhood killed fifteen, including nine children. Those charged
include former defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; former chief-of-staff,
Moshe Yaalon; former airforce chief, Dan Halutz; head of Southern command,
Doron Almog; head of the National Security Council, Giora Eiland; the defense
ministers military secretary, Mike Herzog; and head of Shin Bet, Avi Dichter.
The Israel lobby flexed its muscle, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni was soon
claiming that she had been assured by her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Moratinos,
that his government would amend its laws to diminish the possibility of investigating
torture and war crimes committed outside Spain. This however was immediately
contradicted by Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de
la Vega who stated defiantly that Spain is a country ruled by law whose
justice system enjoys absolute independence; this fact was made
clear to Israel and we are sure they understand this.21
The ground is also shrinking around leading US war criminals. Henry Kissinger
already cant set foot in many European countries without risking arrest.
Donald Rumsfeld likewise had to be spirited out of Paris a few years back in
order to save him the embarrassment of being served a French subpoena. Recently
the renowned prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has shown how criminal law can be used
to prosecute George W. Bush for murder in any of the districts where a soldier
has been killed as a result of a war sold on lies.22 Until international law
evolves a mechanism for enforcement that does not allow any state exemption from
its purview, the potential of domestic laws to keep war criminals on their toes
if not behind bars will remain indispensable.
In the wake of the 11th September 2001 attacks, Dick Cheney and the cabal of
neoconservatives around him had gone about dismantling the international legal
framework which had been developed across several presidencies as a result of
a growing preference for hegemony by consent rather than coercion. Given the
extreme unpopularity of the last regime, Obama feels compelled pragmatically
to distance himself from its legacy. The appointments of George Mitchell as Middle
East envoy and Charles Freeman as the director of the National Intelligence Council
have already occasioned tension between the Obama administration and the Israel
lobby. The growing unease over the ascension of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor
Lieberman to power in Israel is only likely to exacerbate matters. Gestures towards
Syria and Iran have caused alarm among Israel-Firsters in Washington. While many
rightly criticized Obama for his silence in the face of the Israeli slaughter,
the standard reflex of a US politician would have been to come out unconditionally
in support of the attacks.
In a remarkable departure from her earlier stance where she opposed the impeachment
of Bush administration officials, the house majority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has
recently declared that no one is above the law.23 Maybe she only
wants to one-up Senator Patrick Leahy who has proposed a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission. But for the first time talk of prosecutions has entered mainstream
discourse. What was dismissed as unthinkable only months ago appears now almost
attainable. Since Pelosi controls the assignment of hearings to relevant committees
in the Congress, writes the veteran journalist Alexander Cockburn,
this means that she could give the green light to House Justice Committee
chairman John Conyers to organize hearings...equipped with a capable director
and subpoena power - that is, the ability to compel testimony and documents under
the threat of criminal sanction.24
Pelosi may or may not be serious but for the left there is a rich opportunity
in all this, writes Cockburn. Obamas pledges in the campaign to run
a lawful government were very explicit. He clearly seeks a break with the
image if not necessarily the policies of the Bush administration. The closing
of Guantanamo and the categorical ban on torture is part of this new trajectory
(even though unlawful detention and subcontracted torture will likely continue).
This attempt to re-engage with the world will not be effective until Obama affirms
US commitment to international law, including a re-signing of the ICC charter.
This would also have the effect of empowering the UN rapporteurs, special representatives,
tribunals and so on, Gearty argues:
Since its application would be general, Obama could do all this without
any mention of Israel, leaving the consequences to be worked through by various
bureaucracies...Were pressure from the lobbies to reach dangerous levels, the
president might choose to take the issue to the American people, to discuss openly
whether Israel should have an exemption from the system of values to which...the
US itself will by then have signed up.25
While this is no doubt a scenario that the Israel lobby would want to avoid,
Geartys otherwise original and practical proposal overlooks the fact that
the Israel lobby has long exploited an existing US disposition for unilateralism
to generate hostility towards the UN. The UN is undermined in general so it wont
have any legitimacy when it comes to the particular demands of making Israel
abide by its resolutions. The bulk of US vetoes in the Security Council have
been cast in support of Israel. Likewise, the precedent of appealing directly
to the public has also failed to gain any cover for the last two presidents who
tried it. Both Gerald Ford and George Bush (Snr.) ended up as one-term presidents:
the former balked after receiving a letter signed by the majority of the Senate;
the latter suffered a major electoral loss for which the Israel lobby claimed
credit.26 However, Obama is in a unique position: he has the tide of history
with him. He is also more susceptible to public pressure. The Israel lobby is
on the backfoot. There has never been a time more propitious for groundbreaking
change. Gaza was the catalyst. It is time demands were made of Obama to restore
faith in international humanitarian law. Until then, Europes universal
jurisdiction laws should suffice to keep the war criminals on their toes.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch.org, and the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Since the allies had carried out more bombings of
civilians than the axis powers, the American prosecutor Telford Taylor got around
the problem by declaring that the air bombardment of cities and factories
has become a recognized part of modern warfare, hence a part of customary
law; and that since the fourth Hague convention of 1907, which forbade
bombing of civilians, had not been applied during WWII, it had lost its validity
(see Sven Linqvist, A History of Bombing, Granta, 2000, n.239)
2. Zionist propagandist Paul Berman who in his book Terror and Liberalism ridiculed
the notion that Israeli occupation might be the cause of Palestinian resentment
had to resort to hyperbole in order to justify Israels killing of more
than 400 children in Gaza. Israel, he told the American Jewish Committees
webzine Z Word, did it to prevent genocide.
3. Sara Roy, If Gaza Falls, London Review of Books, 1st January
4. Henry Siegman, Israels Lies, London Review of Books,
29th January 2009
5. Jon Elmer, Slow Genocide: Tanya Reinhart interview, From OccupiedPalestine.org,
10th September 2003
6. Roy, op. cit.
7. Richard Falk, Slouching toward a Palestinian holocaust, The
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 29th June 2007
8. Roy, op. cit.
10. See Peter Beaumont, Israel PMs family link to Hamas peace bid, The
Observer, 1st March 2009
11. Cited in John Mearsheimer, Another war, another defeat, The
American Conservative, 26th January 2009
12. Conor Gearty, Sovereign wrongs and human rights, The Tablet, January
13. Falk, op. cit.
14. Robert Fisk, So, I asked the UN secretary general, isnt it time
for a war crimes tribunal?, The Independent, 19th January 2009
15. Gearty, op. cit.
16. Channel 4 News, 8th January 2008. Video of exchange available at: http://pulsemedia.org/2009/01/10/c4/
17. Survey:Israel worst brand name in the world, Israel Today,
22nd November 2006
18. Gearty, op. cit.
19. For example, the BBC gave platform to the very dubious Col. Richard Kemp
to make pronouncements such as I dont think there has ever been a
time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce
civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today
in Gaza (can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WssrKJ3Iqcw).
Over in the US, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, earned his junket to Israel by declaring that it fought
a clean war (The Gaza War, CSIS, 2nd February
2009). For a debunking of Cordesman, see Norman Finkelstein, War Whore:
A Camp Follower Who Aims to Please, Pulsemedia.org, 19th February 2009
20. Peter Beaumont, The Observer, 2nd March 2009
21. JPost.com Staff, Spain wont annul judges decision, Jerusalem
Post, 1st February 2009
22. For a succinct summation of Bugliosis case, see his interview with
Pulsemedia.org, 27th February 2009
23. One-on-one with Nancy Pelosi, Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC,
25th February 2009
24. Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch.org, 27th February 2009
25. Conor Gearty, London Review of Books, 15th January 2009
26. Philip Weiss, Did the First President Bush Lose His Job to the Israel
Lobby?, New York Observer, 17th July 2006