Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt

Waste land: large-scale irrigation strips nutrients from the soil, scars the landscape and could alter climatic conditions beyond repair. Image: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/ Flowers, London, Pivot Irrigation #11 High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA (2011)

In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012,Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreed upon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

 . . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine” and “No Logo”, is working on a book and a film about the revolutionary power of climate change. You call follow her on twitter @naomiaklein


Riots and protests in Colombia demanding for farmers rights

More information about social movements in Colombia from The Guardian:

Demonstrators and riot policemen near Bogota Colombia

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá,
Thursday 29 August 2013 16.19 BST

Demonstrators banging on pots in support of farmers at the entrance of La Calera near Bogotá. Photograph: Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters
Colombia’s largest cities were braced on Thursday for marches by students and labour unions in support of a growing nationwide strike by miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers and potato farmers protesting against everything from high fuel prices to free trade agreements that farmers say have them on the brink of bankruptcy.

The protests began on 19 August, with demonstrators joining striking miners,to block some of the country’s main highways using tree branches, rocks and burning tyres. At least one protester and one policeman have died in the demonstrations, dozens have been injured and more than 150 have been arrested.

The protests spread to the cities where residents banged pots in solidarity with the farmers after president Juan Manuel Santos, in a failed effort to downplay the importance of the strikes, said the “supposed national farmers’ strike does not exist”.

Forced to apologise for the statement, he sent out high-level officials to begin negotiating separately with the different sectors. “We recognise that the farmers’ protests respond to real needs and problems. We are listening to them and offering solutions,” Santos said on Wednesday night.

Farmers complain that agricultural imports allowed under free trade agreements with the US, the EU, Canada and other nations are undercutting their livelihoods.

Strike leaders said solutions offered – eliminating import tariffs on fertilisers, easing agricultural credit and triggering protective safeguards allowed under the free trade agreement for sensitive sectors – were not enough. “Talks continue,” strike leaders said on Wednesday, but called on farmers to continue protests.

Thursday’s marches are planned for Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and other mid-sized cities. With access to cities from the countryside disrupted, the price of some staple foods has nearly doubled. Gloria Galindo, a mother of three who lives in Bosa, a working-class district of Bogotá, said she sympathised with the protesters but that the roadblocks were hurting her family’s wallet. “Vegetable prices have shot through the roof,” she said.

Officials have accused leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is in talks with the government to end nearly 50 years of war, of infiltrating the strikes. Strike leaders have denied the claims.

Rural development was the first point of agreement between the Farc and the government in the peace process. But the current protests show that Colombia’s conflicts are not limited to an armed insurgency and will not necessarily be resolved at the negotiating table in Havana, according to Alejandro Reyes, an adviser to the government on land issues. “When we get to a post-conflict stage there will be an enormous social conflict to deal with,” he said.

Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979 – By J. Dana Stuster | Foreign Policy

Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979 – By J. Dana Stuster | Foreign Policy.

“Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979

From Cairo to Wall Street to the West Bank, plotting a world of upheaval.


This is what data from a world in turmoil looks like. The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) tracks news reports and codes them for 58 fields, from where an incident took place to what sort of event it was (these maps look at protests, violence, and changes in military and police posture) to ethnic and religious affiliations, among other categories. The dataset has recorded nearly 250 million events since 1979, according to its website, and is updated daily.

John Beieler, a doctoral candidate at Penn State, has adapted these data into striking maps, like the one above of every protest recorded in GDELT.”

[polis]: Contested Space, Contested Identity

An interesting reflection about the events in Turkey as consequence of real estate development process without consider the people’s interests, and how these processes have triggered the production of a city far from the identity of their inhabitants. The contestation, as mean of transformation, is one of the topic of this article of Max Holleran, from NYU.

polis: Contested Space, Contested Identity.

Contested Space, Contested Identity

by Max Holleran

Source: Max Holleran

In cities around the world, public space is an essential platform for voicing calls for change. Whether Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, Athens’s Syntagma Square, or Tahrir Square in Cairo, this space is the hippocampus of the nation: the first to experience unsettling tremors in the body politic.

One of the most fascinating things about the occupation of Istanbul’s Gezi Park was that many of the issues were tied to the use of urban space to promote a contentious version of national identity. It was an expression of widespread frustration with an autocratic urban transformation that has raised questions over which heritage represents the nation in the 21st century.

Protesters react to tear gas on June 15. Source: Enca

Protesters were brutally suppressed after attempting to use Taksim Square as an agorato address urban and national concerns. Over the past decade of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule, the Turkish economy soared as Istanbul experienced increasing class segregation and an “Americanization” of the built environment in the form of gated communities and horrendous traffic jams.

Real estate development has been accompanied by wholesale demolition of historic neighborhoods and removal of Roma communities in Istanbul. The plan to place a rebuilt Ottoman military barracks and shopping mall in Gezi Park was a major spark for the protests. Another was construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus, named after an Ottoman sultan known for massacring people of the Alevi religious minority. The barracks and mall are fitting symbols of the AKP’s urban transformation, in which Ottoman cultural heritage is used to build regional support for aggressive market-oriented development.

Source: France 24

Reconstructed Ottoman military barracks and mall planned for Gezi Park. Source: KH

The protests focused national attention on the AKP’s increasingly oppressivedesecularization of society. The party’s deputy chairman recently denounced the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who brought an end to the Ottoman Caliphate and established the modern republic. While such jibes have been isolated and oblique, there have also been more-direct attacks on Atatürk’s secular policies.

Turkish flag with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Source: Kathimerini

Portraits of Turkey’s great modernizer still adorn public buildings and private shops in Istanbul, and many of the Taksim protesters feel a connection between their efforts and those of the national patriarch. Flags with his photo have been used as symbols of what’s at stake if Erdoğan is given a free hand at widespread reforms.

Members of the AKP suggest that, while acknowledging Ataturk’s achievements, they believe his policies were pushed through too quickly and the country must now reclaim its soul. Many in Istanbul feel the same way about Erdoğan’s urban transformation.

Max Holleran is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at NYU.

A Commentary by Mark Purcell: Seeking Democracy

A Commentary by Mark Purcell: Seeking Democracy

We share some reflections about the recent events in Turkey and how this processes could be interpreted from a democratic analysis. The highlighted scholar Mark Purcell is the author of this post in the blog:

Mark Purcell is a professor in the Department of Urban Design & Planning at the University of Washington where he studies urban politics, political theory, social movements, and democracy.  He is the author of Recapturing Democracy (2008) and the recently published The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy (2013). Here he presents how his work on democracy connects to the events in Turkey and elsewhere. We plan other commentaries in the coming days on these recent events, following from our Virtual Theme Issue on Turkey last week. –Eds.

Seeking Democracy

I think and write a lot about democracy, but I find relating this work to contemporary events like the those in Turkey to be a real challenge.  I do not want to colonize the events by interpreting them as nothing more than confirmation of theoretical arguments I have made previously.  But I also want to say that it is possible to see in those events—at times, and here and there—a strong resonance with democracy as I understand it.  To do that, I begin by affirming that there are multiple desires, agendas, forces, and people involved in shaping the events in Turkey.  These desires interrelate in complex ways, and so it is not possible to characterize these events generally, to reduce them to one guiding logic, like religion or ethnicity or environmentalism or authoritarianism.  As a result I will not make statements like “everyone thinks the protests are about X, but really they are about Y.”  That’s imperious.  Such events are unavoidably about X and Y, they are always the result of a tangled mass of desires and actors.  This is true in Turkey just as it was true in Egypt and Tunisia and Spain and Greece and Occupy and so on.  So I will not offer any comprehensive statements that try to characterize the political soul of the events.  I think the only thing I can do honestly is to pick out some political desires that I think are at work in Turkey, desires that are of particular interest to me because they resonate with a larger project that I believe in: to nurture and spread a political vision and practice of democracy.  And so I write not so much to enlighten you about what’s going on in Turkey, but to present a vision of politics that I hope you’ll find compelling, maybe even to the point you’ll join me in spreading the word.


Democracy means that people manage their affairs for themselves.  Its etymology bears this out: people (dêmos) retain for themselves their own power (kratos) to create new things in the world.  The dêmos acts together to make decisions for themselves.  In democracy, people do not yield their power to an entity outside themselves.  This means that members of a political community do not yield political control to a party or to a State.  It means that participants in an economy do not yield control over money to banks, or control over production to those who own the means of that production.  It means workers do not yield control over their struggle to unions.  What yielding control in this way does is to produce oligarchy, a community in which a few rule the many.  All States are oligarchies, whether they be liberal-democratic, autocratic, or otherwise, because they set aside a few State officials to rule the rest.

But the objection comes rapidly: surely we don’t want a life in which everyone together makes every decision for themselves.  It would be overwhelming, inefficient, exhausting.  This objection is not wrong.  And so we must think of democracy not as an end state that we hope to reach one day.  It is not a stable polity at the end of history.  It is, rather, a horizon.  It is not a community called “democracy” but a process of becoming democratic.  We should think of democracy as a perpetual struggle to increasingly retain for ourselves the power and responsibility of making decisions.  This is just what Lefebvre is saying when he writes that “democracy is nothing other than the struggle for democracy”(2009, p. 61).

So, a perpetual struggle to become democratic.  Such a struggle necessarily implies also a process of popular activation, of people becoming awake and alive and engaged in the world.  Again, we should not imagine here an end-state in which everyone is fully activated.  It is rather a struggle we could call becoming active, a struggle to progressively take onto our own shoulders the work of governing our affairs ourselves.  Taking the perspective of becoming active helps obviate one of the classic objections to democracy, one that goes all the way back to Plato, which is that people are incompetent, they are not capable of managing their affairs for themselves.  Becoming active suggests that people are neither fundamentally capable nor incapable of democracy.  Rather it is a question of their practicing democracy, a question of whether or not they have had the opportunity to gain the experience and skills necessary to govern themselves.  In this way, democracy is a matter also of growing up, a matter of becoming adult, of acquiring, through extensive practice, the competence and confidence that comes with managing oneself.

Of course democracy is never a solitary enterprise.  When people become democratic, active, and adult, they must always do so in common, in a community with others.  And so it is critical to understand what a properly democratic community is like.  Clearly that question is too enormous to fully address here, but let me just say briefly that I conceptualize democratic community, with Deleuze and Guattari (1987), as a rhizomatic network.  That is, democratic communities bring together a multitude of individuals who connect horizontally with multiple peers.  They do not rely on a few vital connections to hierarchical superiors (as in an arboreal system), rather they they establish many inessential, superficial connections with equals.  Each connection is inessential and impermanent.  Flexibility and adaptability are the key to thriving, and so effective members of such networks tend to be promiscuous in their connections.  For Deleuze and Guattari, a rhizomaticnetwork is also acentered or distributed, which means each peer has roughly the same number of connections as all the others.  No one part of the network occupies a more central position than any other.  Or rather, such centers of coordination do emerge, but they should not be permanent.  When centrality emerges and operates for a time, it should always fall back into the distributed rhizomatic network.

One last thing: we can think this vision of democracy spatially through Lefebvre’s work.  In The Urban Revolution (2003) he argues that the struggle to manage our own affairs for ourselves, what he calls the struggle for autogestion, must necessarily involve struggle by urban inhabitants to manage the production of urban space.  The city we inhabit today, the neoliberal city, is a classic oligarchy in which an elite few state experts and corporate managers manage urban space for everyone else.  Democracy, for Lefebvre, necessarily involves a struggle by the inhabitants and users of space to move beyond this urban oligarchy, beyond the city of capitalism and the State, and toward an urban democracy in which inhabitants produce and manage urban space for themselves.


So it is perhaps not hard to see how events in Turkey can be seen to resonate with this vision.  Clearly the State and business interests have been pursuing a sweeping agenda of urban transformation in Turkey that involves both commercial and infrastructure development.  The initial resistance to the redevelopment of Gezi Park was clearly inspired by a concern for physical and ecological outcomes like the loss of trees and open space.  But we can also see in those actions a desire to no longer be excluded, a desire among inhabitants to participate in decisions that produce urban space.  The attempt to site yet another shopping mall in place of one of the few remaining open and green spaces in the city made it apparent to many that those who live in and use the space of the city are not calling the shots.  And it showed that those who are calling the shots have a different interest in the city than inhabitants do.  So part of what we might choose to see in the struggle forGezi Park, it seems to me, is a desire among inhabitants to no longer have Istanbul produced for them, but to produce it themselves.  And the Erdogan government’s unapologetically autocratic style helps here to awaken and energize this desire.

We can see something similar, I think, in the much-reported act of protesters cleaning the streets once they have been able to successfully seize and hold a space.  Some have read this act as an attempt by protesters to show that they are not hooligans (as Erdogan claims), as an attempt to make clear that they are mature liberal-democratic citizens—responsible adults rather than misbehaving children.  Certainly this is part of what is going on: it is a way for people to communicate to the oligarchs that the people are capable and should be trusted with making decisions.[1]  At the same time though, we could read this act as an expression of people’s desire to begin the project of actually managing urban space for themselves. We might see it as people experimenting with autogestion, trying it out, seeing what its freedom and responsibility feels like, and testing themselves to see if they are up to the task.  We might see it as not only the desire to demonstrate to the Statethat we are capable, but also a desire to show ourselves that we can do it.  And as we do it, as we engage in acts of self-management like cleaning the streets, or distributing food, or arranging for medical care, all of which has been going on inTaksim Square—and went on also in Tunis, Cairo, Madrid, Athens, New York, etc.—we begin to realize that we are in fact capable, that what we perhaps thought was impossible is perfectly possible.

Along these lines we should also remember the popular assemblies in Tahrir, Puerta del Sol, Syntagma, Zuccotti, and elsewhere that were a more explicit declaration by people that they wanted to manage their affairs for themselves.  As the first declaration[2] issued by the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square in Athens put it:

For a long time decisions have been made for us, without consulting us.  We…have come to Syntagma Square…because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us.  We call all residents of Athens…and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands.  In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.

While similar assemblies may or may not become common in Turkey, there is very clearly much of the same dissatisfaction with government there, and in this case it is particularly focused on the figure of Erdogan.  Much of this dissatisfaction flows from his penchant for autocratic majoritarianism, and so for those who oppose him there is certainly something like a classically Lockean desire for a better governmental structure to contain that majoritarianism, to make sure his electoral success does not augment his prerogative to the point of tyranny.  This is of course the interpreation that the Western press relishes.  And that Lockeanism no doubt exists.  But again, we might also choose to see, in the mass of desires being articulated and enacted bodily in the streets of Turkish cities, a more basic desire among some participants to do things for themselves.  A desire to cease relying on a father figure, on an expert, on an elected government; a desire to rely on themselves instead.  A desire to take up the freedom and responsibility—and joy—of democracy.

One last point bears mentioning.  Many have emphasized that the actions in Turkey have taken place mostly without union or party leadership, that large and diverse groups have been able to act, often effectively, without organized leaders. Much is made, for example, of the crowd in Gezi Park singing to drown out a speech by the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) (e.g. Cassano, 2013).  For its part, the government claims the opposite, that the CHP is entirely behind the protests.  Still others emphasize instead that the current explosion is the pay-off for years of patient and committed organizing by environmental, community, and labor activists.  Here again, rather than argue over what is reallygoing on, we can choose instead simply to pay attention to the fact that some people have created rhizomatic networks, at least to some degree.  We can notice that there have been experiments, both intentional and not, with horizontal structures. We can observe that established unions and parties were once again not the driving force of the actions.[3]  We need to carefully examine what these experiments with rhizomatic community produced, what they felt like, what successes and failures they had, and what lessons they learned.


Again, I am not saying that the desires I have been drawing attention to in this article are more fundamental than other desires to understanding the events in Turkey.  They may even be less important, more marginal, even unconscious.  I am only claiming that the desires I have articulated are at work in Turkey.  Some inhabitants do desire to manage urban space themselves and to connect with others in rhizomatic networks.  Of course at the same time they also desire other things—secularism, liberal democracy, nationalism, political Islam, justice for ethnic minorities, respect for the LGBT community, etc.  They may or may not desire those other things more than they desire democracy.[4]  And so my claim is only that the desire for democracy—real democracy—exists in the bodies and minds of people on the streets today in Turkey.  I think that claim immediately proposes a certain political praxis: when we encounter something like the current situation in Turkey, we should be intentional about seeking the desire for democracy.  We should learn to recognize it when we see it, pay careful attention to its texture, narrate it critically and yet supportively, augment its flow by connecting it with other such desires, allow it to flourish according to its own will, and help it proliferate everywhere.  We find ourselves in an era when democratic desire seems to be sprouting, and exploding, in city after city, all over the world.  We have no need for a vanguard to activate the people, no need to invent or bring to life the desire for democracy.  It already exists; it is already everywhere.  It is already growing according to its own inner drives.  Our role, I think, the role of everyone, is to look for it, to know it when we see it, to sing it, and to help it grow on its own terms.

Works Cited

Cassano, J. (2013) The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer.  Jadaliyya, June 1.

Deleuze and Guattari (1987 [1980]) A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lefebvre, H. (2003 [1970]) The Urban Revolution. Trans. R. Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lefebvre, H. (2009) State, Space, World: Selected Essays. Edited by N. Brenner and S. Elden. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[1]    This was true in Tahrir Square as well: Mubarak never tired of claiming that Egyptians would descend into chaos without his firm hand, and protesters’ caring for the square was a way to show Mubarak that he had underestimated them.

[3]    Unions were similarly late to the party in Spain, Greece, and the Occupy movement.

[4]    And of course those other desires can also, at times, interweave with or reinforce the desire for democracy.


The contested space in Santiago: Clash between citizens and government within the civic district

by Francisco Vergara


It is well understood that good city is a place where citizenship, state and private world are represented, and coexisting in harmony and build successful relationships looking for general good. For Ash Amin, the good city is achieved when the urban order permits to enhance the human experience (Amin 2006). In this essay, it will be use the idea of ‘good city’ as a democratic space, which through conflicts can change the balance between government, citizens and private realm, to produce new space meanings. From this definition, appears an initial question that can launch other inquiries: How the conflict can improve the city in order to generate democratic spaces designed to receive a claiming citizenship? Find the answer is not a central topic for this essay, nevertheless here is explored a path to deepen the idea of democratic space towards produce better cities.

This essay presents a critical view about Santiago city’s actual state, after a series of manifestations and social revolts leaded by university students from 2011 that aspire to create a good society, generating structural changes to a political system and economic model. The street is seen as a space of protest and representation for citizenship, allowing understanding the importance of public space in support of civic development for a nation. It will be expose how political violence had changed the civic space of Santiago in three occasions. It concludes with a hypothesis towards a good city that embraces citizens participation in urban transformations.

The street as a space for protest and expression

“The street is dead. The discovery has coincided with frantic attempts at resuscitation. Public art is everywhere -as if two deaths make a life. Pedestrinization- intended to preserve – merely channels the flow of thus doomed to destroy the object of their intended reverence with their feet” (Koolhaas 1995)

Some years ago, Rem Koolhaas stated publicly that the street was death, and with that he announced the decadence of public space in neoliberal city. In this realm, it is impossible to do avoid Santiago as an emblematic case, wherein the street was dying but suddenly has risen as a consequence of people’s discontent with the residing economic model. This manifestation of discontent has two extremes; on one hand the citizens demanding rights and on the other hand the government defending actual institution mechanism.

When the government demonstrates incapacity to react to what citizen’s claiming as proper, it is the citizenship as a collective body, which will self appropriate those necessities. The last year has seen take ownership of the streets, to claim for better management of natural resources, better education, for respect for sexual minorities, and better work rights, among other reasons. This has resulted in marches and protests, which have become a traditional act in Santiago (Almost folkloric)

“The demonstrations have open in the last two years a dialogue. Chile seems to be about to a process of democratic deepening that arisen from the citizens, of which the city can be part, whether giving space to this dialogue, as well facing on a transformation process by itself.” (Cociña In press)

From a theorist point of view, David Harvey says “The Street is a public space that has historically often been transformed by social action into the common of a revolutionary movement, as well as into a site of bloody suppression. There is always struggle over how the production of and access to public space and public goods is to be regulated, by whom, and in whose interests” (Harvey 2011); from this idea, we can infer that public space is defined by the manner how the users activate it. Protest has been one way in which human activity transform these spaces into a culture symbol. The public space becomes a cultural record, one in which a society is built through popular claims. The public space is alive when society is angry or happy, and in other words, the public space is loaded with meaning when it is massively occupied.

“It is about the recognition of conflict as constitutive of the social condition, and the naming of the spatiality that can become without being grounded in universalising notions of the social (in the sense of community, unity or cohesion) and a singular notion of the people” (Swyngedouw 2011)

Chileans for years lived their cities in a commercial way, moving their public life from parks and plazas close to their neighbourhood, to shopping malls; so new needs appeared linked to leisure. In fact, families began to depend of spending access and goods acquisition, a materialist life conception. Nevertheless, this conditions are changing, shifting towards the public life again. “The market, scenario that for long decades was a space of analgesia and depoliticization, becomes a conflict scenario. The symbol, principal actor of this play, is the Shopping Mall, get in conflict with society in an evident irony. The Chilean society was surrendered to Shopping Malls the evil was the symbol of development. Suddenly they criticize that Shopping Malls are too big and disrespectful with the environment. That used to be what they loved years ago that they came to put a foot over whole the city what marked whole his erotic, the strength of his power” (Mayol 2012)

The street began to resume their empowerment over private space, once again with protest and the discontent becoming powerful engines of urban changes and thus is how the modern history of the cities has showed.

The violence and urban transformations

To the historian Gabriel Salazar (2011), the violence had produced real changes in Chile, which when reviewing the history seems to be indisputable: “any time that citizenship has manifested with sovereignty outbursts the response had been, initially by police then systematically using Inner Security Laws, taking a repressive attitude which is a provocation by itself, and that produce a clash”. As a result of these clashes, diverse historical situations have marked deep changes on the manner in which the city in Chile is understood. For Tschumi (1982) “There is no architecture without action, no architecture without events, no architecture without program. By extension, there is no architecture without violence”. The violence in architecture can be physical, conceptual or ephemeral, and these kinds of actions together with a socio-political component can bring like consequence, symbolic urban transformations. Historically, it is possible to review diverse projects of high world impact that have exposed how violence, in different ways, produces spatial changes in cities. For example, between 1852 and 1870 the Paris transformations, headed by Napoleon III and under the address of Haussmann, were achieved because of physical violence from authorities. This result in wiping out the original trace of the city to generate a harmonic relationship between civic space and built environment, manifested in the gentrification of the downtown, expelling people to the periphery of the city (Saalman 1971). Another example of how violent acts changed the configuration of the city occurred in Berlin: after the wall demolition, disappeared social, economical and political divisions between Eastern Germany and Western Germany, to start a process of reunification, where the Postdamer Platz is nowadays an emblematic case. On the other hand, the city of Medellin in Colombia has been a worldwide example about how to recover public spaces in a city that were previously ruled by the drug cartels in the 1980s and 1990s. (Brand 2011)

There is a link between social processes that generate violence and urban transformations. The social unrest is an indicator of possible and relevant urban changes and in this sense is an exciting review what has happened in Santiago of Chile between 2011 and 2012. For Salazar (2011), “the violence begins with denying the law, but the execution on physical violence depends of the circumstances and in Chile that should not be disparaged. A social-citizenship movement that want to change the Constitution of the State through a peaceful way can not forget the existence of an army, which is not democratic, that never had been democratic and that in their history has always repressed social manifestations in a violent manner”.

In 2011 Chilean citizenship began to awake and protest against many social injustices, which were arming for decades. The lethargy produced after years of intimidation, and repressive dictatorship has finished, and the street is once again a means to express discontent: Marches against hydroelectric projects and energy from coal projects, because the citizens want no more environment destruction to justify a production to enrich just 5% of population. Marches have also appeared to defend sexual rights because citizens are tired of discriminatory behaviours; the education, of course, was the central topic of the marches, bringing to the streets more than 100.000 people for each march.

This, added to the political representation crisis, inasmuch as citizens do not believe in representative institutions and are looking for new choices towards a democratic civil society. The national poll from “Centro de Estudios Publicos” (Public Studies Centre) in august of 2012, states that the 78% of Chileans consider that the economic situation is from mediocre to bad. A 60% do not feel identified with any parties; an 83% of the population consider that democracy is from regular to very bad, and only a 6% of the people trust in parties, whom finally govern.

There is an evident tension between civil society and government that shakes the city comprehension in order to find new manners to produce representative spaces, and refund what is a good city for Chileans today; achieving thus what democratic citizenship wish for their future.

Three spatial transformations in three historic moments

During the republican history of Chile, diverse violent facts triggered relevant social changes. Following these situations, the idea of good city could be discussed and resignified, starting by understand the importance of conflict in order to generate the conditions of good cities. Three historic study cases now will be presented. These had consequently resulted in spatial transformations about the meaning of the civic district of Santiago. The analysis of these facts can help to define the guidelines to design democratic spaces to a XXI century’s Santiago.

1. Massacre of Workers Insurance Building: Civic District of Santiago

In the ends of 1937, saw a dispute arising to define the future president. Gustavo Ross, who also was the Treasury Minister, at that time appeared to have the position of advantage. Far in the polls was Pedro Aguirre Cerda, from the Radical Party, characterized in those years for progressive ideas and with a strong social compromise. In 1937, the Public Works Ministry was preparing the construction of civic district of Santiago, to highlight La Moneda as main government building of Chile. On September 4th of 1938, a students group from the National Socialists Party undertook an occupation of a governmental building close to La Moneda to protest against the government of Alessandri. The government reacted with excessive violence through the police. Once the students were surrendered, the police killed 59 students. With this massacre, the citizenship lost his trust in Alessandri and for extension in Ross, his golden boy. Finally, the president elected was Pedro Aguirre Cerda, and began the radical governments era, and is this new president who inaugurated this new civic district. Paradoxically, the first huge civic act occurred in this renewed area was precisely the funeral of Pedro Aguirre Cerda, who died while he was president. The violence against students not only have changed the political history of Chile, but also it changed the meaning of this plaza because the president Aguirre Cerda was quite close to people, and he was a wise politician. Hence, in the moment when he inaugurates this space people make a connection between the space and the beloved president. On the other hand, the final years of Alessandri government made him more distant to the people, and this project in particular was heavily criticised. Everything changed with the massacre for Alessandri, for Aguirre Cerda and to the civic district too because the meaning of the civic district was further related to the beloved president Pedro Aguirre Cerda, rather than the reticent relationship between citizens and Alessandri, as a consequence, this first civic space of Santiago had popular affection.

The good city should have a strong link with how the government manage his projects and policies. However, a problem could appear if the government decisions are taken from a populist will. This is dangerous because if they only think to be kind with people, and as a consequence they break the balance with the private realm, the government will face new and complex problems[1].

Barrio civico La moneda bombardeada

2. Coup: Bombardment of La Moneda

In 1973, the government of Salvador Allende was facing strong criticism from the opposition, and on September 11th, the military forces commanded by Augusto Pinochet did a coup, in which they moved the army troops towards the government palace to take it. This fact had a climax when two airplanes form Air Force bombard La Moneda, destroying some parts of the building. This act of high violence was symbolic again; the republic that had been developed during the preceding decades was destroyed by a dictatorship that abolished the institutionalism, installing a politic model based on the market (Klein 2008). This destruction represents the way in which the dictatorship worked: Destroy the preexistence and install as fast as possible a new society model based on capitalism. Until today, Chilean society should fight against this model that has shown to generate huge inequities and tension between people. The bombing of the central building of the country is a way to establish a hierarchy, with an army controlling civil society and democracy.

It is worth made the question: Is it possible to create a good city during a dictatorship? To answer this question is fundamental understand that a good city is far of a controlled space, it should be a place for diversity.


plaza de la ciudadania

3. The return to democracy: Citizenship Square

This case is interesting because the design of a space supposedly representative pushed by the government, the citizenship react trying to appropriate this space and strangely the government react repressing their civic expressions.

In the process of democratic transition, during the government of Ricardo Lagos (2012), two significant public works to the citizenship were realized: the first was that La Moneda palace opened the doors again and thus became in a building where Chileans could feel free to pass and use because belonged to all of them. The other work was the Citizenship Square that should be a place where people could make meetings in a civic atmosphere. Nevertheless the problem arose when the political authority and the square’s design itself did not work as citizenship space. On the contrary, any possible demonstration in the square unleashes a troop of police to preserve the security of La Moneda. During Michelle Bachelet government, authorities installed a fence to separate La Moneda from the square, and during the Government of Sebastian Piñera the open doors of La Moneda were closed again. Even though, this case does not have a direct violence to change the spatiality, has a fear to the violence, a fear among compatriots and this fear represented through the fence and closing doors is a mode of violence too because it splits two components of a good city, the civil society and the government. Apparently a good city cannot be developed without participatory processes.

ciudad tomada

Towards a Democratic Santiago

The manifestations that surrounded the palace of La Moneda in the last year generated high impacts. The discontent from citizens over the political realm was showed by polls and public marches in streets, pushing the relationship between civil society and government towards a critical point; “from the coup the dictatorship split the state from the citizenship, removing his trait of social sensibility and empowering the trait of the market, whereby the citizenship began to consort between them and with that began a unique citizenship culture, a participatory and local culture” (Salazar 2011). Nowadays, a citizenship critic of in which the country is addressed, claim for cities able to interpret a new manner to understand the civic, integrating, participating, activating, contesting.

To establish a hypothesis with audacity, the spatial configuration of Santiago should be developed through a citizen consultation in order to reveal what Chileans want from their capital city. This consultation should consider an information campaign in television, radios, newspapers, schools, universities in order to educate citizenship about the manner to transform cities. The aim of this campaign is create a critical civic body to make conscious decisions about their city development. The government should do a public competition where the final decision about the winner of the planning and urban design process will be selected by experts and citizenship in an open vote, which should be free and inclusive.

The relationship between government, citizens and their conflicts can help to produce a new methodology towards a democratic city, reaching to achieve representative spaces, starting with the comprehension of conflicts as a source of urban design guidelines.

It has been reviewd that violence generates changes in the meaning of spaces within cities. Therefore, the social tension in Santiago could be a positive quality if the government find the way to address this opportunity. Maybe the first step to avoid violent social conflicts is stopping reactions based on repression and more violence. Perhaps they can start with listening what people want and then start to change the city, not backwards, in order to install a democratic urban development.


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Brand, P., Davila, J. 2011. ‘Mobility innovation at the urban margins’. City: Analysis of urban trends culture, theory, policy, action. Vol 15. No. 6: P. 647.

Cociña, C. (In press). ‘”Cinco escenas y un relato: profundizacion democrática en la ciudad de los consensos”. Revista Materia. Escuela de Arquitectura Universidad San Sebastian: Santiago. (Accepted for publication November 2012).

Harvey, D. 2011. Rebel Cities. 1st Edition. Verso: New York – London.

Klein, N. 2008. The shock doctrine. Penguin Press: London.

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Salazar, G. 2011. “La Entrevista de Tomas Moschiatti”. [Online]. Available: [ 4 August 2011].

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Tschumi, B. 1982. Architecture & Disjunction. 1st Edition. MIT Press Ltd.: Massachusetts.

[1] NOTE: One of the examples that shown what happen when government breaks the balance between citizenship and private realm occurred during the Salvador Allende presidency, when the entrepreneurs saw how his profits were falling before economic changes driven by the president.  These break of balance finished with the putsch leaded by Pinochet and with the instauration of the neo-liberal model in Chile.