Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Urban Marginality: Researcher Links Workshop

I am on my way to Mexico City where in collaboration with my Edinburgh colleague Tom Slater, and Toño Gallardo and Mariana Gallardo of Universidad La Salle, I am organizing a workshop on Urban Marginality that will run from 11-15 July. We are generously funded by the British Council and CONACYT’s Newton Fund. We will be joined by more than 30 early career scholars from the UK and Mexico who are all working on themes of urban justice and urban marginality. To find out more about us and our workshop aims, please visit our workshop website, like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. During the workshop, Kevin Glynn and I will present a paper that brings our Marsden funded research on geographies of media convergence into dialogue with questions of stigmatization, decoloniality, and urban justice in Mexico City through an analysis of the Santa Muerte phenomenon.



Producing and contesting urban marginality: Speculation, public space and social movements in the neoliberal city

Call for participation: British Council-Newton Fund workshop in Mexico City

Producing and contesting urban marginality: Speculation, public space and social movements in the neoliberal city

Universidad La Salle, Mexico City

From Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 July 2016 (inclusive)

The workshop is coordinated by Julie Cupples (University of Edinburgh) and Mario López González Garza (Universidad La Salle) with contributions from mentors Tom Slater (University of Edinburgh) and Antonio Gallardo (Universidad La Salle)

We are now inviting Early Career Researchers from the UK and Mexico to apply to attend this workshop. Travel (up to a maximum of £1000 for UK-based and £150 for Mexican-based researchers) and accommodation expenses (up to a maximum of £320) will be covered by the Newton Researcher Links programme. The application form, available here, must be submitted to julie.cupples@ed.ac.uk before the deadline of 11 April 2016.

Workshop details

In Mexico City, as in many other large cities worldwide, contemporary modes of urban governance have overwhelmingly benefited affluent populations and widened social inequalities. Disinvestment from social housing and rent-seeking developments by real estate companies and land speculators have resulted in the displacement of low-income populations to the urban periphery. Public social spaces have been eliminated to make way for luxury apartments and business interests. Low-income neighbourhoods are often stigmatized by dominant social forces to justify their demolition. The urban poor have however negotiated and resisted these developments in a range of ways. Our workshop seeks to explore these urban dynamics in Mexico City and beyond, looking at the material and symbolic mechanisms through which urban marginality is produced and contested. It seeks to understand how things might be otherwise, how the city might be geared towards more inclusive forms of belonging and citizenship.

We seek to chart the ways in which processes of urban transformation are enacted both materially and symbolically and the impacts these processes have on the urban poor. We will also explore the urban struggles that result from these impacts. We are especially interested in discussions that are focused on linking the macrodeterminants of urban political economy to the life options and strategies of the poor at ground level. This would provide propitious terrain for reformulating from ‘below’, in empirical terms, the labels, discourses and categories imposed from ‘above’ that have been shown in scholarship to have corrosive consequences. Drawing on these insights, we hope to produce a series of recommendations for stakeholders with a view to producing a more inclusive city where the social, economic and cultural needs of marginalised people become a central principle according to which the restructuring of urban space occurs.

The workshops will provide a unique opportunity for sharing research expertise and networking. During the workshops early career researchers will have the opportunity to present their research in the form of a short oral presentation and discuss this with established researchers from the UK and Mexico. The workshop will also include a field trip to a number of marginal and irregular settlements in Mexico City to interact with artists and community leaders. There will be a focus on building up links for future collaborations and participants selected on the basis of their research potential and ability to build longer term links. We will for example partner UK and Mexican researchers to co-author a book chapter for a published anthology after the workshop is completed.

We are seeking researchers who are working on questions of urban marginality in cities in Mexico or elsewhere in the world. We are particularly interested in scholars who have built close relationships with urban social movements or with communities in irregular settlements or those facing eviction or displacement.

Eligibility Criteria:

Researchers must be conducting research on urban marginality in Mexico or other cities in the world and are interested in sharing insights from diverse geographical locations. Applications must be submitted before the above deadline.

Participants must be early career researchers: Early Career Researchers are defined as holding a PhD (or having equivalent research experience) and having up to 10 years post-PhD (or equivalent) research experience.

Participants must have a research or academic position (either a permanent post, research contract, or teaching/research fellowship etc) at a recognised research institution either in the UK or in Mexico.

Applicants must be willing to contribute a co-authored book chapter to the anthology that will result from the workshop. Support will be provided by the workshop coordinators and mentors. The language of the workshop will be in English, so all participants must be able to work in English, but allowances will be made for non-native English speakers. UK participants with some Spanish fluency will be particularly welcome.

Quality Assessment

Experience and relevance of the applicant’s research area to the workshop

Motivation and contribution to the aims of the workshop

Description of the long term impact expected through the participation in the workshop

Ability to disseminate workshop’s outcomes

Notification of results:

Applicants will be notified by email no more than two months prior to the workshop and hopefully no later than 25 April.




Collaborating with a Muddy Road and an Ailing Forest: The Construction of Ecological Citizenship in San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua

This article is now published in  the Journal of Latin American Geography and available here. If you don’t have access to the journal and would like a copy, please email me. Special thanks to my co-author Lauren Sinreich and to Irving Larios and the  Instituto de Investigaciones y Gestión Social in Managua, Nicaragua for all their practical and intellectual support

This article explores the emergence of ecological citizenship in the Nicaraguan municipality of San Francisco Libre. After decades of dealing with economic, social and environmental risk, the inhabitants of the municipality’s communities began to enact a more empowering kind of citizenship by enrolling nonhumans including trees and legal texts in their struggles for development and justice. While this struggle is fraught with setbacks and complexities, it is apparent that those involved are beginning to move beyond nature-culture binaries, recognizing that political rights and ecological rights can and indeed must be simultaneously pursued. Drawing on fieldwork in the community and analysis of key documents, we outline the political responses and participatory processes engendered by economic and environmental risk that have taken place in San Francisco Libre in the past decade-and-a-half to frame the contours of a relational community forestry that enables a democratizing form of ecological citizenship to emerge.


Este artículo explora la aparición de una ciudadanía ecológica en la municipalidad nicaragüense de San Francisco Libre. Después de unas décadas en las cuales los habitantes de las comunidades de la municipalidad se enfrentaban a riesgos de índole económica, social y ambiental, empezaron a crear una forma de ciudadanía más potenciadora mediante la inscripción de los seres no humanos tales como los árboles y los textos legales en las luchas por el desarrollo y la justicia. Aunque esta lucha está marcada por retrocesos y complejidades, está claro que los involucrados empiezan a superar las binarías de la naturaleza y la cultura, reconociendo que los derechos políticos y los derechos ecológicos pueden y deben ser asegurados simultáneamente. Basado en el trabajo de campo en la comunidad y en un análisis de documentos claves, esbozamos las respuestas políticas y procesos participativos generados por el riesgo económico y ambiental que han ocurrido en San Francisco Libre en la década y media pasada para enmarcar los contornos de una silvicultura comunitaria relacional que permite la aparición de una forma democratizadora de la ciudadanía ecológica.

ecological citizenship, community forestry, climate change, Nicaragua, Nicaragua
Palabras clave
ciudadanía ecológica, silvicultura comunitaria, cambio climático, Nicaragua

Referendum campaigns and the things we do for love

Yes posters in central Edinburgh

Yes posters in central Edinburgh

I feel fortunate that in a little more than a week, I get to have a say in the political future of my adopted home. On 18 September, all those resident in Scotland get to vote in a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country. The last time I participated in a referendum was in 2007 in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans were asked to vote on whether their nation should join the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA. While CAFTA had been ratified quite easily in the other countries of Central America, in Costa Rica a large grassroots movement opposing the free trade agreement had emerged (see Cupples and Larios 2010). Unlike the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, I was unable to vote. But I travelled there with two compañeros from Nicaragua in support of the No campaign. The polls were indicating that the vote was very close and could go either way. We worked with anti-CAFTA activists, who opposed the free trade agreement because CAFTA meant further neoliberalization of the country’s economy. Costa Rica’s relative political stability in the second half of the 20th century, in comparison with its politically turbulent neighbours, meant there had been widespread public investment in social services such as health care, education, and telecommunications and the nationalization of banking and insurance. Costa Rica had also become a world leader in environmental protection. The No campaign felt that CAFTA put these all at risk.

Having read Ian Bell’s (2014) recent comment piece in The Herald, I realized that there are some similarities with the Scottish referendum, although the nos and the yeses are in this case reversed. I am not denying the obvious differences when I say this. Voting to become an independent state is quite different from voting on a free trade deal. But it is also apparent that for many of those voting No in Costa Rica in 2007 and Yes in Scotland in 2014, the motivation to vote in this way is inspired primarily by opposition to further neoliberalization. I am not Scottish, I hate nationalism, I’m opposed to further oil extraction, but I am voting yes. Indeed, my return to the UK at the start of 2013, after living in New Zealand for 15 years, has plunged me into a deep sense of political pessimism. I am shocked at the lengths that the current British government will go to in an attempt to maintain their discursive hegemony, especially the way in which they are prepared to cruelly attack and stigmatize those directly harmed by their own policies. After living in a semi-privatized health system in New Zealand, the dismantling and privatization of the NHS in England is disturbing. It is outrageous that young people must get so indebted in order to get educated and contribute to the collective good. It totally ruins my day if I end up hearing Theresa May on Radio 4 in the morning. It is wrong that there are British people that don’t have enough to eat, while others can spend thousands of pounds a year to send their kids to private school. So the possibility to get nasty Tory austerity policies, along with nuclear weapons, out of Scotland is a welcome opportunity.

In Costa Rica, the Yes and No campaigns were hugely unequal. The Yes camp enjoyed the financial backing of the Costa Rican and US governments and the national and multinational business sectors along with the support of the mainstream media. It ran a campaign of fear and intimidation. In response, the No campaign set about occupying alternative media sites, especially radio and the Internet, and they covered the urban landscape of San José and other cities and towns with No T-shirts, badges, leaflets, banners, posters, graffiti, and bumper stickers. They performed street theater and organized marches. They talked in their neighbourhoods about the impacts of the free trade agreement. With limited financial resources but huge political enthusiasm, the No campaign produced a charismatic and affectionate campaign. Its main symbol was a heart with the slogan “My heart says No”. People said they were voting No out of love for Costa Rica.

San José, Costa Rica, September 2007

San José, Costa Rica, September 2007

A similar process is unfolding here in Scotland. During the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I went to listen to Colombian London-based scholar Oscar Guardiola-Rivera talk about his new book on the coup that brought down Latin America’s only democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. With reference to Scotland, he said that revolutionary transformation requires two essential ingredients, both of which are palpable in Scotland right now. These ingredients are love and courage. The two ingredients were clearly present in Costa Rica in 2007.

There are other similarities too. While the Yes camp in Scotland does of course have the backing of an established official political party, the SNP, it is also a very uneven struggle. It is up against all of the Westminster parties (curiously including Labour that in order to defend the Union inevitably aligns itself with austerity, inequality, privatization), big business, the banks and the mainstream media. (As a Labour voter, I feel disappointed they didn’t join the Yes campaign and used events in Scotland to challenge austerity in England and Wales too.) But what we saw in the No campaign in Costa Rica in 2007, and what is also evident in the Yes campaign Scotland right now, is a flourishing of bottom-up, grassroots, heterogeneous and largely leaderless politics. People are gaining a renewed or initial interest in politics, there is an enthusiastic energy on the streets, people are taking to social media to discuss the referendum and its multifaceted implications, and are covering the city and their homes with Yes signs. When large numbers of people become politically engaged, that political engagement has a legacy regardless of the outcome of the referendum. In response, the No campaign is based on fear and negativity. The attempt to mobilize fear does resonate with a substantial sector of the population, but it also produces ridicule, satire and humour. This was amply demonstrated just over a week ago when both camps released their campaign videos. While the Yes video was fairly predictable and uncontroversial, the No video depicted a Scottish woman drinking tea in her kitchen after her husband had gone to work and her kids had gone to school. Entitled “The woman who made up her mind”, she presented herself as unthinking, not politically engaged, unlike her husband who wants to talk politics over breakfast to whom she responds with an “eat your cereal” (you can watch the video here). The sexist video was widely ridiculed, and within hours had produced a massive satirical response on social media using the hashtag #patronisingBTlady. People produced dozens of hilarious memes. The video and the social media response might not in themselves be sufficient to swing the referendum outcome to Yes, but it illustrates the collective energy in the Yes camp, that can only fill one with political optimism.

One of the many #patronisingBTlady memes. available at https://twitter.com/PatronisingBT/status/504938231885221888

One of the many #patronisingBTlady memes. available at

In Costa Rica, I’m sad to say, Yes triumphed by a very small margin. At the time of the writing, it seems that No in Scotland might also triumph by a small margin. Right now however, Yes remains a possibility, and one worth fighting for in the last few days of the campaign. But whatever the outcome, you cannot ignore half of the electorate who through this campaign have begun to articulate a different political vision for Scotland and the UK, one that is based on dignity for everyone, not just those who inherit wealth or are privately educated. Many might feel that voting No means voting for the status quo, and in a way it does in terms of constitutional/administrative arrangements. But in terms of cultural politics, the status quo will not be left intact. People who gained political skills and awareness and felt energized by that engagement, who began to think about what is at stake for our health service or whether it is OK to have nuclear weapons so close to the places where we live, study and work, don’t just go sit in their kitchens and cease thinking. Neoliberal discourses tell us constantly there is no alternative to austerity. They pit the low-income worker against the beneficiary, against the immigrant. It does take both love and courage to recognize that the economy is not a zero sum game, that if your standard of living improves, it does not mean that mine will get worse. If we focused on wealth redistribution rather than economic growth, our economy would probably start to grow as those at the bottom could begin to consume a little more and we’d end the damaging speculation in private housing and other sectors. We don’t do this because the political class is not interested in promoting equality. Educating, housing or caring for someone out of the public purse is actually good for everyone! Giving people opportunities does not make them lazy, it allows them to get ahead. In Scotland in 2014, ordinary people are articulating alternatives to neoliberalism – they are rearticulating the common sense of this government – and that is what really threatens the likes of David Cameron. I am glad to be living through it.

Love and humour in the Yes campaign, posted on Twitter on 7 Sept. Available at https://twitter.com/6CamCam8/status/508707835036073984

Love and humour in the Yes campaign, posted on Twitter on 7 Sept. Available at https://twitter.com/6CamCam8/status/508707835036073984


Bell I (2014) The No campaign is losing out in this carnival of democracy. The Herald 23 August http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/the-no-camp-is-losing-out-in-this-carnival-of-democracy.25102521 (Accessed 23 August)

Cupples J and Larios I (2010) A functional anarchy: Love, patriotism and resistance to free trade in Costa Rica. Latin American Perspectives 37(6): 93-108