Loss and (re)Construction of Public Space Cases of three post-Soviet cities

While ira.urban team members, Lela Rekhviashvili and Carola Neugebauer are in preperation for the special issue on Loss and (re)Constructin of Pubilc Space in post Soviet Cities, last monday they held a colloquium on the topic. Three authors presented their the summary of their contributions for a special issue and discussed them with the guests from Leibniz institute for Regional Georgraphy and Leipzig University. The special issue will be published in No. 7/8 of the 2015 volume of International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, with Lela Rekhviashvili and Carola Neugebauer serving as guest editors.

Abstracts:

Silence and invisibility: tactics of the weak or the strategy of the powerful? Case of petty traders in Tbilisi

Lela Rekhviashvili                                                           

Any mentioning of the concept – public space – instantly invokes two contrasting sentiments. On the one hand, public space invokes hopeful visions of human coexistence. On the other hand, hopeful sentiments are overshadowed by the stark reality of shrinking and devalued public spaces. In this article I rely on the two claims made in the critical literature on public space – one emphasizing that control of the public space is the strategy for imposing neoliberal changes, and the second one emphasizing the inevitable resistance against neoliberal marketization – to analyse the conflict between the Georgian Post-Revolutionary government and the street vendors over the access to the public space in the capital of a small former soviet republic of Georgia. Following de Certeau’s (Certeau 1984) distinction between tactics of the weak and strategies of powerful, I describe the tactics of those petty traders that could not afford formalizing their activity, and thus became illegal street vendors. The government’s insistence to drive street vendors out of the public space is seen as a strategic move to commodify urban land and property and pursue neoliberal marketization policies.

                     

The right to live in the city – Urban behavior and control in Baku   

Melanie Krebs                                   

The material (re-)construction that takes place in post-Soviet cities and especially the capitals of the newly independent states are breathtaking: Soviet buildings – sometimes whole quarters − are erased and new post-modern buildings are built; market places that emerged during the transformation period are replaced by glittering malls. In the shadow of these material transformations immense social changes also took place following the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Moral values and behavioral codes that governed urban life and the appropriation of urban spaces changed significantly leading to conflicts over correct behavior in the city and about the question of who has the right to set the rules in public spaces.

In this paper I explore the current political as well as social rules that govern the public spaces in Baku and how they are discussed in order that the city should appear “European” and “modern” in contrast to “backwards” and “Eastern/oriental”. I focus on everyday practices of people acting in the public sphere, how they use the space and what discussions emerge around different behavior in public places. In this context the conflicts between old and new city dwellers, between people who were born and raised in Baku and newcomers from the Azerbaijani countryside (whether they are IDPs from Karabakh or not), but also between generations are especially interesting.

Rhythms of being together. Public space in urban Tajikistan through the lens of rhythmanalysis

W. Sgibnev                                   

The paper recurs to Henri Lefebvre’s concept of rhythmanalysis in an attempt to identify, describe and critically assess public spaces in the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan. Indeed, the applicability of the notion itself is highly problematic, since it requires a clear-cut distinction between the public and the private realm. The paper argues that the analytic dichotomy conceals more than it reveals. In pre-Soviet, as well as in Soviet times, the distinction is blurry at best. The institute of private property established after the demise of the Soviet Union remains weak with regard to these institutional and cultural legacies – all the more when it comes to questions related to space. Instead of looking for an in-between analytical category and dubbing spaces as “semi-private” or “semi-public”, the paper strives to grasp the complexity of the phenomenon through a rhythmanalytical approach. In doing so, spaces reveal their fluid character with regard to privacy and publicness, with oscillating morphology, users and purposes. This oscillation, though, is neither chaotic nor accidental. It occurs with an hourly, daily, weekly, yearly etc rhythmicity. This rhythmicity is a product of societal negotiation, and therefore subject to power relations. The empirical findings are mainly based on ethnographic fieldwork on a courtyard in a housing estate in Khujand in northern Tajikistan.