This is a blog following my journey through my undergraduate years at U of T.
Urban Education Blog- A walk in old shoes
I wrote this piece cognizant of the power of spoken word as performative ethnography. Here, experience, memory and history converge, taking the form of the audible cadence of a historically suppressed voice. I am both flaneur and subject here, exploring the fragmented experiences of my self and the spatial reality that surrounds it, in the project of engaging in a critical analysis of the structural features of urbanity and modernity.(Jenks and Neves, 2000) It has been noted that we can only apprehend that which engages us: ‘In the face of the rapid change of the city, the flaneur remembers, and folds his memory into the experience of the present. This changes the experience of the city, making the lived moment into a citable moment. (Howard Caygill, 1998) I have created here a psychogeographic map of my past self as I journeyed through a time that is itself subject to the changing whims of my memory; the ever evolving positions and tools used to make sense of my present inevitably reaching back in time, breaking teleological laws.
Engaging in urban ethnography demands that the researcher move into uncomfortable territory. It demands that we make the strange familiar and the familiar strange (Wilson, 1991, p. 5). Those who venture to unearth historically silenced voices will be seen, sticking out of the monotonous and contrived uniformity of dominant narratives like a rainbow in a clouded sky. This makes me vulnerable. I must remain reflexive in experience and memory, sight and citation (Jenks and Neves, 2000), for I will be exploring highly political spaces, places and their relationally to My face. My very being demands that issues of class, gender, race, agency and the body be questioned(Stelhe, 2008); satisfactorily or my self will remained disembodied. The narratives of my life- the here and now, lived and future- require deconstruction and demystification of the spaces that help to construct me.
I walk through, carry, am part of, embody, construct and deconstruct the urban. I was ascribed an ‘urban’ identity before i lived it, bore the weight of histories, memories and ill fated destinies manifested in physical space, filling my psychic universe. The possibility, the alternatives, the promise of emancipation, the resilience of the oppressed rains hope on a perpetually disturbed harvest; leeched of its potentiality but where the blossoming and ripening of fruits are realized against all odds.
This is my journey, was my journey, will be my journey…
Mapping my journey through the downtown core, St, George campus where my post secondary student identity was borne. Wake up, wait for a ride to Bramalea bus station, wait for the bus that will take an 1.5 hours to get to Finch station and another 45 to get to St. George. In the beginning, the journey is liberating- i am on my own- my whereabouts determined only by myself, the people who under pay for my labour and the educational institution….don’t be late for class, though i always am…
I am an exception- among my peers who look like, talk like, walk like, feel Africa from a distance; a vision made nebulous through the depths of the waters of the caribbean, the plumes of exhaust that dance along the trajectory of an airplane that makes its way to Toronto with my parents.
Who else is riding with me. This tedious journey has many passengers making their way to the urban centre. I wonder who among them will be at my school, a school, a good job- under employed, unemployed- if your on the bus in the suburbs its probably not because you are concerned about a sustainable future…although i am…
The urban environment is a space characterized by the meeting of peoples, histories, ideologies, where fluidity and ‘zones of contact'(Pratt, 1987) blur the boundaries of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’, of binary categorization. The urban identity is borne by a subject situated historically and geographically in space and time, constituted by discursive processes but not reducible to them (Nelson, 1999). An increasingly cosmopolitan urbanity- cosmopolitan in the sense that it is marked by cross-culturality, intersectionality, transcience and movement- makes the consciousness of that society alive with multitudinal desires, perspectives and experience.
I find myself part of an imagined community, situating myself within this group who share a common experience of oppression by and resistance to an extant homogenizing, exploitative force. My face is a representation of a disadvantaged community, my eyes the window to a history of genocide, enslavement, oppression, disenfranchisment by those who are guilty; romanticize my ‘otherness’ if you must. Resilience, promise, resistance, strength and life to those who live on.
Amin (2007) speaks of the transnational flows of ideas, information, knowledge, money and people; trans-local networks of organization and influence, including multinational corporations and global financial institutions, international governance regimes and transnational cultural networks…the actions of the powerful as defining the ‘new urban’. The urban environment can no longer be conceived of as an abstract entity when it is a symptom of globalization, a microcosm of the amalgam the world always was and is now- more than ever.
The heart of the urban is located in many places, for migrant people bring their sense of belonging with them wherever they may go. Movement helps to define us. It is through movement that our experience can be located, contextualized. The centrality of the fluidity of boundaries in my mind map is readily apparent . I move through areas thought to be bound by name with physical ease, yet internalization of the boundedness of territories creates psychic barriers, dislocating the realities of structural inequities and issues shared by the people of the GTA. In ‘Unpacking Cosmopolitanism’ Beck and Snzaider assert that boundaries are continuously erected to signify and maintain difference. Here, the conceptualization of autonomy is defective and subverts the reality of interdependance. Those who seek to maintain the status quo will resist interrogation of the bounded entities they vehemently try to naturalize.(Beck and Sznaider, 2010)
In Brampton and Toronto, I am ascribed an urban identity; synonymous with being afflicted with an endogenous condition, an ‘urban condition’. The ills of the products of neo-liberalism and its supporting discourses inscribe and confuse what faces me. The realization that I must be an ethnographer in any space i find myself in is my saving grace.
I blend with the crowd, realizing that outside speculation will almost too consistently be deductive- black skin- that’s actually cocoa brown..plus- badges of ethnicity, performative gender and class markers- dark eye liner, baggy pants and air force ones, bubble jackets and weaves, and perms and natural hair, the melody of my voice- equals ghetto black girl- the popular image of the urban. Unless urban is to mean modern, cultured, experiencing transience, cross cultural interaction etically, a privileged position- flirting with the marginal- celebrating its delicacies, and consuming its soul.
New spaces, new places- familiar stares from unfamiliar faces… Well, thats if you catch them looking.. I must be the subject of another’s flaneurie. They wonder what i’m doing in this store where i clearly cant afford anything screams my shoes, shouts my skin, laughs my wallet emptied by school fees. Can I help you- just looking..at another world within a new world.
Adjacent to the campus is where we aspire to make our own. We go to this school and are told we are among the elite, are taught the ways of the west, and its omnipresent religion- capitalism… i mean democracy. I used to feel alienated from this bordering space- rich rich, money money, got none?, sorry honey… but i am redeemed in my cynicism. Unearthing the many epistemologies that make this self- i create, re cycle revolution- full circle- this becomes the real project i’m working on- though the institution still wants its tribute- read and write til blood is drawn- and they are still not satiated.
Dymystification and deconstruction reveals what lies beneath. Unearthed in my micro-ethnographic experience is the salience of many isms, that unless held up to a microscope, go unnoticed; how difficult it is to gather empirical evidence of discrimination of any kind in a society that overtly claims to value difference. Profound neo-liberalization in the GTA has resulted in the commodification of difference. Ethnic diversity is now a weapon in the deadly competitions refereed in the name of capitalism and entrepreneurism.(Boudreau and Young, 2009) A language ideology that privileges standard English and its cultural expressions is reproduced through language socialization and reinforced through the necessity of mastering literacy and oracy in that standard form. In this way am I, identifiable through the performative markers of gender, race, sex and class, insidiously and quietly excluded from spaces and places. Bhaba discusses stereotyping as a major discursive strategy to ensure that differences between people are recognized. ‘Othering’ is the product of such a strategy and here the target of denigration is dehumanized, their positive and desired attributes disavowed. (Bhabha, 1994). Riggins(1997) argues that for a stereotype to ‘make sense’ to those who apply it, a whole chain of reinforcing ideas must accompany it.
Engaging in critical analysis of the discursive, epistemological and ontological makings of me makes visible the systemic discriminatory paradigms that permeate my lived experience. Shattering oppressive norms requires us to confront our own colonization: The system we are fighting is not merely structural; its also inside us, through the internalization of oppressive cultural norms that define our worldview. Our minds have been colonized to normalize deeply pathological assumptions. (Reinsborough, 2004)
Decolonizing and detoxifying our psychic spaces require questioning the mundane, targeting norms as subjects of deep inquiry. Dlamini (2002) warns that “often putting the principles of critical pedagogy and anti-racism into practice is very complex….The application of these principles can simultaneously eradicate or contradict them” (p. 55). This will be true in a society that has not delineated the reasons why they believe what they believe, how that impacts every encounter, every experience, every meaning.(Stelhe, 2008)
The disjunct between here and there slowly feels less imposed, less threatening, as i realize i am entitled to a different imagined dream than this ‘Canadian Dream’ land of freedom, wealth, democracy, for some not all…patriarchical, racist, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, xenophobic- don’t talk like that here or you’ll get No respect.
I must carry this eye with me, it must engage with the storm that embattles my very being- a fierce wind that demands that i accept the unacceptable- normalize the constructed, and naturalize what cannot be freedom, love- but this eye can see the machinery at work here. I am a stranger in this place- but my very presence demands that i belong. I say, i am not an exception- others who look like, talk like, walk like, dress like me belong here too. Don’t roll your eyes when i ask how we can discuss the success of the European Industrial revolution- implicitly illustrating why europe and its descendants dominate the world – without locating the contribution of the slave trade and all supporting imperialist projects to the continued oppression of 2/3rds of the world.
My tongue is cement- heavy to move- anxiety builds- but i have to speak up. Raise my hand…This is why i am here. ssssssssssssssssspeak for i am who they think i am, though i’m not who they want me to be.
It has been noted that from a position of privilege, only the ‘other’ is affected by racialization. Everyday spaces are racialized, and the racialized are not the only victims. Any discourse that highlights the existence of these spaces brings discomfort to those who find solace in the imagined presence of ‘universal equality’. Stelhe’s article discusses the effects of confronting issues of racism, ethnocentrism and classism in zoned spaces on beneficiaries of what has been called ‘white racism’- those who benefit by and are complicit in the oppression of ‘others’ (Stehle, 2008)
Any discourse that triggers thoughts about ‘white privilege’, and the concomitant guilt, is easily subverted, ignored, avoided or categorized so that it may be contained. Speaking up- the telling of a narrative that is purposefully silenced to ensure the maintenance of inequitable relations of power- is hard. Vulnerable to ridicule, anger, denial of personhood, my flaneurie moves me to speak up; make the connections and interactions of ideas and knowledges visible. This orientation is practiced by the authors of the ‘New Keywords’ (Bennett and Meaghan Eds., 2005) who seek to articulate the connections between words and meaning, validating the positionalities of those who have been denigrated by oppressive language.
A ‘psychogeography’ depends upon the walker ‘seeing’ and being drawn into events, situations and images by an abandonment to wholly unanticipated attraction (Jenks and Neves, 2000). Although I cannot predict the outcome of my travels, I am wearily aware of recurrent themes I will be called to entertain. However, names, categories and stereotypes threaten, but fail to command, my self- authorship. Stereotypes and labels can have the discursive power to construct negative construction of identity, making them intrusive and capable of flattening the psychosocial space that houses of sense of identity (Rimstead, 1997). This is not to essentialize the actions of any oppressed group or discount the daily resistance they engage in, “A critical view of the social construction of identity not only recognizes the powerful influence of dominant ideologies in controlling and constraining people’s sense of themselves, but also recognizes the possibility of struggle for alternative definitions” (Bloome, 2004).
Now, movement from the retail strip to bloor and st george is no big deal. I feel the stares, but i don’t care, because I decide who i am at this moment and time regardless of the identity so intently splattered on my existence. I don’t even want your stuff. I smirk at what you think i am, within and without the classroom, and die a little because words manifest without intervention and She- that archetype they thought i was, IS manufactured daily…generationally…on purpose.
This area is zoned and i have a temporary pass. In brampton, i’ve already mapped the safe areas and distance often impedes accidental intrusions into exclusive spaces. I am the urban here and there- the urban condition resonates in many aspects- although in sub urbia abject poverty is not rampant- although the caste like status and crosses heavied with the weight of stereotypes, categories, names, are carried by people with little political capital, criminalized, truants until proven innocent, who have been given an opportunity to rise up the social mobility ladder through education like everybody else and its their fault if they waste it…though their ladder has few steps, can only fit a handful, and will fail if too many stand on the structure. – though there are always exceptions.
The Urban centre is the meeting place of a multiplicity of crossroads, zones of contact. I turn onto st. george and i am ambivalent. Robarts library induces this disembodied state, wherein i am called to put myself back together again as i see fit, in every encounter, in every conversation, in every class comment- and i am pleased with the product.
My urban self will never be complete as long as i live. Today, I move past this area in triumph, as though i have done the impossible which is to deconstruct and sculpt a new me. This area still symbolizes the centrality of reclaiming self authorship in my life- resistance a necessary tool to survival and sanity, the tireless energy necessary to break down and build new forms- detournement… my flaneurie connects to the emancipation of MY imagined community… for all…
I close this chapter of my life, knowing that experience and memory are reflexive; knowing that temporality is cyclical, not linear. I use my flaneurie to map my world- acknowledging the spaces I am excluded from and deconstructing the barriers to those places I determine to be worth entering. From this perspective, the spectacle cannot seduce me so easily. I can distance myself from the (re) presentations of the hegemonic norms and values of this urban space enough to (re) focus my eyes and (re) define my self as I choose. This choice will always be constrained by my historical, geographical, socio-eco-political…; my choices will always be constrained, but my flaneurie allows me to exercise greater agency in the matters of My mind.
Amidst everything, I am joyful in the knowledge I have been given, more so for that i have accrued. I tell this story and the process of ‘Inkumbulo’ resonates in my soul. I seek to commune with those who hear this voice amidst the noise of the world. Dlamini invites us to use our stories, gather our ethnographies and share them ‘purposively to teach and transform the social consciousness of the listener to facilitate a conversion from obvious surface meaning and understandings to philosophically critical positions of social and political occurrences.(Dlamini, 2006) This possibility gives me the courage to speak up; to be.
I walk through, carry, am part of, embody, construct and deconstruct the urban. I live in, and the urban lives in me.
The following is a link to my performance of the italicized words… http://portal.sliderocket.com/APYPJ/My-Presentation-1 or copy and paste http://portal.sliderocket.com/APYPJ/My-Presentation-1 into your browser…
Amin, A.(2007). Rethinking the Urban Social. City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Volume 11 No. 1: 100-114
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Bhaba, H. (1994) Location of Culture. London: Routledge
Bloome, D. (2004). Microethnographic Discourse Analysis and the Exploration of Social Identity in Classroom Language and Literacy Events. From Discourse Analysis & the Study of CLassroom Language & Literacy Events: A Microethnographic Perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 101-158
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Dlamini, S.N. (2006). “Inkumbulo” as Remembering, Communing, and Praxis:Retelling the Stories of Transformation and Learning. International Education, v36 n1 p32-45.
Jenks, Chris and Tiago Neves. (2000). A walk on the wild side: Urban ethnography meets the Flaneur. Journal for Cultural Research, Volume 4, Issue 1 January: pp. 1 – 17. Nelson, Lisa. (1999). Bodies (and Spaces) do Matter: The limits of performativity. Gender, Place and Culture. Vol. 6, 4, December: 331-353
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Stehle, Maria. (2008). PsychoGeography as Teaching Tool: Troubled Travels Through an Experimental First-Year Seminar. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 4(2), Article 5.
Wilson, Elizabeth 1991:TheSphinxintheCity-Urban Life, theControl of Disorder, and Women. London: Virago Press.