Mobility is changing the World? Just ask Obama

Mobility is changing the world - Iker_0.jpg
By Iker Barbero · 4 March 2013
Mobility is changing the world - Iker_0.jpg

The road to the old factory is almost deserted. Perhaps this is because it is a sunny Saturday afternoon and few companies have opened their doors in this area of Poble Nou, in the south of Barcelona. The economic crisis probably has a great deal to do with it too. Street after street reveals industrial (and post-industrial) buildings with their blinds down, both in a real and metaphorical sense. Suddenly, as we approach the door of the factory (or la nave, as they call it), where we are supposed to meet Obama, one sees artisans’ carts of all types, pushed along by men and women. They seem to hide as if they are ashamed or scared of something, or of someone.

The door of la nave, like many other perimeters, is a transit point for people who come and go quickly, while others wait for someone to "invite" them to enter. While not as well-known as his namesake, Obama is a respected person in the local naves. Perhaps the name that his parents gave him was an ironic omen. The gate marks the entrance to a different world. From the Barcelona of prestigious international fairs ("Mobility is changing the World" says the Barcelona Mobile World Congress in one of its scathing slogans), we move to a Kusturican underworld, built with leftovers, both material and human. A considerable part of the scrap - clothing and other objects thrown away in the skips around the city - ends up in these naves, chaotically stored, waiting to be selected, cut, deconstructed and relocated. It is largely the same script that has been given to many of the people living in this place. Although Africa is in their heart (and on the walls of the bars and the mosques they have built), their feet have been walking on European soil for many years. Even though some of them once had papers, most are now about to lose them because a contract (a contract!) is needed to renew the permit. Without work there is no renewal or regularization. That means that whenever police appear something bad can happen: an eviction, an ID check, an arrest, a deportation...

But far form what Agamben would call the "suspension of the rule", like any other social arena, la nave has its conflicts and its rules, its tensions and its bonds. Facing the constant fear of imminent eviction, the inhabitants of la nave have generated solidarity with their neighbours and organizations such as the Social Assembly of Poblenou, the Suport Network of Camps of Poble Nou and Papers and Rights for All, who are seeking health care and legal literacy. Something that is scarce following the latest round of cuts and legal reforms. A few weeks ago they received an unexpected visit from The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, Mutuma Ruteere. His description of the place was outright: "abominable", "inhuman" and with "degrading conditions" .

Naves like these are flourishing in the post-industrial cities of Europe: Barcelona, Bilbao, Milan, Manchester or Glasgow. The expression that is repeated like a mantra is "an eviction, another occupation." There is no other option for those whom - regardless of origin, gender or age - the crisis has forced to become junk-seekers. Obama joked that his American cousin is giving papers to people like him. “I should look in the phone book of my mobile to call and see if he has something to offer me”. Indeed, mobility is changing the World: just ask Obama.

Learn more about: Orientalising citizens

About the author

  • Iker Barbero

    Research Associate
    Iker Barbero
    The Open University
    After my MA at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law (2003/2004) I completed a PhD in Law at the University of the Basque Country (March 2010). My thesis, titled “Towards new... Read more

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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