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ately I have been busy thinking around the notion of lifelines, a concept-in-progress.* It emerged as something related to the infrastructures of life; a register to interrogate the again central tensions of life-and-death, that, since when Foucault alluded to it as biopolitics, has been signaling the evolution of a contemporary condition. The new urban regime that has been called neo-apartheid depicts a variegated regime of separation(s) based on racial and ethnic discrimination and driven by consumer logic, privatisation, and deregulation. This regime intensifies and deepens inequalities in urban settings. However, while there is no doubt that infrastructure is facilitating political control through socio-spatial division, I would argue that possibly one of the characteristics and salient features of the neo-apartheid regime is not only to seclude and impoverish, to divide and extract value, to coerce and police, to control and counting bodies and movements, but also to make impossible inhabitation. Said otherwise, the neo-apartheid city seems to be expanding its paradigm from one of the ban — well theorised by Michael Foucault and then taken forward to the exceptional by Giorgio Agamben — to one of inhabitation. As life is always an inhabitant life (in time, in space, in relations) and therefore always political, lifelines might help us to interrogate how we can inhabit when the "house is burning" where everything and everyone human and non-human is about to disappear.
Lifeline is a term that has we have used to refer to everything that sustains life and is reflected in space. This definition, however, is too capaciously defined and subject to critique, as it leads to the question: which life? At whose cost? With what effects? Crossing different practical, cognitive, and political dimensions, the notion of a lifeline stands for many different things. It is inherently ambivalent. At first it means what opposes the neglect or carelessness of neoliberal policies that make life precarious; but also indicates spaces that guaranteed and protected spaces of survival. As such, in a recent project I was involved in, we proposed a re-definition of lifelines at the intersection of four dimensions: (1) of increased precariousness that defines living as a result of the crises we are experiencing; (2) a dimension of vulnerability that is no longer only of the individual, but of the species, both in bodies and in the nature; (3) of life, bodies and the political paradigms that derive from them; and (4) the dimension of defense, protection, and care with their implications of subjection and capture. This constellation of dimensions serves to illuminate and redefine lifelines, through a discourse on contemporary living that is cognizant of the conditions of precariousness-vulnerability-valorization and catastrophe. Understood in this way, lifelines propose an intersection that signals both the "impossibility of planning" but also stimulates the art of doing research "because one works with what is available" (Tsing, 2021: 401).
The insurance of life is connected to an imperative of death, said Foucault. If, on the one hand, biopolitics has become an inescapable term used to analyze a wide range of processes, procedures, power relations of institutions linked to the politicization of life, on the other hand, its various declinations of "affirmative", "negative" or the tensions between biopolitics and necropolitics have marked extremely important debates in Foucault's literature with Agamben, Esposito, and Mbembe. These extensions of Foucault’s thought have made more evident the complicity of architecture, planning and space in general, in the construction of political technologies and infrastructures that mark, distribute, constitute, and expose life beyond the original binary opposition of "let live/let die" as originally expressed by Foucault. Therefore, we must consider not only additions, securitisations, containments, and protections, but also bans, exclusions, subtractions, and violent inactions, such as those imposed in the government of migrants at the European borders, as complicit with the humanitarian system, which does not favour but at the same time does not let migrants die, making them simply hypermobile, with no possibility of permanence. Biopolitics is thus understood as debilitation, erosion, precarisation and hypermobilisation: Not only production of infrastructure, but subtraction of the same literally "taking the ground" from life.
In The Right to Maim, Jasbir Puar (2017) analyses Israeli military practices, noting the ambivalent co-presence that accompany colonial-minded approaches of the "right to kill"— that of creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, yet alive, in order to control them “[…] leaving many civilians "permanently disabled" in an occupied territory of destroyed hospitals, rationed medical supplies and scarce resources" (Puar, 2017: x). What is important in this analysis is the way in which:
“[the] deliberate debilitation of a population – whether through the sovereign right to kill or its opposite, the right to maim – are key elements in the racial biopolitical logic of security. Both are mobilised to make power visible over the body. Condemned to debilitation, both are forms of racialization of individuals and populations that liberal (disability) rights structures, which support social accommodation, access, acceptance, pride and empowerment, are unable to account for, let alone interrupt” (Puar, 2017: x).
Therefore, what seems to matter is an inhabiting life. For Agamben “to inhabit means to be in what one holds dearest, one's own and at the same time common. That is, to be and to enjoy, that is, to enjoy, one's own nature. It is certainly a way of resisting, of staying, and of preventing oneself from being dragged elsewhere” (2020: 10).
If the uninhabitable is the impossibility of becoming home; of hosting futures; of dwelling relations and to inhabit political projects, and even (in the case of global violent border regimes) the preclusion of the material possibility of staying in a place, then gestures of inhabitation must be becoming livable, if not "home". Inhabitation must be livable as a terrain, beyond the emergency from which to think and act, even for a politics that seeks nothing more than to overcome the primacy of life. As Anna Tsing write, precariousness is a life without the promise of stability (2021: 24). Living in the burning house, in the burning world and in its relative impossibility of breathing and redemption, in the refusal of any messianic adjustment, correction, or redemption, implies not only the necessity of analysing the processes of privatization, oppression, extractivism, but at the same time to refuse its immunity dimension. To inhabit not as having, disposing, infrastructuring, or organizing, but as our way of being in the world consists in weaving relationships, incorporations, knotting, and taking distance. Inhabiting is something vacillating. One inhabits in a continuous "failure", a ruin of plans, of ideologies, of possibilities, in a perpetual dysfunctionality. A living and a life therefore not qualified by norms, conventions, or dispositifs, but a living that delineates forces of friction from what Anna Tsing (2021) calls "livable collaborations". A life without categories, of species, of citizenship, of nations, but of living beings and that is all: an inhabiting life, because being in the world, it builds the world.
*“Lifelineis a DIST funded project at the Politenico di Torino, leadbyCamilloBoano and Cristina Bianchetti
Agamben G (2020) Introduzione [Introduction]. In Attili G (ed) Civita. Senza Aggettivi e altre sepcificazioni. Macerata, Quodlibet, pp. 11-14.
Puar JK (2017) The right to maim. Debility, Capacity Disability. Durham, Duke University Press.
Tsing A (2021) Il fungo alla fine del mondo: La possibilità di vivere nelle rovine del capitalism [The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins]. Rovereto, Keller.
Camillo Boano is Full Professor of Urban Design and Critical Theory at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) and Full Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Politecnico di Torino, Italy. He is Co-Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory. He is working on a series of interconnected research projects in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East on urban infrastructures, habitability and the urban project.