eveline lubbers on Wed, 22 Aug 2007 14:40:35 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ute Leher, Roger Keil: Did you know? Gentrication is bad for you!]

more info about the case at

and if youwant the petition:


Scientists find out: Gentrification is bad for you!

Gentrification is bad for you. How bad? Just ask a group of German
researchers who find themselves accused of belonging to a ?terrorist
organization?, largely because they published on the subject. Their
work on gentrification (among other things) can allegedly be linked
through textual analysis to the communiqués of a so-called ?militant
group? suspected of political extremism. In turn, three persons, who
are charged with trying to set fire to three army vehicles outside of
Berlin on July 31, 2007, are suspected by the police to be members
of that group. In this cycle of suspicions, the ends don?t quite
meet. However, in the eyes of the German police writing texts is
not the only crime committed. The researchers are also accused of
having ?contacts?, mostly resulting from their long participation in
neighborhood groups and anti-war movements, to people seen as a being
a part of Berlin?s radical left wing scene. Ideas and contacts are
mixed by the prosecution into a cocktail of ?terrorist activities?.

Gentrification plays a critical part in this story. People in Toronto,
Vancouver, Montreal and other Canadian cities have learned in recent
years that a seemingly unstoppable process is changing their cities.
Gentrification is the name of the game. It replaces the local corner
store with a Starbucks and a low rent apartment with a luxury condo.
It evaporates the jobs that allow people to make ends meet. Scholars
have studied this process, which takes its name from the root of the
word, gentry, used for the English landed aristocracy, since the
1960s. Since the mid-1980s, it has spread as a world wide phenomenon
and has changed the face of our cities. While many urban development
agencies and municipal governments actively promote gentrification as
a strategy of urban renewal, critical researchers everywhere decry the
catastrophic consequences for local communities, poor people and the
social diversity of cities.

This kind of research has now gotten some academics into trouble. In
a bizarre series of developments, the German Federal Prosecutor has
accused a sociologist, a political scientist, as well as a student and
a social movement activist of ?terrorism?. One prominent scholar, Dr.
Andrej Holm, is in solitary confinement in a Berlin jail; another one,
Dr. Matthias B. has had his apartment raided, his computer confiscated
and is under investigation for belonging to a terrorist association.
All accused have been charged under a recently more frequently used
section of German criminal law, 129a, which was passed in 1976 at
the height of the tense period of West German history, when the
government pulled out all the stops to defeat the terrorist threat of
the Baader-Meinhof group, also known as the Red Army Faction. It is
directed in particular at exposing and destroying links between the
?doers? and the ?thinkers? in movements. >From its inception, it has
been criticized for allowing the state to criminalize both activists
and researchers by claiming that together they form a terrorist
association. It seems that 31 years after it saw the light of day, the
law has finally created its perfect storm.

We have gotten used to a fair degree of government panic and
overreaction since the unfortunate events of 9/11 but the German
developments signal yet another step into the wrong direction.
Although there is no established link at all between the critical
scholarly writings of the accused ? some as long ago as 1998 ? and the
attempted burning of the army vehicles, the connection is nonetheless
made. Nor has it been established that the three arrested for alleged
arson are members of the elusive ?militant group,? an association the
accused have denied.

The wider consequences of this development are alarming beyond Berlin.
The question on the mind of many critical social scientists everywhere
is now: which aspects of their work may lead to their criminalization
down the road? If they can do this in Germany, should we be surprised
that people are arrested and tortured for their views as it has
happened to Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and fellow academics recently in
Iran, who are accused of pro-American propaganda. Tajbaksh and his
colleagues have been arrested three months ago and have been detained
since. Those arrested in Tehran are in jail for doing work interpreted
as threatening by the government there. Have we arrived at the point
where thinking critically has become a dangerous activity in the West,

Both cases have exposed the vulnerability of critical social science
research. But they have also led to an unprecedented wave of protest
and reaction among the academic and intellectual communities
world-wide. It seems a line has been crossed. At a time when we hail
creativity as an urban panacea from New York to Toronto, from Berlin
to Shanghai, those who research the downside of gentrification, and
expose social exclusion and marginalization will not go silently
into the urban night. Critical social science is indispensable for a
healthy democratic society. Standing up for free speech and academic
freedom must concern us all. When those who are persecuted for their
critical academic work are in danger, it is up to all of us to step up
to the plate to defend their and our freedoms.

Roger Keil
Director, The City Institute at York University

Ute Lehrer
Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Toronto, August 12, 2007

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