Conference Contribution: “Urban Gardening and Collective Agriculture in Vienna – Citizen Participation as Neoliberal Strategy?”
At the third ISA Forum of Sociology in Vienna, that took place from 10th to 14th of July, S. Kumnig and A. Exner made a presentation of some results of our ongoing research on urban agriculture in Vienna. Our contribution incited inspiring comments and some debate, and links to other research presented at our panel were apparent.
This was the abstract:
In Vienna, participation strategies are a prominent part of neoliberal urban development processes, widely applied by government and administration. Participation is typically organized by semi-state organizations in the form of public-private-partnerships where the city administration sets the framework conditions, guidelines and goals. Urban Gardening is one of the most visible areas, where participation is used as a technology to govern the neoliberal city.
In this presentation, we ask how decision making is shaped within such processes using a Foucauldian approach. Based on participant observation and interviews with community garden and collective agriculture activists, as well as members of the city administration, planning institutions and semi-state organizations, we analyze government technologies relevant in this regard. We distinguish three basic levels of corridorization of such initiatives: (1) definition of the field of possibility through city plans and development guidelines, (2) exclusion of incompatible initiatives by repression and juridical means, (3) activation of individuals as creative subjects.
Participation serves different functions according to the development tasks as defined by government: (1) to transfer knowledge about local identity formation to support the branding of new city areas, (2) to increase acceptance of top down-planning by communicating planning rationalities and by offering limited options for co-design, (3) to functionalize people for processes of the culturalization of the city, (4) to create an image of a permeable state acting to fulfill the needs of citizens. These functions are altered by dynamics of reinterpretation, appropriation and resistance of subjects.
We conclude that (1) participation primarily serves a technology to govern within a neoliberal urban development (e.g. positioning Vienna within the international city competition), that (2) this attempt has to deal with non-intended social dynamics, which (3) nevertheless do not reach a level of impact able to significantly influence neoliberal agenda setting.