Perspectives, Subjectivities, Exclusion by Camila Cociña


Cities are the space where social order and common sense are created, on the basis of diverse, collective and personal perceptions that respond to the position of each citizen in relationship to the collective and its environment. No way Out presents a particular urban landscape, a city of perceptions of the excluded. The challenge of cities is to recognise such different subjectivities and give them space to enter in conflict, as the only way to achieve a truly democratic consensus and a genuine reciprocal determination


“A group approaches a policeman
He seems so pleased to please them
It's good, at least, to live and I agree. […]

I choose no face to look at, choose no way
I just happen to be here, and it's ok
Green grass, blue eyes, grey sky
God bless silent pain and happiness”

(Caetano Veloso: “London London”, 1971)


It is difficult to find a message –written, sonorous, visual, built– able to encapsulate the multiple perceptions that one has about a city. I would say that it is impossible. Anyway, there are postcards that present more sensitive portraits than others. Caetano Veloso’s “London London” song is one of my favourites; with simple sentences as Green grass, blue eyes, grey sky, it works for me. But let’s agree on something: works for me, but that does not mean it would work for everyone.

When we talk about a city, the possible perceived spaces are as diverse as the number of citizens that surround it and inhabit it. And if such diversity of perceptions has consequences in the production of art work, its consequences in terms of the politics of the city are much more complex: even if such perceptions are diverse and personal, they respond to the position of each citizen regarding the collective and its environment. They are personal indeed, but they are not independent of the place that a person occupies within the society.

In an urban society, the cities are the spaces for the creation of social order. It is in the cities where what Sandercock (2003) calls the “urban conversation” occurs, that privilege which everybody should be able to join. Said conversation happens at different levels and constitutes the space of encounter for different social subjectivities, which inform the collective social order. The city is the space for what Norbert Lechner calls “the reciprocal determination of subjects that should be at the core of political practice” (2006:162). If that social and political order aims to be shaped by an inclusive and reciprocal determination, such urban conversation should give account of the multiplicity of perceptions of the city. But it is not always the case: the urban conversation is mainly shaped by some subjectivities rather than others.

No Way Out presents a particular urban landscape, that is at the same time everywhere in London and nowhere. It is the everyday environment for many subjectivities and at the same time it looks completely absent of the collective construction of a common conversation. It is the city produced and perceived with no names. It is the landscape of the city of the excluded.

London, compared with cities of its size, has high levels of physical integration among different socioeconomic groups. However, social exclusion can simultaneously have elements of the economic, political and cultural arena. When it occurs in all its ways, it “becomes an operating mechanism, an institutionalized form of controlling access: to places, to activities, to information” (Madanipour, 2007:160). Social asymmetries imply the existence of groups that are excluded of the urban conversation, and therefore of the construction of a common social order: groups that are culturally or politically excluded and are therefore not able to share their own subjectivities as part of the common ground.


Differences of power among and within groups are somehow inevitable, so to make that conversation inclusive, the task is to recognise such multiplicity embedded on asymmetries and make them part of the construction of a collectively desired order. The question is how to do it, and how to bring excluded groups to be part of the collective subjectivity of a city and society that are indeed asymmetric.

The challenge of cities is to recognise different subjectivities, and give them space to enter in conflict. The ideal of cities as spaces of diversities clashes with the reality in which, given a context of different power position, some voices will be always louder than others. The only way to challenge such structure and give space to less authorised subjectivities is through the manifestation of them. And if they come into view, they will necessarily enter in conflict, which is understood as something “neither physical nor violent, but a friction that emerges on a content and production level, a conflict played out within the remit of the democratic arena” (Miessen, 2010).

Democracy is many times confused as antonymous of conflict, and synonymous of consensus. But if consensus occurs without a conflictive process in which less official or strong voices are able to be part, is basically synonymous of tyranny. That is why many authors have started to refer to the idea of “democratic consensus” as a space of conflict and the only possible mechanism of a process of deepening democracy. Conflict, as the space of encounter among differences not necessarily through a violent crash, is synonymous of democracy.

Swyngedouw (2011) argues that nowadays “post-political consensus” and “post-democracy” prevail, both managed by an elite that is comfortable in the status quo that benefits it, and rejects any kind of disagreement or space of dissent. In this context, neither a real democracy nor a real politic are able to exist.

That is why it is so important to give space to excluded landscapes, as those exposed by No way Out. Because they open spaces for the existence of different subjectivities that should be at the core of the understanding of democracy. As Hallward says, “the concern of democracy is not with the formulation of agreement or the preservation of order but with the invention of new and hitherto unauthorised modes of disaggregation, disagreement and disorder” (in Swiyngedouw, 2011).

Urban landscapes that belong to subjectivities with no names, which are beyond the dominant one, help to portrait a city that in its multiplicity has a tool for inclusion. The postcards that we create –texts, songs, images, buildings– are part of the construction of the common ground in which the urban conversation occurs, and therefore are part of the process of shaping a social order that, insofar recognises that multiplicity, can be democratically constructed. With such inputs, political practice in its collective task of enabling a genuine reciprocal determination can produce new realities.

Camila Cociña Varas.
London, November 2012.


Lechner, Norbert (2002). Las sombras del mañana, la dimensión subjetiva de la política. Lom, Santiago.
Madanipour, Ali (2010). “Social exclusion and space”, en Legates y Stout (eds). The City Reader, Routledge, London, 2007, pp. 160-161.
Miessen, Markus (2010). The Nightmare of Participation. Sternberg, Berlin, pp. 91- 104.
Sandercock, Leonie. (2003) “City Songlines. A planning imagination for the 21st Centruy”, En Cosmopolis II: Mongrel cities in the 21st Century. Continuum, Londres/New York, pp. 207-228.
Swyngedouw, Eric (2011). Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis. Bedford, Londres.