Inertia, Poverty and the State

I attended a Lecture by Michele Lancione at the University in Sheffield.

‘Eviction, Enactment and Entanglement: ‘Inertia Creep’ and Committed Positioning at the Urban Margins.’

The Department of, as it’s now called, Urban Studies and Planning, is fertile ground (well at least some parts of the estate are receptive) for someone with an intense productive subjectivity at the heart of their methodology. I was really taken with the presentation. I went because of the mention of the word ‘Roma’ in the title. A couple of friends had forwarded the link about this presentation to me on that basis. What’s drawn my attention is the notion of ‘Inertia’. The presentation was densely illustrated with scenes of eviction and homelessness coupled with energy and activism. During his discussion of inertia I recall the PowerPoint images being of a comparatively wide, faded glory, Palermoesque Street in Bucharest, presumably the site of the evictions. The sides of the road, on the pavements, were thick with some sort of litter, of detritus.

The images spoke strongly in the context of the idea of inertia and how it applies to my engagement with Roma people. I simply like the term inertia because it includes the push and the pull. I think the detritus resonated because so much of inertial commentary around the Roma in the UK concerns things that are disposed of apparently inappropriately. I’ve already written elsewhere and spoken elsewhere about the way that the sofa, thrown out of the house and left on the street, acts both to identify Roma people’s failure to integrate (to respect and understand other people’s distaste for furniture being left to rot outside) yet at the same time acts as a symbol of a shared desire for the new, poverty itself embodied in the detritus, the act of throwing it away a most significant and valuable act.

So in some way the combination of dialogue around inertia and images of rubbish gave me an opportunity to think the Roma communities as caught in inertia, pushed and pushing within inertia. The particular intertial process I was thinking about however doesn’t relate to rubbish or the throwing of things out, their positioning inappropriately. It actually relates to the relationship between new, in my experience, Roma communities in the United Kingdom and state financial provision. People are effectively dependent upon the state. More widely we are all dependent upon the state whilst at the same time, within the context of class relations, constituting more or less effectively or impotently state functionaries. The Roma too partake in this. However the Roma are marginalised from power by the refusal of the state to recognise/accept their dependence, their material dependence, upon state assistance. People within the United Kingdom are not legally allowed to be poor. People falling into extreme states of poverty will find themselves subject to legal constraints, the removal of children from their family environments. The state requires and the continuing influence of an economy of consumption with consumption being a productive act in and of itself, require that all citizens have money.

However the state doesn’t just give people what they need but requires those people to request it from the state. If they do not manage these processes properly they fall into proper financial hardships which result in their poverty, their effective illegality, further alienating them and putting them in both material and psychological poverty with profound effects upon social relations between the genders, between generations and within families and between families with effects on the overall community of people with certain elements of shared identity.

This is an inertial process. In the terms of Michele’s presentation of his work (and without the possibility of me elaborating on this further) the state allows for this inertia to ‘creep’, that is to reproduce itself in new ways in new situations.

It seems that the resolution might be for the state to take the role of no longer requiring people to ask for benefits (state support) to which they have a right but rather that the state assists them in maintaining a standard of living that avoids the descent into poverty. The current system whilst raising some people from poverty equally holds other people in poverty.

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