Precarious Urbanity: ‘The Jungle’ (Calais) and the Politics of Performing the Urban

Caroline Koegler, University of Muenster


This article provides an innovative perspective on the themes of urbanity and performance in the context of the refugee camp, ‘the Jungle,’ in Calais, and its demolition in 2016. ‘Performing the urban’ is typically understood either in terms of ‘performance culture’ (urban dance, urban music, or street theatre) or as linking individual bodies to the production of urban space in the city. When suggesting that the ‘urban’ is performative in this article, I challenge both the implicit premise of voluntarism that underlies cultural practices such as street art, and the all-too-close link of urban performance to ‘city.’ Critically inquiring into the politics of performing the urban – and in a context that has been marked by denying refugees any formal status, including the right to dignified forms of even impermanent dwelling – I explore the power and privileges, and the mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion, with which the markers ‘urbanity’ and ‘city’ are entangled. In other words, the events in Calais prompt us to consider the extent to which ‘urbanity’ and ‘city’ are part of epistemological mechanisms and performativities through which “the human is differentially produced” (Butler 2016, 41). With this premise, I inquire into the power and precarity of performances of urbanity, and into the claims to humanity, entitlement, dignity, and legitimacy to which they give rise.

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