Milano Meisterklasse

28. A Perspectivist Practice

#lesson3 #freedom #empowerment #perspectives #inequalities #decolonial

When we did a walk together in Tunis, I remember one of the people doing the metropolitan outing with us saying (this was the first time we’d brought him on one of our trails): “There’s an amazing feeling of freedom!” I thought that was a nice way of describing one of the things I like about Metropolitan Trails. It gives a feeling of freedom, of opening up your field of action, opening up your worldview and your mind. It’s also something empowering: you start to feel better equipped to face and understand reality.

And, as I think about it, I’m beginning to wonder if it has something to do with social class and the fact that people are often confined to a restricted geographical space. When you’re very rich or very poor, and when you’re middle class, you have access to some spaces and not others. Typically, somebody from, say, the middle class will not venture into spaces for poorer groups, and they won’t mingle with richer social strata, either, because, for instance, a cup of coffee would be too expensive. And what’s interesting when you start walking is you discover both very wealthy and very modest neighborhoods. It usually goes very well, and creates the agreeable sensation of breaking free from a kind of social prison. We are all more or less caught up in our social groups. And you notice when you’re from a poor social class that people from more comfortable classes don’t visit your neighborhood; and so when you’re middle class and you set foot in a lower class area, you feel like you’re doing something nice and good mannered. You are visiting fellow human beings in places where nobody goes, and I think that always creates pleasant feelings and encounters.

And you also notice something that has been for me a political revelation, and in Paris it works quite well: that going to some parts of Seine Saint-Denis, you meet people who know their neighborhood and the Paris city center. In contrast, the people living in the city center don’t typically bother to get to know other districts. It became clear to me that dominated social classes have more perspectives; they are familiar with both the dominant and the dominated vantage points—while dominant groups are walled into their own points of view; they never make the effort to go and see poorer areas. For me, discovering all corners of a metropolis is a way of broadening one’s perspective—on the human race, on cities, and on social class.

And these mental gymnastics are intricately linked to the North-South divide, since metropolises are frequented by people from around the world. Metropolises are not islands: they include people from other countries and people who have left the metropolis to go to other countries. For me, inequalities within a metropolis are a reflection of inequalities that make up our world (since we live in a fundamentally unequal world, where, generally speaking, factories in the South provide manufactured goods to the North). City centers tend to be flattering showcases, with museums, stores, and pedestrian streets. They present an ideal city, with very tertiary areas. And behind the scenes, poorer residents work to run the machine.

So, in my opinion, visiting a metropolis in this way is a civic duty. The North-South divide is palpable within the world’s metropolises. And when you start going from the urban outskirts of one country to the urban outskirts of another country, it is extraordinary to see the commonalities—for instance, between the outskirts of Paris and those of Tunis. Paul-Hervé and I had some incredible experiences in the outskirts of Tunis, where we met a Tunisian man who now lives in France, and a French man of Tunisian heritage who was there, and with whom we started talking about Rennes, since he also goes there on vacation. We were in a rather remote part of Tunis, speaking about another rather remote part of Paris, and that created a kind of global brotherhood among urban outskirt dwellers. This is especially strong between France and North Africa, and the warm welcome in a distant land is particularly gratifying. And it broadens your social horizon. When you come from a comfortable middle class, it makes you feel less out of touch. You get away from the city center’s hegemonic point of view—the perspective shown over and over in the media. Not to mention the media’s penchant for portraying stereotypical images of peripheral zones. The most instructive example is when you take a walk through the Paris banlieue: you’ll notice that there aren’t that many housing projects! The outskirts of Paris tend to be made up of houses … And that is a far cry from what our collective imagination would have us believe!

For me, the work of exploring and representing neglected spaces is a question of public health; it’s not political, it’s just a way of shedding ourselves of false notions begotten from a hegemonic worldview. It’s a way of multiplying our points of view! When we spend an entire day walking through twenty different places and speaking with four or five people, we become like shamans! A shaman is someone who can see different perspectives. For me, a day of walking is like shaman therapy! I’m less myself and more turned toward others; and it’s a nice feeling to be visited by the world, people, things, other points of view … It’s deeply decolonizing.