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Urban Suffering Studies Center



The Confusion to be managed

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Benedetto Saraceno


The lengthy editorial "The paradigm of urban suffering" that opened the first number of
Souquaderni presented the readers with questions and interconnections that compose and
constitute the intent of the opinion of the magazine in the near future.
From now on the Editorial that introduces each number of the magazine will be brief and will
gradually build up a "dictionary" of the key words that are used in the different theoretical
articles to be published and the heterogeneous documentation to be presented.
As Complexity, Heterogeneity, Multidisciplinary qualities are and will be, the issues that
Souquaderni will be dealing with it is necessary to keep a clear train of thought and
consistency of language: for this reason a dictionary of key words is necessary to allow, inspite
of the differences between the stories, distant and heterogenious from each other in place and
context, the construction of a clear language that helps communication between the citizens of
that virtual and transversal nation that unites all the workers for human rights and solidarity.
Today we will talk about the possible governance of the complexity, conflict (and confusion)
that characterize the intersection of the questions that the more vulnerable and marginal ask of
the city, receiving in return non-replies or most of the time replies that are incapable of
combining effectiveness and rights.
Lets start with the idea of the enlightened psychiatrist Philippe Pinel (1745-1826): separate
the mentally ill from the other wretches who inhabit that indistinct ghetto where the
insane and those ill with the most varied infective illnesses live together with
prostitutes and criminals.
Separate to finally give a clear and distinct statute to the sick (therefore subjects who are not
immoral, not criminals) but mentally ill (therefore not ill with other illnesses): a clarity of
thought welcomed as the foundation of modern psychiatry. Perhaps it was indeed an
innovation, but it isn't the intention of this Editorial to discuss the role of Pinel in the formation
of psychiatry, the question that interests us is that of the topicality or not of Pinel.
Today the city that gives refuge to the poor, social misfits, outsiders, drug addicts, illegal
immigrants, and the mentally ill is an enormous ghetto, a mental home spread over the map of
the city ( in contrast to the mental home concentrated in a tangible and visible building).
Therefore the city of today is similar to Pinel's mental home of yesterday and in this,
differences and many different populations emerge and can be defined even if all have in
common the same vulnerability and marginality. This overall institution, widespread instead of
being concentrated, reproposes that population made up of differences (drug addicts, illegal
immigrants, mentally ill, foreigners) that in reality only define labels without recognizing the
differences between subjects and subjectivity. Or rather, differences that don't
differentiate are defined, just as for Pinel, for whom the separation of the mentally ill from the
others didn't grant the mentally ill any form of statute as persons but it simply distinguished
them from other groups of non-persons.
The vulnerability and the urban marginality of today's city reproposes subjects that are all the
same by exclusion and deprivation of replies and rights but differentiated by administrative,
socialogical and clinical labelling, that has nothing to do with the identification of the diverse
subjectivity of each one. In the first Editorial of Souquaderni I wrote that the city presents a
transversal "nation" where "various forms of suffering meet, mingle together, becoming
specialized or de-specialized without finding any replies", leaving the subjects lonely even if
often encamped in groups in stations, and dark corners of the city ( under the bridges of ring
roads, on mezzanine floors of the undergrounds, on waste grounds of dry grass and rubbish
that penetrate between military barracks on the outskirts of the city, in the rom gypsy camps
etc). Lonely individuals having in common only the fact of being "the latest to be turned away,
vulnerable yet menacing. Mental illness runs among them (large quantities of alcohol and drugs
are to be found in circulation) and also physical illnesses (tuberculosis, AIDS and sexually
transmitted diseases), there is also female and male prostitution, petty crime and major crime, a
great deal of poverty and desperation is also to be found (and many different languages are
Every day this pre-Pinel city comes into contact with the city of services: public (ambulances,
out-patients departments, first aid departments, psychiatric wards, territorial divisions for
mental health, aid for drug addiction, welfare services, juvenile courts, the police force, traffic
officers) and private (canteens, shelters, charity organizations, co-operative societies, nongovernmental
organizations, health centres, parishes, temples, official and semi-official churches,
samaritan volunteers and racist avengers). All this great confusion and conflict doesn't seem to
produce much surplus value in terms of more humanity, more health, more rights, more joy,
more safety. There are, obviously, fragments of humanity, health, justice and even some joy,
but few and far between as if the apathy of the prevalent establishment could be so ruthless
as to minimize the virtuous effects of the single anonymous heroes, both public and private who
go to the front line of the city daily. On the contrary, the apathy of the prevalent
establishment is so twisted as to sum up all the inefficiencies and the wretchedness of public
and private put together, giving as an overall result a high degree of dehumanization and a low
degree of recognition of the rights of citizenship.
If we ask ourselves how the replies to all this confusion and conflict in the City, all this urban
suffering, urban violence, urban inefficiency, urban ruthlessness evolve in practice, we can
schematize six strategies. It's a question of six public and/or private lines that, more or less
consciously, intertwine and often mix one with the other but that we have to learn how to
read and analyse, at times having to avoid them and sometimes even fighting them and at times
having to correct and control them.
1. Passively collude
2. Actively collude
3. Arrange the cardo and the decumanus grid (the major axes of a Roman military
camp, running from North to South and from East to West) (but with the
troups of Bava Beccaris)
4. Report from below
5. Govern from above
6. Assist, encouraging involvement (more democracy, more social capital) improving
cost-effectiveness (more health, more efficiency, more integration) and, last but not
least, giving a sense to, generating subjectivity and more humanity.
Passive collusion with urban confusion is a well-known line practiced above all by many public
governments, inefficient, spend-thrift, taking no interest in the well-being of the more
vulnerable and marginal citizens.
Active collusion happens when inefficiency and bad-government are not due to passivity and
lack of interest but are consciously conniving choices, conflict between interests, corruption
and a sistematic violence towards the weakest. If the first and second strategies are the legacy
of backward democracies, the third strategy, that is the one with enforced order, definately
represents the objective of many political and public governments that use the fear and
exasperation of the middle and lower classes as the ground for the development of the desire
for order : the growing culture of security, of control, of the repression of differences, of
xenophobia and of the rivendication of pure identities (sic) are all different faces of the same
strategy that deceives and easily wins over with proletarian speeches and repressive
proceedures that deny the rights of the weakest and most marginal citizens.
There is no doubt that these three strategies are different forms of an incapability of
confronting the complexity and the difficulties that arise from the urban setting, incapability that
is espressed in different degrees and different forms of violation of the rights of citizenship.
Instead the following two strategies (the fourth and the fifth) instead describe more worthy
proceedures for confronting the question of urban complexity and confusion. Above all it's the
private social services, and the philanthropic and charitable universe that often have the leading
role in proceedures that come from below, that is reports, often of an excellent quality (but
often alas, of a very poor quality ) rather than limited experiences, of a reduced scale, that
select their users, that are not coordinated between themselves, that are not in communication
with the proceedures of the public services, that often compete in conflict with the public
services, that, in the end, promote the culture of "compassionate capitalism" instead of
promoting a culture of the rights of citizenship. It's a matter of proceedures that are incapable
of becoming political but that remain confined to the role of testimonials. The world of the
testimonial works from below but doesn't have any influence on politics from above, it can't
suceed in becoming bottom-up.
On the other hand one can say that often the politics from above of the public government
remain confined and imprisoned in administrative, burocratic universes, separated from reality.
A government "from above" never becomes reality, never enters the terrain or daily life of the
individual, it never becomes top-down. Paradoxically one could say that proceedures from
below, when of a good quality, are rich in subjectivity but poor in impact on the governance
while proceedures from above influence the governance but remain "to one side" of
subjectivity: citizens without politics or politics without citizens.
Finally, while remaining in this schematic exemplification of the strategies for complexity, as
a last point we would like to define the strategy of assistance (I have to thank the sociologist
Aldo Bonomi for suggesting to adopt the term "assistance").
It's a matter of governing complexity employing confusion and conflict as functioning settings
and not as background noise to be eliminated; it's a question of employing differences and
conflict as positive instruments for growth and not as obstacles to be removed, it's a matter of
employing physical, mental and social disabilities, and the vulnerability of the individual as
possible resources and not as limits and poverty, "assistance" is this.
One could say that in front of a marginal and difficult population, demand can be ignored, it can
be repressed, colonized, governed with condescension ("passionate capitalism" once again) or
else be replied to through comparison and the setting up of mechanisms of democratic
involvement that can generate suggestions for government and for collaboration in running the
complexity. Therefore can we imagine, apart from the lack of replies or imposed replies (even
with perfect intentions and quality) interventions born from the sharing of strategies and
resources together with the same individuals asking for action and expecting replies? For
example, can we imagine for the Roms, apart from repressive replies or those even if of high
quality that remain colonial, actions formulated together with the Roms for organizing
resources and services together? It's a matter of working with a mix of utopia and
pragmatism, virtues that may seem contradictory but that when combined, generate social
The complexity that the city proposes needs radically participatory governances, otherwise
inefficiencies, conflicts and the absence of rights will remain prevalent. In the Editorial of the
first number of Souquaderni I wrote that the governance of the city is the way in which
public and private institutions are able to run the social dynamics of the city in a responsible,
capable and fair way. The governance has to be polycentric, decentralized, assign authority to
public and private players, imply a civil society.
The World Health Organization Commission on Decisive Social Factors in Health says that
"Governance implies partecipation, honesty, transparency, involvement of all the players
without anyone, however much a minority or vulnerable he may be, being humiliated by the
rules layed down for governing". Urban governance therefore is nothing more than
democracy, planning shared by the most vulnerable and marginal and, as the Commission states,
even by "illegal immigrants because as they make up part of the city they must also take part in
the formulation of the rules".
It is with this sixth strategy that we have reason so as to transform an intention into a political
and tecnical proceedure to be promoted, to be defended with the weapons of scientific
severity and civil passion.


By the same authors:                Dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane   SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography*  A Return to the Way leading to Happiness   Aporeia of empowerment  Deconstructing the paradigm of "migrant emergency"  Defend the ways of liberation  Describing reality but also changing it  Educate in complexity  Empowerment  Global health, local health: a paradigm of the failures of globalization   Health systems are not designed for the needs of citizens  Reject Ferocity, Not Migrants  Souqbiblio (number 1)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography number 8  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography*  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 6)  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 5)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 3)  SouqBiblio: International annotated bibliography (number 7)  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 4)  SouqBiblio: References (number 2)  The association Poverty - Mental Disorders and its implications for outcome and care provision   The paradigm of urban suffering  Time of Siege  Urban Resistance  Verbal violence and social paranoia 

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Center for urban suffering

The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

Who we are

The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...


Centro studi Souq Management commitee: Laura Arduini, Virginio Colmegna (presidente), Silvia Landra, Simona Sambati, Benedetto Saraceno ; Scientific commitee: Mario Agostinelli, Angelo Barbato, Maurizio Bonati, Adolfo Ceretti, Giacomo Costa, Ota de Leonardis,  Giulio Ernesti, Sergio Escobar, Luca Formenton, Francesco Maisto, Ambrogio Manenti, Claudia Mazzucato, Daniela ...
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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 26/11/2020

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