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Urban Suffering Studies Center



Urban Resistance

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Benedetto Saraceno


SouQuaderni is pleased to celebrate its third year of existence and to present its fifth Editorial.
After two years of work, meetings, national and international exchanges and initiatives we remain convinced that our initial choice to characterize the Study Centre and the online magazine by using the noun "Suffering" and the adjective "Urban", was a choice that made sense two years ago and still makes sense today.
The notion of "suffering" obviously goes well beyond that of illness (we don't want Souq to be a place for reflection, centred exclusively on the problems of so-called "Urban Health") as there are many individuals and groups in the city who are suffering (and in some cases suffering greatly) without, however, being "ill". Even if, and credit has to be given to the World Health Organization, the actual notion of Urban Health is much vaster and complex than that traditionally used in medicine (and as a proof of this there are two important and recent reports of the WHO dealing with Social Determinants of Health and Health Inequities in urban contexts (WHO, 2008; WHO, 2010).
However, many other conditions of psychological and social vulnerability are expressed through forms of individual and collective suffering that are not definable as illnesses and are not "taken over" by medical or psycho-medical standards (even if psychological cultures often do all they can to take them over and incorporate them in the disciplinary language of psychology and psychopathology).
"Suffering" therefore, is used as opposed to the pretentious language of "good health", "well being", "feel well" and possible and impossible happiness, commercialized or not.
The term "suffering" is not abstract like the term "illness"; suffering describes the subjective experience and not the semiotics of feeling ill; it entails not just physical or psychological damage but also involves the sphere of social relationships, one's personal social value, the difficulty of access to commodities and opportunities, together with the level of satisfaction in practicing one's rights. In short, suffering describes a condition that has to do with the unease generated from a lesion of one's rights that harms the body, one's affections, emotions, personal relationships, social role, self-esteem, social value and the process of planning and hope, all of them dimensions that become impoverished and precarious.
Therefore suffering, even if it remains a subjective experience, at the same time is also intersubjective (think of the suffering of family units in conditions of poverty, vulnerability, environmental insalubrity) and collective (think of the degraded districts of urban suburbs, youth gangs or the desperate aggregation of immigrants sistematically excluded from all access to opportunities offered by the city).
Such suffering is also to be found in the intense unhappiness of adolescents educated in highly demotivating formative directions, in young people with diplomas and graduates systematically made precarious and without projects for the future; in the elderly living on their own leading impoverished lives on small pensions; or the extremely difficult, dangerous and lonely lives of young, single mothers. In other words, urban suffering is not the exclusive prerogative of the lowest but also, and continually more so, of the second-to-last and of those preceeding the second-to-last: vulnerability is not only and exclusively economical but increasingly more social and psychological:
The adjective "urban" when connected with "suffering" places the latter in a symbolic, concrete, habitative, social and visible context. An immediately comprehensible here and now: my suffering but also your suffering and therefore our suffering here, now where we stay and therefore where we are.
As Ota De Leonardis says: "the subjective experience of suffering has a political status, not a moral or psychological one" (unpubblished text, 2011). That is "urban suffering" that explains the dynamics between individuals and public, between affective, emotional experiences and social experiences, between private episodes and episodes from the city, between individuality and politics and lastly, between the daily and contingent "businesss of living" and the project that each one of us has for his or her life.
Such complexity and density of meaning in the notion of urban suffering obviously obliges Souq to widen its own field of thought and questioning: during the first two years we placed emphasis on the most vulnerable subjects, on those who come "last" and who are most visibly stigmatized by exclusion also for motives connected to the fundamental bond between Souq and the Casa della Carità of Milan with its historical commitment to welcoming precisely those who come "last", those banned from the city and its network of services.
Today however we are aware that working on urban suffering implies opening up to other individuals that though they are not among the "last" or "rejects", represent an important percentage of subjects constantly on the borderline regarding rights, access to services, access to opportunities, access to possessions and exchanges, access to the hope of "being there for the future" (and unemployed or temporarily employed young people, lonely old people, single mothers are a few of these subjects). Barriers are in continual proliferation between those who have access codes (numerical codes for entering houses, numerical codes for using credit cards, numerical codes for using telephones and computers, codes for national health cards, for buying medecines etc.) and those who don't possess codes or who are simply excluded or who force access through illegal acts,.
As Marc Augé put it, globalization is nothing more that the "proclamation of a worldwide space open to the free circulation of goods, people and endless space....." but in reality it covers "an erratic world, in which bans of every type flourish." (M. Augé, 2009).
If, on one hand, the barriers in the city and the global city are proliferating, on the other hand, and at the same time, the possibilities of planning one's own future are being reduced and individuals are being expropriated of the possibility of having and transmitting "experiences", as "the day of a contemporary man doesn't contain much that can be translated into experience...experience is not consistant with knowledge, but with authority, that is with word and narrative, and nowadays no one seems to have sufficient authority to guarantee an experience, they just wash their hands of it, the idea of enclosing the basis of their own authority in an experience doesn't even pass through their heads" (G. Agamben, 1978). It is probable that the urban wars which Arjun Appadurai talks of (see below) and which we have heard of recently in London and before in Paris, base part of their collective psychology on this expropriation of experience, on the need to construct a "meaning" through the "extraordinary" due to the lack of a sense of day-to-day while, in the past, "the day-to-day and not the extraordinary was the raw material for the experience that each generation transmitted to the following" (G.Agamben, 1978).
All this also, and necessarily, implies a widening of branches of knoiwledge, from the "positions" traditionally held by Souq, that is the social and psychological branches of knowkedge, towards broader "positions" such as that of economy and labour issues, of law and rights, of city planning and urban ecology.
It means spreading out to include other subjects, expanding the point of view of different fields but also not being limited to just describing, documenting or analysing urban suffering but beginning to learn how to understand, to name and analyse the opposite, or rather: what is the urban happiness we imagine, that it is possible to imagine?
Are we capable, apart from condemning suffering, to project and therefore to "work for" the happiness of the individual (first of all ours) and of the public?
The question of welfare, of being well must be saved from the commercialization and banality of well-being and returned to its complex private and public dimension and to the indivisible moral and political tie between individual and collective happiness.
The notion of welfare refers to public well-being but its absence or presence or its bad or good quality has to do with public and private well-being.
The public/private binomial is joined up with local/global dynamics, thus forcing reflection on a crucial question, dense and full of pitfalls: the relationship between local and general interests, that is the relationship between local and near, and vast and global instances and identities. Paradoxically, one could say that the individual/collective binomial articulates with the public/private binomial, and that it can also be declined with the binomial configuration of local/global interests.
We can perceive all the identitary rhetoric (continually more xenophobic and violent) inherent in the sanctification of local and close by (dialects, costumes, colour of the skin, religions and "races" in contraposition to the hated "Tricolore", the italian flag, to a false national unity, to Rome the big thief, to far off Brussels, to those with dark skins, to the non christians) but, and here is the danger, we can also recognise the lack of transparency of global interest, the mistification of the idea of a nation, of Europe, of the World with the inevitable procession of continually increasing indirect democracies, of lack of control of resources, of confusion between a political Europe and the Europe of the Banks, of the manipulation of the idea of "United Nations for peace" and that of the coalitions between the united Nations for wars.
So, if "small" transmits a feeling of paranoic isolation, it must also be said that without doubt "small is beautiful", that is in "close by and local" there is not only a phobia towards others, those who are different and foreign but there is also participatory democracy, the control of resources, the transparency of local representation. And most probably regaining awareness of being a citizen with a small piece of one's political destiny in one's own hands (and the recent elections have shown this well) starts off again also by doing local and regional politics Arjun Appadurai states that "to produce locality (meaning a structure of feelings, property of the social life and the ideology of the community located) is an increasingly more difficult task" because of the "continually more frequent attempts made by the modern national state to define neighbourhoods according to its definitions of faithfulness and affiliation" and of the "growing disjuncture between territory, subjectivity and collective social movements" (A.Appadurai, 2001).
This tension between local and global explains why the urban zones "are becoming armed camps, controlled by implosive forces ..... the general desolation of the national and global panorama has transformed much racial, religious and linguistic enmity into a setting of continual urban terror" (A.Appadurai, 2001). These groups reinforce their past identities or form new, artificial ones and look for conflict to give a construction to their own meaning.
It is here that Urban Suffering seems to be a paradigm sufficiently coherent but at the same time complex enough to be able to be used as a compass for navigating, to illuminate and denounce "the deficit of social capital and of relational quality produced by welfare policies that don't feed the resources of individuals and by liberal policies that abandon individuals to their own solitude" (SOUQ - COPERSAM, 2011). To deal with urban suffering means recomposing the fractures between a healthy world and an ill one (artificial fractures, attributed in turn to different descriptive-verbal branches of knowledge such as psychology, psychiatry, sociology etc). A similar fracture not only shatters the human being who is its victim but also shatters all the dimensions in which the citizen exists: a fracture between the world of treatment (the patients) and the world of assistance (those receiving aid) and the working world (the workers) that generates exclusion of illness from assistance and the exclusion of assistance from the working world. Twenty years ago France Rotelli, with extraordinary lucidity, wrote: Lets start from the most serious contradiction: the radical fracture established in advanced societies between the working world and the world of assistance; the question we ask regards the immense waste of economic and human resources that this involves; what has to be questioned is the concept of productive normality that changes in time but in turn defines the boundary between the two worlds; the scandalous thing is the destruction of resources even if unused by the welfare recipients (the handicapped, the aged, the insane, the unemployed, those on the fringe etc...). The immensity of the task of inverting the tendancy becomes evident. The immensity of the task of re-affiliation, of the reversal of the culture of care agencies and of the thousands of operators that crowd them, of the ways of using the enormous resources destined to invalidate and to protect invalidation instead of developing, activating, animating, undertaking, doing". (F.Rotelli, 1991). We are dealing, once more, with de-institutionalization: no longer with a place for psychiatric segregation and its disciplinary weapon (psychiatry, "faithful through the centuries" like the Carabinieri) but with the city. If the de-institutionalization of the mental hospitals and psychiatry means (and should still mean for those of you who haven't turned the page over and who deal with new editions of the DSM!) the mobilization of human resources denied by the detrimental rules of the psychiatric institution, reconstructing meaning and giving a history back to those individuals expropriated from all possible production of meaning and participation in history (both personal and of the world), then to deinstitutionalize the city means to assert a denied citizenship, build experiences of social cohesion and at the same time extend freedom.
As an alternative to denied citizenship, to the various forms of solitude "induced by insane housing and urban politics and by the comercialization of every gesture of daily life that, always at a cost, separates one from the other" (SOUQ - COPERSAM, 2011), those experiences of "deep democracy" according to the timely definition of Appadurai are also to be built. As an alternative to the deleterious tension between local identitary/paranoid and global anonymous/commercialized other experiences are possible for combining global with local as instruments that interact with the construction of forms of empowerment of citizens without cities anymore, for the construction of that which Appadurai (describing an experience with movements of urban activism in Mumbai) defines "governmentality from below" (capacity of governing from the bottom). Movements for the economic independence of single women, experiences with microcredit, movements for housing, groups of young people experimenting forms of aggregation and construction of alternative cultures but also public welfare services capable of freeing themselves from the logics of welfarism and private services freed from the temptations of deals or charity can together make up a powerful "armada" against urban suffering. It means studying the complexity of the mechanisms through which each of these potential partners work, the respective administrative rules, the respective technical cultures used, the business risks inherent in each one, the potentialities of opportunity, characteristic of each one; this means not only studying but creating a network of skills, experience, disciplinary and operational hybridizations.
The study of Urban Suffering is the object of the Souq Study Centre (and its journal SouQuaderni): it deals with the analysing and comprehension of the complex dynamics involved in the convergence between the suffering of individuals and the social fabric they inhabit. The description, comprehension and transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that are established starting with the meeting between single stories and the institutions, that is between individuals and environments, too often conceals one of the two elements of the dyad suffering/city. The category of Urban Suffering allows us to search for, have knowledge of and transform the intersection between individuals and environments with the moral and political ambition of building citizenship, that is a community of citizens.
Social exclusion, isolation, absolute and relative poverty, unemployment, discrimination, immigration constitute different axes often intersected by the psychosocial vulnerability of many minorities who, when united, rappresent the majority of the citizens of the big cities of the world: a nation, transversal to official Nations, united by a lesion that reduces and immobilizes the social and psychological configuration of full citizenship and of the plausible aspiration to happiness of women, men, adolescents and the aged.
Indeed, we are witnessing the impoverishment of strategic thought in many fields of knowledge: economic, social and political. Impoverished forms of neoliberal thought, basically characterized by a massive expansion, not so much of a "thought" but rather a "culture of management", have substituted the Marxist and Keynesian economic theory. Financial and managerial praxis have replaced economic-political thought, as shown by the involution of the role of the intellectual élite who have stopped elaborating thought and the formation of a ruling class to produce managers or receive approval.
Political thinking has been substituted by a theatre of politics and to think of a more just or honest society seems to be considered as the heritage of visionaries, infanti and potential terrorists. The notion of hope or utopia doesn't belong to politics anymore.
Two branches of knowledge, psychology and sociology, that have speculated on and developed in exasperated forms, skills that are purely descriptive (even if increasingly more refined) have been well made use of in carrying out "ancillary" functions for these phenomena of intellectual and moral impoverishment. Just like hyperrealistic artists, psychologists and sociologists depict with an extraordinary evoctive and striking capacity, "words" that describe and classify what exists, implicitly assumed to be immutable. It's interesting to observe that the american diagnostic manual (universal bible of psychic unease) has passed from classifying 40 mental illnesses in the fifties to 200 in the nineties. Obviously the increase isn't in the illnesses themselves but in the abstract entities that are the descriptors. Each day sociology defines and classifies a piece of the "social fabric" contributing to the illusion that the increase in the ability to name the phenomena corresponds to an increase in their comprehension and not, as instead seems most probable, to the scarce understanding of the same. The scarcely critical enthusiasm for the "easy" notion of Bauman is a good example. An outflow of these processes (from economic notion to management culture; from the effort of understanding the psychosocial phenomena to the hypertrophy of the description and denomination of the same) is the divorce between intellectual, cognitive processes and ethic, trasformative processes; in other words, the absence of cognitive thought (substituted by descriptive thought) implies the loss of all utopia (secular denomination for Christian hope) the change of all that exists for the purpose of making it (with Aristotle) more virtuous, more beautiful and more real. We are witnessing a tragic drop in pressure for change and therefore a loss of the ethic aspect as a constitutive element of the processes of knowledge.
It seems to us that the need is growing for laboratories of economic, political and social thought to challenge the poverty of managerial and descriptive thought.
This implies though, that laboratories of thought are to be constructed starting from the overcoming of descriptive branches of knowledge - (or declined in descriptive configurations) for the purpose of favouring the meeting, the intersection and the hybridization between fields of study that aspire to knowledge transforming and to transformation knowing. The philosophy of rights, anthropological sciences and ethics
has to fertilize the economic-political thought breaking the axiom according to which thinking of bread is incompatible with the thought of springtime (paraphrasing Maiakovski), that to make societies honest doesn't allow them to be perfectly free, that he who drives a train has no time for singing and he who sings can't drive a train.
Therefore the need is growing for "top-level" training places that create "government class" capable of an economic-political ethic, utopic and transformative thought. Also It seems indispensable that a similar exercise in formation should also become the occasion for the meeting of european thought with the thought that is being constructed in countries that today experiment major processes of economic and political transition inventing new forms of democracy ( some countries of the BRICS such as Brasil, India, South Africa and with due caution also China). Thus becoming a workshop for reflection and social, economic and political action, that produces social, economic thought and innovative politics, characterized by radical, ethical orientations, capable of interpreting the processes of social and economical development even in an anthropological, moral, legal perspective.
This is our challenge, the challenge of the small Souq centre and of its journal: a challenge that requires many fields of study, new knowledge, new intuitions but above all has need of new friends free to be "sailors of an intrepid crew" of visionaries dealing with daily events. (B. Saraceno, 2011).

1) Agamben Giorgio (1978). Childhood and stories pag.5-6. Einaudi, Turin.
2) Appadurai Arjun (2001). Modernity in the dust pag: 244 e 249. Meltemi Editore, Rome.
3) Augé Marc (2009). What has happened to the future? pag 43. Elèuthera, Milan.
4) CSDH (2008). Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the Social Determinants of Health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
5) De Leonardis Ota (2011). Note for the project on "urban suffering". Unpublished text.
6) Rotelli Franco (1991). Introductory review of the "Social enterprise" meeting Parma, 1991. In: F. Rotelli, For normality pag: 76. 1994 Asterios Editore, Trieste.
7) Saraceno Benedetto (2011). New poetry. Unpublished text.
8) SOUQ- COPERSAM (2011). Manifesto for good Governance, First International Forum, Milan May 2011.
9) World Health Organization & UN Habitat (2010). Hidden Cities: unmasking and overcoming health inequities in urban settings. Geneva-Kobe, WHO.







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 Confusion to be managed  The paradigm of urban suffering  Time of Siege  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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