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Seeing the invisible contributions to society

Seeing the invisible contributions to society. Reading (public space in) Molenbeek

Public lesson by Paul Blondeel (Cosmopolis VUB – Antwerp University)

What makes us believe that neighbourhoods in the Brussels canal area are homogeneously poor and impotent? Why are these beliefs so persistent? Can we see the efforts and investments of local residents as a contribution to society? What kind of skills are they mobilizing in this respect? These questions will be discussed and illustrated by Paul Blondeel, who will use his fieldwork research in Molenbeek, the work of Michel de Certeau and Arlette Farge as well as a key documentary of Jef Cornelis.

Residents of the Brussels canal area are not only confronted with severe forms of inequality, but also with a long-lasting and persistent negative reputation. A negative reputation itself may reproduce inequality, and it often decreases the economic chances to escape from it (e.g. processes of redlining). These processes have been described at large, for instance by urban sociologists and their research about the unequal distribution of housing, income and amenities in an urban territory. However, the study of bottom-up processes of local residents is largely neglected in mainstream social theory. For example the efforts and the investments families in the canal area do to preserve these neighbourhoods from a total decline is not seen as a contribution to society. Public opinion still defines these districts as a mere expenditure and not as a key location for an integral policy of urban development. So, the question might be a reversed one: how does a society succeed in making these efforts and investments INvisible? What are the conditions to unveil these efforts and investments, without surrendering to a mere ‘human interest’ discourse?

During the lesson Paul Blondeel discusses some counter reputations and alternative discourses, drawing on his own fieldwork in Molenbeek during the 1990’s and on the scholars Certeau and Farge who dealt with these issues. The lesson pays tribute to the work of Jef Cornelis and his film ‘Brussels, fragments of happiness’ (1995). The footage was mainly shot in Molenbeek and demonstrates how daily routines can be shown and even filmed without diminishing the lives and realities of these citizens.


Paul Blondeel Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)


18:00 > 20:00