Precarity Rebranded: Pop-up Logics for Crisis Times by Ella Harris

The Temporary City by Ella Harris

This year I’m working in the Sociology Department on an ESRC funded postdoctoral fellowship. The project primarily involves writing a book that draws together my doctoral research on London’s pop-up culture with my postdoctoral research into pop-up and micro housing.

The book, which will be published by Zed, argues that pop-up culture has rebranded precarity in post-2008, austerity London. Pop-up culture is a trend for temporary and nomadic places. It started out as a ‘compensatory’ urbanism, designed to fill vacant sites in cities shaken by the financial crash while also providing low cost space to artists, charities and small businesses impacted by the withdrawal of funding and opportunities. However, its compensatory origins have since been forgotten and it is now a celebrated format for activities such as film screenings, theatrical performances, restaurants, work spaces, shops and even sites of welfare provision. The book argues that, rather than fixing the urban precarity wrought by recession and austerity, pop-up has normalized and glamorized precarious ways of living and working.

Most centrally, I argue that pop-up rebrands precarity by reimagining the spatial and temporal markers of crisis, replacing, for example, instability with ‘flexibility’ or diminishment with ‘the micro’. I explore case studies including pop-up cinemas, shipping container studios, supper clubs, pop-up housing and micro housing to draw out seven key ways of thinking about space and time that I call ‘pop-up logics’: immersion, flexibility, interstitiality (the in-between), secrecy, surprise, the micro and the meantime. I show how these logics have been used to naturalize, and even promote, crisis conditions, acclimatizing urban citizens to precarity as a new normal.

As well as writing the book, and a couple of related journal articles, I am writing about my research on the project website The website also includes contributions from others people, on different kinds of crisis cultures, cultures that have emerged from, responded to and/or compensated for conditions of precarity. I welcome suggestions for contributions so please get in touch if you’d like to share your research or ideas on the website!

As well as the project website, my doctoral work on pop-up culture can be explored via an interactive documentary (i-Doc) that I made as part of my methodology. I-Docs are a nonlinear, digital form of documentary that offer users numerous pathways through multimedia content. As well as a rise in commercial and artistic i-Docs there have been some early experiments with i-Docs as academic method, including my own. During my PhD I experimented with i-Docs as a way to investigate pop-up’s spatial and temporal logics. As a nonlinear medium, i-Docs helped me to elucidate and critically examine pop-up’s own nonlinear vision of the city as flexible, multiple and metastable.

The i-Doc can be accessed at using the password TTC.

I’m also running a Methods Lab session on ‘How to do Sociology with i-Docs’ on the 30th of May from 2-5pm at Goldsmiths, University of London. Tickets here.

Ella Harris is Post-Doctoral Fellow in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.




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