Locals are not just counted, they count

During the week I gave a paper on ‘Making locals through the social creation of place’. Below is one idea I discussed.

Although local politics is often derided as being petty, locals count in a suburb. In one sense locals are counted as part of the actions of the nation state. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) first releases census data for ‘the place of enumeration’–the place where the person was counted. This data remains but is supplemented or ‘fixed up’ and they then release census data which counts people by their place of ‘residence’. Being a local is not just about being in a place; living in a place is understood as being housed in that space.

A second understanding of how locals count in a suburb is to suggest how they claim a social identity from which they account for the place*. In the example of a community photograph taken when the City of Port Melbourne ceased to exist as a City (as a municipal government body), people were made visible as Port Melbourne.

The City of Port Melbourne organised a wake for itself at the Port Melbourne Town Hall on the 26th June 1994. One of the displays at the Town Hall on the day was about the 1994 protests against amalgamations. It was captioned, ‘FIGHT TO THE DEATH’. Entertainment at the wake included a roaming Mariachi band. The Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society, formed the year before, sold bottles of tawny port specially labelled ‘Vintage Port’.

The council flyer advertising the wake encouraged people to attend in order to be part of a ‘historic community photograph’. This photograph of a large group, taken outside the Port Melbourne Town Hall using a cherry picker, includes around 285 people (plus dogs) and is described as a photograph of the City of Port Melbourne. To claim that this is a photograph of the City of Port Melbourne makes sense when the physical space, the administrative order and the socially recognised population are understood to equate with each other as the place of Port Melbourne.

The identification of individual locals is incomplete. The historical society has listed the names for 150 of the people in the photograph. Some people remain unnamed; they cannot be recognised in the photograph. Some identities for people who are too blurry or standing behind something or somebody else have been worked out by where they stood in relation to other people. On the other hand, it is useful to have spaces on the list that could be anybody. Counting the locals cannot be a finished project.

 

* Here I am drawing on the work of Jacques Rancière who writes, talking about himself in the third person,

‘In its strict meaning, politics designates for Rancière the forms of collective subjectivization which call into question the police distribution of positions. Politics is the manifestation of a we that restages the scene of the common, the objects that belong to it and the subjects that it counts.’

Page 21 from Rancière, J., 2009. A few remarks on the method of Jacques Rancière. Parallax, 15(3), pp.114–123.

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