Activist Sense and Urban Ecologies of Care
“Stand up and walk around your desk. And go out of your office, and feel the fresh air of the city.” Gardener, psychiatric nurse, artist, long-time social co-operator, and president of the Trieste Association of Artisans Giancarlo Carena is often theatrical when he tries to explain the singularity of Trieste’s social cooperatives movement. He starts by arranging the narrative around your perceptions, to make you settle in the analytical journey that he asks you to undertake with him. “How can a place where such horrible things happened in the past today be a space that triggers beautiful projects?” he asked me in 2014 when we first met walking in the blossoming gardens of the former asylum.
“If you are a nurse, we can understand each other, not like with these sociologists!” Federico jokes (or not?) with Irene. In their conversations, there is a shared set of knowledge and competencies, not only linguistic, but, more importantly, in the concrete experience of modes of action and logics that govern the ecology of care. We are in the core of the caring ecologies of Trieste, the Distretto Sanitario (Healthcare District) located in the old general hospital, now almost dismantled (another, more modern one is up the hill, in a less central area).
What runs through the text, or so I hope, is an investigation of the ambivalences of a more than institutional ecology of practices, knowledges, objects, and relations. An ecology that lives along the limits between society and the state, that sits on the edges and connects different modes and experiences of institutional care, but also an ecology that makes it a practice to stay with the trouble, in the middle of the complexities and difficulties of social reproduction.
If it weren't so long, this text would (like to) be a manifesto. It is not an analytical essay that interprets a site or a critical history of the movement lead by Franco Basaglia. Rather it is a deriva, an unplanned itinerary through and with a number of reflections, events, and objects I have encountered in my relationship with the contemporary healthcare system of Trieste. It is a result of a long engagement with the agents that inhabit and build this system every day, with the memories of a collective practice of care, the artefacts and places that constitute the material possibility of a practice of caring with each other, an engagement with what Franco Rotelli (2013, Cogliati 2018), one of the protagonists of the Trieste's trajectory and director of the Mental Health Department of Trieste during the 1980s and the 1990s, has called una città che cura, a city that heals, a city that cares.