On the Wrong Side of the Track draws on insights from the human sciences to challenge the arguments of Olympophiles for whom the Games can do no wrong as well as Olympophobes for whom they can do no right, using 2012 as a lens through which to examine underlying trends in contemporary culture.
What did the 2012 Olympics tell us about who we are, who we were, and who we want to be? This book takes 2012 as a starting point for a debate on national identity, community cohesion, urban regeneration and the persistence of inequalities in British society – from the vantage point of East London not only as the main Olympic venue but also as the main argument why Britain won its Olympic bid.
Part one sets the scene, exploring the changing social and physical landscape of East London from the inside – including voices from East London communities and the Olympic Park workers – and from the outside – in the imagination of artists, social commentators and reformers who made the area into an object of public fascination and concern. The second half of the book examines the strategies that were used to present an ‘Olympian’ vision of London to the world; it focuses on the rhetoric and reality of regeneration and the cultural politics of staging the event, pinpointing the differences that East London and the Olympics have made, and will continue to make, to one another. The legacy politics of 2012 are examined in the light of the debate about moral and market economies recently inaugurated by theorists of the Occupy movement.
The book includes a photo essay on the Olympic site, original photographs by Jason Orton, Ian F. Rogers, Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunne, and John Claridge; artworks by Aldo Katayanagi, Jake Humphrey, and Jock McFadyen; cartoon by Julian Wood and maps by William Dant and John Wallett. The cover is a specially commissioned photomontage by Peter Kennard and Tarek Salhany. The book is supported by an online gallery of images and other Olympic materials for further study.
Phil Cohen grew up with Steve Ovett and Jean-Paul Sartre as his teenage heroes and has been trying to get them into the same book ever since. He is author of Knuckle Sandwich: Growing up in the working class city (with Dave Robins); Rethinking the Youth Question; London’s Turning: The making of Thames Gateway (with Mike Rustin); and Borderscapes: memory, narrative and Imagined Community (to be published in 2013). His poetry has been published by Critical Quarterly, Agenda, and Soundings. A memoir Reading Room Only: memoirs of a radical bibliophile is forthcoming. He is Emeritus Professor in Cultural Studies at the University of East London.
Part One: East London in transition: an everyday story of ‘race’, class and imagined community
1. London Goes East: the gothic imagination and the capital’s ‘other scene’
2. Island Stories: dreams and nightmares in a Docklands community
3. From Canary Wharf to Stratford via Thurrock and Southend: London’s eastwards turn and the making of Thames Gateway
Part Two: The 2012 Olympics: between the artificial paradise and the beautifying lie
4. London Calling 2012: notes on the haunting of an Olympic Story
5. In the Zone: labourhoods and bodyscapes @ the Games
6.Thanks but No Thanks:gift and debt in the Olympic Compact
7. ‘No shit, please, we’re British’: kitsch, ‘high’ culture and carnival capitalism in the making of an Olympic spectacle
8. Signs Taken For Wonders: the politics and poetics of staging a grand project
9. London Babylon 0, New Jerusalem 0: a Para-Olympic analysis of the 2012 ceremonies
10. Speaking out of place: East Londoners talk the Olympics
11. East 20: Towards a good enough legacy
Images from the book are viewable in the On the Wrong Side of the Track Gallery
View a photo essay about the Olympic Park construction, which is being reproduced in the book here: Tunnel Vision
This gallery of 120 images in Body Politics contains the following sections: Elemental Labour-Mummers, miners and sweeps-Time and Motion Studies-Automata- Youth culture and extreme sport-physical culture and the dream of the collective body- masculinity and manual labour in a post industrial world.It is designed to support ‘On the wrong Side of the Track?’ and ‘Borderscapes’.
The book launches have been quite a success. Check out some pictures here: Book Launch
Some Comments about the book:
‘From its delirious counter-factual opening, through a cavalcade of arguing and asserting voices, a necessary, intelligent, and balanced response to a moment of local and national hallucination is achieved. If the book works, the Olympic madness can serve a useful purpose: in making us look harder at ourselves and the place where we have chosen to live.‘ Iain Sinclair author of Ghost Milk ,Calling Time on the Grand project
‘Written since the Games ended Phil Cohen’s On The Wrong Side of the Track? locates legacy claims firmly in the social and geographical context of East London. This was where the regeneration was supposed to take place, acting as a leveller between the city’s tourist and retail mecca, the West End, and the depressed East End. Beautifully written, with an uncanny eye for cultural detail Phil’s book is a powerful response to the overblown myths and broken promises of the Olympian legacy agenda. Mark Perryman author of ‘Why the Olympics are’nt Good for us and how they can be’
Some Comments and Reviews :
Phil Cohen’s cantankerous, meticulous, jam-packed investigation of the coming of the 2012 Olympic Games to East London, On the Wrong Side of the Track? East London and the Post Olympics (Lawrence & Wishart),took me by surprise. It is the kind of guide to presentday Spectacle I had been waiting for. Back in the 1960s, Cohen was the most brilliant of the early English readers of French Freud and the structuralists. I remember pages of his impatient handwriting peppered with Lacanian algorithms aiming to reconcile, or at least analogize, the structures of unconscious repression with differential class language use, and hence (this was the ambition) with the epoch’s emergent youth subcultures .Already at that point Cohen was deeply involved with the East End. He was fascinated and horrified by the psychic landscape thrown up as London’s classic working-class neighborhoods—the tight worlds of Hackney,Stratford East, and Bethnal Green—fell apart. He thought they might turn out to be the terrain of a new class struggle. On the Wrong Side of the Track? is at one level a continuation of that old inquiry. Partly it is a study of last year’s implantation of the Spectacle of Sport in (of all places) this wrecked and polluted proletarian non-site. The book, unsurprisingly, is no friend of Olympic puffery: Its two-chapter analysis of movie director Danny Boyle’s opening ceremonies is unsparing.But partly Cohen’s volume is a call—directed very much at people like me, who left town in a hurry as the Olympic torch fumed closer—for an end to dismissive generalizations about Spectacle, and the start of real “ethnographical” work trying to understand what the arrival and departure of such quasi-events do to a social fabric, and how Spectacle is perceived and resisted in practice by those whose world it invades. As the Brazil World Cup approaches (through clouds of tear gas), Cohen’s book is required reading. T.J.Clark Art Forum
On the Wrong Side of the Track? is a composite of social history, social critique and cultural response to London 2012 organised around two parts. The first part,‘East London in transition – an everyday story of ‘race’, class and imagined community’ (pp. 35–133), provides a contextually rich, social historical background to the formation over a long duration of the geographical location of the 2012 Games. The second part, ‘The 2012 Olympics: between the artificial paradise and the beautifying lie’ (pp. 135–363), features critical commentary on the Games themselves (especially the opening and closing ceremonies): a photographic essay,35 oral testimonies and life stories from research that Cohen has conducted in East London over the past decade and half. Three attractive bonus features of the book,for this reviewer, are the author’s collaboration with 13 artistic contributors (which leads to the inclusion of numerous original photographs), nearly 40 pagesof notes and further readings and a guide to online resources, accessible at www.philcohenworks.com, that includes the outline of an undergraduate course on‘London Olympic Cultural and Urban Studies’.
Cohen adopts what he calls a ‘Para-Olympic perspective’ (pp. 20–22) as ameans to try to move beyond being for or against the Olympics. He adopts this position in the same way that standpoint epistemologists adopt a ‘third space’; a conceptual ‘position that is properly dialectical and moves beyond either/or both/and types of argument’ (p. 21). It also necessarily requires ‘an active dialogue between disciplines’ (ibid). How successful this perspective is remains for fuller discussion elsewhere, but it does allow Cohen to identify certain key themes for critical discussion. These include analysis of the representations of East London and its inhabitants, including a ‘generation of budding twenty-twelvers’ (p. 108), as an imagined community. Through consideration of the ‘gothic imagination’ framing much of the scholarly and fictional discourse about East London – as he notes ‘as a general rule the further east you go the drabber the portrait becomes’ (p. 71)– in literature as well as amongst urban planners, in contrast with ideas stemming from people from docklands and the Isle of Dogs, Cohen is able to outline how the latter have responded and created instead a ‘form of symbolic ownership and control that was, in material terms, largely denied them’ (p. 67).
Cohen notes that with respect to a mega-event such as the Olympics: ‘the after affect of the games and its long-term reputational status depend not only on [the] immediate experiences … but on a wider narrative framework through which the event is evaluated’ (p. 145). With London 2012, this predominantly took the form of the notion of ‘triumph over adversity’ (p. 146) and in the post Games euphoria a year after the notion that ‘Britain can deliver’ continued to be deployed by politicians and others associated with the Games. As Cohen notes this ‘official’ narrative of the Olympophiles was accompanied by two others: the ‘unhappy ever after’ stories of critical sociologists and other Olympophobes, and that of the Olympic movement itself that compares and assesses Games over time in terms of the values associated with Olympism. The importance of the latter is that it helps to create, and sometimes change, ‘the reputational status of host cities after the event, while also establishing bench marks for future games’ (p. 147). As the Olympic story is both mythopoeic and gnoseological – a fable and a search for knowledge – both aspects become entangled such that ‘it is all but impossible to reach a rational judgment about outcomes through any process of consensual validation’ (p. 159). To fully think through the implications of London 2012, it is vital to understand both the structural and lived experience of East London and Cohen’s book (alongside the supporting web-based resources) provides this understanding.John Horne Leisure Studies 2013
‘Academic and writer Phil Cohen has been taking the pulse of east London and its Essex hinterland for a long time now, so the 2012 Olympics provided him with the perfect observation deck for a new series of thoughts as to the likely shape and future of the territory in the years to come. Complex though some of his formulations are, he is always worth attending to, and in his latest collection of essays, On the Wrong Side of the Track? East London and the Post Olympics (2013), he gathers together what is in many ways an East London version of Humphrey Jennings’ great work, Pandaemonium, which was the inspiration behind the Olympic opening ceremony created by Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce. A mixture of ethnography, documentary, oral history, cultural theory and sporting politics, Cohen ranges widely across the disciplines to try to understand what lies ahead for 21st century London east of the Lea.
Cohen is not unsympathetic to the ideals of sporting achievement, nor to the ‘imagined community’ of great occasions and spectacular events. On the whole, though, he suspects east London will continue to sort out its own identity as it has always done – by accretion, conflict, accommodation, all anchored by a strong sense of territorial history and resilient built form.Whatever one’s opinion of the success or failure of the Olympic dream, this study will prove invaluable to all other commentators on the event and its legacy, now and in the future.’ Ken Worpole author of Dockers and Detectives
‘From its delirious counter-factual opening, through a cavalcade of arguing and asserting voices, a necessary, intelligent, and balanced response to a moment of local and national hallucination is achieved. If the book works, the Olympic madness can serve a useful purpose: in making us look harder at ourselves and the place where we have chosen to live.‘ Iain Sinclair author of Ghost Milk Calling Time on the Grand project
‘Written since the Games ended Phil Cohen’s On The Wrong Side of the Track? locates legacy claims firmly in the social and geographical context of East London. This was where the regeneration was supposed to take place, acting as a leveller between the city’s tourist and retail mecca, the West End, and the depressed East End. Beautifully written, with an uncanny eye for cultural detail Phil’s book is a powerful response to the overblown myths and broken promises of the Olympian legacy agenda’. Mark Perryman, author of ‘Why the Olympics are’nt Good for us and how they can be’