Category Archives: Theory

Heterotopic Landscapes

Heterotopic Landscapes: From GreenParks to Hybrid Territories

Abstract

“This chapter develops an interest in clarifying the meaning of cyberparks through an interrogation beyond its material preconditions. A cyberpark, as a fold in space generated by a hybrid emergent form of co-mediated space, is a disjunctive combination: it presupposes an encounter between open public urban places and the use of ICT tools. Outstretched beyond its physical manifestation as a place of encounter, a «heterotopic» reading might reveal that the subject is displaced in many different ways, from the analogue to the digital landscape, and from the specificity of the local to the universal of the global web. It is in such transferences that several worlds blend, both in its symbolic function and social significance. Impacts of such «Other Spaces» on the nature of human being’s behaviours can be critically reflected by the consideration of the social role of ICTs as tools of alienation through reinforced governances. Hence the question of creating «non-places» arouses, affording both a consensual appropriation process and the representative commodity networks, that henceforth includes natural, technical and human aspects and at the same time constitutes hybrid identities at the interfaces of its users, subjects, objects and places.”

Keywords

Heterotopia Non-place Technology Experience Hybrid-place

 

Setting «Other Spaces» as a Place Theory

Heterotopias are considered to be aporetic spaces: open and isolated, universal and particular, juxtaposed and disaggregated, collective and individualized. A heterotopia is a place of otherness inasmuch as it raises a certain ambiguity on similitude and emancipation, alienation and resistance. In this regard Edward Soja said it is «frustratingly incomplete, inconsistent, incoherent»1 in spite of him devoting an entire chapter to it in «Thirdspace» (Soja 1996). The term arises for the Social Sciences2 in «Des espaces autres», a conference given by Michel Foucault in 1967 in the Cercle d’Études Architecturales, published only twenty years later3. It is a raw work left in abeyance, perhaps even abandoned by Foucault, but powerful if we confront the public space with the new mediations, plus the so called «Internet Galaxy»4. Although the web renders possible the exploration of Foucault’s diverse notion heterotopia, this chapter works with it to reflect on the potential of the possible engagement of technology with space.

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APPLYING POST-SOCIALIST STUDIES OUTSIDE POST-SOVIET SPACE

APPLYING POST-SOCIALIST STUDIES OUTSIDE POST-SOVIET SPACE

By: Johanna Bockman

This article was originally posted in the March NewsNet; for a full list of sources please see the original.

 

Over the past three years, I have been conducting a historical study of gentrification and displacement in Washington, DC. At the same time, I have also been working on a project about the 1980s debt crisis from the perspectives of the Second and Third Worlds. I find it stressful to work on very different projects and follow several, very different literatures – for example, on the one hand, American urban sociology and, on the other, Eastern European Studies focused on economics and finance. It often seems like I am operating in two different, unconnected worlds. This sense of disassociation results at least in part from the post-1989 reorientation and ultimately destruction of networks that had once connected these worlds and literatures. Here I explore these connections and apply the lessons of post-socialist studies to a less conventional space, specifically Washington, DC.

Post-socialism may seem irrelevant to DC since it has long been a major center of capitalism. However, one could argue that everyone, and especially major actors in the Cold War, have experienced “the global post-socialist condition” in some form or other(Gille 2010). The city of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank reshaped Soviet and post-Soviet space, relating to it in new ways. Yet, there are many DCs. For example, in the late 1970s, the city of Black Power forged DC into a democratic socialist space, connecting many parts of the city to the socialist and Third Worlds. After 1989, within DC, the city of the IMF and the World Bank implemented the same shock of post-socialist neoliberalism that Black Power fought against. The lessons of post-socialist studies should, in fact, be helpful to the study of DC. Here I have put together a list of potential applications of these lessons.

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Of Anxious Rooms and Modernist Architecture

Et tu, brutalism: of anxious rooms and modernist architecture

Grafting utopias

The annual festival of Delhi’s oldest architecture school is called Utopia. When I ask the students why it is called so and if they know what it means, they look confused. One exclaims, ‘Utopia is what we will create… it’s the perfect place, the perfect city…’ So I ask them, ‘But does it exist? And if it does, where is it?’

Generation after generation of architecture school students are fed on the idea of architects as the creators of perfect houses, cities and townships. They are taught about master plans that will save the world, from itself; they are trained to build townships with glimmering sharp-edged buildings, which no one can clean; they are taught about the deliverance of the world through architecture. This could be a deliverance based on emulating the glass facade high-rises of Dubai, London, Shanghai or the dull concrete corridors of Cold War era buildings across South Asia, Eastern Europe and the erstwhile USSR. Such prototypes reflect a deep and determined utopian imagination that continues to be entrenched in architectural planning and practice. Modernism and brutalism made a promise, a social contract of being architecture for the people, for their needs. Yet they failed in many ways either through buildings that people cannot use or those to which people have to fit themselves.

Is modernist architecture adaptive or normative? Can it accommodate the expansions of desires and the accumulation of years? Does it fabricate buildings for people or people for the buildings? The utopian world delivered by architecture or ‘the city of the future’ as Corbusier called it was believed to have the power to get rid from the world all its social evils. This imagination needed a frame that could avoid the disorder of the real world and yet be perfect in totality. The modernist plan was precisely this frame, which provided relief to architecture’s anxieties about the chaotic world. The axiom of the modernist frame—‘perfect cities make perfect citizens’—allowed architecture to not have to engage with the disorderliness of the social at all and superimpose the idea of a utopian future in blueprints and master plans, which could actually never be implemented in entirety but perfected and completely controlled in their internal form.

 Of architectural anxieties

Three main anxieties have continued to haunt architecture: first, the presence of human beings; second, how to control humans and their actions; third, who will be the master controller (planner) of the future. Where are these anxieties coming from?

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REVIEW of CAPITAL CITY

REVIEW FORUM: CAPITAL CITY BY SAMUEL STEIN

FORUM INTRODUCTION BY ERIC GOLDFISCHER
HOME / CRITICAL GEOGRAPHIES IN ACTION / REVIEW FORUM: CAPITAL CITY BY SAMUEL STEIN

9781786636393

Samuel Stein, Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State. Verso Books, London, 2019, 208 pages, $17.95 (paper), ISBN 9781786636393

Early in Capital City, Samuel Stein gives readers a glimpse of why his book, and (I would argue) critical scholar-activist work plays an invaluable role in movements for social justice: “Planners provide a window into the practical dynamics of urban change: the way the state both uses and is used by organized capital, and the power of landlords and developers at every level of government. They also possess some of the powers we must deploy if we ever wish to reclaim our cities from real estate capital” (6). This sentiment, to me, embodies one of the core tenents of the framework of “critical geographies in action” that animates this section of Society and Space. When geographers talk about mobilizing geographic theory and spatial analyisis, we  aim to combine a keen gaze at the apparatuses of power with an open mind for learning and utilizing tools from social movements, and, yes, urban planners–those working directly at the day-to-day controls of the neoliberal city. This multi-faceted analysis–among many other strengths explored by the reviewers in this forum–makes Capital City a must-read for anyone interested in how scholars might actively resource the work of urban justice.

The reviews contained in this forum grew out of two events: The first, the initial book launch of Capital City at Verso’s headquarters in Brooklyn in late February of 2019, and the second, an author-meets-critics session at the AAG meetings in Washington DC in early April of 2019, organized by Cindi Katz. At each event, Stein engaged directly with interlocutors and brought forth further avenues of conversation that lingered far beyond the confines of these respective gatherings. As he alludes to in his response, organizers and scholars are actively engaging with this book in a number of cities, perhaps using it as a grounding point from which to rethink our social and spatial relations around housing and the mechanisms that produce and limit it, and to plan, organize, scheme, and rebel accordingly. It is my hope that this forum may spark similar conversations and actions in our own respective and intersecting spheres of work.

Contents:

 

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The urbanization of transition: ideology and the urban experience


Pages 607-623

Abstract

This paper debates the relationships between transition and urbanization by problematizing the operation of transition on three inter-related levels. Firstly, at the level of ideology, it is important to rehearse the understanding of transition from that of merely area-based reforms and rather understand it as a totalizing project of planetary reach, which completes the subjugation of the whole world to capitalism and crowns neoliberalism as the only global order. Secondly, at the level of practice, it is important to properly account for the spatializing effects of that ideology – which is not simply “domesticated” by local practices, but itself mediates the subsumption of pre-existing practices by capital, thus alienating them from their history. Thirdly, at the level of the urban: while urban change is usually portrayed merely as a projection of societal relations, the urban is actually the central stage where ideology mixes with the everyday, through which the societal change is mediated; new meanings, social relations, and class divisions are construed; and through which ideological transition achieves its practical completeness. What combines these three levels is the notion of urbanization of transition, which articulates the centrality of the urban in the spectacular post-socialist experience.

New Materialist Social Inquiry

 

This paper discusses issues of research design and methods in new materialist social inquiry, an approach that is attracting increasing interest across the social sciences as an alternative to either realist or constructionist ontologies. New materialism de-privileges human agency, focusing instead upon how assemblages of the animate and inanimate together produce the world, with fundamental implications for social inquiry methodology and methods. Key to our exploration is the materialist notion of a ‘research-assemblage’ comprising researcher, data, methods and contexts. We use this understanding first to explore the micropolitics of the research process, and then – along with a review of 30 recent empirical studies – to establish a framework for materialist social inquiry methodology and methods. We discuss the epistemological consequences of adopting a materialist ontology.

Introduction

‘New’ (or ‘neo’) materialism has emerged over the past 20 years as an approach concerned fundamentally with the material workings of power, but focused firmly upon social production rather than social construction (Coole & Frost, 2010Coole, D. H., & Frost, S.(2010). New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politicsDurham, NCDuke University Press.10.1215/9780822392996[Crossref][Google Scholar], p. 7). Applied to empirical research, it radically extends traditional materialist analysis beyond traditional concerns with structural and ‘macro’ level social phenomena (van der Tuin & Dolphijn, 2010van der Tuin, I., & Dolphijn, R. (2010). The transversality of new materialismWomen: A Cultural Review, 21153171.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 159), addressing issues of how desires, feelings and meanings also contribute to social production (Braidotti, 2000Braidotti, R. (2000). Teratologies. In I.Buchanan & C.Colebrook (Eds.), Deleuze and feminist theory (pp. 156172). EdinburghEdinburgh University Press. [Google Scholar], p. 159; DeLanda, 2006DeLanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of societyLondonContinuum. [Google Scholar], p. 5). New materialist ontology breaks through ‘the mind-matter and culture-nature divides of transcendental humanist thought’ (van der Tuin & Dolphijn, 2010van der Tuin, I., & Dolphijn, R. (2010). The transversality of new materialismWomen: A Cultural Review, 21153171.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 155), and is consequently also transversal to a range of social theory dualisms such as structure/agency, reason/emotion, human/non-human, animate/inanimate and inside/outside. It supplies a conception of agency not tied to human action, shifting the focus for social inquiry from an approach predicated upon humans and their bodies, examining instead how relational networks or assemblages of animate and inanimate affect and are affected (DeLanda, 2006DeLanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of societyLondonContinuum. [Google Scholar], p. 4; Mulcahy, 2012Mulcahy, D. (2012). Affective assemblages: Body matters in the pedagogic practices of contemporary school classroomsPedagogy, Culture & Society, 20927.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 10; Youdell & Armstrong, 2011Youdell, D., & Armstrong, F. (2011). A politics beyond subjects: The affective choreographies and smooth spaces of schoolingEmotion, Space and Society, 4144150.10.1016/j.emospa.2011.01.002[Crossref][Google Scholar], p. 145).

These moves pose fundamental questions about how research should be conducted within a new materialist paradigm, and what kinds of data should be collected and analysed. This paper addresses the methodological challenges facing those who wish to apply new materialist ontology to social research. Our point of entry is by considering research as assemblage, a key concept in the materialist ontology that we discuss in the first part of the paper. The research-assemblage (Fox & Alldred, 2013Fox, N. J., & Alldred, P.(2013). The sexuality-assemblage: Desire, affect, anti-humanismSociological Review, 61769789.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Coleman & Ringrose, 2013Coleman, R., & Ringrose, J. (2013). Introduction. In R.Coleman & J. Ringrose(Eds.), Deleuze and research methodologies(pp. 122). EdinburghEdinburgh University Press. [Google Scholar], p. 17; Masny, 2013Masny, D. (2013). Rhizoanalytic pathways in qualitative researchQualitative Inquiry, 19339348.10.1177/1077800413479559[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], p. 340) comprises the bodies, things and abstractions that get caught up in social inquiry, including the events that are studied, the tools, models and precepts of research, and the researchers. In conjunction with a review of 30 empirical studies using new materialist ontology, this analysis suggests principles for new materialist research designs and methods.

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Monuments and Memorials

Monuments and Memorials in Changing Societies: A Semiotic and Geographical Approach

By Federico Bellentani

Monuments and memorials are built forms with commemorative as well as political functions. They can articulate selective historical narratives focusing attention on convenient events and individuals, while obliterating what is discomforting for an elite. While articulating historical narratives, monuments can set cultural agendas and legitimate political power. Thus, elites design monuments to convey the kinds of ideals they want citizens to strive towards.

This is particularly evident in transitional societies associated with regime change (Grava 1993: 19-10). In transitional societies, monuments and memorials are used to set cultural and political agendas and to educate citizens toward dominant meanings (Tamm 2013). Nevertheless, individuals can differently interpret and use monuments in ways designers might have never envisioned.

This post argues that a connection between analytical frames developed in the field of cultural geography and semiotics can contribute to a better understanding of the multiple interpretations of monuments and memorials in regime change.

Three limitations of the geographical and the semiotic perspectives on monuments and memorials

There is a significant geographical and semiotic literature looking at the multiple interpretations of monuments and memorials. Cultural geography has assessed the role of monuments in perpetuating cultural norms, social order and power relations. Since David Harvey (1979) analysed the political controversy over the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris, several publications in human and cultural geography have appeared documenting the cultural and political significance of monuments (Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991; Hershkovitz 1993; Johnson 1995; Peet 1996; Withers 1996; Atkinson and Cosgrove 1998; Osborne 1998; Dwyer 2000; Whelan 2002; Hay et al. 2004; Benton-Short 2006). Despite variety in empirical analysis, this geographical research has based on two common assumptions. First, monuments play an important role in the definition of a uniform national memory and identity. Second, monuments are tools to legitimise and reinforce political power. These two assumptions can be seen as interdependent: in practice, the national politics of memory and identity embodied in monuments can legitimise and reinforce political power.

While assessing the role of monuments in perpetuating power relations, geographers have rarely discussed how the materiality of monuments can effectively convey political messages and thus legitimate political power. Furthermore, geographical research has tended to focus on the elite intentions, while underestimating how monuments are interpreted at non-elite levels.

By inviting questions on ‘readership’, semiotics has sought to overcome the restricted focus on the designers’ intentions that has characterised the geographical approach. Inspired by the debate around the conflation between memory, history and place (e.g. Nora 1989), semiotics has begun to analyse monuments as communicative devices to promote selective “discourses on the past” (Violi 2014: 11, my trans.). Discourses on the past always present a “partial vision” focusing attention on selective histories while concealing others (Eco 1976: 289-290). As a consequence, discourses on the past can affect present and future identity as well as the ways in which individuals represent themselves and relate to each other (Violi 2014: 18). Several semiotic analyses have aimed to explain how monuments can establish specific understandings of the past addressing the effects a given material representation of memory has had at the societal level (Pezzini 2006; Sozzi 2012; Abousnnouga and Machin 2013).

Despite the efforts to focus attention on ‘readerships’, the key limitations identified in the geographical perspective persist in the semiotic analysis of monuments and memorials. Semiotic analysis has scarcely discussed how the materiality of monuments actually conveys political meanings. Moreover, it has largely considered non-elite interpretations as spontaneous reactions to more prominent elite meanings.

In brief, the geographical and the semiotic perspectives on the interpretations of monuments and memorials have grounded themselves on three key limitations:

  1. There has been no extended discussion of how the material and the symbolic levels of monuments actually convey political meanings.
  2. There has been no extended discussion of how monuments actually reinforce political power.
  3. Little attention has been paid to how monuments are interpreted at the non-elite levels.

A holistic perspective on meaning-making of monuments and memorials

A holistic perspective connecting analytical frameworks in cultural geography and semiotics can overcome the limitations identified in the section above, developing a theory that conceives the interpretations of monuments and memorials as depending on three interplays: a) between the material, symbolic and political dimensions; b) between designers and users; and c) between monuments, the cultural context and the built environment.

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Assemblage Thinking and the City: Implications for Urban Studies

Current Urban Studies
Vol.03 No.04(2015), Article ID:62067,7 pages
10.4236/cus.2015.34031

Assemblage Thinking and the City: Implications for Urban Studies

Hesam Kamalipour, Nastaran Peimani

2015

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

ABSTRACT

The last decade has seen an increasing interest in the application of assemblage thinking, in geography, sociology, and urban studies. Different interpretations of the Deleuzian concept of assemblage give rise to the multiple articulations of the term in urban studies so far. This paper aims to review the recently published research on assemblage theory and explore the implications of assemblage thinking in urban studies. The study thus provides an overview of the most significant contributions in the area, including a succinct bibliography on the subject. The paper concludes that assemblage can be effectively adopted as a way of thinking in urban studies to provide a theoretical lens for understanding the complexity of the city problems by emphasising the relations between sociality and spatiality at different scales.

Keywords:

Assemblage, Urban Theory, Deleuze, Critical, De Landa, Urbanism

1. Introduction

Assemblage is one of the key concepts in the Deleuzian philosophy that has been interpreted, adopted, and understood in different ways within the last decade. Assemblage is related to the notions of apparatus, network, multiplicity, emergence, and indeterminacy, and there is not a simple “correct” way to adopt the term (Anderson & McFarlane, 2011) . Reading Deleuze and Guattari (1987) conception of assemblage, De Landa (2006) , as one of the main interpreters of the concept, has critically theorized the multiplicity of assemblage thinking for exploring the complexity of the society. Since then, the concept of assemblage has been adopted in various academic disciplines with different articulations as theoretical and methodological frameworks for exploring the socio-spatial complexities. In urban studies, assemblage thinking has been challenged by various traditions of thinking such as political economy and critical urbanism. Since the 1960s, it has been argued that the city problems are often “complex” (Alexander, 1964; Jacobs, 1961) in a way that the outcomes cannot be simply predicted. Reviewing the recently published research on assemblage theory, the paper addresses its implications for urban studies to conclude that assemblage thinking has the capacity to provide theoretical and methodological frameworks for exploring the complexity of the city problems and the processes through which urbanity emerges in relation to intricate socio-spatial networks at multiple scales.

2. Assemblage Thinking

The concept of assemblage has been adapted from the work of Deleuze and Guattari (1987) and applies to an extensive variety of wholes like the social entities generated by the heterogeneous parts (De Landa, 2006) . The idea of assemblage has been addressed as “agencement” that refers to the process of putting together a mix of relations (Dewsbury, 2011) , and in its original French sense refers to “arrangement”, “fixing”, and “fitting” (Phillips, 2006) . Thus, assemblage as a whole refers to the “process” of arranging and organizing and claims for identity, character, and territory(Wise, 2005) . Opposed to the “relations of interiority” in the “organic totalities”, the “relations of exteriority” are characterizing the assemblages as the wholes (De Landa, 2006) . In other words, new identities are generated through connections (Ballantyne, 2007) . In this way, as De Landa (2006) argues assemblage as a whole cannot be simply reduced to the aggregate properties of its parts since it is characterised by connections and capacities rather than the properties of the parts(De Landa, 2006) . Thus, assemblages include heterogeneous human/non-human, organic/inorganic, and technical/natural elements (Anderson & McFarlane, 2011) . Enabling and constraining its parts, the assemblage is an alliance of various heterogeneous elements (De Landa, 2010) . Assemblages are dynamically made and unmade in terms of the two axes of “territorialisation (stabilization)/deterritorialisation (destabilization)” and “language (express)/technology (material)”(Wise, 2005). In a sense, assemblages are at once both express and material (Dovey, 2010) . In other words, assemblages focus on both actual/material and possible/emergent (Farías, 2010) . Assemblages are fundamentally territorial (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) where territorialisation is both spatial and non-spatial (social) (De Landa, 2006) . In other words, the territory is a stabilized assemblage (Dovey, 2010) . Accentuating the relations and capacities to express and change, orienting towards a kind of experiment-based realism, and rethinking causality and agency, assemblage thinking contributes to the contemporary articulation of social-spatial relations (Anderson, Kearnes, McFarlane, & Swanton, 2012) . In effect, it addresses the inseparability of sociality and spatiality and the ways in which their relations and liaisons are established in the city and urban life (Angelo, 2011) . Hence, assemblage theory is against a priori reduction of sociality/spatiality to any fixed forms/set of forms in terms of processes or relations(Anderson & McFarlane, 2011) Figure 1 illustrates a conception of assemblage in relation to the two axes of express/material and territorialisation/deterritorialisation.

Figure 1. A conception of assemblage based on De Landa (2006) .

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Architectural Rumors in Baku

This article examines the agency of unrealized megaprojects in bolstering economic activity, legitimizing political regimes, and expanding designer’s portfolios. It argues that such proposals serve as a form of “Architectural Rumor,” providing politico-economic agency despite ultimate project infeasibility. Specifically, it looks at two case studies of proposed yet unrealized island megaprojects in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan: the 2009 Zira Island Master Plan and the 2010 Khazar Islands Plan. Spectacular urban design and architecture have long served as catalysts for development, investment attraction, and real estate speculation. As cities compete with one another to lure capital and boost their global status, many design proposals have become increasingly expensive, ostentatious, and technologically sophisticated. The high-risk financial nature of grand urban design proposals and their frequent associations with displacement or environmental destruction suggests that the megaproject model is becoming flawed. At the same time, there remain advantages for clients and politicians to proposing designs that are more spectacular than feasible. Using a mixed-methods approach, four key arenas in which unrealized proposals circulate are described. The various benefits and detriments of such an approach to architectural commodification are also discussed, foregrounding the broader societal costs.

Introduction

Spectacular architecture and urban design have long served as catalysts for development, foreign investment attraction, and real estate speculation. As cities work to attract capital and boost their global status, design proposals have become increasingly ostentatious and technologically sophisticated in nature (Altshuler and Luberoff 2003Altshuler, Alan, and David Luberoff2003Megaprojects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public InvestmentWashington, DCBrookings Institute. [Google Scholar]; Orueta and Fainstein 2008Orueta, Fernando Diaz, and Susan S.Fainstein2008. “The New Megaprojects: Genesis and Impacts.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32: 759767.10.1111/ijur.2008.32.issue-4[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). They have also grown overwhelming in scale, requiring billions of dollars for execution and decades of time to reach completion. Many such projects invariably end up scaled back or redesigned, bearing little resemblance to their original proposals. Others are left incomplete or frozen after the design phase. While on the surface this high-risk nature of grand urban design proposals would suggest that the megaproject model is flawed and bears great challenges for designers and their clients, there are a number of advantages to proposing designs that are more spectacular than they are feasible. Unrealized projects offer many opportunities to those deploying them. Not only are the costs of project construction avoided, images of the project can be positioned outside the daily reality of host cities – buildings can appear more populated, inhabitants more socially content, and public space more accessible to all. The technical engineering complexities of such megaprojects are also bypassed. The proposal phase is thus one of the most marketable moments of a project’s lifetime. As a vague, yet uncompromised visual imagining, such proposals communicate to the world a utopic vision of their host city’s future. There are also real-life financial gains to be made from the commodification and media circulation of unbuilt proposals since such projects can attract foreign investment by reinforcing an image of the city as more politically stable and economically prosperous than it may be in reality.

This article unpacks the distinct forms of agency embedded within unrealized design proposals and then examines four key arenas through which they circulate globally in order to gain greater notoriety and legitimization. The process of design proposals extensively circulating as media prior to their physical construction is referred to here as an “Architectural Rumor,” since the viability of these projects is often questionable and it is unclear as to whether or not they will ever be realized in their proposed form. Architectural rumors are project design proposals put forward by the government or private sector which travel widely as imagery and spoken word prior to their construction. They are presented as genuine endeavors, receive great media attention, corral public support, and even win awards, but rarely reach construction completion. As with traditional spoken rumors, architectural rumors function by circulating ideas with uncertain or doubtful truth. Beyond skepticism regarding project feasibility, architectural rumors propagate a selective narrative of present-day urban life, one that foregrounds prosperity, political stability, and civilian contentment, and which is not necessarily in keeping with the lived realities of the host city.

Using a mixed-methods approach, including field observations, media analysis, and interviews,11. All interviews have been left anonymous due to personal privacy concerns for the interviewees. Those interviewed were primarily members of the country’s intellectual class, including architects, engineers, journalists and academics, ranging from 26 to 55 years of age. They are all lifetime residents of Baku and are actively interested in events linked to its ongoing politics and urban development.View all notes this paper looks at the early stages of marketing and media circulation for two architectural rumors, both island megaprojects in Baku, Azerbaijan; the 2009 Zira Island Master Plan and the 2010 Khazar Islands development. It describes how the commodification of design proposals is distinct in its political and economic agency from that of constructed projects. The first case study is the luxury net-zero resort and residential project, Zira Island, designed by the Danish firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) on a former military island five kilometers off the coast of Baku in the Caspian Sea. The second case study is the Khazar Islands development, an artificial archipelago of over 50 islands also located in the Caspian Sea, 25 kilometers south of Baku (Figure 1). These two case studies show how design proposals are used to promote a new image of Baku both domestically and abroad, affording the ruling elite and project design professionals greater legitimacy.

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Gramsci as geographer

Gramsci

A French version of this interview was originally published at  http://revueperiode.net/gramsci-geographe-entretien-avec-stefan-kipfer/

  • Your research interests include a recurrent focus on space, specifically urban questions as well as the spatial organization of relations of exploitation and domination. Theoretically, you mobilize the works of Henri Lefebvre and Frantz Fanon, but you are also interested in Gramsci’s take on, for example, urbanity and rurality.  How do you see the relevance of Gramsci’s analyses for geographical concerns today?

 

I started reading Gramsci in 1990 just before turning to urban research and the debates around ‘radical geography’ that were still in full swing then. Broadly speaking, these debates  tackled two problematic treatments of space in social theory: the reduction of space to a strictly passive, ‘empty’ container of history, and, in turn, the elevation of space to  historically invariant determinant of social life. Instead, a key lesson in these debates was to discuss space dialectically, as a product of history and an active historical force. These debates quickly pushed me to return to Gramsci and consider something that a few geographically minded intellectuals had considered here and there but that was then still an unusual topic for the Gramscians amongst my colleagues: the place of space in Gramsci’s particular strand of Marxism.

One of the most important questions in Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis (then and now) is the issue of historicism, which Gramsci affirmed in a peculiar way to describe one crucial aspect of his historical materialist method. A few have pointed out that the conceptions of time and history which informed Gramsci’s historicism are not to be confused with those that shape other forms of historicism, notably Hegel’s and Ranke’s. Among the first to do so in English was Esteve Morera, who wrote a book on the subject in 1990.[1] However, at the time, it was not uncommon (even among Gramscians) to sidestep geographical questions or treat space as the philosophical counterpart of time. I sometimes felt that on this matter, not much had changed since the 1970s when the famous exchange between Immanuel Wallerstein (and his ‘spatial’ conception of capitalism as a world system) and Ernesto Laclau (and his ‘historical’ conception of capitalism as a mode of production) unnecessarily pitted space against time, geography against history.

Even just a cursory reading shows that Gramsci’s writing was characterized by a profound geographical as well as historical sensibility. My sense was and is that both sensibilities are integral to his method. Forging a path a Marx himself had laid out, Gramsci developed his main concepts (from language and folklore to intellectuals and politics) through an intimate reading of historical moments and geographical situations. ‘Space’ for Gramsci was never just contextual backdrop or singular material condition (let alone a symbol of historical stasis). As condition and product of history, geography is an active force of the multiple rhythms that make up historical time. In turn, Gramsci treated space and scale relationally, showing the mutual imbrication and historical co-constitution of world, nation, region, city and country.

Key in this context is the idea that spatial forms are, among other things, subjects of struggle as well as ‘ingredients’ in political projects, as it were. It is well known (as Panagiotis Sotiris has reminded us most recently)[2] that Gramsci treated the national scale not as a given entity (let alone an ethnocultural or historical essence) but an open-ended field of struggle and a strategic construction site. Gramsci insisted that the national-popular aspect of revolutionary politics, which is not to be confused with nationalism, must be developed in constant interaction with equally open-ended internationalist horizons.

Gramsci made similar points about city and country. Observing debates among fascist intellectuals such as Curzio Malaparte, he saw that claims to urbanity and rurality do not simply express given geographical realities. They can help form historic blocs. Compare Gramsci’s insight, which considered politics as an active force, to contemporary debates in electoral geography, which have a tendency to read right populist and neo-fascism passively, as mere reflections of given settlement forms defined by national statistical offices: suburb, periurb, rural space or small to medium sized town. Exemplified in France by the work of Christophe Guilluy, among others, such spatially determinist readings of the Front National actually corroborate Gramsci’s point. In their passive conception of politics, intellectuals like Guilluy naturalize, and thus lend effective support to frontist political claims by treating small towns, agricultural areas and periurban zones as embodiments of the ‘autochtonous’ people of France and their seemingly spontaneous and inevitable xenophobic impulses.[3]

  • What does a Gramscian reading of Lefebvre’s work add to Lefebvre scholarship? In what ways did Lefebvre try to urbanize the question of hegemony[4] ?

 

Antonio Gramsci was not one of the primary figures in Lefebvre’s intellectual universe. But in various parts of his work, Henri Lefebvre presented us with explicit textual invitations to see his own contributions in a Gramscian light. In the opening pages of the Production of Space, for example, he established the hypothesis that bourgeois hegemony does not leave space untouched, as it were, thus suggesting that spatial organization represents a crucial element in the organization of political rule. This insight systematized the earlier conclusion of The Urban Revolution, where Lefebvre stressed the fact that ‘urbanisme’, and the specialized spatial sciences associated with it have the potential to sustain bourgeois rule by disorganizing opposition and promoting subaltern passivity.

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