Category Archives: Theory

Doing Comparative Urbanism Differently

Doing Comparative Urbanism Differently

Özgür SayınMichael Hoyler, and John Harrison

Abstract

Ongoing splintering and siloification in urban studies require alternative approaches to bring the major theoretical and epistemological perspectives into constructive dialogue. Reflecting growing calls for engaged pluralism, we analyse the extent to which different perspectives can come together as complementary alternatives in understanding cities and present a framework for overcoming the key theoretical and methodological challenges caused by fragmentation. Using Istanbul as our illustrative case, we do this in three steps. Theoretically, we stress-test the potentials and limits of four dominant perspectives in urban theory making – global cities, state rescaling, developmental and postcolonial – revealing how each can only ever generate a partial, one-dimensional, explanation. Methodologically, we proceed to make the case for doing comparative urbanism differently by developing a conjunctural approach. Finally, and conceptually, we identify ‘conjunctural cities’ as a distinctive type of city and as a new approach to analysing cities. Our contention is that approaching all cities conjuncturally provides a significant step towards putting engaged pluralism into action, as well as indicating new terrain on which the future of urban theory/urban studies can be constructively debated.
Keywords
comparative urbanismconjunctural citiesinterstitial citiesIstanbulurban theory

Moving beyond siloification in urban studies

The first two decades of this century have been characterised by the emergence of a global urban studies. Despite the development of a critical body of work that has contributed to the globalisation of urban thinking, this has been accompanied by a diversification in approaches to understanding cities and the urban condition. In this paper, we focus on four of the most influential and long-standing theoretical perspectives underpinning global urban studies, namely global cities, state-rescaling, developmental and postcolonial.1 Each of these approaches has originated from very different intellectual starting points and subsequently developed its own conceptual vocabulary, methodological tools and empirical preoccupations. Despite each approach representing a diverse set of ideas, sometimes overlapping with other approaches, the result has been a siloification around different schools of thought, often constructed and collapsed (by others) into a simplified core idea and perspective. There is a growing recognition that the constant attacking and defending of what constitutes a legitimate approach to current urban theory making has led to an intellectual environment in which it is difficult to engage in meaningful exchange (Brenner, 2018Hoyler and Harrison, 2017van Meeteren et al., 2016).

Ever since Robinson’s (2002) intervention arguing that adopting one approach, in this case global cities, brings certain cities to the fore and relegates others to the background in global urban research, there has been an ongoing debate as to the capacity of each perspective to understand certain, some or all cities. Reacting against any form of formal categorisation of cities, the response is a call for a comparative urbanism capable of, on the one hand, recognising the diverse urban experiences of all cities, while on the other hand simultaneously removing the barriers to researching ‘across different contexts’ (Robinson, 2011: 5). The problem, as noted by Peck (2015) and others, is that in (over)emphasising the particularity of each city, advocates of the comparative turn in urban studies distance themselves to such an extent it actually serves to prevent continuing conversations and meaningful comparisons between cities and perspectives. Alongside this, while the different perspectives on studying the global urban now mean that more cities are being included in contemporary global urban research (Kanai et al., 2018), there nevertheless remain certain cities that are problematic to align with one or more of these frames.

These cities that do not easily fit, and therefore fall between the gaps of international urban theory making, are increasingly the subject of researchers’ attention.2 A first grouping of cities, such as Doha, Panama, Manila and Beirut, have capitalised on their in-betweenness to develop niche economies (Kleibert, 2017Krijnen et al., 2017Sigler, 2013). What we might usefully identify as interstitial cities leads us to consider a second grouping, including Moscow, Budapest and Istanbul. These former imperial interstitial cities sit at the interface of what Müller (2020) has termed ‘Global East’–‘suspended somewhere in the shadows between the Global North and the Global South, not quite belonging to either’ (Müller, 2020: 734). This is true in particular for Istanbul, which ‘[l]ike its geographical location, […] resembles both West and East [and] has been characterised generally by the less-developed attributes of the Global South but also has certain modern, developed aspects of the Global North’ (Yetiskul and Demirel, 2018: 3338).

Using Istanbul as an illustrative case, this paper proposes an alternative approach to doing comparative urban research that brings different theoretical perspectives into conversation. Recent convention has it that there are two principal approaches to comparative urbanism: ‘The first is a multi-city comparison, while the second deals with multiple sites within a single city’ (Ren and Luger, 2015: 153). We argue that collapsing comparative urbanism into debates about site selection is counterproductive to the type of meaningful exchange required to understanding the multiple ways of seeing cities (section ‘Doing comparative urbanism differently’). Our approach is grounded in a belief that to engage in meaningful comparative urban research we must explore the extent to which different perspectives (can) come together as complementary alternatives in explaining processes of urban change. We do this in two ways. We begin by stress-testing the capacity and limits of global cities, state-rescaling, developmental and postcolonial perspectives in making sense of cities, and in our case, Istanbul (section ‘Explaining Istanbul: Stress-testing urban theories in an interstitial city’). Arguing that Istanbul can only be partially understood through adopting a single epistemological perspective, we proceed in section ‘Conjunctural cities as both city type and approach’ to examine whether interstitial cities require a new theoretical starting point, or are best served by bringing together existing perspectives as complementary alternatives? From this we argue that there is a strong case to extend a conjunctural approach to urban theory making by proposing ‘conjunctural cities’ as both a distinctive type of city and as an approach to analysing cities. Attaching particular importance to the latter proposition, we demonstrate how a conjunctural approach is capable of establishing the potentials and limits of individual perspectives, ascertaining which different perspectives may usefully come together to go beyond these limits, and thereby establishing an urgently required open analytical framework. We conclude that conjunctural cities as an approach to analysing cities is a necessary step in moving beyond siloification in urban studies and toward putting engaged pluralism into practice.

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Cities and Natural Environments

The City Is a Lie

From Ancient Egypt’s deltas to Edinburgh’s crags and peaks, the city pushes back against the dream of human separateness

By Sam Grinsell

Published by AEON

The ancient city of Alexandria lies on a narrow strip of Mediterranean coast to the west of the Nile delta. To the south is Lake Mariout, which once hemmed in the city rather closely, but has been reduced over the past century as land has been reclaimed for agriculture and for Alexandria International Airport. In 1921, during the period of British rule, a new masterplan was put in place for the city. It was prepared by William H McLean, a Scot who had an urban planning career across the colonial Middle East: he was town engineer in Khartoum, and also prepared a masterplan for Jerusalem. In his vision for Alexandria, McLean plotted its expansion to east and west, convinced that any land reclaimed from Lake Mariout would be needed for farming rather than housing. The fact that the city now straggles along the coast rather than sprawling inland is partly a result of this plan.

The other striking thing about the form of Alexandria is its two bays. The site of the city was, when Alexander the Great founded it in the 4th century BCE, one large bay with an island at its centre, called Pharos. In the 3rd century BCE, a road was built to the island. Over time, the Mediterranean has added to the original earthworks to such an extent that Pharos has become the head of a peninsula rather than an island. On each side of this peninsula are the two bays of Alexandria. Before the Nile was dammed in the 19th and 20th centuries, its annual flood dragged silt from the length of the river to the delta. Along the way, the silt deposited in the riverbanks and in the delta itself created some of the world’s most fertile soil. This process also expanded the delta into the sea each year, and the earth that was carried westwards by the waves of the Mediterranean to add to the land connecting Alexandria and Pharos was also part of this cycle. The watery land of the delta held such agricultural value because of this rich earth carried north by the river, and so the reason that the land around Lake Mariout was claimed for farming rather than urban growth is embedded in a complex set of land and water movements.

The Alexandria that you see on a map or satellite image today thus bears the long marks of actions by humans and nonhumans, its form emerging from centuries of collaboration between sea, land, river and people. But this is not generally how we imagine urban spaces.

The city is a lie that we tell ourselves. The crux of this lie is that we can separate human life from the environment, using concrete, glass, steel, maps, planning and infrastructure to forge a space apart. Disease, dirt, wild animals, wilderness, farmland and countryside are all imagined to be essentially outside, forbidden and excluded. This idea is maintained through the hiding of infrastructure, the zoning of space, the burying of rivers, the visualisation of new urban possibilities, even the stories we tell about cities. Whenever the outside pierces the city, the lie is exposed. When we see the environment reassert itself, the scales fall from our eyes.

Of course, cities are physically identifiable sites that are often clearly separated from the space around them. They might be surrounded by walls that define their limits, or green belts in which building is prohibited or heavily controlled. Even when large suburban districts surround the city, these often have separate governance systems. Nonetheless, all cities depend on a much wider territory beyond these boundary markers. Some or all of the following need to be brought in from outside to support an urban centre: food, water, building materials (wood, stone etc), workers, traders and their goods, raw production materials (wool, cotton etc), energy (in the form of material to be consumed, such as oil or coal, or on cables connected to a production centre such as a power plant or wind farm). This is the case irrespective of whether the city concerned has a clear physical edge or not.

Much debate about cities, at least in English-speaking cultures, reproduces the confrontations between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in the mid-20th century. Moses is portrayed as the archetypal planner, seeking to control New York’s urban scene through the built environment, pushing through highways in the face of opposition on the ground. Jacobs, meanwhile, is thought of as the champion of street life, arguing that ordinary people, given freedom to mingle in their daily lives, are best-placed to bring order to the city. This ongoing confrontation between top-down and bottom-up models of urbanism is central to contemporary urban thinking, but it leaves out the nonhuman. Both Jacobs and Moses view the city, fundamentally, as an entity made by people, the unfolding of a human vision. It is this underlying assumption that I wish to reconsider.

This is not to say that all 20th-century urban thinkers have been blind to the nonhuman. The philosopher Henri Lefebvre distinguished between urban spaces and urbanisation as a process; he foresaw a time when the latter would shape all modes of life at a planetary scale. The architectural historian Sigfried Giedion and the urbanist Lewis Mumford similarly saw essentially urban technologies conquering space and time. The literary scholar Raymond Williams traced the cultural separation between city and countryside. But all of this work has not succeeded in shifting the popular idea of the urban as human space, with a nonhuman outside. In fact, by claiming that urban processes or technologies might expand to dominate the rest of the world, some of these thinkers reinforce an imagined historical distinction between the city and nature.

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Heterotopic Landscapes

Heterotopic Landscapes: From Green Parks 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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