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Eurozine on the City

Noteworthy articles on cities, the urban commons and sustainability, Georg Franck Die urbane Allmende and an issue on Central Europe’s urban identity from Eurozine, an online selection from several European magazines.

Franck argues for a new urbanism that focuses on the middle ground of sustainable, compact neighbourhoods rather than focusing only on architecture as individual green buildings, or the city at an metropolitan scale.  I’ve heard this urban commons recently called the “middle landscape”, not detached sprawl, not the hyper-urban central business district but  livable, mid-scaled sets of buildings that demand less energy while remaining functional and convivial.  These example of Asian cities, however, suggests that as the planet moves toward an uban population of around 4.5 billion, it will be in the style and density of cities such as Jakarta, Hong Kong and Shanghai rather than the European ideal of Parisian cityscapes of 6 to 8 storeys.

– Rob

Ecological Urbanism

Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty, eds. Ecological Urbanism. 2010. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller Publishers. 665 pp. ISBN 978-3-0377818-9-0.

Review Essay by Jim Morrow

Ecological Urbanism is, literally and figuratively, a thick text that merges traditional academic articles with media and design to lay-out the foundation for a new, ecologic approach to urban planning. Its purpose, as the book’s back cover promises, is to draw-up “an imaginative and practical method for addressing existing as well as new cities.”

In many previous texts on urbanism and environmental matters, the city is treated as an unremediable site of critique. It’s seen as an environment that is a ‘blight’, ‘decayed’ or ‘ruined’. And this style of critique has seemingly become a default method in most discussions of urban ecology. And beyond being bleak and depressing, such discussions rarely wander from an apocalyptic narrative that views ecology as a material object – like a verdant place set apart from the machinic life of humanity – when it is, instead, a construct of relations, whether it be human or plant or toxin.

Fourier Phalanastère (Thanks to George Mason Univ.)

Fourier Phalanastère (Thanks to George Mason Univ.)

(Continued)

Political Affect

John Protevi. Political Affect: Connecting the Social and Somatic. 2009. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 241 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8166-6510-5

Reviewed by Randi Nixon, University of Alberta (Canada).

Affect has been used in increasingly diffuse ways in various academic discourses; cultural studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory and several other theoretical strains interested in the social realm have been exploring the possibilities and implications of theorizing affect. However, while affect indeed possesses great theoretical possibilities, elaboration into exactly how the term can be put to work as an analytical tool in theorizing social and political phenomena has largely been absent from the discussion. In Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic, John Protevi attempts to ground affect by developing the concept using a variety of theoretical resources. In doing so, he adds insight into how affect can be used to delve deeper into understanding the interconnectedness of the social, the political, the physiological, and the personal.

An impressive and somewhat daunting theoretical complexity is established early on in the book. The first part “A Concept of Bodies Politic” is dedicated to carefully defining and clarifying his concepts. Part II “Bodies Politic as Organisms” further situates his analysis within a long philosophical history by putting Deleuze’s assertion, “the organism is the judgment of God” into a metatheoretical conversation with the work of Aristotle and Kant. The last section of the book “Love, Rage, and Fear” is where the reader finally begins to see the application and relevance of his theoretico-philosophical concepts.

Suffragettes Vote, New York 1917 (thanks to joshiejuice.com).

Suffragettes Vote, New York 1917 (thanks to joshiejuice.com).

(Continued)

Home Making (1)

Being at home is often understood as a matter of identification. It happens when you recognize a place of dwelling as the place where you belong: a habitat, so to speak, where one feels comfortable.

I am writing a paper at the moment where I want to link the practice of home making to thge German notion of Heimat. The first version of this paper will be presented as a lecture at the next European Sociology Degree Summer School in Dresden (12-23 September 2010). The following is uis the abstract:

Being at home is often thought to be possible without having a home. Homeless people can feel at home somewhere too, but I want to argue that today that we should be less focused on being and more on having. This is because I want us to be mindful of the properties of being at home, which are not modalities of being but modalities of having. Moreover, I want to develop the claim that the English word for Eigen, which we tend to be the core of identity: das Eigene, which is “proper” ,has become linked with a notion of cleanliness “being proper” which is linked to developments in the 19th Century, during the confirmation of modern, western, European society. Furthermore,. focusing on the development of the Victorian household (see Ian Roderick’s contribution to the very first issue of Space and Culture on Flow), I want to point out the links between the development of the modern European subject, and an emergent scientific outlook on social ordering. Finally, I want to focus more closely on that dimension of ‘being at home’ that we often forget: the domestic; and argue that the propriety of the domestic , to show that the “becoming homely” of modern Europe has above all become a matter of gendering.

… Joost

Has the Apocalypse happened?

Facebook messages from my connections in England are referring to riots taking place in a number of inner city areas in England. British politicians and journalists have found it relatively easy to denounce these riots as the work of criminals. Very few reflections can be found that try and engage with any issues that might be at stake.
Unbeknown perhaps to those who deploy the term ‘copycats’ to describe continuation and spreading of the rioting, these events provide a testimony to the Tardean concept of ‘imitation’ as the basic form through which the social emerges. Seemingly without ground, rioting spreads from Tottenham to other areas of London, and then outwards to Birmingham, Nottingham and even Liverpool.
The label ‘opportunistic yobs’ however raises more questions than it answers. What is going on in a society when such disturbances spread so easily without ground? What links the actions in Tottenham, Nottingham and Liverpool? What exactly is the stuff of these particular imitations? Media quickly blame media: Twitter, Facebook even Television. However, that is still not an explanation why groundless imitation has taken place.
Perhaps we should take this groundlessness more seriously. Collective violence is an emergent (social) event perhaps because other collectives have broken down. England is in a very serious political-economic predicament: the world economy is slumping into a recession, financial markets are collapsing, the very infrastructure of late capitalism seems to have come to a grinding halt.

Perhaps we should try and link the current riots in England with the so called Arab Spring and we would see other things at stake. Suddenly, criminals would become legitimate protestors fighting against an oppressive state who have turned democracy into a puppet show (is this perhaps the real reason why Spitting Image has disappeared from our television screens: reality is already funny enough?). Do we blame Al Jazeera for being too critical? What is clear among all of this is that analysis is failing in a most rudimentary sense. This, I would argue, is the most powerful indicator that we are dealing with an apocalypse.

In 1997, the second issue of space and culture appeared under the title ‘Apocalypse’ and there I asserted that the apocalypse had already happened, if one were to define it not as a complete and total rapture, but as a ‘cool revelation’ that the world as we know it has come to an end. That was 3 years before the dot.com economy collapsed, 4 years before 9.11, 6 years before the second gulf war, 7 years before the premiere of Team America World Police and the revelation that Kim Jong Ill, the alleged center of the Axis of Evil, is in fact a cockroach, 8 years before the Tsunami, 10 years before the credit crunch, 13 years before Fukushima.
In no way is what we published back in 1997 a prophecy of what was to come. We simply maintained that it had already happened. Everything that followed was nothing more than a repetition of what happened before. As we act like vultures, hovering over the cadavers of meaningless reflection, all we can do is perform the same cycles over and over again.

To go back then to the riots, the most sensible next step would be to stop meaninglessly asserting the meaninglessness of collective violence and start engaging in more meaningflul responses.  If the riots are mere imitations, what is being imitated? Why are these imitations taking place in England and why now? What alternatives can we offer those who are inclined to ’seize the opportunity’ to go out in the streets and engage in collective violence?

Joost