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Common Space
Common Space
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Common Space

The City as Commons

Associate Professor Stavros Stavrides

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📖 eBook - ePub

Common Space

The City as Commons

Associate Professor Stavros Stavrides

About This Book

Space is both a product and a prerequisite of social relations, it has the potential to block and encourage certain forms of encounter. In Common Space, activist and architect Stavros Stavrides calls for us to conceive of space-as-commons – first, to think beyond the notions of public and private space, and then to understand common space not only as space that is governed by all and remains open to all, but that explicitly expresses, encourages and exemplifies new forms of social relations and of life in common. Through a fascinating, global examination of social housing, self-built urban settlements, street trade and art, occupied space, liberated space and graffiti, Stavrides carefully shows how spaces for commoning are created. Moreover, he explores the connections between processes of spatial transformation and the formation of politicised subjects to reveal the hidden emancipatory potential of contemporary, metropolitan life.

Information

Publisher
Zed Books
Year
2016
ISBN
9781783603305
Part one
Commoning space
Chapter 1
An urban archipelago of enclosures
The contemporary metropolis and the normalization project
The contemporary metropolis appears as a chaotic agglomeration of urban environments and flows. If Simmel’s big city was already a real ordeal for the senses and a difficult place to live in, today’s metropolises seem to have evolved to a paroxysmal accentuation and disarticulation of conflicting and overlapping urban rhythms. And if in modernist art’s imaginary the big city could have been envisaged as the possible locus of a city-symphony (Stavrides 2013: 35), in today’s metropolis only cacophony seems possible.
What appears as an incoherent and fragmented locus of human activities is characterized, however, by forms of spatiotemporal ordering that are meant to be compatible with each other. The city must be controlled and shaped by dominant power relations if it is to remain a crucial means for society’s reproduction. True, the city is not simply the result of spatiotemporal ordering, in the same way as the society is not simply the result of social ordering. Order, social or urban, is a project rather than an accomplished state. It is, however, important that we locate the mechanisms through which the project of urban ordering is being shaped and implemented if we want to find out against which forces that resist or overspill this ordering such mechanisms were crafted. Ordering mechanisms, thus, do not simply execute certain programmed functions but constitute complicated self-regulating systems that interact with urban reality and ‘learn’ from their mistakes. Urban ordering, the metropolis itself, is a process, is contested, much in the same way that dominant social relations need to be reproduced every day. Capitalism itself is a process rather than a form of social organization that repeats itself throughout its micro-history and its macro-history (Holloway 2002 and 2010).
If urban ordering is an ongoing process, what is, then, the role of urban ordering mechanisms? And what exactly is urban order when we talk about the contemporary metropolis? We could say that urban order is the impossible limit towards which practices of spatial classification and hierarchization tend in order to ensure that the city produces those spatial relations that are necessary for capitalism’s reproduction. It appears as obvious that ordering mechanisms are mechanisms of control: the city can indeed be depicted as a turmoil of activities and spaces that need to be controlled. Ordering mechanisms, however, are not meant only to tame a complicated and highly differentiated form of human habitat (perhaps the most complicated one in human history so far). A rhetoric that attempts to legitimize them presents them in this way. However, those mechanisms are, to use Foucault’s bold term, mechanisms of social normalization. Foucault insists that normalization is not simply the result of the legal system: ‘techniques of normalization develop from and below a system of law, in its margins and maybe even against it’ (Foucault 2009: 56).
In terms of urban ordering, normalization includes attempts to establish spatial relations that will encourage social relations and forms of behaviour which will be repeatable, predictable and compatible with the taxonomy of the necessary social roles. Normalization shapes human behaviour and may use space (as well as other means) to do so.
Normalization is a project which is always explicitly or latently contested. It is not simply imposed, it has to infiltrate every capillary vein of society in order to be effective. It has to be connected to words and acts that mould everydayness but also to acts of dominant power that frame those everyday molecular practices. Normalization is undoubtedly a project of domination, a project that seeks to mould society’s subjects. It thus has to be the result of a certain arrangement of power relations.
Exactly because a complete and unalterable urban order is an impossible fantasy of those who rule, a complete and total normality cannot be imposed. Normalization will always have to deal with deviations and exceptions. What is more important, normalization can treat exception as a propelling force. What will follow in this book will be an attempt to observe the mechanisms of urban ordering as they shape the project of normalization in a constant and complex interaction with mechanisms of exception.
There is a certain image that may prove useful to a project that attempts to discover the kind of order towards which the city is forced: the image of the archipelago. Today’s metropolis appears to be shaped in the form of an urban archipelago. Urban space appears as a vast sea which surrounds urban islands of various sizes and forms. As with every analogy that supports a certain interpretative idea, this image needs to be treated with caution. We need to select metaphors carefully when we talk about space if we want to examine how space is always understood through socially inculcated ideas and concepts.
The image of the archipelago may better be considered not as an analogical representation of the city but as a thought-image, an image through which thoughts about the city can be moulded rather than simply illustrated (Stavrides 2014b, Richter 2007). Thus, the urban archipelago image can be used to conceptualize spatial order (or non-order) as well as to interpret it. An emphasis on the chaotic aspect of urban space may be taken to correspond to images of unexplored or, even, untamed seas. Urban islands, in such a perspective, would be enclaves of order in the middle of urban chaos. Interestingly, an almost opposite view can also be developed. In Koolhaas’s essay ‘City of the Captive Globe’ (Koolhaas 1994: 296), a model city is projected onto Manhattan’s spatial structure, which is called an archipelago: the urban grid corresponds to the archipelago’s sea and the urban plots are taken as islands. As Aureli has observed, in this conception of the archipelago ‘the more different the values celebrated by each island, the more united and total the grid or sea that surrounds them’ (Aureli 2011: 24). In this understanding of the urban archipelago the sea is the organizing and ordering medium in which distinct enclaves of difference, ‘cities within cities’, are located.
Aureli’s own positive conception of the archipelago is also characteristic of the polyvalence of the image. For him, architecture (‘absolute architecture’) can become the force to defy and criticize the all-encompassing ‘extensive space of urbanization’ (ibid.: 44) which engulfs the city. To ‘exceed this sea … from within’ (ibid.), architecture has to mould the islands as separated fragments, ‘absolute’ parts which reintroduce the necessary ingredient of confrontation and agonism, ‘political separateness’, against the homogenizing principle of the endless and always-expanding ‘sea of urbanization’ (ibid.: 45).
The image of the archipelago is obviously related to a contradistinction of order versus disorder in all of these interpretations. What this chapter will try to show is that this image can support the idea that urban ordering is a project that unfolds in different but complementary levels of urban space and that this project reveals at least three distinct mechanisms of power at work. The urban sea is being ordered in different ways than the urban islands, and parts of the archipelago (including delimited areas of urban sea and certain connected islands) are mainly ordered through a third kind of mechanism.
Michel Foucault has distinguished three distinct model-forms of power mechanisms in Western societies. The first one is described as the model of sovereignty, the second as the disciplinary model and the third as the security model (Foucault 2009). Although he convincingly presents these models as corresponding to successive periods in the West’s history, he nevertheless insists that models coexist in contemporary society by having a different role and importance in the overall structure of power relations (ibid.: 8 and 107).
It is interesting that in some of Foucault’s examples and remarks on the distinctive characteristics of power mechanisms, space plays an important role. One can even suppose that those mechanisms correspond to different ways of space ordering or, rather, to different normalization techniques that use space by regulating it. Thus, sovereignty is ‘exercised over a territory’ (ibid.: 15), ‘capitalizes a territory’ (ibid.: 20) and corresponds to a ‘feudal type of territoriality’ (ibid.: 20), whereas discipline structures ‘an empty and closed space within which artificial multiplicities are to be structured and organized’ (ibid.: 19) and security ‘tries to plan a milieu in terms of series of possible events’ (ibid.: 47). Territory, empty space and milieu: different spatialities are being defined by the different mechanisms of normalization. Let us see how this differentiation may be projected to the thought-image of the urban archipelago.
Sovereignty and discipline in urban enclavism
‘We are witnessing … a resurgence of a global gated urbanism’ (Jeffrey et al. 2012: 1, 252–3). Urban enclaves are spaces in contemporary cities which are defined by specific recognizable boundaries within the city and are explicitly connected with specific protocols of use. Urban enclaves are the islands of the urban archipelago. Their perimeter is marked, and various forms of control are employed to ensure access to those who are qualified as ‘inhabitants’. The logic of the enclave is to separate a spatial arrangement from the rest of the city and to enclose specific urban functions in this clearly demarcated area. Enclaves are much like territories defined by the application and enforcement of certain rules of use and behaviour.
In Foucault’s reasoning, sovereign power is based on juridical mechanisms which regulate the behaviour of the specific community’s members by explicitly excluding certain forms of social life and those who embody them. Thus, sovereignty creates, marks and eventually stigmatizes ‘outsiders’.
Urban enclaves tend to be self-contained worlds in which specific forms of spatial ordering prevail. Ordering is guaranteed by rules that apply only inside each enclave. Thus, a peculiar site-specific sovereign power is established in urban enclaves in the form of an administrative apparatus that imposes obligations and patterns of behaviour and thus defines the characteristics of the enclave’s inhabitants (temporary or more permanent ones).
Specific rules are applied in the ordering of a large department store, upon entrance to a bank or a corporate tower and in the layout and use of a shopping mall or a huge sports stadium. Urban islands can be huge building complexes, like the ones just described, but also closed neighbourhoods – especially those defined as ‘gated communities’. Spatial ordering is connected with behaviour normalization in all those cases. And this process of normalization is explicitly or implicitly performed through the enforcement of regulations, which often present themselves as pure and innocent management decisions. The contemporary metropolis is ‘an archipelago of “normalized enclosures”’ (Soja 2000: 299).
Some gated communities have taken the form of completely barricaded urban areas to which public access is restricted. ‘Legal agreements … tie the residents to a common code of conduct and (usually) collective responsibility for management’ (Atkinson and Blandy 2005: 178). One can talk of a kind of ‘private governance’ whether or not those legal agreements are ‘free’ contractual choices or rules imposed in exchange for ‘lifestyle preferences’ (ibid.: 183).
Enclave-bound ‘authorities’ (such as, for example, a shopping mall’s management or a gated neighbourhood’s administration either elected or appointed by the corresponding corporation which constructed it) may assume responsibilities and control jurisdictions which used to belong to the state. They thus contribute to the strengthening of a localized ‘post-political consensus’ (Swyngedouw 2011: 28). These forms of governance can be considered as arrangements of ‘governance-beyond-the-state’ (Swyngedouw 2009) and may even be shaped as ‘privatized governance regimes’ (Graham and Marvin 2001: 271).
By employing Agamben’s theorizations on the state of exception we could further discover an essential aspect of enclave-bound power arrangements. Rules that apply inside the enclaves are often exceptional when compared to the general legal framework that is effective in the corresponding society. This kind of spatial ordering is based on a peculiar state of exception. Not only are inhabitants’ obligations are exceptional but the rules that define the enclave’s relations to the rest of the city are exceptional too (for example rules regulating tax obligations, street maintenance, conditions of public space use, etc.). Enclaves are spatial forms of a normalized state of exception (Agamben 1998: 169; 2005: 86). To understand the implications of this paradoxical situation we need to trace the connection of normality to exception.
Schmitt has explicitly connected sovereign power to the right to suspend the law. For him ‘sovereign is he who decides on the [state of] exception’ (Schmitt 2005: 5). If sovereign power, like every power, is, according to Foucault, focused on sustaining normality, then the right to suspend the law must be proved compatible with this permanent orientation of power. Indeed, suspending the law is not supposed to destroy normality (although it obviously does) but to protect normality from a threat. No matter what threat sovereign power diagnoses, predicts or invents to excuse law’s suspension, this threat is meant to be confronted with means sovereign law normally does not permit in order to be eliminated. Inherent in the act of suspension is a kind of governing reason which is focused on efficiency rather than on rights.
Exception as a form of suspension of rights is acceptable to the enclave inhabitants, or even desirable, because it is presented as a ‘naturalized’, obviously effective, administrative procedure. ‘Outsiders’ are not allowed to pass a gated community’s gate, people can be searched upon entry at an Olympic Games venue, shoppers at the mall have constantly to prove that they are not thieves as they pass through electronic scanning devices, and visitors (and those who work) in corporate towers as well as travellers in airports have to be subjected to various, often humiliating, controls in order to prove that they are not terrorists. And, of course, in periods in which a certain kind of pervasive threat is presented as imminent, relevant measures will escalate.
Administrative procedures which routinize these forms of everyday control tend to normalize their exceptional status. Normalized exception becomes the generator of habits and everyday act sequences which, by being repeated, produce a peculiar kind of normality. If a state of exception – no matter how convincingly legitimized – permits to those who experience it some kind of awareness that legal guarantees and rights are suspended, a state of normalized exception tends to become a new form of localized normality. Each enclave is ‘normalized’ through different sets of rules. Situated rights (and privileges) become concrete, whereas ‘universal’ or ‘general’ rights become vague and abstract. Enclave-bound citizens or enclave-frequenting users learn to adapt to concrete obligations and space-bound habits without recourse to rights that unite them with the other inhabitants of the city. Urban enclaves shape a contemporary ‘differentiated citizenship’ (Holston 2008: 5) through localized states of normalized exception.
Disciplinary power is also present in the production and reproduction of enclave microcosms. According to Foucault, whereas sovereign power prohibits, disciplinary power surveys, classifies and tries to separate the normal from the abnormal not in terms of banishing the negative but in terms of carefully circumscribing and isolating the threatening ‘other’. Disciplinary power prescribes rather than prohibits (Foucault 2009: 47).
In maintaining the order of the enclave, disciplinary power has to constitute it as a totally describable, totally knowable and totally organizable space (ibid.: 19). Surveillance is the most important of the disciplinary technologies imposed on the defined closed space of the enclave. And this technology treats the inhabitants as quasi-citizens ‘by constituting and structuring perceptual grids and physical routines’ (Lemke 2011: 36). Discipline for Foucault is not simply suppressive but actively contributes to the productive aspects of the human relations it shapes. The human body is made ‘more obedient as it becomes more useful and conversely’ (Foucault 1995: 138).
We could say that while sovereign power encloses and defines the boundaries of the enclaves, disciplinary power works on defining the characteristics of the enclave users. Whereas sovereign power uses space to control those people whom power identifies as subjects of a situated set of rules, disciplinary power uses space to situate, classify and mould those subjects not simply as subjects of law (or ‘subjected’ to law) but as members of a specific social articulation that reproduces itself through everyday life activities.
The mechanism of exception plays an important role in shaping disciplinary power too. This role can be detected in the very example Foucault uses for explaining the logic of disciplinary power: the example of ‘the plague stricken town’ (Foucault 1995: 195–8). To control the plague the authorities had to separate the infected from those who were healthy, had constantly to control the status of the city’s population and ha...

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APA 6 Citation
Stavrides, A. S. (2016). Common Space (1st ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2003184/common-space-the-city-as-commons-pdf (Original work published 2016)
Chicago Citation
Stavrides, Associate Stavros. (2016) 2016. Common Space. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/2003184/common-space-the-city-as-commons-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Stavrides, A. S. (2016) Common Space. 1st edn. Bloomsbury Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2003184/common-space-the-city-as-commons-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Stavrides, Associate Stavros. Common Space. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.