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Social Antrhopology Essay Benjamin Barth

Social Antrhopology Essay Benjamin Barth



as part of diploma studies on Bergen School of Architecture 2010

as part of diploma studies on Bergen School of Architecture 2010



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    Social Antrhopology Essay Benjamin Barth Social Antrhopology Essay Benjamin Barth Document Transcript

    • S O C I A L A N T H R O P O L O G Y E S S AY b y B E N J A M I N B A R T H «THE ART OF BUILDING CITIES» Reflections on the relation between sustainability and the city B E R G E N S C H O O L O F A R C H I T E C T U R E F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 0
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city I PR O L O G UE I I T HE CI T Y I I I SPACE AND THE SENSE OF PLACE I V THE AR T OF BUILDING CITIES V EPILOGUE V I REFERENCES
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city I INTRODUCTION We are living in a time of great change. Our conceptions of both our physical and abstract environments are continuously renewed. Much of this can be explained from globalism, technical innovations or economic prosperity. But some times change follow from new ideas or ideologies emerging from the evolvement of history itself. In contrast to the factors mentioned above, history does not evolve linearly. Rather, history is product of paradigm shifts, forcin g new rules and principles on the subjects of its time. This also applies to urban planning, as many great cities are veritable proof of. Are we ready for the next shift? The concepts of the city, community and sustainability are easily defined, if you look them up in a dictionary or an academic text. But the relation between t hem pose questions in which the answer seem unclear to many of us. While the two first are old and well-known terms, the latter is a widely popular term which has different connotations to different people. Sustainability is about preserving the future in heart and mind. But what does that really mean in context to our urban environments? That´s the cue for this text; What is a sustainable city? What is a sustainable community? How are we to `build´ them? These are key questions that have helped form the approach to my diploma project on urban development. I will make use of this essay in social anthropology to explore the meaning of these questions and the relation between them. Rather than reproducing an academic analysis of single term(s), the following text will thus function as part of the rationale in the process of developing my diploma project. Enjoy the jour ney!
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city I I THE CITY THE MODERN CITY is problematic. `Problematic´ in this context is not a negative moral imperative, but imply a form of complexity that blur traditional boundaries of the city and confuse the relations of its content to its citizen. So, how do we define a city? PHYSIOLOGICALLY SPEAKING, a city is a geographical and administrative system inhabited by people. Plato defines the ideal city a constelllation of 5.000 inhabitants. Aristotle claims that the ideal - or sustainable - city is not larger than its citizen can know each other by sight, but not smaller than it can defend itself. THE GREEKS invented the city quarters and imagined a symmetric triad between blocks of public, private and holy character, with the Agora (plaza) as the democratic focal point of the city. The Romans built cities on the military principles of Cardo and Decumanus, which made out the principal axes in a strictly ordered spatial composition protected by city walls. THE IDEAL of the Greek city was recognized by its democratic agora - an open public space (plaza) in the city centre, where all public arrangements of importance took place. The Roman spatial equivalent to the agora was the public Forum, placed in the focal point of the north and south city axes, but due to a different organization of society it was not privileged with the same democratic values as the Greek plaza. IN MEDIEVAL TIMES cities in Europe evolved very much according to the principles of Aristotle. In the 19th century Ebenezer Howard developed a concept of interlinked garden cities, each with a estimated population of 30.000 inhabitants. A few decades later Corbusier designed skyscrapers of 2-3000 inhabitants as part of cities of 2-3 million inhabitants.
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city THE THEORY OF URBAN PLANNING was long characterized by rational and objective thinking. So was the theory on urban environments, until the emergence of the Marxist critique on the city in the 1970´s. In a comprehensive philosophical argument on the production of capital, the modern city is described as a means of control (and a premise for the survival) of capital and as an instrument for the spatial distribution of labour. The lead proponent of this critique was the sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre. He advocates that urban theorists, architects, and planners must «make an effort to reach out towards a new humanism, a new praxis, another man, that of urban society» (1996:76). LEFEBVRE´S MARXIST CRITIQUE opened up new ways of understanding of processes of urbanization and its consequences in relation to social reality. His work had a huge impact on urban theory, city planning, but also on political economy, state governance, social politics and the role of individuals in society. Lefebvre was concerned with specific rights for those who live in cities - rights to education, work, culture, rest, health and housing. Lefebvre´s perspective also widened the potential to relate urban research and urban design practices, by linking urban theory and the critique of urbanism with the programmatic questioning of practice. Studies on `the sociology of space´ by neo-marxists such as David Harvey, Manuel Castells and Edward Soja elaborate on the practices of everyday life in the urban scale and the envisioning of a new type of social space in the contemporary city. THE (POST)MODERN CITY is not defined by numerable size or finite borders. What used to be primary areas for industrial production have now turned into diffuse landscapes of consumption. Terms like city regions, rurban areas, urban sprawl, urban fringe and transitional landscapes are widely used characteristics of urban environments. Modern cities are characterized by the lack of clear borders and a complex merging of various spheres. This accommodates a greater confidence in the use of subjective perception and mental maps to orientate ourselves in urban environments. Hence, a growing challenge for the urban resident is to live without clear defined borders of space or cultural affiliation. URBAN ENVIRONMENTS CHANGE rapidly as effects of globalization and migration provoke economical, cultural and ethnical differentiation and segregation in modern cities. Consequently, urbanization leads to change in lifestyles and the contextual meaning of space.
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city I I I S PA C E A N D T H E S E N S E O F P L A C E WHAT IS SPACE? Marxist theories on urban development have contributed to a stronger focus on socio-economic and social processes in the conception of space. But the definition of space is quite unclear and accomodate a series of meanings from a conglomerate of diciplines. IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES space is defined as something absolute and three- dimensional. The phenomenology address issues as sound, thoughts, feelings and cognitive experiences to the concept of space. For philosophers space is a dimension to knowledge, and a principal of understanding. Sociologists regard space as social product and as an element in the social reproduction. Anthropologists define space from historic and relational terms and will thus argue it is a basis for identification. More acknowledged is the meaning of spaced used by geographers: the physical extent of objects or definition of borders (Pløger 1997:11). This terminology is the dominating approach for urban planners in the creation of space. THE PLAZA has historically been defined as the central meeting place of the city, and a symbol of the development of democratic culture through communal activities, gatherings and to some extent trade. The greeks regarded the Agora as a democratic product deflected by the relation between the physical structure of the city (urbs) and social relations in space (civitas). The socio-spatial dynamic created between urbs, civitas and polis (the state) was concidered to be the present desire to develop an urban culture (urbanitas), created in the relation between communities, norms and social order. THE PRESENT RENAISSANCE OF URBANITY has little connotation to historic terms. `Urbanity´ generally refer to social life in the city and reveal little meaning to the specific realms of the urban environment. The positivistic attitude in urban theory was challenged by the Marxist critique in the late 1970´s . In The Production of Space (1974) Lefebvre argued that space is a social product - a complex social construction based on values and the social production of meanings, which affects the practice and perceptions of space. In short, space is produced by social relations.
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF SPACE has come to dominate urban theory in recent times. Lefebvre (1982) also talks of the differentiated space (Pløger 1997:12). This is a concept of space where individuality can be expressed to give a new meaning to a social space, in contrast to the typical city spaces dominated by capital (re)production. In this context, space is an arena for individual display, where the actions produced is a process of interchanging meanings. From this logic follows the idea of space as an active process, and not a as a static entity. The Norwegian sociologist Dag Østerberg defines urbanity as a way of life `shaped by cultural forming of people and enviroments´. This relates to philosophers general perception of urbanity as an expression of formation, distancing and reservation to strangers between people as a product of experiencing the blasé of the modern city (Pløger 1997:19). The flaneur, as a `passive spectator´ in the city, is a symptom of this - almost as a parallel role of the tourist. The flaneur seeks to `read´ the complexity of the urban space through observation, but seems to be `trapped´ by the city due the rules of formation and passitivity of urban life. THE SPATIAL DEVELOPMENT OF CITIES is according to Østerberg constituted by urban life and the emergence of urban identities. Urbanity is thus, in agreement with Lefebvre, a process of spatial production. Edward Soja defines urban identity as mental space - spatialized mentalité - which is produced by urban experiences. THE PROCESS OF URBANIZATION refers to the creation of cities or processes of exploitation (Gottdiener 1994:102). Sociologist Ernest Burgess explain this through a theory on the growth and spatial organization of the city: `The concentric model´ is a kind of social darwinistic model that describe the development of the city through population growth and a commercial competition for localisation. Hence, different functions of the city (commerce, residence, leisure etc.) are necessarily segregated and unevenly spatially distributed. THE FRAGMENTATION of urban environments leads to complex spatial situations and segregation in the city. This is accomponied by globalization trends: The availability and presence of modern transport, new forms of communication and the mixing of cultures and ethnic minorities due to rapidly increased migration has come to dominate urban development today. The concept of space-time-compression refer to new forms of spatial organization and differentiation in human interaction, which is inevitably present in all modern cities.
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city Geographer Doreen Massey identifies one effect of globalization as increasing uncertainty on the meaning of space and how we relate to urban environments (Pløger 1997: ), leading to a greater need of genuine or `real´ spaces. Her concept of `power geometry´ describes how different individuals and groups in society relate to the various effects of globalization (or lack of it). Some people tackle these challenges easily, some profit on them and others become trapped by them without knowing. Massey stresses that places are not enclosures with a clear inside and outside, that places do not have single identities but multiple ones and that places are not frozen in time, but processes. FOLLOWING THE LOGIC OF SPACE AS A PROCESS, I would argue that a sense of place is created from the `dialogue´ of actions in the social production. You and I may relate differently to a specific place due to our distinct subjective experiences and circumstances at different times, but the sum of experiences is what constitute the full meaning of the space. The contexutal meaning is constituted in the progressive space. IV «THE ART OF BUILDING CITIES» WHILE THE SOCIOLOGY OF SPACE is the central theme for sociologists, geographers and alike, architects and planners find themselves stuck in traditional practice. In the field of architecture, `urbanism´ simply means `the art of building cities´ or `the development of the city and method for control of urban transformation´ - either the practice of architecture or the practice of urban planning (Pløger 1997:19). THE MODERN CITY EVOLVES ORGANICALLY under the supervision of professional planners. But has the practice of planning evolved as much as the city itself? I´m not sure - I argue that the practice of architects and planners struggle to keep ahead of the development of the modern city. As more than half of the world´s population for the first time in history now live in cities, and will prportionally increase to 75% in 2050, the city is subject to accomodate many of the consequenses that come with this great change. With the notion of the recent food crisis, economic crisis and the undergoing climate crisis in mind, I strongly believe the mindset of architecture and urban planning has to change. But how? Let´s start by looking to relevant practices;
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city THE FIELD OF HUMAN ECOLOGY is an interdiciplinary sub-discipline of geography, anthropology, psychology, sociology and ecology, which take a particular interest in the complexity of urban life. They see humans as one species out of many that interacts with a bounded natural environment, just as any other ecological system. In this perspective, the issue of sustainability in urban environments becomes pertinent: what is a sustainable city? A SUSTAINABILE CITY is a healthy city. A healthy city is one that, besides providing stimulating physical environments, produces social space and creates arenas for interaction and individual experience for the participants of the urban environment. Just as the classic cultures strived to develop the ideal city, cultures of our time intend to create good cities. Architects and planners do intend to build good cities, but not sustainable cities! The smell of paradigm shift is in the wind. SUSTAINABILITY IS CHARACTERIZED by taking on a holistic approach, whatever subject in question. If the practice of arcitecture or urban planning were to adopt this idea, it will have to focus on more than energy budgets and carbon emissions to be labeled a sustainable practice. Cities are built and inhabited by people. People in cities relate to each other by forming communities, often shaped and influenced by urban life. Vital communities will in the next turn help the city maintain and evolve itself. Active communities are thus an important part of the equation for keeping the city active and attractive (healthy). In the matter of approaching a sustainable urban development, people must come first on the priority list. Why this issue is not concidered as a priority to architects and planners remains unclear. A SHIFT IN FOCUS from sectorial issues to start prioritize the function and vitality of complete systems seems appropriate in order to approach a sustainable practice. Interdisciplinary knowledge (i.e. the linking of sociology, anthropology, architecture, and planning) is essential in reconstructing a new understanding of urban living environments and promoting participatory democracy. The sustainability value map developed by architect Chris Butters illustrate a suggestion for a holistic routemap and system for evaluating the degree of sustainability in architectural projects.
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city BUILDING COMMUNITIES. Following Lefebvre´s idea of `reaching out for a new humanism´, one must embrace and facilitate the social life of the city. The first step to achieving this is to enable disadvantaged groups to voice their views and facilitate their contributions to the social production of space. An important tool to facilitate the creation and vitality of communities, is to provide a variety of democratic arenas for social interaction. A primary emphasis on research and practice should be to involve local people in urban redevelopment to stimulate the creation of social relations. In order to search for ways to enable or empower local communities, we ought to listen to prof. Henry Sanoff. He advocates the interdisciplinary method of participatory action research to employ the principles of participatory practice. Along with empowerment and ‘capacity building’, participation is regarded by action researchers as essential if an alternative development model is to be sustainable and people-centred (Chambers:1994). Participatory action research has been adopted by community workers - those engaged in services to e.g. youth and elderly, urban regeneration, public health, and nursing - to strengthen and support the ability of communities to grow and change. Following from this, «the art of building cities» translates into a process of faciltating people in using democratic spaces. ACCESS TO DEMOCRACY is provided by education and empowerment on equal terms. Equal terms are often restricted by social mobility, personal ability and spatial organization. Mobility is different for different citizen, due to restrictions of age, sex and race etc., but is in most professional practices calculated and assumed on the basis of statistical data. This tradition accommodate regular opportunities for misconceptions or errors, which are hard to identify in retrospect. The interdiciplinary field of participatory action research is a flexible tool that helps identify and meet the particular needs of the individuals or groups in a community, and will thus improve the chances of making well-functioning systems. PARTICIPATORY ACTION REASEARCH (PAR) is a process of education. In action learning, the participants begin to rethink their priorities and how they relate specifically to their living conditions. It also enhances the participants’ competence in seeing the factors of power and domination in social space. Through participatory action research, the participants are empowered, and the researchers are inspired to reflect critically on an understanding of life for the disadvantaged. Action planning is a methodology for building consensus for action and ties into a `project approach´ which leads to participants taking ownerships of the process. It builds on a framework guided by the imperatives that people are creative and capable, and can and should do much of their own investigation, analysis and planning. Action planning is about people taking control through strong political roots as a reaction to bureaucracy, inertia or inaction. This engagement is a vital resource in the development of the city. Hence, professionals of the built environment cannot operate devoid of public engagement, but have to find new tools to include this in approaching sustainability. Is PAR one of them?
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city V EPILOGUE The field of participatory practice is far too vast to cover in a short text. Hence will the potential of implementing action research, action planning or action learning in the professional practice of planning not be rightfully justified in this essay. But as an introductory text to a diploma project in architecture, I believe these reflections may open a window for further investigations in search for a meaningful approach towards a sustainable practice of architecture. This text is is part of a dialogue. It is subjective, but seek to keep an open mind in the process of sharing knowledge. In fact, the title and the theme of this essay has been undergoing a process of change: While this writer intended to produce an essey debating the concept of empowerment, further research on the subject had me realize that the chosen subject did not give sufficient answers to my introductory questions. Thanks to Frode F. Jacobsen for responding to this challenge. My interest in the issue of sustainability originates in two essays produced last semester. at the School of Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University: i. «FROM `TURNERISM´ TO SOFT IMPERIALISM: the role of professionals in upgrading informal settlements» & ii. «THE FORMALIZATION OF INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS» Whilst the first refers to a theoretical discourse on participatory practice in development housing, the latter relates to the same theme by presenting two cases on urban densification & slum upgrade. Both debate the relevance of architecture and professional practice. Apart from a my personal learning, I hope, in a socratic spirit to engage the reader in reflecting on the presented argument, and possibly help taking the discussion to the next level - thanks!
    • « T H E A R T O F B U I L D I N G C I T I E S» - on the relation between sustainability & the city VI REFERENCES OF IMPORTANCE ARTICLES: Action research literature 2006–2008: Themes and trends Dick, B: Action Research 2009; 7; 423 Challenging institutional barriers to community-based research Stoecker, R: Action Research 2008; 6; 49 e-PAR: Using technology and participatory action research to engage youth in health promotion Flicker, S., Male, O, Ridgley, Biscope, S., Lombardo, C., Skinner, H.A: Action Research 2008; 6; 28 FROM `TURNERISM´ TO SOFT IMPERIALISM: the role of professionals in upgrading informal settlements Barth, Benjamin: Oxford Brookes University 2009 Empowerment og styringsformer i pleie- og omsorgsarbeid Jacobsen, Frode F., «Å leve med kronisk sykdom» 2007 p. 126-146 Making habitable space together with female Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong: An interdisciplinary participatory action research project Kwok, J.Y, & Ku, H.B: Action Research 2008; 6; 261 Multi-site action research: Conceptualizing a variety of multi-organization practice Fuller-Rowell, T.E: Action Research 2009; 7; 363 Network action research Foth, M: Action Research 2006; 4; 205 THE FORMALIZATION OF INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS Barth, Benjamin: Oxford Brookes University 2009 The role of citizen participation and action research principles in Main Street revitalization Silverman, R.M., Taylor, H.L. Jr. & Crawford, C: Action Research 2008; 6; 69 The paradox of participation in action research Arieli, D, Friedman, V.J, Agbaria, K.: Action Research 2009; 7; 363 Poverty and livelyhoods - whose reality counts? Chambers, R.:Environment and Urbanization 1994; 7; 173 BOOKS: Aspen, J. & Pløger, J. 1997: På sporet av byen.Oslo, Spartacus Forlag. Hamdi, Nabeel: Small Change Hamdi, Nabeel: Housing Without Houses Sarkissian, W. 2009: Kitchen Table Society. London, Earthscan Steel, C. 2008: Hungry city: how food shape our lives. London, Vintage Turner, J.F.C. 1976: Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments, London, M.B. Publ. ILLUSTRATIONS: Benjamin Barth, NABU/Chris Butters INTERNET: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Lefebvre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_ecology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doreen_Massey_%28geographer%29 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Harvey_%28geographer%29 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Benjamin