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Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question.

Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question .



Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question . Simon Parker, Department of Politics, University of York, UK. Association of American Geographers ...

Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question . Simon Parker, Department of Politics, University of York, UK. Association of American Geographers Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, 16 April 2008. Session: ‘New Directions in Urban Theory: Theoretical Groundings



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  • Sumerian clay tablet Pantographic punch card from the 1890 US census - marked off areas rep demographic categories Punch cards were the same size as dollar bills and clay tablets also came in standard sizes

Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question. Cities, Power and Knowledge: A Discursive Materialist Approach to Rethinking the Urban Question . Presentation Transcript

  •  Why re-think the question of urban power? Cities of God, Cities of Reason: FromRitualized to Rationalized Space. Hermeneutics and Urban Form The Role of Space in Urban Hermeneutics From Coded Places to Code/Spaces: TheMaterial Discourses of Knowing Capitalism Conclusion
  •  Existing definitions of urban power within thecritical/radical/historical materialist tradition tend tofocus on processes of power or power relations withincities as opposed to the power of cities. Critical urban theory needs to address the systemicand structurated means by which the power of citiesand of urban spaces in general is established,maintained, concentrated or dispersed. This requires us to see cultural, symbolic, and aestheticmanifestations of the urban not as epiphenomena butas material components of the power/knowledgeensembles that structure existing cityness and whichgive rise to new urban formations
  •  The relation between discourse and material is notconfined to the intellectual task of providing anunderstanding of material; by acting on ourunderstanding, discourse affects practice (thematerial). Moreover, discourse is not conductedunder rules of free inquiry; it is constructed out of,and constrained by, the very materialcircumstances that it studies. It is this sense thatFoucault tries to capture in the couplet“discourse/practice”; this is also the sense that Iwish to communicate through the use of the term“discursive materialism” (Yapa 1996, 710).
  •  Richard Peet claims to unite historical materialismand Foucauldian discourse theory in a materialistpoststructuralism’ where ‘[c]lass, ideology, and political intention operate inthe discursive construction of landscapes. He goeson to argue that ‘significant discourses’ (such asicons) ‘fulfill the purposes of powerful agents andexpress the social relations and material contextscreating agents and forming their beliefs andintentions. Landscapes can thus be read as powersystems. However, landscapes are not passivespaces patterned by power; landscapes alsorecreate agents (my emphasis) (Peet 1996, 23).
  •  …architecture begins at the end of the eighteenthcentury to become involved in problems of population,health and the urban question. Previously, the art ofbuilding corresponded to the need to make power,divinity and might manifest. The palace and the churchwere the great architectural forms, along with thestronghold. Architecture manifested might, theSovereign, God. Its development was for long centred onthese requirements. Then, late in the eighteenthcentury, new problems emerge: it becomes a questionof using the disposition of space for economico-politicalends (Michel Foucault , Power/Knowledge, 1980, 148)
  •  What Angel Rama calls ‘the ordered city’ was also a key motifin the colonial subjugation of the Americas, Largely ignoring the existence of ancient settlements theAmericas were seen by the Spanish colonists andmissionaries as an urban ‘tabula rasa’—just as Alexandersaw Egypt or the Roman Emperors, Carthage. Freed from the ‘organic’ disorder of the medieval Iberiancities the urban bourgeois men of letters ‘adapted themselves to a frankly rationalizing vision of an urbanfuture, one that ordained a planned and repetitive urbanlandscape and also required that its inhabitants be organized tomeet increasingly stringent requirements of colonization,administration, commerce, defense, and religion’ (Rama andChasteen 1996, 1).
  •  …we have to be able to discover [power] inplaces where it is least visible, where it is mostcompletely misrecognized—and thus, in fact,recognized. For symbolic power is that invisiblepower which can be exercised only with thecomplicity of those who do not want to knowthat they are subject to it or even that theythemselves exercise it (Pierre Bourdieu, 1991-4).
  •  “To read what was never written.” Such readingis the most ancient: reading before alllanguages, from the entrails, the stars, ordance. Later the mediating link of a new of anew kind of reading, of runes and hieroglyphs,came into use. It seems fair to suppose thatthese were the stages by which the mimeticgift, which was once the foundation of occultpractices, gained admittance to writing andlanguage (Benjamin 1979, 162-163).
  •  [t]he structure of organized space is not aseparate structure with its own autonomouslaws of construction and transformation, nor isit simply an expression of the class structureemerging from the social (i.e. aspatial) relationsof production. It represents, instead, adialectically defined component of the generalrelations of production, relations which aresimultaneously social and spatial.(Ed Soja1980:208)
  • Trajan’s Column,Rome with part of theBasilica Ulpia
  • The plinth ofTrajan’scolumnincorporatingwhat wasthought tohave beenthe emperor’smausoleum
  • Locationof ColumnApollodorus’plan forTrajan’sForum(Figure 2)
  • Detail showing ‘the effects of good government on the life ofthe city’
  •  In this fresco the twins Romulus and Remus aremimetically transplanted to the feet – or the roots(radici) of trecento Siena. In an astonishing coup de théatre, the wolverinetongue of legitimacy blesses the governmentalistraison d’etat of the Sienese magisterium whoseflimsy and ad hoc claims to authority are belied bythe rhetorical insistence of its primogeniture in theoriginal and eternal city of Rome
  • The Allegory of BadGovernment (or theAllegory of Tyranny)
  • This social and spatial dialectic is itself anemergent product of our representations of it,which are also made in the world from thatwhich is also already in the world.For Baudrillard ‘the structure of the sign is atthe very heart of the commodity form [since]the commodity can take on, immediately, theeffect of signification (Baudrillard 1981, 146 inDoel 2006, 62).
  •  Thus Baudrillard extends Marx’s chain ofvalues forms, beginning with value itself, andencompassing use-value, exchange-value, andsurplus-value to also include sign-value (orsign-exchange-value) which Doel notes exists inan ‘antagonistic relationship to symbolicexchange’ (Doel 2006, 62).
  • Sumerian clay tablet - some 60-100,000 are thought to have survived the UrIII period (the most prolific) between 2100 and 2000 B.C.Pantographic punch machine and card designed for the 1890 US census -marked off areas rep demographic categoriesPunch cards were the same size as dollar billsNear identical technology was employed during the 2000 US Presidentialelections in many states, including Florida
  •  The coding and recording principles that are to be foundin Sumerian clay tablets display many common featureswith contemporary recording and classification systems(such as commercial geodemographics or marketsegmentation analysis), and in particular the ability toorganize the spatialisation of difference. This software sorting (Burrows and Gane 2007) is at theheart of a new techno-governmentality of space that inthe words of a leading North Americangeodemographics company will allow companies to‘conduct data mining projects to uncover behaviouralpatterns for targeting campaigns’
  • Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine, 1890
  • Fruitless searching is as much a part of this assucceeding, and consequently remembrance mustnot proceed in the manner of a narrative or stillless that of a report, but must, in the strictest epicand rhapsodic manner, assay its spade in evernew places, and in the old ones delve to ever-deeper layers (Walter Benjamin. ‘Berlin Chronicle’,1979, 314).