Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Creating a Situation in the City


I have a chapter in the new The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication edited by Zlatan Krajina and Deborah Stevenson (2019). The chapter is entitled 'Creating a Situation in the City: Embodied Spaces and the Act of Crossing Boundaries'. You can read more about the book here, and below is an extract from my own chapter which introduces a variety of urban interventions and walking practices:

This chapter will discuss the history of what appears under the general term of ‘urban critique’ in its many incarnations, such as modern day psychogeography, place-hacking, DIY urbanism, guerrilla urbanism and urban exploration. By examining the act of placing one’s body into the space under examination, we can begin to understand the dynamics that operate on us when crossing the material boundaries that appear in space, but also the symbolic ones that might be culturally formed in our psyche (such as ideas about who and who might not be allowed in certain spaces). Urban space is a mediated space that enables a form of reflexivity to take place when the individual engages with it in a critical way. The aesthetic and affective response that a person or group generates through the embodied process of the urban encounter, momentarily changes the space to fit the subjectivity of those placing it under scrutiny. While this process can be undertaken and expressed in multiple ways depending on the approach undertaken, what is consistent across these alternative methods is a challenge to the taken-for-granted view that urban space is simply a neutral space that happens to appear as ‘the built environment’ – something that is immovable, and yet also innocuous.

Urban critique, in whatever its form, provides an opportunity for the city to be examined at the micro level, through what Michel De Certeau describes as “spatial practices” which take the form of modes of resistance to an imposed way of life as it appears in “lived space” (1988: 96). These spatial practices allow one to question, and even challenge, the usual ‘rules of the highway’, such how we cross the road at a zebra or pelican crossing, or do not drive on the pavement.

By providing examples of the different forms of contemporary urban critique in regards to forming - what can be described as - situations, the discussion will focus on how some people actively seek to question the way urban space is manifest, ask why it appears the way it does and whether we are able to challenge its, seemingly, fixed materiality. This chapter will provide an overview of these approaches and their mediated relationship with the practices of everyday life in mediated cities...

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Global Scapes of Postmodernity: A Proposed Model for “Global Cultural Flow” in Fashion Education


Link to free copy of my article based on Appadurai's model of globalization.

Below is the abstract from my recently published article in Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture and above, if you click on the link, you can download a free copy (please note, there are only 50 free copies, so at some point they will run out).

Abstract
This article proposes the use of Arjun Appadurai’s global scapes model, highlighted in ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’, as a tool for teaching fashion theory. Originally designed as a one-off lecture on globalization for undergraduates on a ‘Fashion and Society’ module, it has now been extended to cover the whole of the teaching on this module for a semester, with all subsequent classes referring back to Appadurai’s theory of scapes. Globalization is a hugely complex subject area, which is very important for students of fashion today. The reworking of this model to fit the worldwide network that makes up the fashion industry helps students to see their own place, and that of others, on a global scale. It also opens up discussion on important subjects that are all connected to fashion, such as ethics, geo-politics, discourse and practice.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Talk: The Lady Lies and the Lady Lies: Reading the Femme Fatale in 1970s Rock


Date: Thursday 7th November 2019

Time: 5.15pm - 6.15pm

Location: GM LT5, Geoffrey Manton Building, Oxford Rd, Manchester, M15 6LL (click here for map)

Tickets: Free - Just turn up!

Abstract:
Dr Tina Richardson will be talking about how the rock of the 1970s disguised misogyny through the employment of myth within the lyrics of the music. By looking at the character of the femme fatale, most well-known in literature and film, Tina will explore the dynamic of this female archetype and examine how in music it is masked behind a veil of mythology. Mostly concentrating on progressive rock, although not exclusively, the lecture will provide examples of music and utilise paintings of mythological subjects from art history. All welcome.

Note:
This talk is part of the RAH! programme of events at Manchester Metropolitan University. Please click here for a link to the event and full listings.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

What did Max Weber mean by the ‘spirit’ of capitalism?

The BASF factory at Ludwigshafen, Germany
Pictured on a postcard in 1881
Courtesy Wikipedia

By Peter Ghosh

Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe. This is not to say that teachers and students are stupid, but that this is an exceptionally compact text that ranges across a very broad subject area, written by an out-and-out intellectual at the top of his game. He would have been dumb­founded to find that it was being used as an elementary introduction to sociology for undergraduate students, or even schoolchildren.

We use the word ‘capitalism’ today as if its meaning were self-evident, or else as if it came from Marx, but this casualness must be set aside. ‘Capitalism’ was Weber’s own word and he defined it as he saw fit. Its most general meaning was quite simply modernity itself: capitalism was ‘the most fateful power in our modern life’. More specifically, it controlled and generated ‘modern Kultur’, the code of values by which people lived in the 20th-century West, and now live, we may add, in much of the 21st-century globe. So the ‘spirit’ of capitalism is also an ‘ethic’, though no doubt the title would have sounded a bit flat if it had been called The Protestant Ethic and the Ethic of Capitalism.

This modern ‘ethic’ or code of values was unlike any other that had gone before. Weber supposed that all previous ethics – that is, socially accepted codes of behaviour rather than the more abstract propositions made by theologians and philosophers – were religious. Religions supplied clear messages about how to behave in society in straightforward human terms, messages that were taken to be moral absolutes binding on all people. In the West this meant Christianity, and its most important social and ethical prescription came out of the Bible: ‘Love thy neighbour.’ Weber was not against love, but his idea of love was a private one – a realm of intimacy and sexuality. As a guide to social behaviour in public places ‘love thy neighbour’ was obviously nonsense, and this was a principal reason why the claims of churches to speak to modern society in authentically religious terms were marginal. He would not have been surprised at the long innings enjoyed by the slogan ‘God is love’ in the 20th-century West – its career was already launched in his own day – nor that its social consequences should have been so limited.

The ethic or code that dominated public life in the modern world was very different. Above all it was impersonal rather than personal: by Weber’s day, agreement on what was right and wrong for the individual was breaking down. The truths of religion – the basis of ethics – were now contested, and other time-honoured norms – such as those pertaining to sexuality, marriage and beauty – were also breaking down. (Here is a blast from the past: who today would think to uphold a binding idea of beauty?) Values were increasingly the property of the individual, not society. So instead of humanly warm contact, based on a shared, intuitively obvious understanding of right and wrong, public behaviour was cool, reserved, hard and sober, governed by strict personal self-control. Correct behaviour lay in the observance of correct procedures. Most obviously, it obeyed the letter of the law (for who could say what its spirit was?) and it was rational. It was logical, consistent, and coherent; or else it obeyed unquestioned modern realities such as the power of numbers, market forces and technology.

There was another kind of disintegration besides that of traditional ethics. The proliferation of knowledge and reflection on knowledge had made it impossible for any one person to know and survey it all. In a world which could not be grasped as a whole, and where there were no universally shared values, most people clung to the particular niche to which they were most committed: their job or profession. They treated their work as a post-religious calling, ‘an absolute end in itself’, and if the modern ‘ethic’ or ‘spirit’ had an ultimate found­ation, this was it. One of the most widespread clich├ęs about Weber’s thought is to say that he preached a work ethic. This is a mistake. He personally saw no particular virtue in sweat – he thought his best ideas came to him when relaxing on a sofa with a cigar – and had he known he would be misunder­stood in this way, he would have pointed out that a capacity for hard work was something that did not dist­inguish the modern West from previous soc­ieties and their value systems. However, the idea that people were being ever more defined by the blinkered focus of their employment was one he regarded as profoundly modern and characteristic.

The blinkered pro­fessional ethic was common to entrepreneurs and an increasingly high-wage, skilled labour force, and it was this combination that produced a situation where the ‘highest good’ was the making of money and ever more money, without any limit. This is what is most readily recognisable as the ‘spirit’ of capitalism, but it should be stressed that it was not a simple ethic of greed which, as Weber recognised, was age-old and eternal. In fact there are two sets of ideas here, though they overlap. There is one about potentially universal rational pro­cedures – specialisation, logic, and formally consistent behaviour – and another that is closer to the modern economy, of which the central part is the professional ethic. The modern situation was the product of narrow-minded adhesion to one’s particular function under a set of conditions where the attempt to understand modernity as a whole had been abandoned by most people. As a result they were not in control of their own destiny, but were governed by the set of rational and impersonal pro­cedures which he likened to an iron cage, or ‘steel housing’. Given its rational and impersonal foundations, the housing fell far short of any human ideal of warmth, spontaneity or breadth of outlook; yet rationality, technology and legality also produced material goods for mass consumption in unprecedented amounts. For this reason, though they could always do so if they chose to, people were unlikely to leave the housing ‘until the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is burned up’.

It is an extremely powerful analysis, which tells us a great deal about the 20th-century West and a set of Western ideas and priorities that the rest of the world has been increasingly happy to take up since 1945. It derives its power not simply from what it says, but because Weber sought to place under­standing before judgment, and to see the world as a whole. If we wish to go beyond him, we must do the same.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Revisiting Schizocartography


If you are interested in schizocartography, or psychogeography in general, I will be presenting at the 4WCOP Psychogeography Conference on 6 September 2019 at 12.30 at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield.

Schizocartography will be revisited, 10 years on, and you can see what will be covered in my talk below. Events are free, but you need to book a place.

Hope to see you there!


Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Trafford Centre Meets Concrete Island


Fenella Brandenburg and David Bolinger will be together again at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography on Friday 6th September at 12.30. The haven't presented together since 2017, when Fenella stormed off the stage in a strop. Here's hoping that their 2019 conference talk goes a bit better. This will be a performance-style talk at the cusp of J G Ballard's fictional Concrete Island and the non-fictional place, the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

I am hoping that Brandenburg will contribute a blog post after the conference, but last time I asked her she said “Are you kidding! There is no way I want to be associated with that load of bimbling idiots”.

All welcome! It is free, but please book your place.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Car Park Life by Gareth E. Rees


Gareth E. Rees’s “unexplored urban wilderness” of car park jouissance brings all of your favourite urban phenomenon together under one volume. From faux architecture to surveillance zones, live geese to dead humans, and psychogeography to dogging, it’s all here. The back cover says:
Gareth E. Rees believes that the retail car park has as much mystery, magic and terror as any mountain, meadow or wood. He’s out to prove it by walking the car parks of Britain, journeying across the country from Plymouth to Edinburgh, much to the horror of his family, friends – and, most of all – himself.
The chapters are themed, for example - The Access Road, Animal Instincts, and Doughnuts – making for a much more interesting read than just a straightforward car park by car park analysis. There are also images, taken from the research, and a neat little leitmotif of a shopping trolley, which pops up now and then.

Rees’s lively, articulate - at times sensitive and personal - non-fiction draws on his observations of the spaces to hand, includes background research, social history and his adeptness in crafting a good story. It is for psychogeographers and non-psychogeographers alike.

Car Park Life (2019) is published by Influx Press and you can find out more about it here.