Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Scopophilic Psychogeographer and The Other-as-Exhibition

© Simon Bradley

This is me looking into a window of a small shop in Holbeck, Leeds. It is an area that I am particularly interested in because it is on the edge of one of those Urban Village projects which is a short distance away at the South side of Leeds railway station: Holbeck Urban Village. This photo was taken in, what I call, 'Holbeck Proper'. It is an area that is a large square of terraces that you can see here:

These terraces are gradually being pulled down by the council, although this has come to a temporary halt because they have run out of money (a local solicitor informed me). If you walk around this area, you can see the gaps left where some of the terraces were standing not long ago.

Holbeck Proper is an area of Leeds that is part of the urban regeneration programme. It is not a very well-off area and properties are selling at around £60,000 at the moment. I am not sure what the council are offering - money-wise - to those who they want to move in order to redevelop the area. I also heard that at some point the postcode will be changed to LS1 so as to include it in the Central Leeds region. The repercussions of this move are far-reaching in relation to property values and for those who will be priced out of the market in an area that is currently considered to be mostly working-class (unlike Holbeck Urban Village).

I find this a really intriguing area for many reasons. But I also have a problem with my own interest in the area. I like it, aesthetically, because it is a concentrated area of lovely back-to-back redbricks, which have a long and fascinating history in relation to urban planning. It is also interesting in regards to the demographic, with areas of white working-class and also first, second and third, generation Asian locals. I did find an online article in a US paper recently that mentioned some tensions between the youths of these two groups in the context of a discussion on two 'rival' groups in New York.

My problem is not new in the field of ethnography (not that that is my field) or in any field where one is observing another group where there may be issues relating to power in regards to representation in socio-political life. It has a long history in relation to the postcolonial other, so there is much written about it, especially in cultural theory. My own concern is with regards to my own practice, that of psychogeography. Much of the time this isn't a problem, as I am usually the one who is challenging the boundaries of power. This is mostly manifest in the classic security-guard-phenomena whereby they often seem to be ignorant of a law whereby providing you are standing on public property, you can take a photo. For my own experiences on this, see the following two blogs:

What troubles me is that while psychogeography is a psychological response to urban space that takes in all the senses, being a psychogeographer can be a very scopophilic pursuit (the love of looking). And while this isn't an issue in regards to power most of the time, in certain situations it does feel like it is. I don't mean that I am a scientist observing another culture in an anthropological sense, but that I am in someone else's space, observing it, photographing it, and commenting upon it. And there are more than ethics involved in this process of observing "ethnoscapes"(Arjun Appadurai).


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