Saturday, 31 January 2015

Mindful Walking and the Postmodern Urbanscape – Part 2

Please click here for part 1

Encouraging forms of mindful walking that respond directly to individuals’ affective reaction to space encourages a more positive engagement with that space. I do not mean ‘positive’ as opposed to ‘negative’ - it is fine for someone to dislike an aspect of their town or city - but positive in regard to a wish to explore it, to understand how it came to be the way it is and to think about the feelings they have which might arise in regard to it. This type of walking can be seen as a form of enactment which “might serve to both challenge and confirm prevalent forms of spatial ordering, dependent on the possible intersections of experience, power and ways of seeing and doing that inhabit the individual at any given moment” (Hancock and Spicer 2011). Mindful walking can help to create counter-narratives to the dominant discourse on particular spaces, becoming what Edward Soja would describe as a “thirdspace”.

I do not want to be prescriptive in how mindful walking should be enacted. I also would not necessarily employ, in any wholesale kind of way, the Situationist form of psychogeography to every scenario. The strategies employed for particular groups would emerge from the groups themselves through the help of facilitation: literally from the ground up. In this way the desire of the group (the “subject-group” as it would be for Félix Guattari) would promote a “semiotic poly-centrism” that supports “equal acceptance to all desire whether it makes sense or not, by not seeking to make subjectivation fit in with the dominant significations and social laws” (Guattari 1984). It would be in this way that citizens can speak to their city. As the sentence quoted by Roland Barthes in part 1 continues: “the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it” (1967).

I introduce this concept of mindful walking in these two blogs as a way of opening up discussion on further exploring the urban imaginary through the act of walking…

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mindful Walking and the Postmodern Urbanscape – Part 1

Physical agglomerations in the form of buildings, roads, paths, street décor and all the spaces in between, make up our urban landscape. While our towns and cities have gradually developed over time, one of the side-effects of urban planning is that of the homogenisation of the landscape such that it appears to have been that was ‘forever’. Take your regular walk to work as an example: have you noticed how you see new hoardings appear, then later the building work begins behind the hoarding, then upon completion the hoardings are removed and the new building appears in its fullness? In a very short space of time you will have forgotten what was previously in its place. The space will become ‘stable’ again.

Nevertheless, behind these structures sit power-relations in the form of authoritarian schemas: political decisions, competing agencies, organisational collaborations, policy-making and so forth. The schemas which represent the manifestation of structures that appear in urban space have a discourse which supports the ideology behind them: from the gestation of the development plan itself, through to the materialised object. The final project - be it a shopping centre, public housing complex or a new road system - is built on this discourse and becomes a representation of it. As Roland Barthes states in his text ‘Semiology and Urbanism’: “The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language” (1967).

However, the formations, processes and narratives that support the urbanscape often have a preference for producing a particular subjectivity in their pedestrian citizens, one of worker-consumer. Postmodern space is neoliberal in its moorings and along with this a habitus is defined which encourages specific behaviours, gestures and actions from us. As discussed by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, power is spatially manifest: operations and procedures applied to the body-politic take place in material structures that appear in concrete form. The authority attached to procedures are oriented in space and come in the guise of statements that become naturalised upon being repeated by not only those designated to do so, but also they become legitimised by being mediated through popular narratives and discourse. Moreover, while the heterogeneity of postmodern space should, theoretically, contain the possibility of a multiplicity of potential subjectivities, subjectivities that do not conform to a neoliberal ideology are discouraged, or at least not encouraged. This means that individual desires that are outwith the project of capital tend to get co-opted by capital, rather than being allowed to run free.

For the pedestrian (for example, the worker or shopper), their individual desires tend to become either rerouted or suppressed by the urban landscape, to the extent that little internal thought arises, to any level of full consciousness, around how the urban space came to be the way it is. Nevertheless, these desires still exist because of the aesthetics of space and the affective response that results, even if it is not consciously acknowledged. This means that to be able to really ‘see’ the city individuals need to be encouraged to move about it in a new way. One could say that they need to be educated to respond to it somatically and aesthetically.

Please click here for part 2