Category Archives: reading

Part 2 of 2 – W.E.B. Du Bois and race in Brazil

From a Brazilian perspective, Du Bois work is of particular interest.  It’s interesting to find out that Du Bois was so attentive to science as a way to fight racism. Black movements (and many other minorities) sometimes are too attached to emotional sides of the process, such as pride and identity, but less attached to studies that would possibly promote dialogue and systemic changes.

Capitalism is a system based not only on inequalities but segregation.

Continue reading Part 2 of 2 – W.E.B. Du Bois and race in Brazil

Review: Between Urban Topographies and Political Spaces

Alexis Nuselovici, Mauro Ponzi and Fabio Vighi (Eds), Between Urban Topographies and Political Spaces, Lanham, MD/ UK: Lexington Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-0739188354. Price: $80.00/ £50.30/ €73.59

This book’s aim is to contribute new spatial concepts in order to better conceptualize place (p.ix), the contemporary understanding of which has witnessed an “epistemological break” (p. vii). The editors maintain that it is crucial to search for new spatial categories in order “to describe phenomena specific to our contemporary world” (p.vii). Therefore, the research questions that inform this publication could be understood as follows: What roles do boundaries play in the context of globalization, and how do these roles transform our idea of space?

In the Introduction, it is stated that the main idea holding all its fourteen chapters together is that of ‘threshold’, a notion which can be further celebrated when approached in its multiplicity when referred to in different European languages (‘threshold’ (ENG), ‘seuil’ (FR), ‘soglia’ (IT), ‘Schwelle’ (DE)). The celebration of multiplicity in order to approach the notion of threshold, abolishing the frontiers between languages — perceiving variety as enriching, allows a better understanding of the notion — follows the scientific goal of the book: to distinguish threshold from border and frontier (p.viii) and, going even further, to replace boundaries with thresholds (p.ix). This approach to the notion of threshold, is actually extended to the approach to the topic itself (contemporary issues of spatiality). The book is multidisciplinary, cutting across disciplines, something that the editors feel that it is urgent to do, in order to overcome “the current institutional rigidity” that “does not reflect the transformations that are taking place within the human sciences”. (p.ix)

In order to both conceptualize and contextualize the book, the editors reference Michel Foucault (1926-1984), hoping the book contributes to the “spatial turn” that the philosopher predicted (ie. that at some point the spatial paradigm had to be put in relation with history (“Des Espace Autres”, 1967)), and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the theorist who inspired both the books’ focus on urban spaces and its structure: Thresholds (city), Spaces in-between (metropolis) and Heterotopias (post-metropolis). (p.ix)

The chapters’ sequencing is challenging due to the multidisciplinary character of the book. The first part is more traditional, approaching threshold in a more conservative way, where it is still possible to recognize the boundaries of topics. In the second part, the focus is predominantly urban, assuming a Benjaminian approach which blurs the topic’s boundaries. The third part intertwines different topics and references, making it almost impossible to distinguish any boundaries whatsoever, approaching the expression of threshold found in religion and myth.

German philosopher Bernhard Waldenfelds begins the book with “Threshold Experiences”. His work is a crucial reference for anyone interested in the subject of space in general, and in the question of borders, limits and thresholds in particular. Having developed his work consistently since the 1980s, and referencing Husserl, Schütz and other phenomenologists, he has published several key books on the subject. Waldenfeld’s extensive contribution to the subject of borders is in itself reason to read this book.

As the reader progresses, the book feels uneven. We are cautioned, in the Introduction about the approach being multidisciplinary (and in fact, there are chapters that focus on film, literature, urban studies, psychoanalysis, politics, economics and music) but the unevenness arises from a lack of clarity. There are chapters that present ideas very clearly while others are blurry and never seem to deliver their intent. Rather these “blurred” chapters occur as excessive attempts to address specific ideas.

Perhaps the book’s unevenness, and the blurriness of some contributor’s chapters, is intentional, influenced by a somewhat Deleuzian logic, where the book, or a chapter, is conceived as a web, similar to an open-system, instead of being a sequential, narrative, closed body of work. The lack of boundaries among chapters, and in some cases, within chapters, was taken too far. Boundaries were sacrificed in the name of delivering a sense of fluidity between all authors, and all disciplines, where each chapter communicates with all other chapters. This fluidity may then have resulted in a kind of frailty. Perhaps such frailty is inevitable. The notion of space is a recent research field following centuries in which “time” took centre stage. New fields of research do not emerge without their perils.. Perhaps space, though a classic concept, truly is a contemporary challenge that tests the boundaries of institutionally established disciplines in human sciences.

Though the subject of space is currently wide-ranging it is expected that in the next few years that “space” will continue to grow as a research subject. Contributors of this book repeatedly, reference: Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996). These references might give an idea of the specific approach the book takes on the subject as well as the area it covers.

In sum, the book does present a varied and original approach on the subject of space and that is much needed. The editors deserve recognition for advancing the study of “space” as an inderdisciplinary topic within human sciences. The extent to which the book is uniformly coherent is difficult to articulate, but that may not be the editors’ goal. Certainly, the book does deliver some excellent contributions, such as the Félix Duque and Ellettra Stimilli chapters on “The European Membrane” and “The Threshold between Debt and Guilt”, respectively.

-Diana Soeiro, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

(NOVA Institute of Philosophy (IFILNOVA), Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas — Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCSH-UNL), Avenida de Berna, 26, 4º piso, 1069-061 Lisboa, Portugal. Email: or ) Edited by D. Gillespie.

Topologies and Landscape Architectures 1: Topology. Landscript 3

Vrin, Val Lumnezia, Switzerland

Topology, Landscript 3.  Christophe Girto, Anette Freytag, Albert Kirchengast, Dunja Richter (eds). Institute of Landscape Architecture ETH Zürich. Berlin: Jovis. 2013.

Landscript 3 Topology is the outcome of a workshop and the project ‘Topology – on designing landscape today’ that looked at the integrative role of landscape architecture and sought a theoretical foundation that would strengthen the aesthetic theory and pedagogy of landscape architecture in the context of new, interdisciplinary perspectives on buildings, the environment and cities. Shortcomings in the translation makes for some difficult reading. Topology here refers to changing the extent, scale and dimensions of the tasks that landscape architecture has set for itself. Stepping beyond the garden of traditional landscape architecture, or the vista of landscapes, the profession is now interested in spatial relations more generally. Topology builds on Aristotle’s definitions of topoi and topic as a rhetorical concern with sorting out what the parts of an argument will consists of and preparing them.

There are a few nuggets that leap out of the text:

Design is understood as the taming of complexity, (Kirchengast p.26).

Lucius Burckhardt, a Swiss sociologist and urban planner, and André Corboz, an architectural historian, are introduced for their theory of landscape as a social product (2006) and as a concept projected onto the environment. In Die Kunst, Stadt un Land zum Sprechen zu bringen (Basel 2001) Corboz emphasizes that and territory is an historical palimpsest. Links to the American landscape historian J.B. Jackson are noted. A later post will compare with the work of Augustin Berque.

In Warum ist Landschaft schön? die Spaziergangswissenschaft (Berlin: Schmidt 2006) Burckhardt argues: “Since spatial landscape – as in the case of an English garden – his first produced through the eyes of a viewer, it is not only pictorial also significantly structured by time”. Burckhardt suggested taking “walks as an instrument in order to adequately involve this dimension of time. Strolling denotes a time-based organization of the space from a subjective perspective enables the formation of spatial relationships.”

“He did not consider planning and design to be active processes of creation an organization that resulted in “good form” and “clear systems”… ([But] the recognition and direction of the invisible impetus within systems… Determined scratch that no longer determined by the objects and their technical, practical functions.”

Landscape “flows” with the times and changes constantly. It is not an objective entity that can be defined as synthetic product of interaction relation that needs to be situated within the system of reference.  This provides links to my position that landscape as an intangible virtuality is both real and ideal and distinct from the actually existing fauna and flora.

This position is summarized in Gion Caminada’s development planning of the isolated Swiss village of Vrin, which exploits its remoteness in a manner that provides lessons for planners in other rural communities everywhere.

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

New Books in French

1. Yvon Delemontey. Reconstruire la France L’aventure du béton assemblé 1940-1955, Ed de la Villette, 2015, 398 p. 

This book examines the changes to the industry of construction and architecture that emerged in France during the period directly following the Second World War. In order to rebuild cities after the war, innovative design and building processes were needed, leading to the rapid expansion of prefabrication—made possible by the use of concrete. While prefabrication led to new and exciting technical processes, architects at the time worried about the possible drawbacks of moving towards absolute rationalization of these processes.

2. Pierre Sansot. Paysages de l’existence. Essais, infolio Archigraphy Poche, 173 p.

This collection brings together eight works either previously unpublished or published in journals that are difficult to track down today. Dealing with a material universe constantly in flux, these works capture the distinctive quality of Sansot’s thought.

3. Jean-Pierre Orfeuil et Fabrice Ripoll. Accès et mobilités les nouvelles inégalités, Infolio Archigraphy Poche-Futurs Urbains , 2015, 209 p.

The first of an interdisciplinary book series proposed by LABEX Futurs Urbains, Jean-Pierre and Fabrice Ripoll explore the intersection between social and mobility/access inequalities. Orfeuil addresses the issue by focusing on access to resources and territories, and the social consequences of limited mobility. Ripoll argues for an approach to mobility as a social construction, focusing on the forms of constraint inherent in travel as well as strategies for resistance.

4. Loïc Vadelorge. Retour sur les villes nouvelles: Une histoire urbaine du xxesiècle, Créaphis editions, 2014, 424 p.

This book provides the first historical synthesis of the creation of new cities in France between 1965-1975. Focusing on examples from the Paris region, Vadelorge provides an analysis of the origins and history of the concept of “new cities.” With this book, Vadelorge makes a decisive contribution to the history of urban and land use planning in the last half of the twentieth century.

5. Isabelle Hajek et Philippe Hamman. La gouvernance de la ville durable entre déclin et reinventions: Une comparaison Nord/Sud, PUR, 2014, 283 p.

This book interrogates the concepts of “sustainable city” and “urban governance,” which were first conceived in light of rising concerns of the global environment. With particular attention to European and southern areas of the Mediterranean, the authors examine the paradoxical tension that characterizes the project of “Governing the Sustainable City “: programmed decline, impoverishment and even death, on the one hand, and yet uncertain local reinventions and indigenous alternatives, on the other.

Stephanie Bailey (University of Alberta) 

Active Audience – Huimin Jin

Review: Active Audience: A New materialistic interpretation of a key concept in cultural studies, Huimin Jin. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag 2012. 179pp.

Why are Chinese scholars interested in active audience theories that hark back to the 1980s and 1990s? In an exchange in Active Audience, David Morley comments to author Huimin Jin, Prime Professor at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing:

“As I understand your argument, you are suggesting that we face a move from a ‘producer society’ to a ‘consumer society’, that the concept of the masses’ (as mobilized in the Frankfurt School’s work) is a characteristic of what you call a producer society and that popular culture is then, conversely, associated with the consumer society. From that premise, if I understand you rightly, you see ‘active audience theory’ as being to do with the extent to which, in this thing called the ‘consumer society’, people have more choices… I think that’s a problematic form of historical periodization and one which is characteristic of a certain type of sociological approach”

Imported in the wake of the reception of British Marxist Cultural Studies of the Birmingham School the core notion of the active audience emphasizes the independence of meaning from any authors intention as texts, images and film are received and reinterpreted in different contexts. Stuart Hall was a key figure in developing an “encoding/decoding model”. The idea comes out of the 1960s social psychology of Raymond Bauer who pitted the “obstinate audience” against simplistic sender-receiver models. On one hand, the active audience is an independent collective which does not respond in a mechanical manner to the explicit messages of mass media but always reflects, comments on and attempts to interpret messages. They “actively” decode messages and meanings. On the other hand, the resistance offered by the active audience has proved a poor buttress against imperial and commercial ambitions.

Jin follows David Morley’s model as a critique of the assumptions of the determinism of technologies and media and the passive, duped audiences often presented by Frankfurt School writers in their critiques of Nazi propaganda.  What is most fascinating about the book is its shift away from communication theory to consider the everyday context which shapes the reception of information.  In doing so, while carefully following Morley’s lead, the book is genuinely new in its use of Husserl’s phenomenology of the “lifeword” and a Heideggerian approach to being-in-the-world which emphasizes the ways people reflect on their world and make it meaningful for themselves.  Jin draws on his broad experience in German intellectual history to move from the discursive, which is generally involves abstract representations, to root the discussion in the real.  For me, this everyday reality, spans both the actual here-and-now “concrete” fabric of life and also its “virtual”, intangible elements such as trust, community and society that frame our understanding of communication.  This turn to everyday world and away from the pure context of texts or, for example, a television broadcast, reflects Prof. Jin’s status as the preeminent interpreter of Confucius in China today.


Continue reading Active Audience – Huimin Jin

Humanity and Animal Politics – Review

What animals teach us about politics, by Brian Massumi (2014). Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5772-8 (cloth), 978-0-8223-5800-8 (paper). 137 pp.

Two wild dogs, cast in bronze, stand poised against each other, seemingly engaged in combat. Upon closer examination, however, this sculpture by South African artist, Nola Steele, portrays two animals not fighting, but rather playing. The scene perfectly captures the ‘ludic gesture’ (4-5), central to Brian Massumi’s rich and dense text. For Massumi, playing is ‘combat-esque’, which distinguishes it qualitatively from combat. The suffix ‘-esque‘ indicates that it is as if in combat, ‘but with a little something different’ (9). Combat and play are the same, with subtle but important differences: they are both part of a continuum in the same way humans and animals are both part of a ‘continuum of nature’ (17). The reciprocal participation in play on the part of a human as well as an animal creates ‘zones of indiscernibility’ (6) and ‘mutual inclusion’ (4) between human and animal. This is a conceptualisation that paves the way for exploring ‘what animals teach us about politics’.

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What do they have in Hitchcock’s America? Review

Review: Murray Pomerance,  Alfred Hitchcock’s America, Cambridge: Polity Press 2013

What do they have in Hitchcock’s America? They have the promise of open spaces, they have atomized lives framed by film-screen windows, they have innocents abroad and ambitious step jumpers at home, they have agrarian prophets and urban sophisticates sharing the small town paradise, they have ingenuity, humility, plucky courage and hidden faces, they have department stores and giants, they have Mount Rushmore and Bates Motel. All of these ingredients, and many more, are masterfully woven into this feast of a book.

During their discussion on the plotting of Secret Agent (1936), Hitchcock famously told François Truffaut: Continue reading What do they have in Hitchcock’s America? Review

The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls – New York Times

Continuing our research on how to revitalise shopping malls as walkable, sustainable community hubs in Strip-Appeal, the New York Times has published a discussion of the decline of middle-range malls in suburban areas of US cities, a decline that correlates to the demise of the American middle classes, as one commenter points out.

New York Times,

 Slide Show

Across America, the Dead Malls Are Growing

Continue reading the main story

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

This last term we have been re-reading Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the English translation and my own 1986 English précis published as a University of Sussex Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper.   We have rehearsed the critiques summarised in Spatial Questions and noted geography’s preference for applying rather than critically responding to Lefebvre’s unedited text.  Some great questions have emerged from our discussions, thinking with and from Lefebvre’s text.  What is the theory of the body implicit within this work?  Last week discussions linked up with Janine Muster’s Intermedia Research Studio exhibition on Alleyways.

Continue reading Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

Simon Dawes

A variety of excellent reviews and articles related to the urban, publics, topology and assemblage are up on Simon Dawes‘ Media Theory History and Regulation site:

Representing the City: Non-Representation, Digital Archives and Megacity Phenomena (for TCS)

Review:  Chris Berry, Janet Harbord and Rachel Moore Public-space Media Space (for Media & Society)

Interview: Celia Lury, Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova on Topologies (for TCS)

Interview: Stephen J. Collier on Foucault, Assemblages and Topology (for TCS)

Simon Dawes is at Univ. Paul Valérie I, Montpellier