Posts Tagged ‘space’

From meaning to sense. Accountability on the hither side of words.

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Things start to become exciting. On the upcoming conference Sensory Powers and Urban Lives I will give an introductory presentation. This will be the first occasion to speak about my current book-in-progress, which runs under the working title From meaning to sense. Social science in motion. I am really looking forward to present my thoughts in a setting that represents the place of origin (if there is one) for the whole argument: the sensory experience of built environments and the many modes in which it interacts with and affects the sociology and the politics of everyday life. Here is the abstract for my presentation:

The establishment of social control through the design of built space is marked by pervasiveness. In contemporary urban life one is always embedded in, crossing through and permeated by atmospheres, paths and boundaries. Rarely is this power encountered “Head On”, such as the concrete wall against which the migrant hero of the breathtaking movie of the same name crashes. Usually urban life is shaped by more subtle interactions, by changes in texture, rhythm, smell, opacity etc. These changes as such are subtle not because they are small or imperceptible. They are subtle because they are not recognized as such, they establish themselves below the skin, below the threshold of attention. This interplay of material effects and corporal affect is difficult to put into words. If one tries to “capture” this interplay, to get analytic hold of it and to interpret its meaning – then it coagulates to words, loses its characteristic fluidity and power.
How to deal with the characteristic subtlety of the sensory powers that permeate urban life? The social sciences deal with meaning. They provide tools to dissect the meaning that is negotiated in discourses. They can measure what kind and possibly even how much meaning people ascribe to the terms and constructs that one asks them about. They are caught up in the web of words that they capture and produce at the same time. A slight change in tone, a shift in words, however, can signal important differences. What if the interpretation shifts from the interpretation of meaning, of that which is put into static words, to the interpretation of sense, to the interpretation of moving sensibilities, of directions instead of places? What happens if the work of the researcher does not stop at words and their meaning, if it follows the sense of direction that is embodied in, that is constantly generated in the field that is studied? What kind of access to the sensory powers of urban life can be gained by following the sensory, productive, mobile powers of urban life? How can these powers be evoked instead of captured? How can one take hold of the constant flow of events and still unfold and display its character – without transposing it into a realm beyond everyday life, without just producing words, mere signifiers of entities that are not there, shadows of reality? How can subtle powers be made accountable on the hither side of words?

I am really looking forward to discussing these questions with the audience and the other presenters over the course of the two-day conference, which is generously hosted by Mónica Degen and Catharina Thörn.

Sounds of … something. Negotiating noises and voices.

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Fall is conference season, and this year is no exception. I am very happy that my submission for the 3rd International Ambiances Network Conference & Workshop in Munich (October 6th – 8th) has been accepted. The title of the conference is Urban Design & Urban Society. The emergence of urban atmospheres between design practice and social invention. My contribution has been placed into the October 8th session called Resisting bodies: provoking atmospheres, which should fit the profile of my presentation really well. As the organizers (Rainer Kazig, Monika Popp and Damien Masson) are known for their ability to create productive and stimulating sessions, I am quite sure that we’ll have some excellent discussions in Munich.
The title for my presentation is Sounds of … something. Negotiating noises and voices, following you can read the abstract:

Urban spaces are permeated by sounds. Machines, people, animals, the elements – they all contribute to one of the more difficult to grasp aspects of urban life. In this presentation I will focus on the sounds that I recorded in the context of videotaping different spaces of mobility. I will pay particular attention to how sound establishes atmospheres both through its presence and its absence. The day-night cycle of a railway terminal, for example, produces strikingly different soundscapes. Practices that would get lost during the bustle of the rush hour easily capture the attention of the few who are present during the quiet hours, when night has fallen. To gain attention during the busy times, people and things need to produce sounds of a much higher volume or suddenness, while even a slight change in tune might become perceivable at other times.

These soundscapes are not just passively consumed, they are negotiated with acuity and in interaction with others who are either co-present – but sometimes they are also produced in relation to a perceived absence. It is these negotiations that are at the heart of my presentation. How do people use their voice or other sounds that they produce to establish territories, to influence the way they and the space through which they move are perceived by others and themselves? How do people display attention to or ignorance of specific sounds which they might deem to be inappropriate or not worthy of attention? How are other spaces established through sound?

All of these questions also relate to the question of resistance in urban space. Two aspects of resistance or urban critique are particularly problematic or open to interpretation in this context: on the one hand, many tactics employed by those seeking to critically relate to atmospheres as they are commonly established in controlled and commercialized urban spaces have limited impact because they are just that: tactics. Understood with de Certeau, they offer limited control over time, but almost no control over space. They appear and quickly fade away. Just as sounds do. But maybe they will leave an echo? This question leads to the other aspect: in how far are the soundscapes of resistance the stratified practices of a specific group of people that distinguishes itself from the masses of consumers through their specific taste, for example through ironic references to mass taste, or through references to aesthetics that are only accessible for those who are socialized to place themselves in the upper strata of the cultural field? Answering this second question is necessary if one wants to understand the multiple ways in which the urban experience is negotiated by all the different participants – how normality is challenged and by whom; and how far sounds can leave echoes in urban space and in the corporeality of its inhabitants that might be evoked at other times and in other places too.

Konkrete Abwesenheit. Sozialräumliche Wechselspiele von Widerstand, Entzug und Ermöglichung.

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Ich freue mich, hier einen neuen Vortrag zum Thema Abwesenheit ankündigen zu können, den ich im September in Bern halten werde. Die Tagung des Graduiertenprogramms ProDoc: Intermediale Ästhetik. Spiel — Ritual — Performanz der Universitäten Basel und Bern mit dem Titel I prefer not to be. Zeitgenössische Spielarten des Körpers fokussiert auf das Thema der Abwesenheit – was sich natürlich hervorragend mit der von Lars Meier, Erika Sigvardsdotter und mir organisierten Doppelsession zum Thema Absenz bei der Tagung der Royal Geographical Society ergänzt. Hier das Abstract für meinen Baseler Vortrag:

Am Ende der als architektonische Errungenschaft inszenierten Aussichtsplattform über dem Aurlandsfjord wartet die Leere. Eine massive Glasscheibe hält den sich bewegenden Körper auf, doch der Blick kann hinabstürzen, hinab bis zur spiegelnden Oberfläche des Wassers. Touristen tummeln sich auf der Plattform. Einige gehen nur langsam und vorsichtig voran, wie gegen einen spürbaren Widerstand. Sie machen sich schrittweise vertraut mit der Abwesenheit, überwinden so den Widerstand gegenüber der Leere. Andere zeigen sich wagemutig. Sie lehnen sich gegen die Glasplatte und ihr Spiel mit dem Fall in den Abgrund zeigt den anderen Anwesenden, wie sie sich selbst, ihre Angst und ihren Körper beherrschen.

Diese und andere Konfigurationen von Dingen und Menschen habe ich im Rahmen eines ethnografischen Forschungsprojekts zu architektonisch aufwendig gestalteten Rastplätzen entlang der Norwegischen Tourismusroute im Detail analysiert. Als empirische Grundlage dienen Videoaufzeichnungen, die von mir und den Touristen selbst angefertigt wurden. Anhand dieses Materials wird in meiner Präsentation die konkrete Rolle des Abwesenden im Wahrnehmungshandeln der Akteure untersucht. Wie wird Abwesenheit strategisch inszeniert, zum Beispiel über einen architektonischen Eingriff in räumliche Anordnungen? Wie wird Abwesenheit auf der anderen Seite aber auch zum Gegenstand einer Vielzahl von unterschiedlichen Taktiken, in denen die Szene auf eine eigene Weise hervorgebracht wird und sie so für eine bestimmte Zeit einen anderen, vielleicht sogar die Planung durchkreuzenden Charakter erhält? Und schließlich: Wie und wie lange kann die Spannung zwischen Präsenz und Absenz gehalten werden, bevor sie sich der Aufmerksamkeit entzieht oder die Aufmerksamkeit auf etwas anderes gelenkt wird? In der Beantwortung dieser Fragen wird deutlich werden, dass Abwesenheit prozesshaft hervorgebracht wird und sozialräumlich gebunden ist.

Research on space & art.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

photograph of a stairwell platform leading down into the tunnelThree weeks ago, Alexander Schellow and I conducted a workshop called spatial research at the advanced performance training part of the apass school in Antwerp, Belgium. I was a bit anxious about the workshop, even though Alexander and I tried to prepare as well as we could for an open-ended and individualized workshop setting such as the one we offered for the people in Antwerp. I guess the anxiety stemmed from the fact that I did not have any experience in teaching artists and therefore was not sure if our interaction would be productive or not.

To my relief, the cooperation was great – two of my main qualifications (knowledge about social theories of space & spatiality on the one hand, experience with different ethnographic field-work settings on the other hand) were very useful for them and the participants really tapped me for all of the advice that I could give them. Of course, what they do with that advice is different when compared to people from a university setting. But there was more than enough overlap to make the experience highly stimulating for me too. As I posted on Facebook: Artist may not be the better sociologists, but they can be sociologesques with brilliant ideas!
To give you a bit more information to work with: One project posed the greatest difficulties but – exactly because of that – it also was the most productive for all involved. One of the students is interested in violence and bodily injury – so we decided that for the short time that we have for the workshop (about two days in the field) he might want spend some time in the entrance area of a hospital, to get a feeling for how physical pain, injuries and sickness embed themselves and are produced in a specific place. When he spent time in the area, he took photographs, which obviously got him into trouble quite quickly. But after a stressful encounter with the hospital staff, some attempts at repairing trust by Alexander and me, several talks about this, and the ritualized deletion of the pictures, the student/artist developed a really excellent presentation that very forcefully evoked a feeling of the place, of the presence and abscence of the place in his presentation, of the loss of the photographs, and of the ambivalence of privacy, voyeurism, pain and empathy. It was more than thrilling – and it was only one of the many really excellent projects that the participants came up with in only a week. In a way, one could say that this was a first encounter with non-representational theory made practice.

If you want to take a brief look at the some of the things that people came up with, you can check the description of the workshop on the web, where some of the projects are presented (the links to the individual projects are in the box on the left side of the page).

Space, materiality, perception. The process of envelopment.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

I am quite happy to tell you that I will be presenting a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Boston this April. Actually, I wanted to go to last year’s meeting in San Francisco too, but the deadlines were right in the middle of my dissertation, defense, and getting new job as a postdoc phase of turmoil, so that I was not able to apply. Things were not as stressful this season, therefore I found the time to craft an abstract. This is what I am going to talk about during the session Thinking Geography:

Entering a building or any other spatial setting, people encounter a new spatial-material and social constellation. This constellation envelops those who enter the setting. All kinds of impressions intrude upon those who enter, thus changing the things they perceive and the way they act. Noises, light and darkness, smells, the texture of surfaces, and many other aspects of the surroundings present themselves to the perception of those who enter. However, those entering a setting bring certain intentions with them. They are involved in certain activities and they follow bodily and mental routines. Thus they also produce an envelope of their own, which regulates the distance to their surroundings, their perceptions, and their actions. In consequence, the envelope is created both by people themselves and by their surroundings. In this presentation, I will use a phenomenologically informed approach to investigate spatialized activities. Thus I will show how the process of envelopment produces social control in ways that are hard to recognize and trace. Presenting video recordings taken in railway terminals in Germany and Scandinavia, I will demonstrate the subtle ways in which people relate to their spatial-material-social environments, thus opening a new perspective on how to understand issues of social control: a perspective that takes perception, bodies and materiality into view.

I am really looking forward to meeting many people who I haven’t met for two or three years – the AAG meeting usually is a very good occasion to get back into touch.

Automatic Irritations.

Thursday, September 29th, 2005

Following is my abstract for the session Ordering / Disordering Space and Matter of the 2006 Meeting of the AAG, March 7-11, Chicago, Illinois.

Based on ethnographic research in railway stations and passenger terminals for ferries, this paper wedges itself between people and the things they encounter. Detailed analysis of digital video recordings allows insight into the brief exchanges between men, women and artifacts. Sometimes, these exchanges do not unfold as planned, irritations arise and expectations are thwarted causing a reordering of conduct. Artifacts like the ticket selling machine or the materiality of a revolving door can break established routines thereby opening spaces for play or interaction with others. Terminals with their ticket selling counters, their shops and waiting facilities are places of a distinct phenomenologically accessible materiality; this paper will get involved in this materiality, tracing the relations between people, things, and socio-spatial constellations to understand how the rule of a certain normality is established in terminals and when and how it is destabilized.