PUBLIC SPACES

A SOCIO-SPATIAL ANALYSIS

Introduction by Way of Example

The common prostitute, in Dutch ‘a public woman’, may add to our insight. Her publicity refers to the plurality of men having access to her services. She is venal; her private parts are to be had for a certain amount of money, to be agreed upon in advance. However, even during the preliminary exchange in the ‘public’ street there remains an element of the prostitute’s reserve. She is in a position not to accept this or that man. Perhaps a pimp may put on the pressure, yet in most cases she finally decides.

Even if she has accepted a client, she also retains discretion as to the types of service offered; these again are subject to preliminary agreement. The subsequent meeting of two bodies frequently involves a bit of conversation between two strangers who play at being intimate, thus implicitly – while dialectically – emphasizing their mutual distance.

In the Netherlands we even had special ‘boulevards’ for prostitution.

 

 

Lined up along its curb are a series of permanent structures – single parking lots, each fenced off from the next by a screen behind which the woman deals with her client – in his own car, that is, the vehicle in which he has arrived on the spot. What we have here is a public road organized by the state and under its surveillance; a series of separate spaces, each used by a different prostitute; cars owned by their clients. Publicity-wise and privacy-wise, which of these spaces is what?

Multi-Layered Spaces

A specific human space is a socio-cultural space-time construct. Its definition depends on its momentary use, i.e. the behaviour of users involved. A space is seldom, perhaps never, either public or private; it is seldom, perhaps never, public in merely one aspect.

Various behavioural dimensions are involved simultaneously: legal accessibility; implicit codes of socially acceptable behaviour; privacy; an encounter with ‘difference’ or ‘others’; visibility; guaranteed safety. Each space may score on each of these dimensions and each of these aspects consists of a continuum.

We may differentiate between different problematics of space. A ‘problematic’ is a field which structures a set of notions that are self-evident to the users of a space, at the same time specifically excluding certain meanings from consciousness which thus remain hidden. In each socially shared problematic of space one aspect dominates the others. [For the concept of ‘a problematic’: Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy (MLP:1971); Althusser c.s. Lire le Capital (Maspero: 1968)]

Public and Private

There are, according to Weintraub, two analytically distinct kinds of imagery of the contrast between public and private. 1: the hidden/withdrawn versus what is open/revealed/accessible; and 2: the individual versus what is collective. [Weintraub and Kumar, Public and Private in Though and Practice, Univ. Chicago Press: 1997, 35] This suggests a dialectical relation of publicity and privacy.

No social construction of the meaning of privacy can be defined independently of a definition of publicity – and vice versa. Thus, to claim like Rowe and Koetter, that in Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse ‘the public sphere will become superfluous and disappear’, while ‘the private sphere … will come self-consciously into the open’ is to deny that, conceptually, the one sphere cannot survive the death of the other. [Rowe and Koetter, Collage City, MIT:1978, 4]

Weintraub’s use of ‘collective’, though, is confusing. ‘Interests of a collective’ may indeed be contrasted with ‘interests of an individual’. However, the adjectival use of the word ‘collective’ is not identical with ‘public’ in the sense of ‘being in the open’. A festive family dinner at home is primarily private in terms of visibility and the legal identity of its participants; however, it is definitely a collective act. This mistaken identification of ‘collective’ and ‘public’ is quite common. [Compare De Mare c.s., Ruimtelijke rituelen. A Reader, Delft:1993, 6, 10; Heynen, Architectuur en kritiek van de moderniteit, SUN: 2001, 225; Zukin, The Cultures of Cities, Blackwell: 1995, 31]

To be social, to be public and to be collective are quite different aspects of behaviour. Long ago, the American philosopher Dewey gave us a partial solution to this definitional problem. The distinction between public and private is in no sense equivalent to the one between individual and ‘social’ or ‘socially useful’. Private acts may be social in their consequences, for instance the acts of a private businessman. As long as what passes between two people in a conversation only affects these two it is a private transaction. When, however, consequences of their conversation extend beyond those immediately concerned, ‘the act acquires a public capacity’. According to this definition an act may be ‘public’, yet not necessarily ‘social’ – for instance acts of war. [Dewey, Intelligence in the Modern World Random House:1939, 367ff]

The dominant social use made of a space at a certain time defines what kind of space it is at that time. The sitting room in a ‘private’ house is sometimes used in a public manner, making it also a ‘public space’: the meeting place for members of a family who at that moment explicitly exchange and debate different viewpoints on matters politic (what to vote) and social (how to behave outside the house). The family home, which the modern problematic of space defined as ‘private’, may thus function effectively as a public space.

Consequently: a space cannot be defined a priori as public or private as such.

If the various aspects of the ‘publicity’ – not of ‘space’ as is usually said, but of a certain space – are defined by the social uses of that space, which in turn are determined by the functioning social system of a society, it also follows that it can never be asked of an architect ‘to design a public space’. At most he or she may be asked to adapt some general characteristics of a designed space to fit already existing social practices – as for instance a ‘public’ park designed with smaller niches, close to immigrant neighbourhoods whose residents traditionally like to picnic out in the weekend in the manner of the ‘extended family’.

Dimensions of Space

Two sociological perspectives have largely determined the one-sided, exclusive definition of publicity. On the one hand Habermas’ analysis of ‘a domination-free dialogue’, favouring the legal-political aspect of publicity, exclusively stressing the open encounter of differences; on the other hand Goffman’s interactionism, which leaves the impression that ‘real’ reality is always offstage and behind closed doors. [Compare After Habermas: New Perspectives on the public Sphere, eds. Crossley/Roberts Blackwell: 2004] These two restricted approaches leave out the theoretical option of an actual use of space that is both private and public, including the various dimensions mentioned above.

Nor is it theoretically productive to restrict ‘private life’ to ‘private associations’ such as cult-groups or groups formed around a particular hobby, over against ‘institutions of the public spheres of economy and state’. This leads a theory astray into the existentialist notion of ‘private spheres’ as ‘a kind of balancing mechanism’ in the otherwise ‘homeless’, ‘abstract public life’ of the modern world. [Berger and Berger, Sociology. A biographical approach Basic Books:1972, 82/3, 247, 185/6]

This approach ignores the fact that institutions and spaces, ideologically defined as ‘private’, have in fact merely a private dominant while they are also functioning publicly. It obscures the authority’s or citizen’s management of such spaces as a ‘public space’, its social communicative function as well as the socio-psychological capacities sustaining such public functioning.

The plural perspective of ‘dimensions of publicity’ holds historically. Certain spaces may lose what once had been their general public function of encounter. Compare the loquacious 18th century diligence with which one rode for days in for example Ettore Scola’s movie Nuit de Varennes, with the ‘silent’ vehicles of mass transportation in the contemporary early morning commuter train. One must analyse the conditions which make for the communicative use of such spaces and those hindering it.

Consider also the case of the cell phone, used inside spaces of ‘public transit’. When, quite sudden, a person began to discuss ‘private’ issues on the train, at first an element of shame was involved, indicated by whispering and facial expressions of those who were witnessing such communication. Both users and eavesdroppers felt awkward. However, quite soon after this first phase the coupé began to function as heterotopia – simultaneously a lovers’ bedroom and a space of transit. Confusion gave way to a feeling of normality, all shame ebbed away: those using the phone behave as if the others do not exist; those listening in are merely irritated, as their own reading is disturbed.

How to interpret this phenomenon, astonishing as it was and still is for older, that is ‘modern’ or old-fashioned people?

Although one of the dimensions of ‘public space’ is to be ‘freely accessible’, this does not mean that the behaviour in it is free: all spaces are always governed by certain implicit and explicit rules of behaviour. Both ridicule and negation control many of the acts. When in the social evolution of a society more and more people from different stations in life connect in more interdependent relations of work and leisure, Norbert Elias’ law applies: Certain behavioural, ‘civilizing’ restrictions evolve which control emotions and acts. [Elias, Ueber der Prozess der Zivilisation Suhrkamp:1969, II, 312ff].

Such rules may be formalized. When neighbours suspect child or marital abuse, officials may enter a house which is considered ‘private’ in the reigning problematic of space. Another example is the formal regulation of ‘sexual harassment’ on the work floor. Thus, spaces also involve legal management of the functioning of privacy within public life.

As each human space may function publicly and privately simultaneously, the notion of ‘semi-public space’ seems useless; it is an offshoot of the dominant legal problematic of private space, defining a space as accessible to a limited degree. It merely implies that in postmodern society once implicit cultural codes of acceptability of behaviour in certain places tend to be institutionalized in rules of accessibility, i.e. under surveillance of formally designated agents. For instance, the postmodern ‘atrium’ on the ground floor of high-rise buildings, ‘freely’ accessible, is intensely monitored by guards who urge on people ‘unwanted’ in the area.

Postmodernity

In the last two decades a legalist problematic has come to dominate the popular notion of ‘public space’, sometimes even restricting it to ‘public buildings’, i.e. somehow institutionally related to the state. [Compare the terminological confusion: ‘public housing’ (USA); Volkswohnungsbau (Germany); ‘social housing’ (England); habitation social (France); ediliza economica e popolare (Italy)]. This legal overemphasis obscures other functional aspects present.

The ‘gated community’ admits of various historical forms; however, it has become a typically postmodern phenomenon. It relates immediately to the various dimensions of the publicity of space. To understand it better, a definition of ‘postmodernity’ and ‘narcissism’ is needed. Postmodernity designates a cultural complex of three relatively autonomous histories: the deconstruction of personal identity; the growing influence of mass media; and the gradual disappearance of state-integrated masses. It has been developing since the 1960s in the USA and the 1970s in Europe. The term ‘postmodernism’ we reserve for ideological phenomena – intellectual, artistic and popular reactions to this cultural complex of postmodernity.

Crucial in the development of postmodern society is the deconstruction of the critical and communicative capacity of the individual – not merely, as Critical Theory argued, the repression of a supposedly universal human critical capacity. The causal nexus of this postmodern deficit is the decay of a once solid modern ‘identity’ which results from a reconstruction of the Western Ego Assembly Line: the withering of the modern, close-knit family life. Factors involved: a loosening of sexual morality, a generalized utilitarianism regarding others; high divorce rates; both parents working as result of rising prices of real estate; pedagogic cartelization. Modern parental management of the family still turned on the affectionate tradition of values and value-related norms, assembling an efficient character in a trusting individual with a conscience and an identity.

‘Confidence’ is based on prior experience; ‘trust’, by contrast, is unconditional, it is trust in unknown others or situations. [Seligman, The Problem of Trust Princeton:1997, 16/30; Luhmann, ‘Familiarity, Confidence, Trust’, in: Gambetta D, Trust: making and breaking cooperative relationships (Blackwell, 1988), pp. 94-107]. Trust feeds on basic trust, acquired within a steady system of early upbringing. Intensified by the proliferation of TV and other media, the decay of the modern family resulted in a decrease of such ‘basic trust’.

Added to this is an ‘economic’ factor. Under postmodern conditions people become fascinated by a boundless overdose of possible acquisitions and possible activities. The pragmatic paradox of ‘forced choice’ is the result: the forced ‘shopping’ of goods, partners, opinions and outings without a criterion for that ‘choice’. This condition produces hyper-reflexivity and soul searching, critically affecting what was once a modern person’s personality ‘in steady-state’. [Sierksma, Toezicht en Taak (SUA:1991), 162 167; Watzlawick c.s., Pragmatics of Human Communication. (Norton:1967)].

The resulting ’emptiness of self’ triggers a search for ‘symbolic self-completion’ in for instance ‘shopping’; yet, after the acquisition the shopper again feels empty. [Belk, ‘Are we what we own?’ In: A. Lane Benson ed., I shop, therefore I am, (Lanham:2000), 96.; Golden in Idem, 145]. One is continuously forced to ask oneself whether ‘the experience is pleasing’, thus getting permanently involved in ‘the project of a beautiful life’. [Schulze, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft (Campus:2000), 40, 44-46, 102].

Postmodern society tends to reduce the regulation of behaviour to the control by situational rules and norms which are not any more mutually linked through meta-values, but parcelled according to selective constituencies of relevant others. Each institutionalized, typical situation comprising only relevant others has its own set of specific norms, which does not relate to other sets.

These clustered factors have one all-encompassing effect: the destabilization of a meta-level of supra-situational values, that modern umbrella of what Dewey called ‘invaluables’. This results in a narcissistic psychological system, evinced in our example of cell phone use in a train compartment. We shall further analyse this in terms of cocooning.

Narcissist Cocooning

Postmodernity involves a vital change in Western culture – from a culture with a guilt dominant into a new version with a shame dominant. [Our analytical perspective is indebted to Luhmann: Social Systems (Stanford: 1995), especially chapter 7, The Individuality of Psychic Systems]. A shame dominated culture is characterized by a lack of a deep seated ‘inner-directed’, value-oriented conscience; in positive terms, by a person’s ‘outer-directed’ orientation on situational norms. [Sierksma, idem 267-271; Demos, ‘Shame and guilt in Early New England’, in: Eds. Harré and Parrot, The Emotions. Social, Cultural and Biological Dimensions (SAGE:1996), 75-79; Cairns, Aidos, the Psychology and Ethics of Honour and shame in Ancient Greek Literature (Calerndon:1993), 308ff].

Compliance to situational norms is fundamentally dependent on the actual surveillance of a person’s external signs by situational relevant others – i.e. those defined as relevant by that situation. Normal situational ‘stress’ does not make an individual organism continually self-conscious. [Laborit, L’inhibition de l’action, Masson:1981]. Thus, under modern conditions explicit self-consciousness or subjectivity was an intermittent result of special events in which self-evident habits could not get their way. In postmodernity such feeling of basic identity is lacking. Hyper-reflexivity feeds continuous insecurity, thus the corresponding need for an artificial outside support – a ‘Panzer Ego’. [Gehlen, Der Mensch (Athenaeum:1966); Theweleit, Männerphantasien, Volume II (Rowolt:1980), 206-246].

At this juncture of my analysis the concept of ‘cocooning’ becomes relevant. The emergent narcissistic psychological system thrives on superficial activity, primarily monitored by others, not on self-monitoring by what was a ‘modern conscience’. There occurs, then, self-willed surveillance of one’s behaviour and appearance, an actual desire to be screened and scanned by relevant others, as well as the will to screen and scan these others, What we have is a generalized voyeurism, implying intolerance for insecurity as well as uncertainty in the company of those who are considered ‘irrelevant others’.

Those present in a social situation, yet considered irrelevant by someone defining that situation as real, for instance non-situational passengers who witness a very private use of the cell phone in a public transport compartment, are shut out from consciousness and thus felt to be… not present at all – nonentities.

The author prefers the concept ‘cocoon’ to the notion of a ‘capsular’ or ‘cellular city or architecture’ developed by amongst others De Cauter [‘De capsulaire samenleving’. In: Krisis (73) winter 1998, 73/4]. These notions tend to explain the inhabitant’s behaviour by their new spatial environment, instead of the other way round. They also tend to involve the notion of resistance by ‘ordinary unplanned spontaneity’, which in the ‘capsular society then is merely ‘repressed’. These writers consider the deconstruction of the ‘relative autonomy of the private and the public’ not as a social phenomenon to be explained, but as ideological misunderstanding. [Compare e.g. Boomkens, ‘Moderne ervaring en stedelijke openbaarheid’. In: Krisis (73) winter 1998, 59].

‘Cocoon’ can be used as both a social and a spatial concept. It refers to a closed-off situation of people willingly separating themselves off from what they consider ‘different’. This unit of mutually relevant others has no desire to communicate with ‘outsiders’.

A methodological caveat. With Weber’s ‘ideal type’ in mind [Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Mohr:1973), 266-290] we do not claim that ‘guilt culture’ is instantly and completely substituted by ‘shame culture’. In postmodern societies shame tends to dominate guilt; narcissism, then, becomes its form. Failing to comply with the situational rules results in feeling ashamed only towards relevant others, not – as a modern person would have felt – guilty towards whomever they may have actually hurt. Situational narcissism reduces the distance to relevant others, while making the detachment from irrelevant others greater. A shame culture, then, turns out to be extremely shameless. [Sennett tends to make of this dimension the defining element of public life; The Fall of Public Man (Faber:1977)].

Gated Communities

Foucault’s rather abstract opposition of types of spaces is still instructive. He distinguished between medieval ‘spaces of location’ where individuals with a traditional identity are tied to their territory, and modern ‘spaces of extension’, in which persons with an individual yet steady identity move. This modern type of space is now succeeded by the postmodern situational site or: the social process of inclusion/exclusion by way of ‘siting’. Under these new conditions – according to changeable situational criteria with which the site they enter marks the entrants – personages without a steady identity and on the move are spotted and traced. Postmodernity is the age of mass migration.

Thus, in modern ‘public spaces’ strangers with a steady identity met and exchanged views. By contrast, in postmodernity people – steadily on the move, with only temporary situational markers – shy away from such positive encounter with unknown others, preferably communing only with similar persons. Such social envelopes or cocoons show a wide variation in their definition of belonging: sects; tight-knit clubs; special diet groups on the web; age oriented gatherings; addicts to certain fashions; solitary workaholics behind their home laptop cocooning inside ‘work’.

These kinds of social behaviour sometimes require a spatial envelope: nature reserves; special cafés with exclusive attendance; clubs and, lately, a new version of gated communities. As argued above, one cannot a priori consider such spaces as either ‘public’ or ‘private’ per se, merely on the basis of their legal ‘ownership’ or free accessibility. Identification will depend on their mode of social practice.
Postmodern narcissism tends to reduce the dimension of privacy inside the social cocoon; at the same time it reduces communicative contact with others outside its circle. The cell phone user is cocooned with his or her ‘listener’; communication with the immediate, ‘live’ surroundings tends to be reduced to zero.

The postmodern cocooning surveillance of one another’s behaviour is not the same as a modern public encounter. Narcissism tends to reduce people’s capacity to encounter strangers or ‘difference’. Consequently, inside a cocoon the probability of discussion on issues relating to the wider social setting is reduced. Situational narcissism tends to produce feelings of strict ‘identity’ and ‘authenticity’, this in terms of roots, ethnicity, profession or ‘fashionability’. However, the same strictness detected amongst ‘irrelevant’ outsiders is considered ridiculous or hostile. A gated community is self-centred.

We know of earlier versions of secluded communities. The 17th century small courts or hofjes in Dutch towns were meant for the care of the elderly and the sick. A modern version appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. De Klerk’s ‘Ship’ in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammerbuurt (1913-1920) presents us with is a secluded hybrid of homes, a post office and a school, the closed ensemble signalling the will to create enclaves for the ‘good people’ – the salt of a future socialist society.

However, such examples are not yet cocoons as I have defined them, they still served as ‘private’ refuge in which to recuperate from the rough, ‘public’, capitalist world to which the inhabitants nevertheless belonged and to which they had to return each day, precisely to meet strangers and live the modern hectic life of encounter, debate and work. These secluded enclaves like De Klerk’s ‘Ship’ were strategic means to invade that society.

Although a kind of cul de sac or impasse, not directly part of the town’s street system, these older secluded communal spaces were indeed freely accessible, not yet guarded. The coded acceptability of strangers’ behaviour entering, though, was clear to all. Houses were small, much of the inhabitants’ life was spent in the common courtyard, their mutual privacy limited. This is also found in the one-house versions of the modern enclave designed by Loos. ‘The house must be silent outward, inside it must reveal its full riches’ – its spaces allowed mutual observation. [Loos, ‘Die Interieurs in der Rotunde’. English translation in: Spoken into the Void. Collected Essay 1997-1900 (MITPress:1982), 23/4].

The postmodern ‘gated community’ is a true cocoon, a tactical instrument with which people similar to one another fence themselves off from the larger society. It is not necessarily large in size. Amsterdam’s ‘Smidssteegje’ had been a small ally for centuries, part of the open street system of the town, connecting the Kromme Waal with the Gelderse Kade. The old municipal street name shield on the wall still indicates its former function. However, since the 1970s it has been shut off from ‘public’ territory by steel gates at both ends, appropriated by the ally’s inhabitants who have the keys. The nearby presence of a prostitution zone made ‘their’ little street both unpleasant and unsafe. Years later, a special municipal law, ‘Het Steegbesluit‘ of 1990, made their action legal.

Urban enclaves of all sizes are mushrooming today. Fortress America is the name for a movement of gated territories outside towns, some even with their own ‘private’ road system. Urban cocooning may even take the form of a whole ‘private’ town, for instance the Bhagwan sect’s town of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon. A similar setup is found in new ‘condominiums’ with economic ‘status’ dominating the self-selective process. On a smaller scale, more reminiscent of the socialist ‘hof’, we see faith-oriented groups buy a whole city block. In Amsterdam a ‘spiritual eco village’ was set up after failure of the idea in a real village in the countryside – ‘Het Carré’, with its sheltered, ‘eco’ communal garden. Its self-selected ‘community’ members consider all houses outside their block as ‘the city’. [Knols, ‘Wonen in een idee’. In: Volkskrant Magazine 9.4.2005, 19].

In Warsaw most new ‘neighbourhoods’ are now designed as gated and guarded communities, inhabited by the richer part of the population, sometimes covering 22 hectare. Most people would like to live in such ‘neighbourhoods’. As one of the architects puts it: ‘Public space is becoming smaller and smaller’. [M. Staniszkis, Warschau University, in De Volkskrant, 29/22/2004, p.4]. What he actually means is merely the diminishing of ‘public space’ in its dominant legal sense of free accessibility – streets and roads.

Post-modernity implies the proliferation of social and spatial cocooning. Where before, in history, gated communities were basically expressions of either modern class difference (Manhattan luxury apartment buildings with a guarded entrance for instance) or of marked social deviance (classical prisons, colonies, pest houses etc.), postmodern gated ‘communities’ are becoming the normal spatial expression of a new type of socio-culturally conditioned psychological system and of a new type of public space.

These cannot be defined as ‘private’ space over against ‘public’ space anymore; or as merely ‘defensible space’. [Newman’s notion, stemming from the sixties]. Instead, they must be analyzed as a new problematic of publicity and of public space, dominated by legal and physical security, codes of strict rules of acceptable behaviour, high mutual interior visibility and a forced, managed sociality – thus reducing privacy within the compound and increasing the aversion to encountering ‘others’ and difference.

Conclusion

Foucault coined the notion of heterotopical space inside which ‘sacred oppositions’ which in everyday, ‘normal’ life are ‘sanctified’ as pure contraries, now coincide in a confusing mixture. [Foucault, Of Other Spaces, p. 37].

A crucial modern and Western ideologically ‘given’, thus ‘accepted opposition’ has been the one between public and private spaces. Such heterotopical fusing of ‘public’ and ‘private’ can only exist when an ideologically dominant problematic of space presupposes their exclusiveness. Foucault implies that such ‘sacred oppositions may first be deconstructed ‘theoretically’, then in people’s practical attitudes, and later perhaps become non-functional.

In this manner bus and train spaces began to fail the code of the public/private opposition. For a while they may have functioned as heterotopical space, confusing the passengers whose attitudes were still dominated by the ‘sacred opposition’. Now, it seems that spaces of ‘public’ transit were… ‘avant-garde’ in this respect, practically deconstructing the public/private opposition, thus prefiguring the same process in many other situations, perhaps announcing the societal collapse of an ancient contradiction which is also giving the reality of the postmodern gated ‘community’ its new, perverse twist.

For a good understanding of postmodern cocooned spacing, it is useful to note that such heterotopical space is different from the space taken up by the modern ‘hybrid building’. [Compare Hybrid Buildings, 2000 publication of The Faculty of Architecture TUD]. The functions of ‘private’ homes, a ‘public’ theatre, shops and so forth – though incorporated in one same hybrid structure – in fact in such buildings take up separate and different spaces. A ‘heterotopical’ space, by contrast, combines contradictory social uses in one and the same space. The hybrid building is still a modern invention; the generalization of heterotopical spaces, in which the opposition of public and private is dissolving, seems to be a vital part in the constitution of postmodernity.

Perhaps the old distinction between ‘the public and the private’ is being replaced by an ‘overexposure’ of man. This overexposure results from electronic ‘interfacing’ in ‘private’ cubicles, fully connecting the individual’s mind to an info cosmos as well as to omnipresent controls outside – together filling ‘the gap between ‘near’ and ‘far’. [Virilio, ‘The Overexposed City’, in K. Michael Hayes (ed.), Architecture Theory since 1968, Cambridge (Mass.): The MIT Press, 1998, pp. 542-550]. Perhaps that other vital factor – mass migration, already long active – has acquired a new potency. More and more, postmodernity is turning into a transit society – Benjamin’s ‘new barbarism’ of masses, highly tactile, low on deep-seated attention, on the move, not knitted into ‘a home’. In transit from one ‘hotel’ room to another, from one cocooned social situation into another – from one ‘sited’ life style or ‘identity’ to another, however contradictory these are.

Sociologists might do research here – tracing the special characteristics of social behaviour in gated cocoons. And architects may develop spatial solutions to the new ‘social’ problems of a cocooning society, perhaps the final hour of the once still-born notion of the machine à habiter which seems to have been invented for the collective loner – after all, the new status of postmodern (wo)man.

Sierksma
From: The Architecture Annual 2007

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Author: rjsiersk

contact: rjsiersk@xs4all.nl Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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