The Urban Thing

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Andrew Douglas, Auckland University of Technology
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The Urban Thing

Keynote Speaker: Professor Mark Dorrian Forbes Chair in Architecture, The University of Edinburgh

The Urban Millenium, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2007) terms this century's anticipated mass urbanisation, is well upon us. Yet what is this millennial thing that we enter into or that, more precisely, is settling upon us? Henri Lefebvre (2003), rejecting appeals to 'the city' as a meaningful measure of post-industrial sociality, has asserted, as early as the 1960s, the irreversable presencing of a global, "urban phenomenon", one problematically fitting out the world according to the socioeconomic and sociopolitical fields of global capitalism. Such a phenomenon, afforded its phenomenological fullness as a manifesting "apparition/appearance" (Patočka 2002: 16) or an "upsurge, a coming-up, an arising – in short, an effect" (Marion 2002: 49), invites a reduction of sorts, one that grapples with the potential and costs of an urban beholding and experiencing.

For Lefebvre, the urban phenomenon testifies to a plethora of far from synchronous logics – of "things (objects) [,…] of play (or sports)", of capital etc. – to the point that "there are faults, voids, and lacunae everywhere" (2003: 86). Consequently, any analysis of the operational levels of the urban phenomenon and its object and spatial fields reveal a remainder irreducable to the logistics attempting to take hold of it. If for Lefebvre something like a "differential space" - of heterogenous aggregation or accumulation (2003: 125) - defines the urban, and one only operates within it as if in a "blind field", a quest to know the urban phenomenon itself depends on a synthesising act in pursuit of a "virtual object", a synthesis akin to philosophising. Yet unlike a will to totalise, which saw philosophy historically eschew its city-origination, Lefebvre calls for a metaphilosophy of the urban, a philosophy thrown beyond institutional miring (2003: 64-65). With this in mind, we invite you to contribute your own projects and thoughts on an urban metaphilosophy at the forthcoming Interstices Under Construction Symposium.

From Jean-Luc Nancy's recognition of a lapse in world-naming and centring (in the perenial papal address Urbi et orbi - to the city and to the world) and the instituting of a global "glomicity" without urbanity (2007: 37), to Saskia Sassen's diagnosis of a "savage sorting" subsisting with the hyper-financialisation and reduction of the social and public realms worldwide (2014: 4), we might wonder at the sheer brutality (nevermind banality) of the commodification unfolding with the network vectors of the urban phenomenon. What existential relationships might the urban yet offer that resists or is richer in intimacy than commodity culture? What ontological frameworks might counter its building logic of expulsion? Might the new object ontologies centred on the autonomy of things offer renewed vantage - Karen Barad's "material-discursive practices" (2007: 146), Graham Harman's (2005) "object orientated philosophy" or Katherine Hayles' (2013) speculative aesthetics for instance? Are there as yet unrecognised complexities harboured by our culture of ubiquitous things as suggested in Bill Brown's "thing theory" (2004)? Or might today's exclusionary logic directed to peoples and biosphere draw on Giorgio Agamben's (2007) thinking through of the cultic drive underwriting capitalist profanation? What of Massimo Cacciari's deliberations in La città (2004) or Jean Baudrillard's (2002) drawing out of an instabiltiy and virtuality of space through a radicalised attendance on singular architectural objects? Do Tonino Griffero (2014) or Bruno Latour's "quasi-objects" provide better expositional tools for apprehending the urban phenomenon today? Indeed, what do we get at all by thinking about phenomena and things themselves as 'urban things'?

Please submit 500 word abstracts for the Interstices Under Construction Symposium to Andrew Douglas ( by 2 January 2015.

Interstices accepts both academic and practice oriented, fully written as well as visual, contributions that engage with the issue theme. Visit our website to view the Guidelines for Submissions for details about the reviewing process, copyright issues and formatting:

We look forward to your contribution!

Conveners: Andrew Douglas & Hannah Hopewell


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