Experiencing Urban Boundaries

Convenors: (University of Trento) & (University of Genova)

As recent approaches in urban sociology and critical geography suggest, current urbanization processes do redefine contemporary city as an essentially multiscalar site, that is, as the complex and rather chaotic outcome of different spatial and temporal dynamics revealing themselves to be un-reducible to a discrete scale. Accordingly, that which we define as «urban» is produced by a widespread multiplication and juxtapositions of scales: it is the irregular landscape defined  by a clash of scales, among scales, within scales. By focusing on this juxtaposition and on the ongoing process of rescaling it triggers, we may detect a whole series of frictions materializing themselves in terms of boundaries. Urban boundaries are thus conceivable and recognizable as the material translation of the frictions redefining urban territories. Rather than borders, they are signals of border. And they can be both spatial and temporal, visible and invisible, physical and immaterial, reflecting and at the same time reproducing and crafting balance of power, social relations, and everyday experiences. Under this perspective, the very act of experiencing the city can be assumed as a way of experiencing urban boundaries, amidst processes imposed from above, lived situations from below, plans conceived on a large scale and subjective maps, explicit conflicts and latent everyday tensions.

It comes from here the idea of a panel on “Experiencing the urban boundaries”. It aims to focus on these specific “border signals”, their phenomenology, genealogy, and possible evolutions, on the assumption that they represent the quintessential “site” of/for urban ethnography. After all, ethnography itself is a kind of social practice that is essentially played on boundaries, on a threshold, in the friction triggered by an encounter among differences. Its “site” is not only defined by frictions and boundaries, but is itself a friction, and a boundary.

Starting from these assumptions, the workshop will address a number of issues to explore the many facets of experiencing the urban boundaries, including:

Which are the shapes  taken by the contiguity and interruptions occuring in urban territories? How you can identify them and understand how they are materially produced, crossed, fallen, contested or reconstructed? What are the thresholds that identify discontinuities and breaks among the different atmospheres settled in space? In which way these same thresholds identify contexts where certain behaviors are considered usual and therefore unnoticed, while others are perceived as idiosyncratic and often stigmatized? How the signals of the discontinuities in the urban space are perceived, represented and lived? In which way the physical segmentations of such discontinuities produce economic, symbolic, political, emotional values, generating other frictions or intermittent fluidities?

This call is addressed to everyone who, from different areas and approach in urban studies (sociology, anthropology, critical geography, visual studies, architecture) may find in the ethnographic practice a useful tool to situate and explore urban boundaries, as well as, in the very act of experiencing urban boundaries, the inner meaning of urban ethnography.

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