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Title: Empty presence |empty absence. Critical role of housing reforms in the shape of public space
Authors: Pacheco, Mónica
Keywords: public space
private space
political governance
housing reform
Henry Roberts
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: FAUP
Abstract: Much research has focused on the transformation of public space and its traditional role as the locus of political life, and in the significant trends towards privatization as threats to social cohesion in society. However, as we shall argue, this change was precisely shaped by ethical, moral and governance concerns, that find its roots back in the 19th century and its desire to build an image of public virtue. In fact, few studies regarded the process of housing reconfiguration, which started to take place at the time as an implementation of management programs for the reconstruction of social life, as a major critical point. The present paper investigates the consequences of new housing spacializations — that sought to absorb society, and all that was socially and morally reprehensible, from public to private places — claiming its correlation as the leading cause for the replacement of "empty presences" — formerly public spaces, by "empty absences". Richard Sennett has proposed the 19th century as the hinge that determined the imbalance between public and private spheres, when western societies gradually shifted the focus of their social and political concerns, to an inner and subjective world, characterized by an overvalued individualism, and embodying a political retreat which reflects in cities, democracy, and personal relationships. The family was idealized as a refuge from the society and its threats — as Iris Young put it: the incarnation of immorality, artificiality, disorder, distress and disease. This resulted in an attitude of alienation characteristic of the inhabitants of large cities, which George Simmel called "blasé", with consequences in everyday life: the inhibition of personal involvements and the overall effort to deny, minimize, contain and prevent the conflict with strangers. Accordingly, today the concept of order means lack of contact, resulting in the destruction of the traditional role of public spaces in cities. Reversing cause and effect, Michel Foucault describes modernity as a disciplinatory process in which institutions represent their own coercive apparatus. Mentioning architecture specifically as a series of spatial devices - which served as a model for the emergent psychiatric institutions, schools, factories, prisons, asylums, and where else could be applied — Foucault conceives the idea of government in a broader sense, understood as "the conduct of conduct", programs, strategies and techniques of acting on human beings with specific purposes. Thus, the ideology of intimacy, that Sennett describes, is not more than a mechanism of governance, that found in the institution home a bureaucratic instrument for rational planning, aiming to combine “norms and forms” to structure an efficient social order. Studies such as those developed by Henri Roberts since 1844 for the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes and the World Exhibition, held in London in 1851, will be examined as paradigmatic of a series of biopolitic reform campaigns through a set of moralizations that determined the concept of modern family (the nuclear family) as we know it today, extending the control of morality and vice — once confined to prisons, schools and churches — to housing, whose increased privacy also performed as a kind of quarantine prevention of contagion in case of illness. Through architecture, the domestic space — understood as the basic unit for the restoration of a new order in civil society — became a social hybrid field that legitimized the state for the inspection and evaluation of the activities and relationships of the individuals who constitute the population. It is precisely the predominant role of the modern construction of the domus in the contemporary definition of the polis that this paper seeks to explore. Furthermore, it aims to relate this discussion to contemporary theories of public space design.
Description: ISBN: 2012 978-989-8527-01-1
Peer reviewed: Sim
Publisher version:
Appears in Collections:DAU-CRI - Comunicações a Conferências Internacionais

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