Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neil Smith on Lefebvre

It is sad for us all that CUNY geographer Neil Smith passed away just a few days ago. His idea of the "revanchist city" has been so helpful for me, but he wrote so many enlightening works. I happened to pick up Neil Smith's foreword to Henri Lefebvre's The Urban Revolution and quite liked the following quotation:
Whereas space came alive in early-twentieth-century art, physics, and mathematics, in social theory and philosophy it was a quite different story. Space there was more often synonymous with rigidity, immobility, stasis; space itself had become a blind field [places used as practices that obscure constitutive sociospatial relations, practices that obscure the ways that city residents create or constitute the city themselves, making it instead appear as if, for example, city government or developers constitute it]. For Lefebvre, by contrast, space holds the promise of liberation: liberation from the tyranny of time apart from anything else, but also from social repression and exploitation, from self-imprisoning categories -- liberation into desire. Space is radically open for Lefebvre; he refuses precisely the closure of space that so dominated western thinking and in some circles continues to do so.
Many people flock to cities, especially large cities, because they liberate us from so many constraints, including self-imprisoning ones. If one looks at the early urban studies of the Chicago School from the 1920s and 1930s, one sees how those sociologists understood the city as dying and immobilized into separate, alienating neighborhoods. The blind field obscured city residents' practices that constituted the city. Is it possible to think about DC urban space as radically open, moving beyond time, exploitation, and self-imprisoning categories? Thanks to Neil Smith for his many writings.

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