Proposal for a guest edited Special Issue of Space and Culture
Working title: Materialities and Senses of Neighbouring
1. Description of the theme
This special issue seeks to advance current understanding of urban neighbourhood relations by analysing them through their material and sensorial dimensions. Urban neighbourship as a complex phenomenon constitutes a wide field of contemporary social research that involves diverse disciplines and approaches. Several studies on neighbourhoods’ spatial organisation highlight the relevance of ‘neighbouring’ as a form of social practice; that is, as a form of habituated behaviour emerging from meeting neighbours in the neighbourhood (Laurier et al 2002).
Physical and material structures have been rarely studied in relation to practices of neighbouring as co-constitutive phenomena. Some authors point to the fact that neighbour relations are attached in the first instance to a shared space (namely the street, block, shared fence or roof) (van Eijk 2012: 3022) while the relationships with neighbourhoods are ‘housed’ (Blunt 2008: 555; see also Augoyard 2007; Baxter 2017). Much of the scholarly interest on how the domestic space becomes forged through relationships has emerged from studies of material culture. Studies on the materiality of living spaces within and beyond dwelling places have illustrated how home and those inhabiting it ‘transform each other’ (Miller 2001: 2). It is through these transformations that people living in close proximity, either by force or by will, recurrently engage in ‘sensory practices’ (Pink 2012) that involve listening, seeing, touching, smelling or tasting the relational fabric of their neighbourhood. As Setha Low (2017: 146) puts it, ‘it is difficult to imagine a space or place without associated or embedded affectivity’. Yet, the theorisation and empirical knowledge of how sensorial and material processes become constitutive of neighbouring practices has been under-examined in the scholarly literature.
This special issue aims to contribute to these debates by investigating the material bases and sensorial dimensions that underpin neighbourhood relationships. It will explore the interplay and mutual influence of materialities of the urban space and various sensorial experiences of neighbouring that exceed the boundaries between subject and object, human and matter. The contributors will analyse the interdependence of various attributes of the environment, such as material infrastructure, property, architectural design and scale of the housing with sensorial, embodied and affective practices of neighbouring, such as attending to soundscapes, smells or sights through fine-grained qualitative approaches. Ultimately, we intend to make a substantial contribution to the conceptualisation of neighbourhood relations.
Augoyard, J. 2007 . Step by step: everyday walks in a French urban housing project. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
Baxter, R. 2017. ‘The High-Rise Home: Verticality as Practice in London’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 41(2): 334-352.
Birenbaum-Carmeli, D. 1999. ‘Love thy neighbor: Sociability and instrumentality among Israeli neighbors’, Human Organization 58(1): 82-93.
Blunt, A. 2008. ‘The ‘skyscraper settlement’: home and residence at Christodora House’, Environment and Planning A 40: 550-571.
Gullestad, M. 1992. The art of social relations: essays on culture, social action and everyday life in modern Norway. Scandinavian University Press Publication, 1992.
Laurier, E., Whyte, A., and Buckner, K. 2002. Neighbouring as an Occasioned Activity: “Finding a Lost Cat”. Space and Culture 5(4): 346-367.
Low, S. M. 2017. Spatializing culture: the ethnography of space and place. New York: Routledge.
Miller, D. ed. (2001), Home Possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors, London: Bloomsbury.
Pink, S. (2012). Situating everyday life: Practices and places. London: Sage.
Rapoport, A. 1995. A critical look at the concept of “home”. In D.Benjamin et al. (eds.). The home: Words, interpretations, meanings, and environments. London: Avebury.
van Eijk, G. 2012. ’Good Neighbours in Bad Neighbourhoods: Narratives of Dissociation and Practices of Neighbouring in a ‘Problem’ Place’, Urban Studies 49(14) 3009-3026.
Commoning configurations: governing the soundscape of a large housing estate in Russia
Liubov Chernysheva (University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands/CISR, St. Petersburg, Russia)
Noise is one of the most significant problems articulated by the residents of Severnaya Dolina, a large housing estate located on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia. The walls of the apartments located in high rise residential buildings are too thin; as a result, people hear each other’s presence and everyday activities pretty clear. Buying an apartment, people get square meters of private space, although these are built into several other scales of common spaces: a set of apartments, a housing block, a district. Separated private lives are united by shared walls and infrastructures. In this case, a soundscape is a common issue. It cannot be privatized in these material conditions. Some activities that happen in private can turn into a question of collective concern in case they are recognized as an intervention to other private spaces in the form of ‘noise’. The residents articulate the collective character of soundscape and strive to keep the appropriate soundscape by a spectrum of practices controlling bodies, indoor activities, and working of household equipment. They also use the online neighbour forum to attempt regulating the soundscape by shaming the other residents who are marked as silence breakers. In this sense, a soundscape becomes an object of collective care, a resource that is managed and consumed collectively, or an urban commons. This is a promising case to explore the enactment of the life-in-common as well as the coordination of personal and collective soundscape management. In this article, I aim to study the process of framing mundane sounds in a neighbourhood as ‘noise’ and discover the practices of control and normalization of a housing block’s soundscape. Based on the material-semiotic approach I will demonstrate how a variety of practices, supplemented by the materiality of the blocks, infrastructure features, space organization, and legal rules produce the issues related to a life-in-common and establish different configurations of commoning. The article will present two configurations of commoning and terms them commoning-in and commoning-out. While commoning-in is mostly directed at maintaining once established socio-material order, commoning-out is associated with challenging what is in common and the rules the common have to be treated by the residents. This distinction suggests a new analytical tool and specifies commoning patterns and the transition between the common and the private.
Spacing neighbourhood relations in Danish public housing
Tina Gudrun Jensen (University of Malmö, Sweden)
This article explores the embodied, spatial and material nature of neighbourhood relations as exceeding the subject-object and material-human divides. The article draws on ethnographic fieldwork from a multi-ethnic public housing area in Copenhagen consisting of thirteen 4-storey blocks inhabited by some 1000 residents. Starting from the individual home space and moving to the space of the stair-case shared with other residents who live next door, below or above, the article argues that neighbourhood relations primarily constitute a practical embodied experience of the neighbourhood, where the spatial becomes social and the social becomes spatial. The article describes the condition of dwelling related to home as bestowing a certain embodied dimension to neighbourhood relations. Furthermore, the article illustrates near-dwelling, or living near, as a distinctive context for neighbourhood relations, that conditions neighbouring as a certain formation in space, a materiality of neighbouring. In this context, the embodiment of home may include the neighbour living next door, neighbourhood relations being experienced as a continuation of the body, and the home as a space where one is oneself is extended to the neighbour next door. Finally, the article describes material and sensorial aspects of neighbouring such as sounds, smells, and moving objects that transgress physical boundaries in the staircase and are experienced as having a life on their own, illustrating the way that materiality and social relationships influence one another. In this way, the article endeavours to explore neighbourhood relations as an assemblage of human and non-human materials such as bodies, staircases, and social relations.
Reconstructing and deconstructing neighbourhoods: state violence, social movement, materialities and struggles in the case of Pinheirinho do Palmares district, Brazil.
Igor José de Renó Machado and Fabrício Barreti (Federal University of São Carlos Federal)
From an ethnography developed with social movements derived from a process of policial eviction of an old popular district in the city of São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil, we analyze how an idea of neighbourship is applied to the processes of struggle and their outcomes. In 2012, a land of over 1,000,000 square feet, owned by a bankrupt industry, was occupied by an entire district of over 5,000 people. This “illegal” occupation had been going on for more than eight years when a court decision ordered the land to be vacated. The case of the Pinheirinho dos Palmares neighbourhood, as it was known, became an emblematic example of Brazilian housing policies, with its violent eviction drawing the attention of the entire country. This article deals with the struggles that the evicted residents started and that resulted, at the end of 5 years, in the construction of a new district by the State, based on a new housing program. We will analyze how concerns about organizing the new neighbourship from the old neighbourhood relations were fundamental in the geographical and architectural production of the new district. The article seeks to intertwine the notions of resistance and neighbourship, responsible for the new configuration of the district. The central question revolves around how the materiality of the old neighbourhood, destroyed by the police forces, serves as a symbolic guide to the reconstruction of the new neighbourhood: the political disputes with governmental bodies are based on the idea that the new neighbourhood should respect certain material configurations of the destroyed district. We have a memory of the materiality of the urban organization of the old neighbourhood as well as a memory of the houses themselves as a structure of political struggle. The old residents' argument is that something of the way of life and the senses of life experience in the destroyed neighbourhood should be rebuilt in the new neighbourhood. And this reconstruction of the senses would occur mainly by a similar reconstruction of the lost materiality.
Geometry of Senses in the Peripheral High-rise Neighbourhoods of a Big Russian City
Olga Tkach (Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), St. Petersburg, Russia)
This article explores how specific materialities of the large housing estate (LHE) determine the residents’ feelings and emotions towards their neighbours on the level of face to face interactions. The research was localized in the second largest Russian city of St. Petersburg and nearby Leningrad Oblast, beyond downtown and other valuable historical areas. The main empirical data used in the article is 20 interviews with 21 people – homeowners and permanent residents of large housing estates since no later than 2010, as well as autoethnography. Scale and verticality will be considered as the crucial materialized frames that determine the regimes of co-presence of residents of massive housing. The article will examine the amplitude of neighbouring as shifts of closeness and distance between the neighbours. On the one hand, the residents of LHE feel lost and even depressed in the new huge scale neighbourhoods (up to 25 stories, more than 10 apartments on the floor), overpopulation and residential turnover, as well as poor quality of buildings. This makes the research participants define themselves as introverts who do not know their neighbours and feel indifferent towards them. On the other hand, everyday life foregrounds down-to-earth geometry of neighbouring that presumes communication with nearby neighbours living in the same unit, on the same or nearest floors. Such scale is perceived as a community, which partly remains invisible and partly evokes interest or irritation. In most cases, the research participants define their neighbours as invisible, but co-presenting as the sources of noises (drilling, loud music, stomp, barking); smells (smoking, cooking) and other inconvenience, such as leakages. Verticality of LHE will be considered as practice (Baxter 2017) that, on the one hand, can bring a joy of magnificent view on historical St. Petersburg and other areas, on the other – danger and inconvenience from the upper floors (already mentioned leakages, falling down cigarettes, and different noises). An ambivalent role of an elevator as an artery connecting all the floors of LHE will be also examined in the article. It works as a space of communication or (polite) indifference; recognition of permanent residents and selection of outsiders, as well as exclusion of the residents of down floors who use the staircases instead of the elevator. All in all, the article will demonstrate the amplitude of neighbouring in LHE, from distancing to communication due to various reasons, including emotional and sensual experiences of visibility and in-visibility.