Formulating a Cosmos in the City

In reading the introductory essay in Urban Cosmopolitics: Agencements, Assemblies, Atmospheres*, I found some ideas that resonated with my potential dissertation topic of the intersection of human-made physical and digital ecologies and the humans that are affected by such space. My topic centers on urban life of Millenial gay and bisexual men. While I have done much work on the digital ecological layer, I have yet to do much on the physical and urban ecological layer.

The essay by Ignacio Farías and Anders Blok, explores the central theme of a public politics in studying the urban environment. The authors explore Latour’s Dingpolitik, the conception of  “relational and contested socio-material gatherings,” and contrast the concept to Latour’s work on Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which while understands that everything in the socio-material world is traceable, and therefore definable, through the linkages between things and objects – or if you want to slice it another way, only things because objects have no a priori relations.

The Dingpolitikof the city, Farías and Blok argue, is the cosmopolitics, the common gathering of an urban assemblage that is full of disparate and competing groups, yet connected in the broader conception and potential of urban living, which is shaped by the ontological underpinnings of how space should be used.

Towards the end of the article, I started to think about the glue that sticks the “cosmopolitics”/urban ecology and the human groupings and wondered if the glue that keeps the disparate parts together is shaped by a common space or a common public. According to the authors, the city is bound by a common public, a body of humanity, if you will, that is bound by spatiotemporal boundaries, which are made and remade in the everyday hum of traffic, thus Farías and Blok situate the two as merged, rather than layered and identifiable parts.

In my work, I see space and public as layers rather than, say, merged. The body public creates the spatiotemporal environment in which it situates itself. The “city” as we know it today, is merely (Western) formalized spacetime. If we look at the cultures that were not city builders, in the Western (and capitalistic) sense, the cultures viewed time as a cycle rather than a linear progression nor is space confined to the village where people lived their daily lives. The West is only concerned with the spaces and times where the daily life is situated; “empty” space is wasted space and wasted time is wasted money.

In essence, I argue, it is the public, that is, makes, adapts, and (summoning the ghost of Latour one more time) redesigns spaces. This creates the urban assemblage or, if thought more broadly, the spatiotemporal assemblage. This assemblage is not just about what is created, but how it feeds back onto the public, Farías and Blok’s agencements, through processes like atmosphere and affect. The spatiotemporal assemblage affects the very people that create it, thus continually reshaping the assemblage’s physio-semiotic powers.

Inserting my prior research into this, the digital is another element of the spatiotemporal assemblage, but physically it extends the grouped and local space further into the reaches of the global community.

This needs more work, but now I have something on “paper.”

 

Farías, Ignacio and Anders Blok, “Introducing Urban Cosmopolitics: Multiplicity and the search for a common world.” in Urban Cosmopolitics: Agencements, Assemblies, Atmospheres ed. Ignacio Farías and Ander Blok, pp. 1-22, Routledge, New York, 2016.

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